Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Scapegoats and Uncomfortable Truths

Dear Community of Fellow Heavy Metal Enthusiasts,

I'm rather embarrassed that we need to have this conversation. Alas, it seems that to our collective chagrin and my unfortunate lack of surprise, this topic needs to be addressed and understood. If your attention span is as short as I fear it is, I'll summarize what you really need to know in one sentence.

Heavy Metal lyrics, regardless of subgenre, do not represent a how-to manual and if you're too stupid to get it, please excuse yourself from the hall so that the rest of us may continue to enjoy ourselves. 

That's right. Fuck right off. No Rainbow Bridge to Valhalla for you.

Now to elaborate why this has to be said. Yet again, America ran up the score on what we do best, which is kill our fellow citizens. Within the last 2 or 3 weeks, we've had angry white dudes shoot up Gilroy, California (3 dead), El Paso, Texas (22 dead?), and Dayton, Ohio (9 dead.) At this point, with just under 40 years of time spent on this planet and as a citizen of this country, I feel confident and justified in saying that other white men, especially conservative white men, scare me more than any other collective group of people. I mean, really, what's a Arab gonna do to me besides make some really good hummus and falafel? Hispanics? Tacos, Pupusas, and fat-bottomed women. White people mostly can't cook and most white broads got no ass. Maybe that's why white dudes are angry? I guess having wife'd a South American is why I don't suffer from these afflictions of "fucking dumbass."

Where conservative Americans see a danger to democracy, I see deliciousness.

But what's inspiring this online rant is that last of the 3 most recent massacres. The shithead that decided to kill 9 people just trying to have a good time on a Saturday night is named Connor Betts. The only thing you should remember about him was that he was a piece of shit and I'm glad he's dead. I hope he's buried in an unmarked grave, because fuck him. He's a trash person.

The guy under this hood was a loser and we're better off without him.

However, during his utterly worthless, pointless, and meaningless existence, he self identified as several things. Anime fan. Antifa supporter. A fan of male pronouns. And quite inconveniently, as a metalhead. But not just any kind of metalhead; the kind who formed shitty pornogrind bands. Just like nearly everyone else who plays in a metal band in Ohio, going back to at least the late 90's/early 2000's. Because of this, now we have to deal with unwanted attention.

Here's the truth about metal, especially "extreme metal": there's a lot of "problematic" subject matter in the imagery and lyrics of the bands. It makes sense; aurally, metal is violent, aggressive, hard and fast music. Singing pleasantly about flowers and cupcakes really wouldn't fit the aesthetic. We can go on and on about other forms of media that also have problematic content, but that's not really necessary. Because I think what I'm about to say transcends music and can be applied to any sort of media one consumes.

In order to appreciate a subgenre like pornogrind or some of the grislier artists in death metal, it requires two things; an admittedly depraved, dark sense of sarcastic humor, and the maturity to separate fiction from reality. If you're going to listen to artists like Gut or Cock and Ball Torture or some of the more obscene death metal artists like Lividity or Waco Jesus, you have to be able to understand that these bands are not advocating sick or perverse behavior. It's shock value, it's extremity for the sake of extremity, and it's meant to be taken with several grains of salt. The punchline of the joke is that these bands are singing about utterly gross, sickening, ridiculously over the top things and the act of doing so is the point of humor. They're not promoting a particular truth or ideology. Prostitute Disfigurement is not telling you that you should kidnap, rape, murder, and dissect the dead bodies of hookers; they're creating horrific imagery that fits the aesthetic of the very extreme style of death metal that they perform.

I thought better of actually posting an album cover.

Let me spell it out more explicitly; if you do think these bands represent anything other than a slightly and admittedly disturbing choice of entertainment, you've got problems. Serious problems. You need help. Further, I'd say it's the responsibility of those around you to raise alarms, red flags, and if necessary report you to the appropriate authorities if you appear to be a danger to anyone else.

Side rant: Just to elaborate a bit further on these styles of heavy music; most of the musicians performing in gore heavy death metal or pornogrind are terrible. And the shelf life even for good bands that perform this style of death metal can be limited. Yeah, the new Prostitute Disfigurement album rips really hard, but for comparison, hearing (Cleveland, Ohio's own) Regurgitation recycle the same porn inspired stage banter at MDF in May of this year was kinda....sad. Like they hadn't evolved or found anything else to bring to the table since they originally released "Tales of Necrophilia" before I was old enough to drink. It felt stale, and sorta embarrassing in a cringe way. /endrant
I guess you could say that some of those Ohio bands from the early 2000's didn't age as well as hoped.

I highly doubt Connor Betts' association with extreme music is what drove him to kill. It's also highly improbable that his profession of "leftist" politics is what led him to kill; kinda weird having major issues with women (I hated high school and most of my classmates, but I didn't keep a "kill list" or a "rape list"; I just dropped out ASAP) but being willing to vote for Elizabeth Warren for president. He did seem to have a lot of psychological issues, and an unhealthy fascination with guns. These are factors that as an armchair psychiatrist I'd believe seem to be more likely causes. With that said, shitheads like Connor Betts don't belong among our collective scene. Whether we want it or not, its our responsibility to identify and exclude these assholes from our scene, or else they'll be the cancer that kills it.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

March of the SJWs

This crude meme kinda sums up where a subset of underground metal fans have arrived in 2019. Where I once found myself as a fan concerned by the presence of racists and other xenophobic elements within metal, I now find myself flustered and annoyed by a burgeoning crowd of "scene police" that are seeking to dictate to the underground-at-large what's acceptable. As recent episodes with Uada, MGLA, and past shitshows with bands such as Destroyer 666 have shown, the folks at Metalsucks and the Kim Kelly's of the internet are seeking to shine light on what they feel is the cancer of intolerance within the scene.

Here's the problem. These are the same motherfuckers who all will be eager to hype up the latest Darkthrone album. You know, the band that used to play "True Norweigan Aryan Black Metal". And tell people who complained that they were being "jewish."
It's not like this is a recent revelation or hidden secret.

We'd call this racistt too, but Fenriz has cat pictures online so it's exempt.

I'm not defending Naziism or alt-right rhetoric. Pepe the Frog can eat a fat dick. (I can also watch Nazis get punched all damn day.) I'm also not defending the dumb shit that KK Warslut of D666 says from the stage. I mean fuck, the guy calls himself "KK Warslut", why are we taking anything this guy says seriously? But funny how there's a double standard when Fenriz's quirky cat photos mean clicks to websites.

This photo is worth at least 3 extra clicks in 2019 for this shitty blog.

This effort to drudge up dubious or past connections to unsavory rhetoric or connections by musicians to reprehensible ideologies isn't about making the world a better place, or "cleansing the scene" even. It's Social Justice Warriors trying to score fucking points to impress fellow SJW's within the metal community. You know how I know? How many of these fuckers, who tolerate anti-Christian messages in metal music, throw a fit a the first sign of anti-Islamic themes in metal music as xenophobic? How many of them are eager to promote Castrator's advocacy of violence against men but pushed Willowtip Records to not release latest Prostitute Disfigurement? I assure you, SJW's will tie themselves up in knots to try to explain a difference in gendered violence, power dynamics, etc. (I think both bands rip, btw.)

Try explaining that this band was founded by a bunch of jews from New York...
What I'm saying is this; metal music, and popular culture at large, is FULL of problematic messages.  Am I supposed to not watch Lethal Weapon because Mel Gibson is a known anti-Semite with a weird Jesus fetish? What about Pulp Fiction and Quentin Tarantino's weird obsession with the N-bomb?

This name and shame game doesn't even de-platform the offending bands; they find other places to perform. You think those blackmetal bands don't find a basement to play in if that's what it comes to? You've just forced people who don't give a fuck about politics to choose a side, and counter-productively, they're going to be lazy and side with the band you're trying to prevent them from seeing.

They will definitely find a way just as easily as I can steal images from Google.

I think that doing this type of shit is an enormous disservice and counter productive to the actual cause of promoting social justice. One, call out culture doesn't work. In fact, ... "call-out culture pretends to be activism while actually just assuaging the insecurities — especially white guilt — of someone looking to convince others of their rightness." I find myself routinely in disagreement with people who express political views, particularly pro-Trump or pro-Republican Party views, but I have found that calling them "dumb dumbs" (even though they're often regurgitating absurd talking points) just makes them double down on stupid. It's the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Instead of insulting them for being misguided, I just objectively explain the problems I find with their views, while occasionally acknowledging when perhaps their views aren't as wrong as people who treat political opinions as sport would perceive. In diplomacy you give people rope to pull themselves out of the abyss.

The rules of language and cultural norms are ever shifting goal posts. In this age of information, it changes faster than at any previous time in human history. I think we can agree that in 2019, certain symbols and certain types of jokes aren't cool or funny anymore. I mean, even fucking Phil Anselmo, who puts his foot in his mouth at least once a year saying something stupid and potentially racist, understands that using Confederate Flag imagery isn't acceptable anymore. Varg, everyone's favorite LARPing racist buffoon and convicted murderer, really isn't entitled to a public platform to ramble on incoherently about his worldview. (Meaning, he can have whatever views he wants and express it, but you're not obligated to facilitate it or provide audience to it.) But are we going to shit on all of the art that was created in a prior time because by 2019 standards it's problematic without any sort of critical analysis of what the intent of that art even was? Do we really think Cannibal Corpse, a band that is now comprised of dudes in their 50's, are pro-rape because they wrote "Stripped, Raped, and Strangled" back in 1994 when they were in their 20's? Do they have to spend a least some portion of every interview until the end of the band defending the art they created in the 1990's? Was writing a song with that type of content even a message about women or, much more likely, just part of the ultra-violent horror themed lyrics that the band has always written?

This guy is still a dirtbag. He'll never change. But trying to silence him just makes his voice louder.

My conclusion is this; no we should not just throw away all of those old records and pretend that old art doesn't exist. And you shouldn't feel guilty for listening to it and enjoying it, because it ultimately influenced so much of what's out there today in this golden age for metal fans to discover music. At the same time, musicians are people, and people are imperfect. Some of them have shitty philosophies on life. You don't change their minds by just doing the "call out" thing; if anything you're giving them a bigger platform because of the extra attention they're now getting. Ask Destroyer 666 how their feud with Metalsucks went, and I imagine they'd tell you it was one of the best things to ever happen to the band. But you know what happens with age, travel, education, and experience? People evolve. As Phil Anselmo demonstrates, it can be messy and uneven, but they do evolve and grow. You think the guys from MGLA, as their band gets bigger, they travel, and meet people from around the world, are really gonna want to remain associated with any NSBM bullshit? I doubt it. I think that the sooner people with skeletons in their own closets stop with the "virtue signalling" and SJW call out bullshit, the better.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Best of 2018

2018 was an interesting year for me. Made one career change, then another. Decided that having one post-graduate degree wasn't enough, so I enrolled in a second one. Didn't really get to take one super long vacation, but M and I did have a few cool excursions to the Great White North as well as to the warm waters of Charleston, South Carolina. I also discovered that as I get older and lazier, that it's easier to just use Spotify to discover new bands than it was to download them from one of the online blog sites. 

I didn't go to a ton of concerts in 2018; obviously as a resident of the Washington DC metro area I made it to the Maryland Deathfest; the 2018 edition, despite losing headliners to health scares and visa issues, ended up being one of the best editions in the last several years. Sinister is an absolute beast of a live band. I had the opportunity to catch Demilich on tour as well as they were on a fantastic tour package with newcomers Blood Incantation, Artificial Brain, and Scorched. I also got to see Paradise Lost and Solstafir as well as the so-called "final" tour of Slayer. Per usual, I'm probably overlooking something.

At any rate, I certainly did manage to cram my CD shelves even more full of albums; 79 of them released in 2018 according my Collectorz.com software. Developing this year's list was difficult in that I heard a lot of albums I liked a lot, but I had a lot of trouble assigning a rank or preference to them.

Biggest Disappointment of 2018

Machine Head Catharsis

I could have said Behemoth here, but the truth is that Behemoth didn't release a bad record or one I haven't listened to a bunch at all. It was pretty good; just a radical departure from The Satanist, which right now is my current album of the decade. On the other hand, Machine Head isn't a band that I'd ever count among my absolute favorites, but I'm not going to say that I didn't really enjoy the majority of their back catalog. Excluding The Burning Red and Supercharger, I thought they were certainly enjoyable enough as a relatively easy to digest sort of metal; they were rather straight forward and only occasionally dipped their toes into anything resembling extremity but they were a logical progression of thrash rather than a rehash of Kreator and Demolition Hammer or anything like that. At their best, they were a modern sort of Metallica with a decent sense of "anthemic melody."

But Catharsis is the absolute drizzling shits. I'm absolutely convinced that the tool bags from Metal Sucks thought it would be funny to see if anyone would bite on a nu-metal revival. Turns out, exactly one person outside of dwindling 40 somethings that still attend the "Gathering of the Juggaloes" did: Robb Flynn. At the expense of literally tearing his own band apart, Catharsis not only revisited their mediocre era but double downed on it. 

(Hey, we've got Dave McClain back in Sacred Reich out of it, which almost makes me rethink this disappointment thing...)

What makes Catharsis the year's biggest disappointment for me is a combination of two things. First, most of the other noteworthy releases that I heard really delivered. Second, this may be an unpopular opinion with the underground metal groupthink, but I actually think Robb Flynn is a pretty damn talented individual who writes songs that certainly have a distinct style; you know it's Machine Head when you hear the tone of their guitars; even when they play shitty nu-metal. Hell, while I think he is certainly virtue signalling and pea-cocking when he makes political statements, it's not like I've necessarily disagreed with the substance of what he was saying. This was just the unfortunate manifestation of a man's mid-life crisis. 

Honorable Mentions:

Aborted Terrorvision
Abysmal Torment The Misanthrope
Ahtme Sewerborn
Amorphis Queen of Time
At The Gates To Drink From The Night Itself
Birth of Depravity From Obscure Domains
Bufihimat I
Convocation  Scars Across
Cryptopsy Tome II: The Book of Suffering
Deiquisitor Downfall of the Apostates
Fixation on Suffering Confined in Obscurity
Galvanizer Sanguine Vigil
Harakiri For The Sky Arson
Hooded Menace Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed
Horrendous Idol
Immortal Northern Chaos Gods
Infuriate Infuriate
Mass Infection Shadows Became Flesh
Monstrosity The Passage of Existence 
Mortuous Through Wilderness
Panopticon The Scars of Man on the once Nameless Wilderness Pt 1
Scorched Ecliptic Butchery
Un Sentiment
Wayfarer World's Blood

10.) Khemmis Desolation

My first criteria for what gets put on my list is how often did I really reach for it to listen to. I listened to Desolation a lot; their formula of Pallbearer-esque despair and heavy grooves with a smidge of classic heavy metal is very effective. Khemmis is one of the most "catchy" bands I've heard in the last few years. 

9.) Necrophobic Mark of the Necrogram

Necrophobic has been around for quite a while, but this album is the first time I really dove into what the band does. They're an effective machine that straddles the line between death and black metal with precision. Nothing here reinvents the wheel, but this is a good album to get a speeding ticket to.

8.) Glorior Belli The Apostate

This French band somehow infuses their black metal with heavy doses of New Orleans-styled sludge and makes it work. When they rip, they do it as well as anyone, but when they restrain themselves and venture towards (dare i say it?) "-core" territory on tracks like "Runaway Charlie" and "Rebel Reveries", Glorior Belli truly distinguish themselves as one of black metal's boldest and most creative acts. 

7.) Solstice (UK) White Horse Hill

This long running but seldom heard from doom troop from Britain delivered an album that's epic yet mournful, heavy as fuck with a flat out nasty guitar tone. To the uninitiated, this could be best described as somewhere between Candlemass and Primordial (or more accurately, their countrymen Mael Mordha.)  

6.) Construct of Lethe Exiler

This band is actually semi-local for me; I've probably crossed paths with some of those involved at some point in the now distant past at shows at Jaxx Nightclub in the Washington, DC area (one of those forgotten local venues that every town has.) Exiler also features guest appearances from members of Benighted and Near Death Condition, and the result is a band that combines brutality with technique, drawing influence from Morbid Angel with judge a smidge of the current dischordant death metal that's out there (Ulcerate and Gorguts.) 

5.) Uada Cult Of A Dying Sun

It seems somewhat popular to shit on these guys. Either because they got popular off their first album and therefore despised by people who refuse to listen to post-2000 black metal or because people believe in some sort of transitive property where if an apolitical black metal band shares a stage with a black metal band with some repugnant political/social/racial views, that in turn they must also be dirtbags. 

I don't ascribe to this nonsense. What I hear is a band with catchy melodies, sufficient venom, and vibes that remind me of both MGLA and Agalloch. What they lack in true "originality" they more than make up for with execution and listenability. What makes this better than the debut is that there's more variety to the vocal intonations and the songs themselves are a bit longer and more ambitious. That said, I suspect that this is a band that people have unfortunately already made their minds up about before hearing them.

4.) Lago Sea of Duress

Tremendously well executed murky death metal in the vein of Morbid Angel and Immolation, with some tasteful guitar theatrics to boot. One of the best albums that Unique Leader Records has released in years, which is a bit of a surprise given the otherwise deathcore/slam direction the label has largely taken a direction towards. This band is probably a few high profile festival appearances away from getting some serious recognition. 

3.) Agrimonia Awaken

Not the kind of album I'd expect to be released by Southern Lord Recordings, but apparently this band has its roots in crust punk and post-metal, yet released the type of album I've wished Opeth would have done years ago. Full of miserable guitar harmonies, thundering kick drums, and acidic vocals that stretch across 10 minute long proggish song structures, this album is definitely a grower in that you're not gonna hear 3 minute bangers, but if you put it on as background music while driving, you'll quickly find yourself captivated by the spell this band delivers. It's an intriguing and satisfying listen that got a lot of repeat listens from me. 

2.) Augury Illusive Golden Age

Another Opeth-y album? Not exactly though there's some vibes of that or even long obscure Spiral Architect contained here. But make no mistake, Illusive Golden Age is a brutal death metal record and while they're ambitiously hypertechical, brutality and intensity is not sacrificed here. There's some vocal variation but it's all varying deliveries of raw throated and guttural growls. A cacophony of early Cryptopsy meets Atheist and Cynic but delivered with a tasteful restraint and razor sharp focus. In my opinion, more than the more popular Obscura, Augury assert their claim to the throne of tech-death world champs in 2018, and only their own lack of output (this was nearly 10 years after their previous outstanding album, Fragmentary Evidence) prevents them from keeping that title going forward. 

1.) Hamferd Tamsins Iikam 

2018 introduced this absolutely miserable six piece from the Faroes Islands to me. This actually sounds like a ship lost at sea being battered by brutal waves under a cloudy, rain drenched sky. Large crushing riffs that kinda remind me of Ahab and a songwriting style that builds to peaks and crescendos make for an involved listen. Vocalist Jon Aldara (apparently he also does vocals for Barren Earth) is immensely talented, both with a ghastly low death metal growl that would make most Finnish growlers wet themselves, as well as a painfully emotive operatic clean singing delivery. This tops my list because 1.) I listened to it a lot all year long, 2.) I can't really name another band that sounds like this (certainly no others that sing in Faroese...) 3.) the superb quality of what's contained here. I think once this album has had a couple years of exposure to be absorbed by doom metal bands, it'll be acknowledged as a classic the same way Turn Loose the Swans or Solinari or Antithesis of Light are. 


Monday, February 19, 2018

A Woman's Place...

The joke goes like this:

"The only metal a woman knows is pots and pans."

Otep doesn't really help disprove this, of course.
In 2018, with the #metoo movement in full swing, it's harder to laugh at a statement like that. Mainly because one, it's demonstrably false. There's more tr00 female heshers than at any time I've ever been able to recall. And two, publicly laughing at that statement in 2018 means you're possibly taking a side in the cultural shitshow between cock-hating Third Wave Feminists and the human toilets that comprise the online communities of Mens Rights Activists, Incels, and Alt-Right cum stains to whom disparaging women isn't a laughing matter but a very real vocation in between their sessions of playing Call of Duty, eating Hot Pockets, and generally avoiding the sun.  

There really isn't a sadder more pathetic community on the internet than the Incels.
But as women in metal become more commonplace, periodically we see articles on the various blogs and forums on the topic of "female fronted" bands. Recently long terrible and thankfully long inactive nu-metal band Kittie opined that they shouldn't be thought of as a female fronted band. Quite ironic, given that when their record label first presented this Canadian embarrassment to music to an undeserving world, pretty much all of their hype centered around their gender and age. It was widely speculated shortly after their debut that at least some of the "musicians" in the band were even so inept that they couldn't competently tune their own instruments.

All these members. Yet so little interesting music.

It is a fair point, nevertheless. Should it really matter what the identities of a band's members happen to be? It seems like "female fronted" is a poor label to use to distinguish bands based on their sound. Arch Enemy, a band guilty of blatantly using an attractive female vocalist to gather attention in an otherwise over-saturated melodic deathmetal genre, sounds pretty goddamned different from Nightwish, purveyors of frilly froo foo symphonic powermetalish horseshit. My strong opinions about these artists notwithstanding, the only common denominator between artists in this manufactured "genre" is that the bands feature females as vocalists. It is pretty shitty to therefore isolate bands featuring female membership and to judge them not as bands on equal footing with the rest of the genre but only in comparison to other bands featuring prominent women. 

This is marketing, not creative brilliance.

Metal should be exclusionary. It's an outsider genre of music and a subculture for people that feel like outsiders. That said, I don't see why that label only fits white heterosexual men like myself. In fact, if any group of people in western society based on gender and ethnic identity are insiders, it's people like me. I see no reason why people with vaginas, or people of color, or people with various sexual, gender, ethnic, religious, or even political identities cannot identify with the alienation of feeling like an "outsider" and feel drawn to this type of music. 

Metal is not a goddamned pie. Just because more people decided they want to try it doesn't mean you get to have less.
At the same time, if a band wants to be judged on its merits and not the identity of its members, then that band needs to present itself that way. Kittie chose to market themselves as angry teenage girls and when they became thirty somethings and weren't getting respect as serious musicians outside of a dwindling fanbase, that's when they said "stop calling us a girl band." When Butcher Babies two front women put their tits all over everything and say "we're selling serious music", that's basically bullshit. There's nothing wrong with tits or pushing sexuality, but using sex appeal to get attention to sell shitty music doesn't make the music better. I've got no problem with someone being comfortable enough to push themselves that way, but you can't really complain that no one buys you as a musician when you're selling sex rather than music. (Though in the case of Butcher Babies, that's probably a smarter financial move.)

They could be selling basically anything here.
There's plenty of women involved in metal bands that are producing great music. Nervosa's entire lineup is female, and Haemhorrage, Eluveitie, Electric Wizard, Bolt Thrower, Abnormality, and My Dying Bride come to mind right off the top of my head as bands with female contributors. I don't think it matters if you've got a cock n' balls or a vag; if you're making good music then you're making good music. It's really not much more complicated than that.

An honest to goatlord decent solid thrash band.

In short, a woman's place is wherever she wants it to be. That includes within the metal scene. And women shouldn't have to leave their femininity at the entrance to the hall, either. But if women in metal bands use their gender to distinguish themselves from other bands in the genre, then it's hypocritical to then wonder why their bands aren't evaluated the same way as other bands. If you want to be accepted and fit in, then fit in.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

When Bands go "Cold Lake"...

Would you believe these guys once released "To Mega Therion"?
It's inevitable that almost every band will have a subpar effort in their catalog of albums. That many bands will take a swing and miss on a stylistic shift is a given and perhaps even a necessity. Not every artist is destined to be Motorhead or Cannibal Corpse and can regurgitate the same album over and over without diminished returns. Some bands need to take a left turn and explore a little uncharted territory before returning to what made them good. Paradise Lost is a wonderful example of that. Sometimes a band needs a lineup shift to rekindle their inspiration and get back on track with that they do best with a renewed energy. Amorphis is a great example of this. And sometimes bands just make inexplicably crap records that otherwise interrupt careers of strong output. Rotting Christ and My Dying Bride have both done this.

Even a band as badass as fucking Vader has occasionally released a forgettable album. See also: "The Beast".

And sometimes bands just go completely off the deep end and make enormous career shifts and decide to release awful records.

I'm inspired to rant about this because right now I'm listening to the new Machine Head album Catharsis, which sees the band abandoning a string of solid, groovy thrash records to revisit their unfortunate adventures in nu-metal. With online media blogs deciding that nu-metal's revival is now imminent I guess Robb Flynn decided to take one more stab at the "moronic-extra-chromosome-carrying-previously-disowned-yet-for-a-brief-time-commercially-viable" relative to proper metal. What is awful is new again, right? (For example, supposedly JNCOs are "back".) Not that it should surprise you, but yes, Catharsis sucks. It's muddy downtuned "grooves" and infantile lyricism is a sharp departure from the epic, intricate nature of The Blackening or even the classic metal influences that crept up since. 
I can't believe Robb Flynn thought revisiting THIS was a good idea.

One often wonders what leads to the decision making for an otherwise established band that seemingly has found its niche to make an abrupt shift in style. Clearly fan perception about whether such a shift has even taken place is one thing to consider. For example, how far a shift was Cryptopsy really making with The Unspoken King? While clearly globbing onto the deathcore wave of the late 2000's, it at least remained an "extreme" metal album, if only relative to what mainstream music happens to be. Fan outrage, as well as my own critique, was that Cryptopsy was an established institution that transcended trends in the metal underground and did not need to cater to the aesthetics of a passing moment. Nobody listens to Cryptopsy to hear clean vocals, excessive keyboards, or grooves. They want speed, hyperblasting drums, and acrobatically extreme vocals. The overwhelmingly negative backlash obviously didn't go unnoticed and after several lineup changes, Cryptopsy seemed to right the ship with their eponymous effort and the followup Book of Tomes EP.

In a sense, that's what Celtic Frost did in following up the colossally massive failure of Cold Lake. This was the bad record by which all other bad records are defined. Ironically, it was from one of the genre's most forward thinking and progressive bands during the 1980s, yet upon achieving wider success on their own terms, the band seemingly sabotaged themselves by releasing an utterly unlistenable glam rock album, complete with hairspray. Tom G. Warrior would later call it his biggest mistake ever, and attribute it to a combination of a happy love life and letting a new lineup determine the creative direction. Still, the band would "right" things by responding with the oft-ignored Vanity/Nemesis before returning from hiatus many years later, existing as though Cold Lake never happened.

Happy people make shitty music. Its just a fact.
Then there's the bands that spend years and several albums cultivating fanbases, just to make an abrupt shift and never turn back. Opeth is a great example of this. Always heavily inspired by 70's prog rock, Opeth delivered 9 albums of varying brilliance, seemlessly interweaving said prog with thunderous death metal to create somber, compelling music. Thriving off the support of a death metal scene all too willing to hype Opeth to non-metal peers as proof of metal's ability to be more than mindless noise, Opeth grew from a little band from Stockholm, Sweden into one of metal's most universally beloved darlings, seemingly incapable of doing wrong. Then they released Heritage, an album devoid of any of its metal trappings in favor of pure 70's prog-nerd worship. The album was completely polarizing (the music media loved it while older fans hated it), and objectively not as "good" as their previously death metal inspired albums. The response of the band has essentially been confusing; follow up releases The Pale Communion and Sorceress basically doubled down on the pedestrian sounding non-metal. Yet the band still includes songs from their previous back catalog in their live set, and have left open the possibility of returning to a heavier sound in the future. Essentially Opeth has made it clear they don't want to play death metal anymore, yet they want to lead fans on so they will continue to attend shows and buy each new record with a hope that just maybe the the glory days of the band will return.

Maybe this nerd is just as confused about Opeth's direction as the rest of us.
Meanwhile, there's In Flames. In the year 2000, In Flames was at their peak. Their catchy formula of melodic death metal, extra heavy on syrupy sweet melodic guitar harmonies, was at once tremendously enjoyable and it seemed palatable enough for mainstream ears for In Flames to be the underground metal band that was going "make the leap." They so thoroughly outdrew Earth Crisis on a co-headlining tour that Earth Crisis actually broke up midtour. I personally witnessed an incredible performance on a tour they headlined with Nevermore and Shadow's Fall in a sold out club. It seemed like bigger venues and Ozzfests were in their future. And in some respects it was, just not how long time fans had envisioned. See, In Flames had dropped hints all along; expressing fandom for artists like Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit. And sure enough, just as their light was shining at its brightest, the band abandoned its Gothenburg-style roots for downtuned nu-metal, emo lyricism, and borderline whiny vocals on 2002's Reroute To Remain. And for the period of the last days of nu-metal's viability, In Flames was able to reach Ozzfest, and get picked up on bigger package tours. Yet it really seems like they basically swapped one fan base for another, and with the passing of nu-metal's wave, they just release albums in their adopted style every few years to a chorus of metal fans who remind them of how much better they used to be.  

Basically how In Flames feels about their old fans. But hey, matching jumpsuits.
I guess bands could reach the point of releasing a Cold Lake in a variety of ways. Desire for commercial success. Boredom with a style they've played for multiple albums. Internal discord within the band. Using Metallica's post-black album career as an example, perhaps a paranoid desire to stay relevant. How bands respond to it seems to vary as well. Some rebound, some double down, some hedge their bets on their new sound, and some, like Metallica, swing wildly for the fences again and again, hoping to stumble on the right formula; in their case it seems to be to settle down into a mediocre, watered down version of their past glory with Hardwired To Self Destruct.
Boredom can be dangerous.

So how does a fan "cope" with this? As a long time metalhead who has seen this play out multiple times, I've learned to not take it personally as 16 year old kid the first time their favorite band "sells out." I think it involves understanding that bands are made up of human beings, who evolve and change over time. Who develop new interests and become bored of old ones. I think more than anything, a band should always make "honest art", which is to say that they should follow whatever is in their collective heart in a creative sense. If you make a shitty record for the right reason, who cares? Hell, if you make it for the wrong reason, is it really that big a deal? Those old Opeth and In Flames records haven't gone anywhere. I can still listen to My Arms Your Hearse or Whoracle and those records are just as amazing today as they were when they were originally released. The fact that both bands made abrupt decisions to turn to shit doesn't change that. The fact that Machine Head has just released an absolute turd sandwich of an album and are whiny bitches about the fact most of their fans hate it doesn't make Burn My Eyes or The More Things Change... less crushing.

Still one of metal's greatest albums.

As a younger fan, I probably would develop some sort of irrational animosity towards a band and its entire catalog because of a Cold Lake-moment. But in 2018, with so many streaming services and torrents of so many other bands it just seems silly. I'm not suggesting bands should get a pass for releasing a bad record. I still haven't "forgiven" Hypocrisy for releasing Catch 22 and attempting to cash in on ripping off Slipknot. But I am thankful I haven't disregarded the band since; albums like End of Disclosure and A Taste of Extreme Divinity are worthy additions to the band's legacy and have deserved their repeated listens.

I guess the overarching theme of what I'm getting at is that the longer a band exists, the more likely they're gonna do a shitty record. And the more likely they're gonna shift styles at some point. The confluence of diminished inspiration and style shift is what creates a Cold Lake. It's bound to happen yet rather than spending a ton of time upset about it, just remember that we live in a time when there's constantly more new records coming out that are going to be up your alley if you just take the time to look.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Best of 2017

It's that time of year again. Music nerds compile their lists of the records they think were the best; I've been posting mine on this dimly lit corner of the web for several years now. 2017 has been a good year, personally I've had some fun adventures in Texas, Kentucky, and Quebec with M. I got to see fucking Akercocke live at the Maryland Deathfest which was certainly a bucketlist sort of thing for me. I think I've survived year one of the Orange Goblin as my president, despite his attempts to draw our planet into a nuclear war. After using 2017 to take a deep breath and relax from the hellish marathon that was earning my degrees, I think 2018 will once again be a year for self improvement, mostly because I'm restless otherwise.

It's also a year that I heard a LOT of really good records. Between old guard bands and the new kids, there's a very vibrant if deeply underground metal scene right now. Festivals might not be drawing as large of turnouts, and sales are mostly in the shitter now that we're deep into the age of Spotify and YouTube, but artistically there's a ton of killer shit to get excited about. It's a good time to be alive as a fan of metal music.

At least until the new FCC rules kill Net Neutrality and it becomes much harder to scour the web to discover obscure bands. 

Biggest Disappointment

Pathology Pathology

Over the last 10 years, Pathology has been known to deliver the caveman slam death goods. Sick ultraguttural vocals, headbanging groves and slams, ferocious percussion. This time around, they just halfassed it. Matti Way is just gurgling...there's not even an attempt to pronounce lyrics; I've heard his work in other bands like Disgorge and Abominable Putridity to know when he's putting effort into it. Musically it almost sounds like they just chopped up the less inspiring parts of their previous albums and put them together here and called it a new "album." I don't listen to this style expecting originality but it's a style that doesn't really spare room for mediocrity; either it's gonna be excellent or not so good and there's not gonna be much room in between. I'm surprised that this made it past the normally astute quality control of Comatose Music.

Honorable Mentions

All Pigs Must Die Hostage Animal
Arkaik Nementhia
Broken Hope Mutilated And Assimilated 
Cannibal Corpse Red Before Black
Converge The Dusk In Us
Cytotoxin Gammageddon
Dead Cross Dead Cross
Der Weg Einer Freiheit Finisterre
Desolate Shrine Deliverance From The Godless Void 
Dodecahedron Kwintessins 
Enslaved E 
Father Befouled Desolate Gods 
Hanging Garden I Am Become  
Hideous Divinity Adveniens 
Hour Of Penance Cast The First Stone 
Immolation Atonement 
Incantation Profane Nexus 
Necrot Blood Offerings 
Phrenelith Desolate Endscape
Ulsect Ulsect
Solstafir Berdreyminn

10.) Desecrate The Faith Unholy Infestation

This is the second album that I'm aware of by this relatively obscure Texas brutal death metal act, and Unholy Infestation delivers a really solid, listenable slab of infectiously catchy death metal. This record is everything that this year's Pathology album was not.

9.) Sunlight's Bane The Blackest Volume: Like All Of The Earth Was Buried

If I were to attempt use other bands as a frame of reference to describe Sunlight's Bane on this, their debut album, I'd be pulling from artists as varied as Converge and Rune. Maybe Nails meets Anaal Nathrakh? If I were writing for some metal 'zine I'd make up a bullshit subgenre like "apocalyptic blackened crustgrind"  or something. Here's what you need to know. This is massively pissed off, at times epic, at times just furious, and it straddles the line between extreme metal and hardcore. I bought this record on a whim while in Texas and was quite pleased by my discovery.

8.) Akercocke Renaissance In Extremis
This band's reformation was one of the best things to come out of 2017; Akercocke has always been one of the more creative and innovative bands in metal, taking elements of black metal, death metal, progressive rock, and electronica to forge their odes to the goatlord. This time around saw the band shed the tailored suits and over the top Satanic imagery for a more subdued, progressively influenced sound and while it may not have been the Akercocke I was expecting when they announced their new record, this album is excellent and satisfying all the same.

7.) Belphegor Totenritual

The last album by Belphegor, 2014's Conjuring the Dead, was a slight letdown compared to their usual standard of outstanding and sometimes grandiose combination of black and death metal. While I appreciated the more deathly orientation the band has taken, Conjuring... suffered from a awkward and distracting kick drum sound that hurt the songs. Hey, sometimes even Eric Rutan doesn't get it right. Just consider the new Morbid Angel record as an example. That said, Belphegor most certainly got it right on Totenritual, delivering several pulverizing little ditties about the devil, demons, and evil. Standard fare. Hell, dare I say that this sounded more like the record I wish Morbid Angel released at times than the one they actually did. When Belphegor is at their peak, they're damn near untouchable.

6.) The Obsessed Sacred

The last time I recalled Wino, he was with Saint Vitus, who were busted in Norway for possession of meth, cocaine, and a cocktail of other illicit self medications. Which is pretty fucking doom metal, I must say. Apparently he's all aboard the Infowars crazy train too, which I guess isn't surprising if you read the lyrics from his The Hidden Hand project. I could be wrong about that. I really hope I am wrong about that and that he's not all in with the Dave Mustaine/Alex Jones shit. That would be majorly disappointing if it's actually true. Regardless, he avoids that shit with The Obsessed, thematically focusing on more relatable personal tales of sorrow. This is really heavy, not in the same way that other bands on this list so far are, but in an earthy, bluesy sort of way. Lots of repeat listens from this one.


5.) Devangelic Phlegethon
There's been a ton of great death metal coming from Italy this year, and interestingly bands like Antropofagus and Logic of Denial downplayed their more technical leanings in favor of straight on brutality. That said, Devangelic celebrated full on American styled brutality from the beginning, and in 2017 they're the grand champions of Italian death metal. To these ears, Resurrection Denied was a bit groovier than Phlegethon, which is more aggressive but still has its head nodding chugs amongst the blasts and even a bit of trash can snare. Supersick low vocals. Okay, so maybe it's not the most "original" release and it's a style that many bands attempt, but there's some really exceptional stuff and lots of quality here for fans of say, Cannibal Corpse or Disavowed.

4.) Gods Forsaken In A Pitch Black Grave

Another one of those not so original acts; Gods Forsaken only formed in 2016 by a few fellows who had spent time in various Swedish death metal bands including Blood Mortized, Wombbath, a whole bunch of Rogga Johanson's bands, even a cup of coffee in Amon Amarth. Do you like Dismember or Entombed or Grave? You think that Entrails is perfectly serviceable but just lacks a little something extra? I can't recommend In A Pitch Black Grave enough to you. The vocals are pretty low but gritty, the guitars buzz and crush with the occasional haunting melody, the drums sound like they were recorded at Sunlight Studios. Above all else, these are really catchy well constructed SONGS. You hear this and it's familiar in a comforting sort of way, yet you want to reach for it again and again. This record has lived in my car ever since I took a chance on it.

3.) Full of Hell Trumpeting Ecstasy

I think this is one of those darlings of the nerd metal class who buy everything Profound Lore or Dark Descent releases in 3 different colors of vinyl, which in turn pisses off the elitists who disregard them completely. "They made a noise record with Merzbow once so they're fucking hipsters." Hell, Encylcopedia Metallum can't be bothered to review any of their releases. I say fuck them. Trumpeting Ecstasy is outstanding. This is utterly ferocious and relentless deathgrind done in the style of many releases on Willowtip Records. In fact, if you told me these guys took heavy influence from say, Commit Suicide or Circle of Dead Children, I wouldn't be surprised in the least. After decades of listening to extreme music, I think it's fucking fantastic that I can still hear bands that play with energy, passion, and who just fucking go for it. Do they reinvent the wheel or break any ground with Trumpeting Ecstasy? Absolutely not. But bands like Full of Hell who convey a sense of conviction in their malice are why I still get excited by this genre of cookie monster nonsense. 

2.) Paradise Lost Medusa

It's kinda weird yet entirely welcome to see this band come full circle. Yet over the last several years, as they've returned to playing miserable doom metal it's clear they benefited from their time experimenting with electronics and otherwise exploring other ways to be dreary. I can't escape the thought that if they hadn't gone thru that period between One Second and Symbol of Life and went straight from Draconian Times to their self titled, maybe it's just not as good. Maybe it's a bit stale by now. Instead, songs like "The Longest Winter" sound vibrant and exciting and gripping. This was another record that stayed in my car for a long time this year, though oddly it was one of the bonus tracks, "Shrines", that's my favorite from Medusa

1.) Pallbearer Heartless

Bleak, dreary, defeated. Humbled, crushed, hopeless. These are the sorts of words I think of when I hear Pallbearer, who have in very short order over 3 albums become one of my absolute favorite bands in the world. Like the record by The Obsessed, this isn't the same type of heavy, but the despair conveyed by the harmonized vocals and the sludgy riffs hit harder than blastbeats and gutturals. Let me be clear, I love all kinds of heavy, and some of the riffs contained on Heartless make me think of Rwake or even Morgion. In a year with a lot of great releases by a lot of great bands, this album from back in February(?) is the one that stood out the most all year long for me. I think the first track, "I Saw The End", with it's melodic leads and classic rock sensibility, hints at an intriguing and exciting future for Pallbearer.