Monday, December 19, 2016

Best of 2016.

It seems that a lot of people had a pretty fucking lousy go for 2016. I mean, holy shit we elected a reality TV buffoon as president here in the States. That is pretty goddamned awful. But while things may be going down the shitter for the country I reside in, 2016 actually has been a pretty kind year to me overall. I completed my post-graduate studies, got to spend nearly 3 weeks traveling the United States from coast to coast, and basically eliminated all non-student related debt from my life. I even found a little time to start learning Portuguese on the side, much to the pleasure of M. 

I haven't really been to many shows this year; in fact I don't think I attended any since MDF in May. Truth is, I'm an old bastard who has already seen "all of the cool bands" and often I'd rather just go have a steak and a beer in a quiet restaurant than battling DC/Baltimore traffic to see a band for the 8th time. That doesn't mean my fandom has become entirely casual; by my estimate I've purchased 62 albums released in 2016 alone, which is to say I've voraciously been listening to and supporting a lot of great bands. Since it's the end of the year and the appropriate time for "Best of" lists, here's mine.

Biggest Disappointment

Rotting Christ Rituals

Rotting Christ experienced a revival around 2007 when they released Theogonia with its ethnic Greek influences. To me, it was their best album since their very early days. Unfortunately, each successive album by the band has attempted to plunder this well of creativity with solid but declining results. On Rituals, it has become clear that there just isn't more juice in the path the band started with Theogonia. It's not that there aren't cool moments contained here, but just nothing in the way of memorable songcraft. It's more like this album was created as background music for a God of War video game than a stand alone work meant to captivate your undivided attention. When this record ends, you know you listened to something that sounds like Rotting Christ, but you don't remember much else. These guys are capable of more and given their history of reinvention, I suspect we'll get it soon enough.

Honorable Mentions

Blasphemer Ritual Theophagy
Blood Incantation Starspawn
Blood Red Throne Union Of Flesh And Machine
Darkthrone Arctic Thunder
Dark Tranquility Atoma
Dehumanized Beyond The Mind
Glorior Belli The Flock That Welcomes Sundown
In The Woods.. Pure
Inquisition Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith
Injury Deepen Anthropophagous Realm
Inverloch Distance / Collapsed
Korpse Unethical
Neurogenic Ouroboric Stagnation
Pighead Until All Flesh Decays
Russian Circles Guidance 
Waldgefluster Ruinen
Wormrot Voices

10.) Anaal Nathrakh The Whole Of The Law

Anaal Nathrakh was a band I kinda came to lately, but when I heard Vanitas a few years ago it clicked perfectly. This is band is a desperate scream in a cacophonous fury. It's a sound that's dense and overwhelming yet grandoise, epic, and even a slight bit triumphant at the same time. That's a lot of adjectives. But in it's mix of black metal, grindcore, and industrial elements, they all fitting describe The Whole Of The Law.

9.) Anciients Voice Of The Void

I had kinda written these guys off as some sort of hipster nerd metal bullshit until this album came up on autoplay on my ipod recently. You could waste your time with Opeth's Sorceress and lament about how far that band has fallen...or you could check this out instead. It's an ambitious sort of blending of bombastic Opeth-y prog and stoner rock, complete with the clean vocal/growling dynamic. This one shouldn't take long to grow on you.

8.) Embalmer Emanations From The Crypt

Awash with grisly sounding vocals, old school riffs, trigger free blasts...this is an ugly sounding band, playing what may be loosely considered "music" but really is just an aural fist to the face by a band that treads close to the edge of any time this sounds like it could fall of the rails into noisy oblivion but never does. 

 7.) Ulcerate Shrines of Paralysis

Perhaps one of the most influential new bands in the scene, Ulcerate isn't the first band to play this sort of dischordant death metal; Gorguts and Immolation before them had elements of this sort of clangy, atmospheric sound. Certainly bands like Portal and Mitochondrion were intense and foreboding as well; but as a complete package it's Ulcerate who have really made a name for themselves with this style. This is less jarring perhaps than their previous efforts and slightly more orthodox in it's death metal, but as a non-musician who just wants to hear good riffs and be captured by dark atmospheres this might be their best effort to date in my opinion. 

 6.) Mithras On Strange Loops

Morbid Angel done Willowtip style might be the exact best way to describe this album. Vocals that remind me a bit of Behemoth, the riffs are largely from the Trey Azagthoth school of lava (or whatever he calls it.) with memorable leads and harmonies layered on top. Conceptually, this is a bit ambitious as moments of fierce brutality transition seamlessly into wandering melodic grandeur. If looking at the stars and wondering how human life came to be could be expressed thru early 1990's death metal...I suppose this is about what that should sound like.  

5.) Destroyer 666 Wildfire

The most controversial band of 2016? Earlier this year they were engaged in quite a pissing contest with the SJWs at Metalsucks over their past history of less than PC statements that hilariously ended when D666 released the personal information behind the aliases of Axl Rosenberg and co. Now let me be very clear that I probably don't have too much in common with these Aussies with regard to their political views but if we're going to hold bands to task for problematic content in their lyrics then holy shit we've got problems because basically EVERY METAL BAND HAS PROBLEMATIC CONTENT IN THEIR LYRICS OR PERSONAL VIEWS. Songs about murder, violence, politics and revolution, sexual perversions of a wide variety, intolerant anti-religious viewpoints, etc...if you can't take all of this subject matter with a grain of salt then the metal scene probably isn't for you. 

Back on topic, none of that is why Wildfire is one of the best albums of the year. It's one of the best albums because it's a rambunctious booze fueled good time. Blackened thrash delivered with irreverent attitude, this album has cross over appeal. And album closer "Tamam Shud" is one epic finale. 

4.) Khemmis Hunted

Thin Lizzy meets The Obsessed? Plenty of dirty, sludgy heft with a bit of southern rock swagger and an emphasis on guitar harmonies. Where a band like Pallbearer aspires for grandiose and majestic, this Colorado band aims for something a good deal more rock n roll. This was a late discovery in 2016 for me, so perhaps there's a tinge of recency effect going on, but it definitely hits the spot for me.

3.) Katatonia The Fall Of Hearts

The review here is simple. This is the best album they have done since Last Fair Deal Gone Down

2.) Zhrine Unortheta

So I left MDF right after Mitochonrion's set before a band I never heard of performed (M was waiting for me and it was kinda rainy outside, so I wasn't going to be a dick...)  That band was Iceland's Zhrine, and apparently they created a bit of a buzz from their performance. Based on said buzz, I made the effort to pick up Unortheta and I've regretted missing these guys ever since. Elements of post-metal mesh with somber doom and Incantation/Ulcerate inspired death metal. This isn't meant to be digested in pieces or by individual tracks, but as an entire listen. A few nights driving across the sparsly populated regions of the Western United States I put this on, and it effectively matched the feeling of discomforting solitude one feels journeying along an empty interstate in Montana, racing to avoid a super-cell thunderstorm. Sometimes you hear an album and just connect with it.

1.) Wormed Krighsu

The 2016 undisputed kings of death metal, IMO. Full of rapid fire stop and go transitions that would make Cryptopsy cream themselves, this is a mightily satisfactory slab of brutal riffing, ferocious drumming, gutteral vocals, and technical virtuosity. They do this while retaining a distinct sound, one that makes you imagine being sucked into a black hole. When an album has stayed in my car since February...not much else needs to be said.


Friday, October 14, 2016

A sampling of places you can still buy metal records in the United States

I’ve been way too lazy with this blog, to the point it’s almost completely faded into obscurity. That wasn’t meant to be a Dehumanized reference. Alas. Something that I’ve been meaning to document because it might be useful to someone else, or merely a reminder to myself, is the names of great record shops that I’ve come across in my journeys. M and I are rather avid roadtrippers, vacation for us doesn’t really mean a formal plan as much as “how much time do we have” and “how far from home can we go?” We try to estimate a turn around point, then pass thru as many cities, national parks, and other points of interest as we can. This past summer, we managed to travel from our Mid-Atlantic residence to the Pacific Northwest and back. Our 2 ½ week journey obviously required a soundtrack, so I made a point to google up and visit some record stores along the way. In the process, I discovered some serious gems out there still retailing all kinds of killer underground metal in a variety of formats and figure that it’s worth putting the information out there for those who still enjoy the old school record shopping experience.

These aren’t listed in order of preference or quality, but in the order that I recalled them when I scribbled down a list of the noteworthy shops I’ve come across. Future entries will document other places worth checking out.

Zion’s Gate Records
1100 E Pike St
Seattle, Washington

This place is incredible. It’s located in Seattle in what I assume is the historic arts district/gay district of downtown. Their focus on METAL, with an enormous collection of vinyl and band shirts. LOTS OF RARITIES. They’ve got an impressive collection of CDs along the wall as well…I’m a CD shopper mostly because the number 1 place I listen to music is in the car. Some of their CDs can be on the pricey side…rarer and imported items are probably going to go 20 bucks each. I did manage to pick up 3 Count Raven records here, which was pretty awesome.

2nd Avenue Records
400 SW 2nd Ave
Portland, Oregon

A labyrinth of punk and metal as well as some other stuff. Tons of vinyl but they carry extensive CD stock as well. It’s a bit confusing as you basically have to ask the counter people to see the CDs, which they have kept in somewhat alphabetized but not particularly organized boxes; they’re more used to dealing with people that know what they want than the intrepid hunter. That said, while there’s a little bit of hassle in having to ask periodically for more boxes to search thru, they have an impressively large and varied selection of metal for sale in basically every subgenre. Their vinyl collection isn’t quite what Zion’s Gate is, but it’s massive as well. Lots of shirts and merch too. Really fair prices as well which as a good thing; I dropped almost $200 bucks in one visit. 

The Record Exchange
1105 W Idaho St
Boise, Idaho

Most college towns have a Record Exchange and Boise, Idaho is no exception. Kinda at the edge of downtown not too far from Boise State University’s campus; they’ve got a fair amount of everything here and their metal assortment isn’t too shabby. I picked up albums by Solstifir, Scour, and Unmerciful here if that gives you an idea. This was the first record store I visited in the Pacific Northwest and I was a bit surprised to discover just how big metal was out there.

Twist & Shout Records
2508 E Colfax Ave
Denver, Colorado.

This shop reminded me of what Tower Records was back in the day. You aren’t going to find super obscure stuff, but you will find everything you could want that’s on Relapse, Century Media, Metal Blade, Season of Mist, Unique Leader, etc along with a few oddball items. It’s not a metal specific store, but the metal section there is pretty large. I didn’t actually see a whole lot of vinyl there, but it did have a really decent sized CD section. Good prices. There's even amazing bookstore next door worth your time as well!

Bull Moose Records
151 Middle Street
Portland, Maine


82-86 Congress Street
Portsmouth, New Hampshire

This is a local chain of record stores in Maine and New Hampshire that’s a must visit when M and I are adventuring northward. Not a metal specific shop, but lots of great prices and a great selection of both new and used metal CDs. There's more locations than just these two, but I can't vouch for them. What I will say is that both the Portland and Portsmouth locations are located in really scenic tourist friendly spots so if your significant other isn't interested in waiting an hour while you comb thru used records to find that hidden gem there's other stuff to keep them busy. Also: the Portland location is kinda located downstairs across from a DVD's a bit of a goofy spot to find.

Generation Records
210 Thompson Street
New York, New York

I don’t know my way around NYC so well that I can tell you exactly where it is, other than it’s by Washington Square and NYU and it’s about a 10 minute walk from any of the Subway stations I usually use to get there. Decent selection of shirts and records…solid selection of new records upstairs that basically covers your recently released essentials. But if you go downstairs, you’ll find an ENOURMOUS selection of used CDs. It's a must stop every time M and I are in the city; there's also a really good Italian spot next door called Porto Bello and a neat little store dedicated to The Big Lebowski called "The Little Lebowski" that's right across the street. If you're not broke after stopping here, or are looking for other offerings beyond metal and punk, Bleeker Street and it's several shops are right near by as well.

Criminal Records
1154 Euclid Ave NE #A
Atlanta, Georgia

A really decent shop in the Five Points Neighborhood of Atlanta. I was able to basically buy GWAR and Rwake’s entire back catalogues on CD here for really cheap. It’s not the biggest shop in the world but if you’re in the area it’s worth a visit. They carry a lot more than just metal, but the metal is kept in it's own section if you look for it. 

Eides Entertainment
1121 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This is a comic book shop/horror movie shop/record store. A lot of people in Pittsburgh seem partial to Dave’s Music Mine over in South Side, but this has always been the place I’d spend more money at when I’m in Pittsburgh. You can usually find a few gems here when browsing around. 

The Sound Garden
1616 Thames St
Baltimore, Maryland

I just recently figured out this place has free parking behind the store. Of the places on this list, it's the one I go to the most. If you’re in the DC/MD/NOVA area…this shop is probably worth the drive if you’re looking for death/doom/black metal. You aren’t going to find super deep underground albums, but if they’re a band that’s played MDF, you’ll find their stuff here.

Static Age Records
110 N Lexington Ave
Asheville North Carolina

No CDs to be found here. I do think they sell cassettes. But there’s a healthy selection of underground punk and metal vinyl; I picked up vinyl by Acid Bath and Saint Vitus here. And fuck, Asheville is just a cool place to visit anyway; there's more shops that also sell vinyl nearby.

Places You Can Skip.

In my adventures, I've managed to find a lot of great shops to pick up obscure records. And sometimes, Google Search and Facebook has led me to disappointments...and M shaking her head because I've wasted time she could be eating gourmet cheese or something...

The Heavy Metal Shop
63 E Exchange Place
Salt Lake City Utah.

They’ve got those sweet shirts, so you expect that finding this store that it would sell a lot of CDs or at least Vinyls. Yeah….no. This place looks way more awesome from the outside than inside. There’s a TINY section for CDs, almost all of which are the same old shit by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and other 80’s dad rock. Shit you can find at any FYE or Best Buy. Vinyl selection is basically the same, but even more limited! There is an okay assortment of classic heavy metal shirts, but over half of the merchandise for sale at this place was “The Heavy Metal Shop” branded t shirts, magnets, coffee mugs, cock rings, etc. Okay, maybe not cock rings but the guy who owns this shop isn’t actually selling very much heavy metal out of his tiny cubicle, just products branded with his shop’s logo. Quite a letdown, especially since you don’t have to be in Salt Lake City for very long to pick up on the fact there’s a very healthy subculture scene there.  

On the upside, I did rescue a Metallucifer record that accidentally found its way there.


Chain Reaction Records
8739 W Colfax Ave
Lakewood, Colorado.

Mostly used crap CDs. Maybe the punk selection is better, but I found the metal offerings to be remarkable underwhelming and limited, especially compared to Twist & Shout. Vinyl wasn’t anything to write home about either. I guess they sell skateboards and shit too, but I’m too old for that crap. On the upside it's in the part of Denver where you'll find dead hookers and meth.

The Underground Rock Shop
617 Euclid Ave
Des Moines, Iowa

Juggalo hell. Their available CDs are used nu-metal garbage. Vinyl selection was moderately better, but it’s stuff most people into underground metal already own. A modest handful of Emperor and Darkthrone…I did stumble upon a vinyl copy of Celtic Frost’s "Into The Pandemonium" here…but they wanted way too much for it so I passed. I guess if you wanna buy bongs and drug paraphernalia they can help you out though.

Obviously there's places I haven't made it to yet. Embarrassingly, I haven't been to Vinyl Conflict in Richmond, Virginia. I should have been there already simply as a matter of proximity. Same could be said for Vienna Music Exchange, though based on the wares they sell at MDF each year I feel like I already own everything of interest they might carry. More ambitiously, I haven't been to Extreme Noise in Minneapolis, Amoeba Records in Los Angeles/San Francisco, Long In the Tooth Records in Philadelphia, or Armageddon Music in Providence/Boston. So more to come. Someday...