As a Canadian I can’t help but marvel at American Thanksgiving. The sheer brilliance of it: make it a Thursday holiday, which’ll in turn compel people to take Friday off, and just like that you’ve got a four-day weekend. Unless Remembrance Day or the February statutory holiday falls on a Thursday, we don’t exactly have that experience here up north. So to my American buds, I salute your country and its knack for fun little loopholes like that. Anyway, Thanksgiving is always the official start of the holiday spending season, and because we are now in that deadsville new release period of the year, for a little fun I’ve slapped together a little gift guide for Decibel readers, featuring plenty of stuff that’s either appeared in my mailbox over the year, my email inbox, via social media, or which I’ve simply gone out and bought as a fan. Either way, there should be something you like here. So enjoy, and have a fabulous Thanksgiving while the rest of the world wonders why Twitter is so dead on a Thursday.
The new release schedule might be entering its December dormancy, but good music is still trickling in. Primordial’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade) is a very welcome return by the Irish pagan metalers, featuring some of their strongest material to date, not to mention the best production on any Primordial record to date. Powerviolence band Full of Hell have teamed up with noise maestro Merzbow, and the resulting album, fittingly titled Full of Hell/Merzbow (Profound Lore) is a wickedly intense, sneakily catchy 24-minute piece of work that meshes some rather ambitious grindcore and abstract ambient work with great creativity. Listen and purchase it via Bandcamp. And then there’s the mighty AC/DC, who after an eventful year for all the wrong reasons, cap it all off with Rock or Bust, their best new album since Fly on the Wall 30 years ago. I’ll review it in full next week when it comes out, but in the meantime go stream it at iTunes and think about whom you want to buy it for.
Music BluRay, DVD, etc.:
It’s been a fairly slow year for metal video releases, but a handful have stuck out for yours truly. Gojira’s Les Enfants Sauvages (Roadrunner) is as good a live album/concert film as I’ve seen in recent years, a near-perfect snapshot of one of the best live bands in the world in action. Meshuggah’s The Ophidian Trek (Nuclear Blast) works better as a live album than as a concert film, but is still an essential purchase for fans of the band. Meanwhile Rush’s gigantic R40 box set compiles the band’s last five BluRay releases, and as a tantalizing bonus, tosses in two hours of bonus material, including video footage of a complete performance of “2112”.
Wait, cassettes are still a thing?
I refuse to buy into the idea that cassettes are a viable option as a music medium in 2014, but once or twice a year I will make a rare exception, and the one cassette I didn’t hesitate to buy is Gatekrashör’s self-titled debut album. Not only is it a ferocious, riotous dose of filthy speed metal in the tradition of Exciter and Nasty Savage, but the Calgary band have taken upon themselves to faithfully recreate the cassette design of the highly influential Canadian underground label Banzai Records, whose old tapes have become collector’s items, and for many of us old-timers and old-at-hearts, fetish objects. You see this tape, and you go, I must own that. And you definitely should. Purchase Gatekrashör on cassette here.
Yes, metalheads do read books:
2014’s been fairly lively when it comes to metal-themed reading material. Mike “McBeardo” McPadden’s Heavy Metal Movies is yet another hugely enjoyable release by Bazillion Points, whimsically delving into the connections between metal and cinema. For those looking for more serious subject matter, Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult, by Dayal Patterson (Feral House) is a well-researched, exhaustive history of black metal that, despite its curious (condescending?) ignorance of USBM, nevertheless is a worthy inclusion to any kvltist’s bookshelf. Handshake, Inc. has come through with a pair of essential books too: Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground, by Jason Netherton of Misery Index, is a massive, 480-page history of death metal that fully deserves to stand alongside Daniel Ekeroth’s Swedish Death Metal and our own Albert Mudrian’s Choosing Death. Then there’s Dan Lilker’s Perpetual Conversion, which chronicles the life and career of arguably the coolest guy in all of metal, with all the charm and likeability of the man himself.
The great, prolific Martin Popoff continues to churn out the books, but none in 2014 was better than The Big Book of Hair Metal: The Illustrated Oral History of Heavy Metal's Debauched Decade (Voyageur Press), a coffee table-sized volume that chronicles the rise and fall of glam/pop/hair metal with studious attention to detail, featuring loads and loads of insightful quotes from many artists. I can’t recommend this one highly enough, it’s a total pleasure.
The notion that metalheads are gentle souls just like anyone else is hardly news to those of us in this scene, but that doesn’t make photographer Alexandra Crockett’s Metal Cats (powerHouse) any less adorable, as musicians pose with their favorite felines. Plus the proceeds go towards helping save cats, so why not?
Two years ago Decibel illustrator Mark Rudolph released Satan is Alive, a wonderful comic book tribute to Mercyful Fate, and this fall he’s followed that up with Morbid Tales! A Tribute to Celtic Frost. Featuring illustrations and commentary by far too many artists and metal writers to mention, this is a no-brainer, a must-own. I pre-ordered a copy, and you should too. Get it here.
Lastly, if you read Decibel, you know who John Darnielle is from his monthly South Pole Dispatch at the end of every issue. Not only is he an incredibly talented Decibel writer, a wickedly sharp metal fan in his own right, and a rather famous indie musician, but he’s also a best-selling author now. His novel Wolf in White Van (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) has met with universal acclaim, and was nominated for the National Book Award, and although I haven’t read it yet (it’s in my possession as of today!) I’m very optimistic. His book about Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality contains probably the best writing about teen alienation I have ever read, and I expect Wolf in White Van to be as enjoyable a book, if not more.
Metal fans love horror movies, and I saw my share in 2014, and I haven’t enjoyed a horror film in 2014 as much as Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead. It expands on the original Dead Snow to a loopy, gory, hilarious degree: not only are there Nazi zombies, but Soviet communist zombies as well, plus a group of geeks led by Martin Starr (?!) who help do battle. And then there’s the horror movie love scene to end all horror movie love scenes. It’s a total blast, and comes out on DVD and BluRay on December 9.
When it comes to more serious fare, no flick in 2014 comes close to the ambition and vision of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Starring Scarlett Johansson and featuring a mesmerizing soundtrack by Mica Levi, it’s not the usual effects-ltden sci-fi movie mainstream audiences expect, but takes its cue from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, going for something a lot more vague, more meditative, and quieter. It requires you to think, to absorb, to lose yourself in its mind-blowing beauty. This is one you have to see on BluRay.
As for re-releases, the Criterion edition of David Lynch’s 1977 masterpiece Eraserhead is, hands down, the finest BluRay movie release of the year. The restored visuals are stunning, the supplements are thorough and highly entertaining, and best of all, that weird, weird story about Henry Spencer, his deformed baby, and that Lady in the Radiator is as thought-provoking and disturbing as ever.
What about gear?
If you write on a personal blog well enough and long enough, promotional items practically fall into your lap. One day I was asked if I wanted to review a new pair of headphones, and seeing that freelancers can never say no to free stuff, I said yes. Well, it turns out that my pair of LSTN Troubadours is easily one of my favorite things of 2014, giving me exactly what I want out of a headphone, and what I was in need of, quite frankly. I don’t want that battery-boosted sound that the more popular modern headphones provide, I’m always interested in something more understated. LSTN is totally old school and organic, in both its aviator-style design and its sound. Featuring wood, housed speakers that fit comfortably over the ears, it’s all about warmth, and whether on the iPhone or listening to the turntable, my ebony Troubadours feel great and sound even better. It lacks that bass boost that other headphones give, so if you listen to more rock/folk/classical than electronic and hip hop, these are an excellent fit. I can’t recommend these highly enough. Check them out here.
The ultimate 2014 album guide!
I can’t write a gift guide and not include the current issue of Decibel now, can I? Metal fans wait all year to check out and argue over Decibel’s annual 40 extreme albums list, and more than a few use it as a guide to figure out what albums they’re going to purchase for themselves over the holidays that they might’ve missed. So if you haven’t seen it yet, buy the new issue here.
On a more humanitarian note, the folks in Ferguson, Missouri are having the worst year ever. Amidst the murder of an innocent youth by police, the prosecutor’s shoddy parody of justice, the tear gassing of peaceful protesters, the violence and looting, the Ferguson Public Library remains open for the youth of the community, and is always accepting donations. Go help them out.