Friday, December 30, 2016

My Metal Top Five countdown for 2016 continues.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.


Blood Ceremony
Lord of Misrule

And here it is, unexpected to most, but not really to me, the number one album of the year, Blood Ceremony’s Lord of Misrule.  This is a band I have great fondness and affection for, and their last record, The Eldritch Dark, was my number one pick for 2013, so this should come as no surprise.  It is also the least-heavy of all my list.

The digital version was available in February and I immediately downloaded and listened.  It didn’t impress me much.  Oh, it was good, and professional, but nothing really stuck with me.  And that was okay, because every album they’ve ever released has been like this.  This band is the definition of a “grower” listen because it takes several spins.  For me, it clicked when I got the vinyl, sat down with the lyrics, and cranked the stereo.

The album opens with a haunting guitar line, creeping background organ, a slight drum clack, and then it roars in, all flutes, riffs, bass, and drums.  “The Devil’s Widow” picks up pace and rocks, Alia O’Brien’s vocals ethereal and powerful all at once.  Guitarist Sean Kennedy propels the whole thing along with powerful chunks.  The story of the song weaves its spell, rocking and rolling, old school Sabbath riffs, seering guitar solo, sliding into a flute solo.  This is great stuff, even if it takes some unpacking to appreciate.  But that’s the genius of this band.  4:40 in and the song settles into a slow vibe, dropping down to acoustic guitar, flute, and Alia’s voice.  The witchy vibe is unmistakable and, as always, seductive, giving you a moment to pause and reflect.  And then that opening repeats itself, and the riff returns, and you’re back to banging your head.

“Lorely” is pure psychedelic rock joy.  This sounds like something the Turtles might have written, if they were of the mind to wield those guitars with some crunch.  Atmospheric and playful, but all the while dark and dangerous, this is the kind of track that will get stuck in your head for days on end.  Keyboards are to the fore here, but not in some sappy way, the guitar all reverb, with some old school Witchcraft-style riffs to flesh it out.  At 2:50 it goes full psych for a moment, the sweet guitar solo reminiscent of the early 70’s.  Man, Kennedy plays with full soul. 

Next song “Rogue’s Lot” brings the riffs back, echoing their Sabbathian roots, settling into a doomy dirge.  “How do the living raise the dead?” Alia asks, and you know, instinctively, it’s with songs just like this one.  All doom until it rolls into some psych for the chorus and then back to the dirge.  Good, good stuff.

Epic album title “Lord of Misrule” follows and it may not seem like an epic at first, but those cascading riffs and the steady rhythm punch this thing into drive and it rocks along, some tasty licks accentuating the feel.  Pure occult, pure rock, and all things mighty.  Alia’s vocals are not the most powerful but they work, the thinness and fragility adding to the overall effect.  Which isn’t to say she can’t sing or bring the power, it’s just different than someone who belts out a song.  She lives in it, giving it whatever it needs.  Moody is a word that keeps coming up with this record and moody this song is.  A blood-red dusk is settling over the land, and the feast is turning from revelry to something decidedly more dangerous.

“Half Moon Street” is the next song and was the one I took the longest to warm to.  Now it is my favorite.  An almost jaunty riff starts the proceedings, the flute comes in, levelling the sound, smoothing it out, and Alia begins the tale of weird mysticism.  This song is swirling fog around a sputtering gaslight lamp, tall brick buildings, ancient tomes, old men meeting, and treachery.  “But I’m in league with something older” tells the truth about this song and the band.  There is a sly undercurrent of ancient occultism here and you either get into it and love it or it passes right by and you don’t care.  For me, it works.

Another slow, moody (there’s that word again) piece comes next.  Psychedelic (did I mention this album has a lot of those flourishes?) and quiet, “The Weird of Finistere” builds its weird cadence, seducing you quietly as it worms into your brain.  By the end you’re chanting along, not quite sure why you’re enjoying it so damned much.  This one doesn’t rock, but it rolls.

“Flower Phantoms” returns to that pure 60’s psych rock sound.  If you close your eyes, you can picture the girls bopping along in mini-dresses, all decked in out pastel flower-power groove.  Almost pure pop, you might wonder where all the hard rock and metal has gone but you won’t care.  It’s so pretty it’s hard to deny.  And catchy.  There’s nothing sell-out about it; this is a band exploring its roots.  And that guitar solo…

Next to last song “Old Fires” brings back the swagger, a riff that makes you want to cry, punching your face as this one rollicks along.  This song is joyous dancing around a bonfire, gone skyclad, all muscle and grit, light and shadow.  2:25 in settles into a drop down organ groove, the drums and bass remarkable, doing what they do the entire album, giving a solid, rocking backdrop.  Kennedy blazes in with his best solo yet, the power of it building and building and building, sweeping you along until…in comes the opening riff, bludgeoning in its polite way, the song rocking out all over again.  Man, this is great stuff, and really does compete with Half Moon Street as my favorite track.  Pure Blood Ceremony.

“Things Present, Things Past,” the final song, is a ballad.  Acoustic guitars bring this Wicker Man to life, bits of organ underlying the thing, bass the foundation, drums shuffling, flute accenting.  Again, Blood Ceremony, at its purest.  The druids sing, the maidens dance.  3:15, the song shifts slightly, the flute taking us on a deeper journey, bodies swaying by the campfire, as ancient spirits fly around, filling the air with their phantom tales.  The song fades off and the grin creeps across your face as it comes back, all Beatles-esque for a second.  This is a perfect way to end a nearly perfect record.

Don’t come into this one expecting furious thrash or cold black metal.  Come into it expecting mood and texture and yes, riffs and flutes (hey, that’s what they do).  Let it wash over you.  Soon its infectious songs will seduce you, like any great music does.

Note:  I could not find a full album stream, so here are some vids I pulled.


I limited myself to writing about five albums because I didn't want to spend all my time filling out a top ten and do it as thoroughly as I thought I needed.  However, I did have some records that came close to making that Top Five, and I decided to share them with you, including a few thoughts on each.

So here is your Other Five, in alphabetical order:


Pure death metal goodness, this one almost, almost made it into the Top Five.  I really struggled between this and the Darkthrone.  This album rages from beginning to end.  Get on it.


Desolate, distant, soul-scraping horror, with haunting riffs and drums and vocals that just kind of own you once the album starts, this is damned good stuff.  Do not miss out.

(Could not find any links, so you're on your own, but the search is worth it)

Electric Citizen
Higher Time

Pure riff n' roll, bringing things back to the Sabbath, adding plenty of psych, these guys are a dirty secret the rest of the world needs to know about.  Back to the essence of what metal and hard rock are all about.


Some might find this controversial, but I think this is their best record.  It's varied, heavy, but with just enough light to give it some sparkle.  But don't be fooled, this is dark stuff, and like I said, heavy.

Brotherhood of the Snake

Their best album?  Maybe.  It's right up there, and certainly the best thrash album of the year (sorry, Metalli-fans).  Dense, heavy, that unbelievable rhythm section and the guitars and the vocals...Damnit, just go listen and enjoy!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Metal Top Five countdown for 2016 continues.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.


Amon Amarth

Here is a band I have loved for a long time but have fallen out of my favor somewhat over the last ten years.  Since the Odin on Our Side album, I feel like Amon Amarth have veered too much into the melodic realm and too far from their death metal roots.  While there are many great songs on the ensuing records, they don’t stick with me as much as the older stuff.  Plus, there is the trap of repeating yourself too often; Amon Amarth are kind of a one trick pony, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Many bands can be successful carrying on like they always have (Motorhead, Slayer, etc.) but most get into a rut and cannot escape it.  Maybe this is why they wandered a bit from their home into melodic lands full of brighter guitar harmonies and “cleaner” vocals.  In any case, I didn’t mind, I just didn’t like it as much as the older music.  And then they came back with this amazing record.

Right away they are in your face, pummeling drums, twin harmonic leads, like a heavier Maiden or Lizzy, and the bass rumbles and the song drops and in comes Johan Hegg with that powerful vocal of his, and you know you’re in for a treat.  Yes, “First Kill,” the first song on the record, is much like their last few albums, all blazing, bright melodies, but there’s an urgency here that they lacked on some of those other recordings.  We are reminded that Amon Amarth aren’t a death metal band anymore, but something a shade south (of heaven) of power metal.  The vocals keep it in line, really, but as the album continues, the riffs come on stronger, deeper, from a guttural place Amon Amarth haven’t visited in some time.

“Wanderer” starts melodic, almost like a song off Ride the Lightning, and then the riffs dig in and this is the first inkling that things are going to be a bit different with this album.  It’s still not death metal, and that’s fine, but it is something closer, and it bites but never loses the melody.  A mid-paced affair, this satisfies on many levels, and ends with a narration from Hegg that sounds like King Fowley, which brings a smile to the face.

Third song, “On a Sea of Blood” goes right for the riffs at the front end, sliding into some melodic harmony (Amon Amarth are masters of this; just amazing).  Hegg brings the pain and we’re moving along, the song flowing faster than mead after a hunt.  The chorus here is perfect Amon Amarth, you can chant along but it’s not catchy in an obnoxious way (as I found some of the songs on, say, Twilight of the Thunder God).  Riffs dig in again and Hegg’s voice drops.  Ah, that rumble.  Good stuff.

“One Man Against All” goes back to the melodic opening but then it does a funny thing about 16 seconds in; that melody starts to chug a bit more, and it’s so pleasing to the ear.  Hegg carries us along with the story (this is a concept record, telling a story from beginning to end, of a Viking warrior outcast from his home, journeying out into the world, finding a new home, and coming back for the woman he loves) as we reach one of the catchiest choruses Amon Amarth have ever recorded.  And it could be of the annoying kind if it wasn’t so damned cool, and if those massive riffs didn’t follow it.  When I say massive, I mean like ocean waves crashing against the hull of a small boat.  If you’re not careful, you’ll get capsized.

Next song “Raise Your Horns” is just straight up metal, a mid-paced affair right from the Accept playbook.  Yeah, it’s “commercial,” as much as such things like this can be called commercial, and sure, it’s a stadium sing-along, but so what?  These guys have made this thing their own, and you can either enjoy it or get lost.  The video for this song is pretty incredible, too.

“The Way of Vikings” opens with stirring guitar harmonies that make me feel like I’m Conan, staring into the rising sun, about to ride off into adventure.  The drums come rumbling and bring with them the riffs and Hegg’s guttural growls.  Again, this is what Amon Amarth do so well, welding melody with heft and throwing in some epic atmosphere to go along with it.  This is truly the way of the Vikings.

A semi-narrated line starts the next song, “At Dawn’s First Light” and then we’re off.  This is a faster song, riding through the forest on a steed breathing fire, carrying us to a melodic chorus but doing so by bludgeoning through the underbrush, first.  This one will trample you, if you’re not careful.

An atmospheric beginning, chiming guitars washing over the ears, waves of the ocean crashing to shore, ushers in the mid-paced chug of “One Thousand Burning Arrows.”  Hegg goes low here.  A slow-burn epic, this one, it will probably be looked over by most fans, but this is vintage Amon Amarth, moody and grim, the ashes of the fallen dead filling the air with a suffocating smoke.

“Vengeance is Mine” swaggers in on a spoken verse followed by ripping guitars and we’re galloping again, in all the right ways, plenty of melody but also plenty of heft and gravity.  Like so much of the rest of this record, this melds the two worlds of Amon Amarth in a perfect way.  They’re on fire.  And then the magnificent chorus comes in about 1:13 into the song and nothing can stop the smile that’s creeping across your face at this point.

The next to last song, “A Dream that Cannot Be” does something Amon Amarth have never done before:  It’s a duet.  Doro Pesch plays the part of the narrator’s lost love and man, she just nails it.  This comes across as kind of hokey at first (like what are these guys trying to do?), but the emotional power of the narrative takes over and the tragic outcome is remarkable (no spoilers here).  The song works, but really only in the context of the story the album is telling.  I’m not sure if this is an experiment they should repeat, but again, they make it happen, despite the long odds. 

Final song brings the story and the album to a close.  Melodic, ringing notes play an almost circular pattern to lead us into the meat of the epic “Back on Northern Shores.”  This song kind of sums the whole thing up, plenty of melody, plenty of riffing, and a nice touch of grand chorusing.  And as another Amon Amarth album ends, we stand at the shore and watch it sail into the sunset, smiles all around.

An epic, energized return to form for an amazing band that is improbably popular, Jomsviking brings us metal, pure and furious and glorious.  Raise your horns!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Metal Top Five countdown for 2016 continues.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.


World Gone Mad
Suicidal Tendencies

If you think you’re surprised to see this album on my best of the year top five, you cannot possibly more shocked than I am.  I go way back with this band, to the late 80’s, and I have loved them ever since.  But for me, the band kind of ended after Art of Rebellion.  They’ve had many releases since then, but I never could get into any of them.  When I heard they had a new album out this year, I thought, for nostalgia’s sake, I’d put it on and give it a try.


It’s good, real good, and after the first listen I knew it was an instant classic that could stand right up with their older stuff.

The album opens with a drum beat by new drummer Dave Lombardo (yes him) and then a bass riff by new bassist Ra Diaz.  Talk about some chesty confidence.  Then the riffs come buzzsawing in and next thing you know you’re in the middle of the pit wondering what just happened.  “Clap Like Ozzy” is a strange song lyrically but it gets the point across:  this is about fun, about getting lost in life, living for every good thing that motivates you, and knocking down anything that gets in your way.  While the song plays, I cannot get the picture of Ozzy, clapping and grinning while whatever band he’s in blazes away behind him.  That’s how to live life.  And this song can usher you right into that feeling with its pulverizing thrash and moshable moments.

“The New Degeneration” rides in on a documentary sample and a mid-paced riff that makes you bob your head and grin with its old school control and power.  Guitarists Dean Pleasants and Jeff Pogan know how to deliver, and they do so over and over again through the whole record.  2:36 in and the song picks up that patented thrash gallop that sweeps you along and sends you spinning into a frenzy. 

Third song “Living for Life” begins with a loungy bass and swirling guitar weirdness that calls to mind 80’s ST as Mike Muir preaches with an almost psychedelic furor.  And about a minute in, the slight pause, the holding of the breath while you wait for the hardcore/metal to kick in.  And kick it does.  Lombardo seems to be having the time of his life on this record and this song is a great example of it, with lots of his little fills bringing the noise as only he can.  By the end the song circles back into itself and you’re happy for the respite, just so you can catch your breath.

Melodic guitars open “Get Your Fight On!” as old-school ST as a song can get.  Muir singing before sliding into his patented evangelization as the band warms up to life behind him.  The song slowly builds momentum until it is ready to pop and when it pops, bang!  Riff, riff, riff and man you’re sliding along, banging your head, letting the goodness of the metal wash over you.  If you like How Will I Laugh Tomorrow era ST, you’ll love this song.  Oh, and sweet bass. 

Snarling “World Gone Mad” comes next.  This may be the best song on the album.  Another sinister, slow start builds to the boiling point, Muir’s angry lyrics leading us into the footstomping, neckwrecking riff that tears our heads off.  Vintage metal.  Vintage, epic, awesome metal. 

“Happy Never After” starts right away with the guitars, dips down into a touch of psychedelia and then comes back up to the surface with another rock-hard, steady riff that carries you along with a pummeling authority you don’t hear much these days.  This is steady as she goes, all the way to the end, keeping your head banging, the drums pushing it along, never in a rush, never worried about a thing. 

And then we come to another epic.  “One Finger Salute” has that patented build up that ST is so good at.  Muir brings the truth “The worst is coming yet” he sings, “but you know we’ll be waiting for it.” And then a hardcore moshpit whirling blast blows you over and you’re swept up into the rebellion, the defiance, and it feels so good.  And from there it just carries on, reminding you what a potent song can do, moving your feet, your head, your body, your mind, and your spirit.  “We stand in contempt, one finger salute.”  Oh, yeah.  Ripping guitar solos, drop down bass sass, a breakdown that makes you want to stomp around the room, this one has it all.

“Damage Control” is another mid-paced effort that lets you catch your breath, but not for long.  About 1:25 in, the bass takes over and Muir starts up a chant that leads into the song picking up.  At this point it’s all so effortless and excellent you wonder why this band isn’t at the top of the charts.  Firing.  On.  All.  Cylinders.

“The Struggle is Real” is the last of the rockers on the record.  It blasts right out of the gate, thrash and hardcore melting into one, galloping drum beats propelling this thing forward at a dangerous pace.  Muir brings it, Lombardo brings it, hell, they all bring it. 

The last two songs are “Still Dying to Live” and “This World” are ballads, and by this point, soaked in sweat, you need these two to bring you back down to earth.  Muir sings, laying his heart on the line, like he does in every damned song he’s ever recorded, whether it’s punk, metal, a hybrid, or a ballad.  Every hardcore frontman from the 80’s on owe their existence to this man and the way he handles his business on stage and on album.  These two songs are amazing and could easily be overlooked after the proceeding fury.  But don’t pass them up.  There’s more passion here than in just about every popular song recorded in the last year.

World Gone Mad is a raging return to form but more than that, it’s no nostalgia trip.  It blazes and rocks just as hard as any new work around today.  Do not miss this if you like your metal and anger and fervor straight up.   

My Metal Top Five countdown for 2016 continues.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.




Boy, 2016 sure roared in.  We got new releases from Anthrax (a great album), Witchcraft (a great album) and Abbath brought his new band to the fore.  Leaving Immortal, he put together a sound that was an amalgamation of Immortal and his “I” project, a lethal dose of black n’ roll and black metal that was just as frigid and impaling as anything he’s done in the past.  Right out of the gates of the New Year, we got a classic.

“To War” starts with some boots marching in the snow and that crunch is replaced by a massive guitar crunch that bludgeons and then speeds up, a tank warming up and cresting a hill, crushing all before it.  The drums rumble and threaten, tribal and dirty, propelling this damned thing along.  A bit of the old black metal magic rears its head 1:33 and we’re off!  Abbath’s vocals may not be for all, but they sure work for me.  His deathly croak sounding just as urgent as ever.  This song sets the tone for what is to come. 

“Winter Bane” comes next, and it’s a sheer joy to behold.  Heavy, driving, with just an amazing riff come 40 seconds in.  This is what Abbath does better than anyone on the planet right now, this song right here.  It contains several movements, all heavy as hell, all blackened and crusted and yet thoroughly listenable and melodic in its own way.  The song lumbers and lurches forward, carrying us on a chaotic tide of wild drumming and wanton riffs, with a nice little bass fill 2:10 in.  If your head doesn’t bob to this one, you’re not a fan of metal.  Right at 5 minutes the song drops down, goes kinda acoustic for a bit, giving us some light for the shade, and then it picks up and just thumps, man, riffing, hair flying, slow and steady.  It pops up from there and cruises, Abbath giving a weird, strained vocal that adds to the overall melody. 

Third song “Ashes of the Damned” thrashes right out, pummeling, blackened metal greeting you with a swaggering grin.  This song is a series of fast punches to the face, punctuated by the (keyboard?) horn poke that goes with each uttered word of the chorus/song title.  It settles into a groove 1:30 in, giving us a few seconds to catch our breaths before rising to clobber once more.   

Reverberating drums and crusty riffs bring us into “Ocean of Wounds,” a mid-paced affair that grinds along, akin to a trek up the side of a mountain on a winding path that is perfectly cut so as to afford a steady march to the summit.  This is moody black n’ roll, atmospheric and firm, a cold resoluteness that fades into wind and rain.

Riff, riff, riff, comes next, brutal and dirty, sliding from clean to black for the song “Count the Dead.”  This is again mid-paced but more fiery, less mesmerizing and repetitive, turning black 1:55 in, with blast beats and that sweet black metal guitar riffing.  Abbath’s vocal exhorts us along, this thing taking on an epic feel, a bit of Bathory in there, although I couldn’t name a riff or chord to prove it. 

“Fenrir Hunts” is just brutal.  It blasts right on into your ears and assaults, machine gun drumming, black metal riffing, patented Abbath growls, this one is kind of mean but in a good way.  Again, the joy that permeates from these tracks are infectious without once being poppy or boppy.  This is a fist-pumper, a grit your teeth and whip that hair around affair that’s at once serious as hell and joyous as a first kiss.  This song is the most Immortal of them all.

Melodic, echoey chords and driving drums open “Root of the Mountain,” leading to a hook that’s sweet and satisfying.  This one slows it down a bit, leaving the listener to catch his breath, and then it turns right around and swings in a way that Satyricon have mastered on their last few records.  This song is just as apt to make you turn your head left to right and back again as it is to bang it and that’s because “swing” is the operative word here, until about 2:25, and then it becomes a straight up headbanger, with some epic bass going on in there.  It still swings, but this time instead of from side to side, it’s going forward.

Final track “Eternal” lets you know right away that this record isn’t going to just fade away, it’s going to rip your face off.  Heavy, violent, almost purely black, this one sends you home crying like the bully it is.  But even so, you smile, nursing your split lip, because you know you’ve been in a good fight and it was well-worth it. 

Abbath has crafted maybe the funnest grim album of the year.  The joy in the playing, in the marching, triumphant return to the world stage, is infectious.  It’s hard to listen to this record and smile, despite how dark and epic it is.  This is why metal is so dynamic and amazing and if you can’t enjoy this, you can’t enjoy metal. 

A simple, elegant, powerful statement of intent. 



Tuesday, December 27, 2016

And here begins my Metal Top Five countdown for 2016.  It's been a good year for metal but then again, nearly every year is good for the greatest music known to man.  Keep in mind that my picks are based not on what I think are the "best" albums of the year, but the ones I loved the most.  My only criteria was how much I listened to it as compared to other albums.  These Five are the ones that got the most play.


Number Five:

Arctic Thunder

It opens with a peal of guitar squeal and then bashes you on the head with a relentless, primal riff and drum pattern that rumbles forward and reminds you just why you love Celtic Frost and the venomous roots of black metal.  And then the vocals come in, gurgling like the cries of a corpse brought back to life.  The pace suddenly picks up, the riffing faster, the beat no longer lurching but running at you like a deranged killer with blood on his mind.  And such is opening track Tundra Leach, and such is this album.  Every time you think you’re safe, you find out you’re not.  This is the gift of Darkthrone; they never settle and they always go for the throat.  3:20 in and the beat changes yet again, grinding gears back into a pummel.  The killer has caught you, you’re in his clutches now, and he mercilessly beats you over the head with his hammering riffs.

Burial Bliss rolls in next, a colliding eruption of fast riffs and drum beats, closer to punk with its venomous attack.  This one is all business, all forward momentum, slowing only slightly at the 3:00 mark.  Slightly.

As the bliss fades out, Boreal Fiends throbs into life, slow, haunting notes played over a singular beat, seguing into a buzzsaw riff just as the vocals roar in, disturbing the tranquil beauty the opening passage gave us.  The song drops down again for an instant, letting you catch your breath.  This is mid-tempo goodness right here, moving along at a steady, metallic pace, the crashing of the prow of a boat against the large waves it rams through.  2:35 brings us a clean vocal/chant/cry to the gods, followed by foreboding licks, some cymbal shudderings, and then a heavy, doomy drum beat.  The tortured vocals return as the song turns almost to sludge, dragging along its broken limbs through a thick marsh of mud.  At 4:20 the pace picks back up, but just middling again, with a blessed riff that slides into a smooth guitar solo so clear and crystal it almost hurts your ears.

Another rapid number, but one closer to slow thrash than anything else, comes next.  Riff follows riff, the primitive drum sound pushing this Inbred Vermin along until about a minute passes and we get some more thrashy riffing, but nothing too wild until the switch is flipped and we’re rolling along, banging our heads to the pure black n’ roll that follows.  Oh, sweet, blessed metal.  The song drops into a valley before climbing back up to mid-paced territory again and then back to trashy thrash.  It finishes in sludgy fashion, making your head bob and your eyes close.

Arctic Thunder bang to life, an old-fashioned metal number, all riffs and thud with some drumstick on cymbal stand tinks that add to the old-school feel and rhythm.  This whole thing feels like a Voivod song from the early eighties, although it sounds nothing like Voivod, if that makes sense.  It bashes along, as does many of the songs on this album, carving a valley all its own.

Epic riffs start Throw Me Through the Marshes, the drums laid back and easy.  This is another head-bobber, one that begins like proper Bathory, the band just before it turned Viking, when it was still fooling with lo-fi but dreaming bigger.  About 2:00 in and the pace picks up, the riffing more insistent, the drumming more driving.  Like many of the songs, the riffs flirt with Black Metal proper but never really go all the way, keeping the traditional metal feel just enough to make this a hybrid sound.  At 3:46 the riff changes into an almost cock-rock swagger, big and swinging, daring you to look, returning almost instantly to the epic riff from the beginning of the song. 

Deep Lake Trespass opens with the most Black Metal riffs so far, although again, they do not go all the way.  There is no out of control whirlwind, the pace picking up in more of a punk rock fashion a little less than a minute into the song.  Nocturno Culto (who handles all the vocals on this album) howls out his usual acidic lyrics here, the defiance notably stronger and meaner in this song.  There’s a little soloing towards the end as the song returns to its opening signatures before ending with a lurch.

The final song, The Wyoming Distance, starts with a nice riff and the rocking does not stop there.  This is the most primitive of all the songs on the album.  You can feel the cymbals as they crash and the muted thump of the drums as if you’re in the same room with them.  Like the rest of the album, this sounds “live,” with no studio trickery, just the band in there, bashing it out, sweating and bleeding over their art.  The song ends with a crash of feedback and quiet studio chatter, like Nocturno and Fenriz said “screw it, we’re done.”  And then that’s it.

Everything is back to basics on this album, and that’s not an insult or to say it’s simple.  Darkthrone seem more determined with each new record to get to the essence of all that is dark and threatening about metal.  Yes, this is more “black metal” than some of their recent stuff, but the Motorhead influence is still just as important as the Celtic Frost or the Bathory.  It’s actually a perfect summation of their career, minus one balls-out epic pure Black Metal number.  They don’t do anything new with this record, but they don’t need to.  They write great songs and perform them.  The sound is warm and live and just like the obscure eighties band they named the record after, it feels like something you could have heard in that time period after Celtic Frost and before Mayhem.  In other words, it’s terrific.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hardwired to Spit Out the Bone:
A Review of the new Metallica record


I have despised Metallica since Reload.  They were one of my favorite bands of all time and like most, I loved the first four albums with a fiery passion.  The Black Album came out and I really liked it initially, but repeated listening’s wore on me, and the simplicity of the songs didn’t make me want to come back for more.  Instead, I got sick of it and openly mocked them as “Selloutica.”  And then Load came.  I didn’t know how to process it.  I listened a few times and put it away, thinking I would come back to it and find that I loved it at a later date.  A year went by and I tried again.  Dear God, what was wrong with this amazing band?  And then Reload… 

I was able to look past most of the insults; the cutting of the hair, the openly hostile attitude towards metal, the changed logo, the make-up and the angsty vocals, not to mention the tepid grunge that was Load.  But this, this was a travesty.  The band was aggravated by older fans clamoring for a return to the earlier days and Metallica said they would never do a “Master of Puppets, Part 2.”  But then they go and make “Unforgiven Part 2” and my head nearly exploded.  I didn’t want them to just repeat themselves, but doing a direct sequel to a song no one was clamoring for a return to?  What a slap in the face.

Next came that movie, you know the one I mean.  I could not feel sorry for these millionaires and their problems.  And poor Kirk.  Of course St. Anger followed and I won’t even justify that tragedy with much discussion.  They kept touring, kept having crap Nu Metal bands opening for them, and basically acted like the out of touch rock stars they were. 

Lo and behold, thrash makes a bit of a retro comeback, and suddenly Metallica wants to go prove they’re still metal.  Back comes the old logo, out comes Death Magnetic, a tepid at best album.  It was like they came up with a bunch of riffs and then threw them together thinking the magic would return.  Uh, no.  Nice try and all of that.

Which leads us to the new record.  And I have to say, for the first time in twenty-something years, Metallica put a smile on my face again.

Let’s get to the songs.

“Hardwired” opens the album with a burst of punk thrash speed.  On first hearing, I was taken aback.  The vocals were okay, the drumming was lagging a bit, but the rest, my goodness, was like a kiss on the cheek from a lover I hadn’t seen in years.  There’s bits of Kill ‘Em All in there, and the ferocity of the track works to near perfection.  By the time it was over, I was grinning.  The lyrics aren’t very good, and I have an issue with the cursing (not because I abhor cursing; I love it) because it sounds desperate, like James is saying, “I’m back and I’m still badass, see?”  In any case, an excellent start and a primer of what is to come.

“Atlas, Rise” arrives next and this was where I recognized a pattern that would come to repeat itself throughout the new album.  Metallica was reaching back to past triumphs, drawing on them, and using them to augment their new songs.  And I think that’s a good move on their part.  After all, when you have a legacy like the first four albums, why shouldn’t you pull on that?  This song is part thrash mixed with some Black Album chunk with a whole lot of melodic, twin-guitar stuff going on.  This is just as much Ride the Lightning as it is anything else, and James’ vocals are for once not distracting.  He’s not trying to be Chris Isaac and he‘s not trying to be tough via Chad Kroeger; he’s just letting it come naturally.  And the lyrics are good, too.  Probably my favorite Metallica song since And Justice…

“Now That We’re Dead” comes on like an outtake from the Black Album, same drum sound, same lumbering riff.  And that’s not a bad thing at all.  But…it’s way too long.  A four minute song would have done just fine.  Great solo by Kirk.  This harkens too much to the 90’s Metallica for me, but again, it’s not bad.

“Moth Into Flame” brings back that sweet dual guitar harmony that is gorgeous to my ears.  This is quickly followed by a nice, mid-paced thrash gallop.  The bass sound excellent on this song.  It’s again a look back at Ride the Lightning and again, it’s pretty damned good.  There’s also some modern flourishes thrown in, such as the melodic run about 1:13 into the song.  This is followed by a chorus of the 90’s Metallica and then a cycle back to the mid-paced chunk.  Mix and repeat and throw in a solo and you have the fourth best song on the record. 

“Dream No More” starts sort of like “Sad But True” and sort of continues along the same vein.  It’s another mid-paced song (sensing a pattern here?).  The vocals are alright. The production is tight and there’s nothing to hate about this song, but nothing to love, either.  6:30 is a long journey to take for a song that basically goes nowhere, and a song they did better on the Black Album.

“Halo on Fire” sounds very modern with its beginning, leaning on imitator bands like Trivium for its start out the gate.  And then it settles down into a quiet little ditty that features the kind of vocals from Load that make me want to puke turds and throw them at passing kids as they walk to school.  This song is the weakest on the album by far, and at this point, it drags down the record.  And eight minutes long?  Come on, guys.

Album One closes, Album Two opens.

“Confusion” starts with almost a direct quote/variation of/on “Am I Evil,” and hey, that’s a great start.  Then we get some good chunky riffs, and then it slows down again and we’re back into Load territory on the vocals.  Suddenly, the song feels jaunty and not very heavy, despite that fantastic, hefty riff.  Another mid-paced track that pretty much goes nowhere but again, isn’t terrible.

“Manunkind” begins with something a Metallica fan really hasn’t heard in a long time:  an acoustic opening.  Hello, “Battery.”  And the song kind of jams down on that same gear before sliding into a slick, slithering riff that does its own thing.  And then we’re back to a Black Album gallop but man, it sounds sweet.  The song is bothered by those pseudo-anthemic Load choruses, though, so that takes a couple points off.  Still, an excellent solo by Kirk.  Dumb lyrics. 

“Here Comes Revenge” is more like “Here Comes Another 7 Minute Mid-Paced Song That Goes Nowhere.”  It’s not bad because there’s not a bad song on this record, but it moves along pretty slow, to be honest, and the drop down to melodic James singing doesn’t do it any favors.

“Am I Savage?” flirts with “Fade to Black” in its opening but then swaggers around like a drunk spoiling for a fight.  And then…another mid-paced, six and a half minute song that thinks it’s “Of Wolf and Man” but really isn’t.  A real shame because that beginning promises some great things.

“Murder One,” another song that opens sort-of acoustically, with guitar tones that sound like “One” that lead us to, yes, a mid-paced slugger that swings hard but doesn’t really connect a knockout blow.  Like too many others, it goes on and on and five minutes of your life is gone.

“Spit Out the Bone” finds the lumbering Metallica machine suddenly hitting the gas and getting its “Motorbreath” running.  This song is pure thrash and is just as good as anything great off the recent Megadeth albums.  That’s a compliment.  James gets back to doing the vocals the way they should be done, no straining, no false emotion, just getting to the core of things.  Lars is trying to keep up, as he is almost the entire album.  Kirk is amazing as always and when he and James are on, they remind us of why they are such a formidable guitar duo.  And then, God help us all, Robert comes in at the 2:41 point with a bit of lead bass, the kind we haven’t heard since Cliff (RIP).  What a pleasant surprise!  This song doesn’t feel seven minutes long, it feels like “Fuck yeah, Metallica is back, bitches!”  An excellent way to end the record.

This album is a logical follow-up to the Black Album and would have been a perfect release about three years after.  The fact that we had to wait twenty years to get it is a travesty, but I won’t beat that dead horse any longer.  If you’re a fan of the first four albums, there is plenty here to like, and Metallica give us their four best songs since And Justice…and that’s no mean feat.  The rest of the songs play like high-school reunion memories of the Black and Load albums, but thankfully mostly they are the good memories, not the bad ones. 

A return to form?


A pretty damned good record?



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Hairy-Chested Comedown

I’m not a big fan of multi-artist compilations.  Not because I don’t like music and not because I don’t like diversity, but mostly because whenever there is this kind of collection, it’s inevitable that some of the songs just aren’t as good as others.  Whether that’s because of a difference in taste and style between the bands, or because the compilers have to fill space and are limited by whatever is at their disposal (supporting their particular label roster, a theme they have chosen, etc.), it doesn’t matter.  I always leave a little happy, a little disappointed.

Let me tell you what has not disappointed me yet, and that’s the magnificent Brown Acid series by Riding Easy Records.  First off, we don’t have the problem with limited means and limiting themes.  Their mission is to put to wax (again) some of the greatest lost hard/garage/acid/proto-stoner rock that was around in the late 60’s through the early 80’s.  There is no effort here to support only bands on their label.  The folks at Riding Easy have only one concern, and that’s to rock your bobby-sock’s off.

The first two albums were excellent and I was skeptical they could pull it off a third time.  After all, how much was truly out there left to mine, and of what was left, could it be of the same, excellent quality?

The answer comes quickly, with (literal) screamer “Scream (It’s Eating Me Alive)” by Grand Theft (Seattle, Washington, 1970).  It starts off with the sound of an acid trip gone wrong that is just beginning to spin out of control.  Fast and furious and mean, we get slapped in the face right away that the comedown is coming, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

Song after song follows, pummeling you into submission, like a bully in middle school teaching you the ropes about how things are gonna be from now on, kid.  We get schooled in all kinds of hard rock, each song uniform in its greatness. 

Chook (Australia, 1971) shakes off some of that trippy 60’s acid rock with some thrusting bass, ripping chords, and hungover vocals that sort of lurch along, slightly demented, just enough to make you worry a little about your journey and just how inebriated your driver is.

The Lindholm Brothers (Barrington, Illinois, 1976) jump in after you get left by the side of the road and reassure you with some prime boogie rock, if said boogie rock was performed by some Midwestern boys who had just swallowed speed for the first time.

Diehard (Hollywood, California, 1970) come next, putting it into cruise mode, sweeping you along with some chords and organ that play together to let you know everything is going to be okay.  They’re like that friend that mops your forehead after you’ve vomited; they’re there for you.  But you also wonder, in the back of your mind, if they’re not secretly making fun of you when you’re not around. 

Last song on Side One is the track that is my favorite, a masterclass of 70’s rock that was recorded in 1982.  No wonder Blown Free and their song “The Wizard” didn’t go anywhere when it came out.  This song belongs circa 1972, with its trippy jams and the way guitar chords provide a solid rhythm and the lead just sort of lead you into outer space.  The vocals roar in and take charge.  You know immediately you’re in the hands of people who know what they’re doing, and you wonder why these guys never made it big.  And then you remember, this came out in 1982, for God’s sake, when synth rock was everything.  These guys must have sounded like they came from another planet at the time; an awesome planet full of rock guitars and good, rockin’ hearts.

Side Two opens with a thunderstorm blowing across the ocean, as Factory (East Sussex, England, 1971) sets a dark mood and then rips into some prime early-70’s riffing.  You can almost feel the engine of your muscle car open up and accelerate down the highway, pausing to shift gears when needed.  “Time Machine” is everything later stoner bands would strive to be, trippy and distant and yet immediate.

Inside Experience (Fremont, Ohio, 1967) pops up next with “Be On My Way,” the oldest song on the comp and yet one that sounds like it came from the mid-70’s.  Only the echoey vocals sound of their time.  This is like if the Animals decided to be dirty and sinister, less pop and more rock.  A nice, distorted guitar solo is the cherry on top of this Vanilla Fudge sundae.

Boogie rock returns with Cold Sweat (Denver, Colorado, 1979) and their song “Quit Your Foolin’.”  It’s almost like the guys in Foghat decided to put out a song under a different name just to see what would happen.  This song is all-American, though, just as much out of the summer rock playbook of Edgar Winter as it is from those limeys across the pond. 

And why not start a “Highway Song” off with a reverberating bass and a slight, slow build, only to crash into chords that at once threaten and comfort.  This is the track by Elliott Black (Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1978), a dark take on the Nuge with some flute (yeah you read that right) that comes right at you, delivers it’s punch to the nose, and cruises out like a champ, hands raised in victory, slamming the door behind for good measure.

First State Bank (Dallas, Texas, 1975) push that door back open and tell you that, “Before You Leave,” you’re gonna have to sit back and listen to some vintage Dillinger-style riff rock that’s going to make you smile and shuffle your feet, all while you enjoy that can of cheap beer and the young hotties that just showed up to party.

Last song by Flash Beverage (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1980), “The Train,” growls like Lemmy with a rumbling blues backbeat.  This song is a gutful of beer sloshing around your insides.  You know it’s going to end bad, but still, it feels good.  And when you crawl out of the party, too many cigarettes smoked, too much whiskey guzzled, and a sore on your lip from the herpes you probably got making out with that trashy chick you’d never met before, you smile, knowing you had a damned good time.

Lance Barresi from Permanent Records and Daniel Hall from Riding Easy Records have put out another masterpiece.  Go get yourself a copy, sit back, and enjoy the ride.