It’s been over a year since my last blog entry. It’s been over two years since my last dedicated music blog.
I received positive feedback for my Alice Cooper blog and wanted to do another music retrospective, but on whom, pray tell?
I toyed with my beloved Black Sabbath (which I could do with my eyes closed and is therefore unnecessary) or Deep Purple (for which I actually did the research, much to my great delight and, arguably, greater dismay) but then procrastinated until the idea was no longer fresh or fun.
I briefly entertained the idea of covering the Scorpions, but… why??
..when it dawned on me: AEROSMITH.
No, really. That’s what I decided on. And will be doing sometime in 2017.
This isn’t that blog. Oh no. This blog will be something much worse..
I listen to a lot of music. It might be the one thing the internet is actually good for. Discovering new bands has never been easier and their output has never been more affordable. Bandcamp has become a constant in my life. Today, most of the music I buy is digital, though I will still splurge on the occasional cool piece of vinyl.
Aside from bandcamp, some heavy music sites and blogs have been invaluable in my search for new tuneage: Shout out to Michael Nelson and Doug Moore at Stereogum, Kim Kelly at Noisey, H.P. Taskmaster at The Obelisk, Angry Metal Guy, Brooklyn Vegan and, the mac daddy, Invisible Oranges.
Invisible Oranges is, for my money, the best heavy music blog on the Internet. They strongly remind me of the immortal Metal Maniacs magazine. Which is sorely missed. So I guess that whole “immortal” title isn’t entirely accurate..
Invisible Oranges‘ articles are well-written and do not pander to popularity. They do this weird thing where they appreciate quality over name-recognition. How bizarre.. Their weekly discharge of Upcoming Releases is necessary and has introduced me to dozens of new bands I may not have found anywhere else.
As good as Decibel is, they probably didn’t review the last Aevangelist album. And that’s a pity because that album is bonkers.
These, like virtually all music news outlets, publish a YEAR END BEST OF LIST.
That practice is the inspiration for this blog.
Instead of the generic “BEST ALBUMS OF 2016” shit you can find anywhere else, I will instead be briefly (and occasionally laboriously) writing about all the albums I bought this year, regardless of release date.
I bought about 50 albums in 2016 and maybe 15 of them were released this year.
I’m not reviewing anything here, per se. Just offering a couple thoughts on each listen. I love talking music but rarely have anyone to bounce stuff off of, so these one-sided, open-ended ramblings of a crazy person will have to suffice.
Magic Circle is a supergroup comprised of members of Boston’s hardcore punk scene whose gimmick is playing 1970s-style throwback heavy metal amazingly well.
Their debut album featured strong material (a heftier one-two punch of “Winter Light” and “Rapture” would be hard to equal) but was terrifically front-loaded and the latter half meandered.
That is not the case with 2015’s Journey Blind. This whole album flows with the driving force of a hundred unchained griffins! That’s a metal thing to say, right?
Each track is complimentary of the other and they seem to all be on the same page as a band this time around.
“Ghosts of the Southern Front”
Thanks to the success of bands like The Sword, there has been an influx of “throwback” acts that play a version of classic 1970s metal also known as “classic doom” or “traditional metal” or “neo-NWOBHM.” I made that last one up, but it’s apt. These bandwagon heroes owe more than a few nods to Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Blue Oyster Cult etc.
The problem with this unlikely and popular “new” sub-genre is the market has been saturated, making it difficult for truly unique artists to rise above the chaff.
I’m unsure which side of the coin Elder belongs. I will say I did enjoy this album, even if at first glance they’re just a jammier version of The Sword.
Throwback doom isn’t the only doom available, you know. There’s also the modern, crushing, 14-minutes-is-now-an-acceptable-average-song-length DOOM.
That’s Bell Witch and they’re great. And heavy. And oh so muddy.
I have a difficult relationship with black metal. I really dig some of it, but often what I like is the more atmospheric stuff. I’d like to love the harsher stuff more, but have to be in the right mood for it.
That said, this early release from the mighty Emperor is surprisingly progressive, innovative AND metal as fuck. There’s a reason they are considered the standard bearers for the genre.
“I Am the Black Wizards”
INDIAN – THE UNQUIET SKY (2005)
“Ahead of their time” is an understatement. Chicago’s late sludge outfit Indian were mashing crushingly heavy doom together with black metal intensity when bands (like Bell Witch ) who would come to embrace this sound were still in Pull-Ups.
I always assumed they lifted the title of this album from a chapter in Reader’s Digests classic paranormal hardcover “Mysteries of the Unexplained.” I wonder if I’m right?
I don’t ONLY listen to metal. There are exceptions. Especially when they are exceptional.
Robert Ellis belongs to a class of young-ish country western singers (like Sturgill Simpson, Ryan Bingham and Jason Isbell) who are currently, against all odds, releasing incredible, traditional country music in an era where most country music sounds like bad hip-hop.
It’s shocking to hear authentic emotion and heartbreak in a genre where contrivance has long been its bread & butter.
ARCH ENEMY – BURNING BRIDGES (1999)
Arch Enemy are, and always have been, incredibly metal AND incredibly commercial. I guess that’s the “Gothenburg sound” in a nutshell.
I have a couple albums from the Angela Gossow-era, but with the recent reformation of AE’s classic Black Earth lineup, I thought I’d go back and check out some of their early stuff. It does not disappoint.
The expert arrangements and ultra-slick production that came to define (and ultimately dooms) Arch Enemy is in its early stages here, but works in service of the songs more than against them.
Good stuff from an established act in an era when they still had something to fresh to offer.
DARKEST HOUR – THE MARK OF JUDAS (2000)
It’s interesting to hear an early effort from a band that came to define a subgenre. You wonder if they are actually pulling from different styles to create this sound or if they’re just aping a dozen similar bands that came before.
That is ultimately the problem with metalcore: it was born fully formed. No patient zero means it was likely created in a lab somewhere and that makes listeners uneasy.
Still, this is a fun, dark, fast and hook-heavy (of course) release from a band who may be pretenders to the throne, but could just as easily pass for the heir apparent.
“The Mark of Judas”
UTHER PENDRAGON – SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE (2015)
Guerssen Records are an interesting label. They specialize in releasing American rock music that either never received a national release, if a proper release at all. Their wax is beautifully packaged and obscenely expensive because they ship from Europe.
They’re discography is rife with weird easy listening music from the early ’80s, weird biker rock from the late ’60s and weird psychedelia from the 1970s a la Uther Pendragon.
I was reading Le Mort D’Arthur when this was released, so it was fate that I would pay $70 to ship a 3-album vinyl box set from France by a long gone California band named after King Arthur’s father.
Sadly, it isn’t particularly groundbreaking or even interesting music, but it is a one-of-a-kind release/conversation piece. Perhaps it will someday garner me a fat coin or two.
“You’re a Human Now”
DEAD QUIET – DEAD QUIET (2015)
If Barn Burner reminded you, as they did me, of a beer-soaked Iron Maiden tribute band that weren’t quite good enough to play any Maiden songs all the way through, then Kevin Keegan’s Dead Quiet have fulfilled that dream.
Heavy, swinging and catchy as hell, Dead Quiet features bigger numbers and better production than Keegan’s previous outfit, whilst keeping his tongue-in-cheek humor intact.
BLOOD CEREMONY – LORDS OF MISRULE (2016)
Here my bias will show: I love this band and it’s quite a treat to witness them become fully realized.
Maybe it’s their Coven-meets-Jethro Tull boogie, their blistering fuzz guitar solos, their breathless flute solos, their efficient riffs, their perfectly crafted era-authentic pop hooks etc.
What Lords of Misrule has going for it over their last outing is how every song stands up to the last. It’s an even listen throughout, where virtually every track is a standout.
While I have bitched (and shall continue to bitch) extensively about bands attempting to sound like they’re from the 1970s, it’s rare that a band actually achieves said sound without seeming gimmicky.
Yet that’s exactly what Blood Ceremony accomplishes here. Lord of Misrule’s warm, full production is something they always needed to complete their sound and it’s kismet they have it for such a flawless album.
“Half Moon Street”
GRAF ORLOCK – DOOMBOX + TRILOGY (2011)
I’d begin with “Here’s my problem with Graf Orlock..” but I don’t really have a problem with Graf Orlock. They’re fine. I just don’t know what they are.
They claim to be grindcore, but sound like half-baked hardcore. They also defer to hokey gimmicks over actual music: 50% of this release is soundbites from movies and the music they do record sounds like it was taped on a mini-cassette recorder in in an old drafty barn.
Packaging is very important to Graf Orlock. Some might say ALL-IMPORTANT.
Eschewing traditional jewel cases, a 2007 release came clutched in a miniature Alien Facehugger. Their current album, Crime Traveler, comes in an actual newspaper. This album, Doombox, came in an elaborate cardboard sleeve that transforms into – what else? – a boom box.
I’m not making this up. In fact, it’s what attracted me to the band.
Well played, dicks.
Maybe I’m just pissy because the CD was scratched and the last 28 of the 47 songs don’t play right.
But dat packaging, tho!
It’s very funny and very outlandish. Now, if only the music matched the creativity of their marketing department..
What can I say about Converge that hasn’t been said a million times by better writers who actually listen to them regularly?
I got this to listen to in tandem with the You Fail Me Redux they released in July and then completely forgot about it. In fact, I forgot I had this until I began this project. Oops.
I am listening to it now and enjoying it, even if it is kinda dated. Odd how such contemporary music can have such a specific sound.
They kinda sound like Thursday and the Dillinger Escape Plan morphed into a single band.
WARFATHER – ORCHESTRATING THE APOCALYPSE (2014)
Steve Tucker did for Morbid Angel what John Bush did for Anthrax and Rob Dukes did for Exodus: he made them better.
So, naturally, I was looking forward to this album. Unfortunately, as many have said before, the production is quite bad. Steve has said this was a result of recording at several different studios over the years and not having enough money to do it right. And it shows.
Still, he’s a solid songwriter and there are good ideas here. Warfather’s sophomore effort is being produced by Erik Rutan, so that will definitely be something worth checking out.
“Gods and Machines”
BOB DYLAN – GREATEST HITS (1967)
Not much explanation needed here. “Positively 4th Street” is the greatest song in the history of music. Deal with it.
“Positively 4th Street”
MORBID ANGEL – FOMULAS FATAL TO THE FLESH (1998)
I convinced my younger brother he should buy this album because I wanted to hear it but didn’t want to pay for it. Aren’t older brothers the worst?
We didn’t really care for it at first, but since he paid hard earned money for it, he forced himself to listen to it over and over again until he went crazy and murdered our parents.
That last part isn’t true, but everything else is. Even the part about not liking it much. That changed over time, though. This would end up being the only Morbid Angel album I truly like, front to back.
Ironically, my favorite track is an older song Trey hadn’t recorded before these sessions and it’s a bruiser. When Steve bellows “Come Centaur..” I still shit my pants.
“Invocation of the Continual One”
LIVE – THE DISTANCE TO HERE (1999)
Before heavy metal totally corrupted me, I was your average dweeb, listening to whatever the radio told me to.
I loved Counting Crows, Blues Traveler, Sheryl Crow etc. I even owned Fiona Apple’s first album un-ironically. And of course that was the era of Live.
Live was a hugely successful alternative rock band at the time. Their last album, Throwing Copper, featured several smash hits and sold millions of copies. Curiously, on their next album, Secret Samadhi, they purposely changed their sound. Its lead single “Lakini’s Juice” was a heavy, chunky, near-metal tune. I listened to the shit out of that album.
Recently a friend asked me to recommend a “90’s college rock” album and I had no idea what that was. The closest thing I could think of was Live. So I recommended Secret Samadhi.
To make sure the album was as good as I remembered (and ensure my recommendation wasn’t a huge mistake) I listened to it for the first time in almost 20 years.
It fucking sucks.
Some of the songs hold up, but like so many albums released on the heels of a massive hit, it’s mostly filler. Even some of the big songs from that album were filler. I’m sure my friend thought I was an asshole.
So, I then stumbled across THAT album’s follow-up, The Distance to Here, on Amazon for like $5. I remembered that album featured the shamelessly precious hit single “Dolphin’s Cry” but I’d never heard the whole thing.
Out of sheer curiosity, I bought it, listened to it, and was floored. It’s a fucking GREAT album! Who knew??
I wish I did before I made that shitty recommendation..
HASHTEROID – RESPECT THE DEPTHS (2015)
I seem to remember Dead Quiet’s Facebook page posted about Hashteroid saying something like: “Hey, you don’t have to miss Barn Burner anymore because this band sounds just like them!” I’m paraphrasing, of course. It probably wasn’t even this band..
Hashteroid play fun, no frills stoner boogie. Not required listening, but I bet they’re a blast live in a Canadian bar where weed is legal. Plus, it was a free download..
“Respect the Depths”
AGORAPHOBIC NOSEBLEED – ARC (2016)
I’m a big fan of Scott Hull’s Pig Destroyer, but until now have never looked into his other long-running grind outfit Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Providence shined upon me when their new EP Arc was released earlier this year at a reasonable price.
Though, at 28 minutes spread over 3 songs, this is hardly grindcore. In fact, you could say it’s not grindcore at all..
What it is, however, is fucking amazing long-form crushing sludge metal. This radical shift in style was done with purpose: to reflect the influence of new vocalist Katherine “Kat” Katz of defunct space doomers Salome.
It’s the first of a series of EPs Scott is recording with Kat and I can’t wait for their next collaboration.
Lead track “Not A Daughter” is the song Eyehategod have been trying to write their entire career. That’s not a dig at EHG, it’s props to how fucking good this song is.
I recently learned this song was inspired by Kat’s experience caring for her mother who was suffering from dementia. This only makes it heavier, in every which way.
“Not A Daughter”
THE WITCH ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK – MARK KORVEN (2016)
“The Witch” was a horror movie unlike many I’d seen before. It was sparse, dark and largely boring.
It was also capable of truly disturbing moments and left me feeling weird.
Like I had to see it again.
“Witch” I did!! Ha ha hah ah ho ho ho aha haha he he he…
I’m glad I did because I picked up on things I’d missed the first time. However, one thing that was unavoidable the first go ’round was Mark Korven’s wonderful soundtrack.
The rusty strings, minimalist percussion and haunting choruses fit and enhance the portrayed era. The music is as important to giving the film a sense of authenticity as the costuming, set decoration and dialogue.
Great mood music for any creepy occasion or when you’re just sick and tired of listening to so much Converge!!
Oh, and stop spelling it “VVitch” you fucking hipster douchebag cocksuckers.
“A Witch Stole Sam”
CASTLE – WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD (2016)
At first listen, I had written a long-winded diatribe about how Castle was just another bandwagon-jumping throwback doom collective like Orchid or Lucifer or Death Penalty who throw in with a popular subgenre in order to put money in their pockets and smoke in their pipes.
But after another spin, I knew was wrong.
What they’re aping is closer to NWOBHM or traditional heavy metal than doom, but this is most definitely a racket.
The heavy guitars and absurd occult lyrics and, especially, the moodier closing tracks will draw comparisons to (far superior) retro acts like Blood Ceremony, but Castle emanates an air of insincerity I cannot abide.
There are some positives, though. It’s impressive stuff for a power-trio to pull off. There are some fun vocal hooks and a heavy Iron Maiden vibe throughout.
Yet my favorite track here, “Flash of the Pentagram”, sounds nothing like Maiden or B.C. or Pentagram whose “Sign of the Wolf” is so obviously referenced.
It’s more a hard-charging Judas Priest tune with a fantastic chorus hook: “The living light!”
In a sea of labored heavy metal, this track is accessible and fun, featuring momentum the rest of the album lacks.
If they produced a full album of Flash of the Pentagrams, I’d be more interested and they’d be more interesting.
“Flash of the Pentagram”
FACE DOWN – MINDFIELD (1995)
This is just embarrassing. I went on a tear of ’90s groove metal just to… I don’t ever remember why.
Most of this stuff is just plain bad. It’s target market is young angry kids, I guess, but unless those kids are utter fucking retards who think Kmart is an expensive department store and Long John Silver’s is fine dining, they probably know there are much better bands out there.
Typing this actually made me remember I bought a KILGORE album around the same time. I listened to it in my car and it was so bad I never even bothered ripping it to my collection. So there’s my Kilgore review!
One thing this band had going for it was it features Marco Aro of The Haunted. Much like in the current Haunted lineup, his presence here is not nearly enough.
It’s bewildering how generic this music is. What’s more is how it sounds identical to the same awful hard rock radio sound that STILL exists today.
Hell, maybe these guys were trailblazers?
I’ll share the closing track, One Eyed Man, not because it’s good, but to showcase how eerie it is that modern rock radio has barely changed in 20 years.
“One Eyed Man”
SKINLAB – DISEMBODY: THE NEW FLESH (1999)
Continuing our downward spiral of 20-year-old songs Five Finger Death Punch wish they’d written is Skinlab’s Disembody: The New Flesh.
What’s weird about this album is it sounds like a sellout record. Like, it sounds like Skinlab used to be a legit groove metal band that couldn’t resist shifting changing their style to get in on Korn’s sloppy seconds. BUT apparently there was no Skinlab before 1995, so where the fuck did they come from???
I kinda feel bad writing this because I genuinely liked Skinlab’s last album, The Scars Between Us. For real. It’s a good listen. It sounds like either the best post-nu-metal album ever made or an album that was locked in a vault for 17 years which, had it been released pre-Korn, all the kids would revere it as an important influential album.
Isn’t that funny about nu-metal? Like I’d said about metalcore, nu-metal seemingly showed up on the scene fully formed and ready to party. It had no origin – it simply was.
Didn’t anybody think that was suspicious? Were we so dumb that we thought there was actually hundreds of kids around the world playing that same weird-ass Korn music before their first album hit? Fuck.
“So Far From the Truth”
SALOME – TERMINAL (2011)
I really dug this album. Long and doomy, cold and atmospheric. Is “avant sludge” a thing? These cats may have to trademark it. I even like the minimalist Swans-esque album art.
Salome is no longer active, but their 70 minute album is available through Profound Lore’s bandcamp for $4. That’s nearly 18 minutes of music per dollar!
As mentioned earlier, Salome’s singer Kat is now in Agoraphobic Nosebleed and is absolutely killing it. Go Kat go!
PISSING RAZORS – PISSING RAZORS (1998)
Ah, crap. I thought I was done with the garbage ’90s groove metal. I’ll try to keep this brief.
Of the four ’90s “groove metal” albums I bought around this time, this is easily the best. It’s catchy (albeit in that mindless nu-metal way) and it’s pretty heavy.
Its failures are the same as Skinlab: it’s completely contrived; obviously just playing a style of whatever was popular at the time. Ugh.
PUBLIC ENEMY – POWER TO THE PEOPLE AND THE BEATS (2005)
I am not a rap fan but I listened to this record three times the day I bought it. If that’s not an endorsement I don’t know what is.
I also bought this single, which, for some insane reason, isn’t on this Greatest Hits album:
“Harder Than You Think”
KING’S X – OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET (1988)
How are King’s X not one of the biggest bands in the world?
The songs on this album are so good it’s ridiculous they don’t have at least one legitimate radio hit that still gets airplay.
Out of the Silent Planet is one of the best albums I’ve bought in a long time. I listened to it twice in a row one day because I knew I didn’t have anything better on my mp3 player.
FAITH NO MORE – WE CARE A LOT remastered band edition (2016)
Gun to my head, Faith No More is my favorite band of the modern era. Nobody else even comes close.
I became a fan during the Mike Patton years and barely knew who Chuck Mosley was aside from a few songs on a greatest hits album.
Those who outright discount the first two albums are doing themselves a disservice. They are EXCELLENT Faith No More records and upon listening you understand what a big part of the band Chuck was and how Patton even patterned some of his vocal performances after Chuck’s.
1985’s debut We Care a Lot was remastered and issued on vinyl for the first time ever this year. Worth every penny. I hope they do the same with Introduce Yourself.
I don’t know what to say about the wrathfully explosive Closet Witch, aside from they are perhaps the greatest thing I stumbled upon this year and if they ever release a properly produced full-length of their batshit powerviolence, it will unmake reality.
You know that feeling when you experience something so new and so different you just wanna tell everybody about it because it’s so great, but at the same time you don’t wanna tell anyone because you wanna keep it for yourself and they wouldn’t understand anyway?
That’s how I feel about Closet Witch. Like I just fucked a really hot midget.
P.S. I wonder if there’s any connection between Closet Witch and NYC’s Couch Slut? Both have similar names and lady singers. Could it just be a coincidence?
ENTHEOS – THE INFINITE NOTHING (2016)
Entheos is a proggy tech death band fronted by the enormously talented Chaney Crabb (who is a dame) and anchored by enormously talented bassist Evan Brewer (who is a dude).
I’ve discovered more lady-fronted heavy bands this year than any previous. This is super cool. Most surprisingly, the majority of these bands are exceptionally good! I’m a sexist pig!
My biggest problem with this genre (tech death) is it’s so convoluted it gets old fast. Even at 38 minutes this record seems overly long.
CROWBAR – THE SERPENT ONLY LIES (2016)
CROWBAR – CROWBAR (1993)
I never had the patience to listen to Crowbar much before, but when the singles for this new album started dropping, I took notice. There was something different about this Crowbar.
I even went back and bought their self-titled record to compare and contrast, and goddammit if I didn’t end up preferring that one.
But this new record is outstanding. Easily one of the best metal albums of 2016 that I’ve heard, anyway.
It struck me funny listening to the self-titled how all the bullshit emo bands of the early 2000’s were late to the party writing openly about being failures in life. Ol’ Kirk was writing full albums about being a loser over a decade before.
And for the record, Kirk Windstein is no loser. He just sang about depression in an honest way. Christ, he’s a founding member of two of the biggest metal bands ever, he plays music for a living and his wife is a knockout.
For a guy who looks like a garden gnome that’s doing pretty good.
Modern metal print media like Revolver magazine (the Metal Edge of the modern era) does this awful trendy thing where they make up their YEAR END BEST OF lists from whatever major acts put out an album that year.
For example, if Lamb of God put out a new album this year, it would automatically appear on their YEAR END BEST OF LIST. Why? Because it’s Lamb of God. Was the album any good? It doesn’t matter.
That kind of thing.
The point I want to make is while Crowbar is one of those more popular bands that would be automatically be extended that hollow courtesy, The Serpent Only Lies is so strong it would make that list (and many, many others) even without it’s maker’s famous moniker.
Kirk Windstein quit Down to focus full time on Crowbar and it’s paying off.
“Plasmic and Pure”
“I Have Failed”
MONSTER MAGNET – GREATEST HITS (2003)
Come on, man. How can you dislike Monster Magnet? Sure, their shameless rock star posturing during the Powertrip phenomenon was irritating, but I see that as a band who worked their asses off taking the piss for everybody.
Listen to the lyrics to that song, for fucks sake, it’s so obviously satire.
Anyway, I heard a newer Monster Magnet song on the radio from their recent album, Last Patrol, and it was GREAT. Not just okay, it was a fucking great song.
I started thinking back, and couldn’t remember ever truly disliking Monster Magnet. Sure, it was cool to hate them when they had that big record, but I never out-and-out hated them. I’ve secretly liked most of their radio songs over the years and was willing to give them a shot.
BLACK PUSSY – WHERE THE EAGLE FLIES (2015)
Speaking of bands who are cool to hate, Portland’s Black Pussy are currently enjoying a wave of promotion they didn’t even have to pay for. Seems the SJW-types think their name is offensive. Someone should tell those lonely spinsters words can have multiple meanings. And that they could stand to lose a couple pounds.
Anyway, this album is fucking tits. Their faithful cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” works and the closing track “The Albatross” is now in my Top Favorite Songs of All Time folder forever.
Black Pussy’s music, while definitely in the pocket of trendy retro 70s rock, does not for a minute seem or sound contrived. They’re so spot on even their song arrangement is kinda shitty. Like it was actually written in the 70s before song structures were strictly radio-single based.
You’d think a band whose name is clearly a gimmick wouldn’t be able – or even need – to back it up in their music, but Black Pussy does so in spades.
A fantastic band any way you lick it.
ORANSSI PAZUZU – VARAHTELIJA (2016)
Woof. Where to begin?
How about this: You will only like Oranssi Pazuzu’s Varahtelija if you’re one of those people who insist Disco Volante was the only good Mr. Bungle album. You know, a stupid cunt.
So why all the fanfare? Why has this album topped more YEAR END BEST OF LISTS than any other? Would “The fix is in!” really explain it?
Here’s how I see it:
Thirteen years ago, Metallica released the worst album of their career (nearly tying it this year) and, inexplicably, every major music magazine gave it a positive review (except my hero Mike G at Metal Maniacs).
This is how modern music journalism works:
THE MUSIC PRESS KEEPS ARTISTS AND LABELS HAPPY IN ORDER TO FACILITATE THEIR OWN SURVIVAL.
You can’t give Metallica a bad review and then put them on your cover to sell your magazine, can you? Of course not. (Unless you’re Metal Maniacs – the greatest heavy metal publication of all time.)
Metallica sells as many magazines as they do albums. Your critical (i.e. honest) review will not sink Metallica, but never getting another interview with them – or by proxy any of their label mates, friends, co-managed groups etc. – could very well sink your magazine.
Also, they sue.
So why are so many music critics afraid to say THIS album is pretentious dog shit?
Oranssi Pazuzu’s last album was also a list-topping critical darling. It got them a LOT of attention. (As fate would have it, I just saw an interview with James Hetfield wearing an Oranssi Pazuzu t-shirt!)
Perhaps this blew them up. Perhaps big. Perhaps due to this acclaim their label bought tons of ad space and those same magazines/blogs want to continue that same revenue flow this cycle?
Svart Records aren’t a major, but their roster reads like a Decibel magazine YEAR END BEST OF LIST. They’re making enough money to keep a few dedicated magazines in print and a few dedicated music blogs in bandwidth.
That’s my theory, anyway. You could attribute it to run-of-the-mill snobbery, but I think it’s good ol’ fashioned economics.
In time, the absurd amount of fanfare Varahtelija has generated will be met with the same sobering clarity that haunts those damnable critics still struggling to reconcile how they gave St. Anger four stars..
An underlying theme of this blog is my gripe with how bands shouldn’t be championed as innovators when they’re only exploiting a sound that’s already been around for a while.
I should also add that I’m a huge hypocrite.
Goatess sound EXACTLY like Black Sabbath. It’s. Fucking. Eerie.
Okay, not EXACTLY exactly, but close. And in the best possible way.
Imagine if Black Sabbath 1973 was transported to the modern day and incorporated the best parts of acts like Clutch and Sleep, especially the latter’s penchant for long spacey jams.
Musically, Goatess’ version of “classic-doom-plus” actually sounds more like Magic Circle than straight up Sabbath. Their singer’s spot-on Ozzy Osbourne is what threw me.
When bands attempt to mimic Sabbath verbatim, they sound cliché. Witchcraft’s first album sounds so much like Sabbath it’s shocking, but Witchcraft are one of those awful throwback bands who, while successful in their imitation, end up sounding hollow and soulless.
Goatess get it right. Their gimmick is so earnest it transcends gimmickry, arriving at the higher plane of Gimmick Nirvana. They are fun and cheerful, reveling in their homage.
Hypocrisy? Perhaps, but I enjoyed this album so damn much!
“Moth to Flame”
PYRRHON – RUNNING OUT OF SKIN (2016)
I don’t know where I ran across Pyrrhon.. maybe Invisible Oranges? I know they came highly recommended.
What strikes me most about this 4-track EP is how truly off the wall it is. They jump from genre to genre with the fuck-around-ness of a free jazz ensemble. The result left me at once awestruck and irritated. It’s a so-so listen. Some of this just sounds wholly improvisational.
Covering Death never hurts and shows they can obey structure when they want to:
PANOPTICON – AUTUMN ETERNAL (2015)
Like many depressive black metal artists, Minneapolis’ Panopticon is performed by a single dude. A single super-talented dude.
This was on a lot of 2015’s BEST OF lists and was deserved. If I had heard this the day it came out, I’d still be raving about it.
The production is crazy-dense, but with actual instrumentation, not just 6 tracks of guitar playing the same chords. It must have taken years to compose, let alone record.
A very good listen, if a tad long; at over an hour, this is beyond the norm for similar releases.
My experience with Panopticon also suffers slightly from my already being steeped in this style of cinematic, depressive black metal. Australia’s awe-inspiring Woods of Desolation come to mind.
I don’t know if the critics who lauded this as the Second Coming are privy what the Australians and Kiwis are up to down under, but Mr. Lunn certainly seems to be.
“Into the North Woods”
BLACK WIZARD – YOUNG WISDOM (2013)
Another wild party rocker from Canada! Yes, they sound like Barn Burner! Yes, it’s a very fun listen1 Yes, they probably get confused for every band that sounds like them.
But what are ya gonna do? This is a fun fucking record. A little long, but a steal for the price.
I think one of the guys from Anciients was in this band. I need to check them dudes out.
VRTRA – MY BONES HOLD A STILLNESS (2016)
Harsh, progressive, avant garde black metal isn’t a genre I’m super familiar with, but this shit is pretty epic, if crazy busy.
“Perpetually Hag Ridden”
LOTUS THIEF – GRAMARYE (2016)
Lotus Thief and SubRosa have more than a few things in common: Both feature female vocals, compose epic post-doom prog and released albums in 2016 flaunting minimalist woodcut-style album art etc.
What sets Lotus Thief apart is their greater consistency, leaner song lengths and warmer production.
They also produced the less interesting album.
Strangely, in an earlier draft of this blog, I made the assertion that “Lotus Thief had made the album SubRosa was trying to make.” This is absurd. Especially after listening to both albums multiple times. If anything, the accusation could be reversed, as Gramarye sounds like the commercial version of For This We Fought the Battle of Ages.
The truth is, I did enjoy this album more the first time I heard it; less the second time. I had the opposite experience with SubRosa.
Gramarye is a very pleasant listen with plenty of perfectly crafted hooks and gorgeous vocal harmonizing, I’m just bewildered by how much difference a second spin can make.
It makes me seriously wonder if I confused the artists for each other the first time I listened to these albums.
“The Book of the Dead”
SUBROSA – FOR THIS WE FOUGHT THE BATTLE OF AGES (2016)
SubRosa’s masterpiece starts not with a bang, but a whimper. But the banging is not far behind..
The remarkable 15 minute mini-opera “Despair is a Siren” kicks things off. Sparse and cold one moment, full on orchestral majesty the next, it closes with a jaw dropping lyrical hook that, though a standout, is not alone in an album rife with powerful lyrics. And that’s just the first track!
This album is also on many BEST OF lists, but unlike some bloated prog outings, it deserves to be. Sure, you could be dismissive and scoff how it sounds like Jarboe reformed a version of Swans with Bjork and members of Apocalyptica and Pelican (and your description would be apt) but these artists deserve their own praise, not just comparisons.
BUT that description does sound like an awesome band!
I had to listen to this album a couple times because my first impression was not nearly as positive. Which bewilders me, as this is now one of my favorite albums of the year and has been in constant rotation over the last several weeks.
Perhaps that’s a good lesson for all music snobs: sometimes you listen to an album to convince yourself you like it, but you are better off when the album itself convinces you.
My sole gripe is the album is overly long. Even music this expertly – and emotionally – arranged leaves one gassed after 65 minutes.
It’s worth mentioning this is a concept record based on a hundred-year-old Russian sci-fi novel about a dystopian surveillance state. Because of course it is.
I chide, but this album convinced me to order the book off Amazon. So there. You did your job, SubRosa.
The insanely powerful album closer “Troubled Cells” is arguably my favorite song of the year if not all time:
TOIM – BUMBO (2016)
A friend from Portland turned me on to Toim and I can see why. They sound like Mr. Bungle and Primus, which are some of his (and my) favorite bands. But they have that dirty underground feel (this is recorded live) that works against as well as in service of their obscene level of musicianship.
A very fun listen, but I don’t know if it’s recommendable to just anybody.
All their albums are available on their bandcamp for free, so check ’em out. You got nothing to lose.
THIS is the album Oranssi Pazuzu was trying to make! Dirty, bizarre, avant garde black metal bar none.
If Mr. Bungle was a black metal band, they might sound something like Aevangelist. Black hole-gravity heaviness, strange church bell freak-outs, out-of-nowhere clean vocal breaks, shredding guitar and muddy tones abound.
Oddly, as unlistenable as this music should be, it’s very compelling. I really enjoyed listening to it. It’s complicated music; a lot is going on at once, but I like when there’s a lot of stuff to listen to. Gimmicky? Probably, but I’m gullible. So it all works out.
ANGEL WITCH – ANGEL WITCH remastered (2016)
Dope album alert! Angel Witch’s classic debut was remastered and released on vinyl this year for the first time since its 1980 release.
As corny as the title track is (“You’re an angel witch! You’re an angel witch.”) try not getting it stuck in your head for a week after your first listen. “The Gorgon” is a grand bastard of a NWOBHM bar rocker. I love that song in ways unnatural.
If any band encompasses what so many of these neo-throwback retro-doom bands are going for, it’s Angel Witch.
..or Witchfinder General.
To say Phil Anselmo’s post-Pantera career has been a mixed bag would be generous. The talented vocalist has struggled in recent years to fit into a band the same way he did his legendary ’90s arena act.
Down went to artistic shit after their masterful second album and Superjoint Ritual died a long slow death in the courts.
So, Superjoint is back, but with an abbreviated name and an abbreviated lineup. The band on this record is three-fifths Phil Anselmo and the Illegals. The majority of the songs are short and more direct hardcore than before. The longer, swampier, NOLA-sludge informed tunes are drifting and directionless. Phil’s attempted lyrical middle-finger to lefty Social Justice Warriors is lazy, but reliably poetic.
There are good songs here, but the majority of the album is just plain forgettable. Too bad. I had high hopes for this one.
TESTAMENT – BROTHERHOOD OF THE SNAKE (2016)
Helluva metal album! Slick, powerful, heavy, direct.. if you like that sorta thing. (You do.)
My only problem with this new Testament record is there isn’t a single song that really hooked me.. Which shouldn’t be a problem, as many of my favorite albums of the year were such because they flowed so well. And this bastard FLOWS.
Christ, just get it to listen to Gene Hoglan’s drumming.
They still haven’t matched The Gathering, but if you like wildly accessible crunching thrash with supremely cheeseball lyrics, look no further.
“The Pale King”
ALAN PARSONS PROJECT – EYE IN THE SKY (1982)
Ha ha! Didn’t see this coming, did you?
Good easy listening prog. Aside from the classic “Sirius / Eye in the Sky” I wasn’t too engaged, but damn that’s a good ass song.
“Sirius/Eye in the Sky”
MOTORHEAD – ORGASMATRON (1986)
MOTORHEAD – 1916 (1991)
MOTORHEAD – SACRIFICE (1995)
Lemmy’s passing reignited my already strong Motorhead fandom. Save for a few, I have owned every Motorhead album, at one time or another. These are those few I finally picked up this year:
Orgasmatron is a GREAT Motorhead album. I knew a handful of the songs, but am ashamed to admit that until 2016 I was unfamiliar with “Deaf Forever” – which has easily taken its place among my favorite ‘Head tunes. Such a catchy, simple main riff and gloriously perfect lyrics (much like the classic eponymous album closer) .
Again, I was familiar with much of 1916, but never owned a physical copy. There’s nothing new I can say about this album that most folks don’t already know: it’s one of their best. The ’90s were kind to Motorhead, and this was a high point.
I dare you to listen to its closing title track and not shed a tear. Lemmy was nothing if not a powerfully gifted, and powerfully underrated, songwriter.
Sacrifice is a solid listen. Stupid-heavy guitar and bass tones throughout. Many of these songs became part of their live repertoire until the end.
“Over Your Shoulder”
TORCHE – RESTARTER (2015)
I won’t spend a lot of time on this. I fucking love Torche, but this album felt like they were mailing it in. Perhaps this is what fulfilling a contractual obligation sounds like in musical form.
I’m sure it deserves another listen, but it really didn’t grab me at all. Unlike every other album they’ve released.
SAXON – SAXON (1979)
This self-titled debut has more in common with classic hard rock than their later, heavier output, but I still enjoyed it as a time capsule of that era.
This has a heavy Ronnie James Dio-era Rainbow vibe, and that’s never a bad thing.
JUDAS PRIEST – BRITISH STEEL remastered (1980/2001)
I was never a Priest guy.
I have a couple of their albums and I like a handful of their songs, but I never took the plunge. I was huge into Maiden and always thought Priest was too slick or static or whatever.
After having “Rapid Fire” stuck in my head for a good long while, I picked up British Steel and was pleasantly surprised by the whole album. Priest was the “commercial metal” band of their day and for what they were, they were the best at it.
I don’t know if this album will inspire me to devour the rest of their discography, but it’s no longer a mystery as to why they’re so revered.
SOULFLY – 3 (2002)
SOULFLY – PROPHECY 2004)
Sepultura was huge to me back in the day. The first “extreme metal” band I loved. Still love ’em.
IT’S TOO BAD THEY BROKE UP IN 1997 AND NO MEMBERS HAVE RELEASED ANY NEW MUSIC UNDER THAT NAME SINCE!
…at least that’s what I have to keep telling myself.
When Max left and formed Soulfly, I devoured that debut album. I knew that from then on, I would support whatever Max Cavelera would do.
Then that second album happened. Later dude!
I lost track of Soulfly for well over a decade and vainly attempted to reintroduce them to my ears. Bad idea. This is really dated stuff. It’s not even that the whole “nu-metal/world music” crossover thing never worked, this is just bad music. It sounds rushed. It sounds like Max might be the kind of guy who believes his own hype and records any stupid idea he has because it MUST be gold.
Yeah. FOOL’S GOLD!
Yuck. I’m sorry about that. Yuck..
I still rock that debut from time to time, but it’s more a nostalgia trip than anything else.
Max really needs to make nice with Andreas and do a proper reunion. It’s the only way I’ll be interested in anything either do again.
The weak is strong with this one:
WOLVERINE – COMMUNICATION LOST (2011)
This isn’t bad music. It’s actually quite ambitious prog rock, with a bit too much commercial leaning for my taste.
If you can’t get enough of Opeth’s latter day output and want something not quite as strong or inspired, here ya go:
“Into the Great Nothing”
MOUNTAIN – CLIMBING (1970)
Bought it on vinyl for a dollar!
AMON AMARTH – WITH ODEN ON OUR SIDE (2006)
You literally can’t go wrong with Amon Amarth.
The AC/DC of melodic death metal. The real-life Deathklok.
They don’t make bad albums. They don’t make bad songs.
They don’t know how.
If you think you might like Amon Amarth, you will. If you think you won’t, you will.
They’re just that damn good.
“Hermod’s Ride to Hel pt 1 – Loki’s Treachery”
BLACK SABBATH – MASTER OF REALITY remastered (1971/2016)
Master of Reality is a perfect album and arguably Sabbath’s finest hour. If you are reading this blog and have never heard this album, you fucked up.
WHEW! What a bunch of bullshit!
This took more time and effort that I was prepared for when I started four weeks ago.
It’s not perfect and will never be, but it will be published on New Year’s Eve, thus counting as a 2016 release itself.
Happy New Year!
If you did read the whole thing, you have less to do with your day than me. We should hang out.
FOR THE RECORD my favorite 2016 albums of 2016 are:
Blood Ceremony – Lord of Misrule
SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
Goatess – II: Purgatory Under New Management
Crowbar – The Serpent Only Lies
Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Arc