When I took over the Headbang blog at MSN Music in August 2011, I was thinking of ways I could set it apart from the rest of the metal blogs out there. Everyone seems to only list the new releases every week, so why don’t I review as many as I can? It seemed easy enough, that is until you get to the 16th album and hearing another band of 20 year-olds playing arbitrarily arranged deathcore sends you off the deep end. Along the way, though, this project became somewhat of A Thing, and I’d always hear back from people who were glad there was someone out there succinctly sorting through the dreck rather than giving token 7/10 scores to mediocre albums. When MSN laid off its entire entertainment freelance staff recently, the opportunity arose to take this ongoing project to the Deciblog, which I’m more than glad to do.
Something happens when you go through this much new music per week: the desire for great music increases – though that amounts to less than five percent of everything that comes out, if that – and middling music becomes completely unacceptable, which is how it should be. Of course, these reviews are from my perspective only, and in no way diminish the well-written reviews seen each month in Decibel magazine. So I hope you’ll drop by every Wednesday morning as I subject myself to auditory torture, and hopefully I can help make your record buying decisions a little easier, and help your wallet shed some excess weight.
Normally this space would be reserved for an “album of the week”, but last week was so unusually loaded with excellent releases – In Solitude, Atlantean Kodex, Fates Warning, Argus, Horisont, Within Temptation – that you still should be checking out any of those you might have missed seven days ago. In the meantime, though, here’s what this week has to offer:
Beaten To Death, Dødsfest! (Mas-Kina): The juxtaposition of wonky, clean guitar melodies with a grindcore rhythm section had me. It’s crazy enough to work. But then the burping vocal grunts kicked in, and lost me for good. What a waste.
Chron Goblin, Life For the Living (self-released): If you were left deflated after hearing the new Vista Chino album, then this is the record for you. Straight-up stoner/desert rock in the tradition of Kyuss, it’s plenty groovy, loaded with swaggering bluesy riffs, and featuring lead vocals that aren’t afraid to show a little flamboyance. Highly recommended. Stream and purchase it via Bandcamp.
Earthless, From The Ages (Tee Pee): Instrumental metal is an extremely difficult subgenre to master, with few bands able to take “expression” as far as they can without slipping into boring self-indulgence. San Diego trio Earthless has always been one of the better ones, but they’ve outdone themselves on their third full-length, on which guitarist Isaiah Mitchell lets loose solo after effects-laden solo atop extended groovy jams by bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba. While an even better instrumental album comes out next week (here’s a hint), guitar nerds should put away their Periphery albums and check this out. It’s a must-hear.
Herrschaft, Les 12 Vertiges (Code 666): Yet another band that bills itself as “experimental” and “cutting edge” but sounds like it came straight from 1995. Real experimental metal has a lot more breadth than simply aping Ministry and Atari Teenage Riot.
Kevin Hufnagel, Ashland (Nightfloat): Here’s something completely different. The guitarist for Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, and Vaura has released a solo album of baritone ukulele compositions of all things, and while it’s not exactly under the metal umbrella it’s nevertheless something that should interest those who admire his more “extreme” music. By manipulating the seemingly limiting instrument in various ways he actually creates something original, and even darkly surreal. Stream and purchase it via Bandcamp.
Korn, The Paradigm Shift (Prospect Park): It used to be so easy to lampoon Korn. After all, few bands have fallen so swiftly from “innovator” status to hilarious self-parody, their releases in the 2000s becoming sorrier and sorrier exercises. In the last couple years, though, the band has shown signs of something resembling a creative rebirth of sorts. 2011’s The Path of Totality married two patently obnoxious sounds – dubstep and nu-metal – falling right into Korn’s wheelhouse - that's right, I kind of liked it - and their latest album, while not as adventurous, nevertheless continues that trend. While milking the same formula Korn’s been doing for 20 years, it actually has a decent, brace yourself, pop sensibility to it. It's long past sounding cutting edge, but it's nearly competent, and those who still think Follow the Leader is the greatest album ever will be happy with this one. Everyone else can keep listening to the new Earthless.
Mörkö, Itsensänimeävä (AAP): Oranssi Pazuzu is the one Finnish band that’s been getting the bulk of advance press, and for good reason, but if you’re looking for even freakier black metal, then this Lahti trio is well worth checking out. Oddly minimalist and atonal – it’s impossible not to hear Slint in the weird arrangements – it’s difficult music, and often accompanied by surreal Finnish narration, but it’s by no means impenetrable.
Running Wild, Resilient (SPV): While metal fans should be thankful to Rock ‘n’ Rolf Kasparek for such swashbucklingly fun albums as 1987’s Under Jolly Roger and 1988’s Port Royal, last year’s Shadowmaker was so awful, so past its best-before date that it made you embarrassed for the guy. Needless to say I was not looking forward to listening to Running Wild’s 15th album, but much to my great surprise they’ve come through with a likeable record. Nothing has changed at all in the band’s approach of course – simple, upbeat Teutonic heavy metal – but there’s a sense of passion that was sorely missing from the previous album. It’s goofy as hell, but if you can sit through the title track without cringing, then you’ll get a mild kick out of the rest of it.
Secrets Of The Sky, To Sail Black Waters (Kolony): I know these Oakland prog/doomers will say the contrast between clean and harsh vocals works, but Garett Gazay’s singing is so strong on this album that whenever he goes back to growling it feels like a regression. When that happens, it feels like the band is either not yet able to or too lazy to come up with twice as many compelling vocal melodies. Judging by the talent on display here, I’d go with the latter. Still, the arrangements are superb at times – “Decline” and “Black Waters” do the Opeth meets Isis thing very well – and this is a promising debut by a band that you figure will only get better.
Spiralarms, Freedom (SPV): In which Craig Locicero and his friends churn out sporadically pleasant but mostly unspectacular heavy rock in the vein of Kyuss and Stone Temple Pilots. Sure, there’s a faithful cover of Sabbath’s “Tomorrow’s Dream”, but then the title track kicks in, sounding like Buckcherry trying to sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and you just want the misery to end. Man, do I miss Forbidden.
Strangelight, 9 Days (Sacrament): Featuring members of Made Out of Babies, Red Sparowes, and Goes Cube, this six-song EP by the Brooklyn band channels their inner AmRep fan, but the worship isn’t overbearing. Instead, they bring in a melodic aspect that goes well with the grinding skronk, making for a surprisingly accessible noise record.
Ulver, Messe I.X-VI.X (Kscope): Two years removed from a startlingly straight-faced collectionof ‘60s psychedelic covers, Kristoffer Rygg and company pull the rug out from under their audience yet again, this time returning to the ambient, minimal sounds of 2007’s Shadows of the Sun. Only this album, commissioned by the Tromsø House of Culture and recorded with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, heads in a more neoclassical direction, toying with harmonies and cut-and paste experimentation. Baffling and oddly beautiful, it nevertheless ultimately falls short of Ulver’s creative high water mark, 2005’s Blood Inside.
The Vision Bleak, Witching Hour (Prophecy): At first the latest by the German band is more of the same, “Hey, look! We’re goth!” music that tries so hard to sound dark and evil that it overshoots its target and flies right into parody territory. When “Cannibal Witch” and the speed metal-ish “Hexenmeister” kick in you realize that at times they come closer to getting it right than initially thought, but that doesn’t make the rest of this comically blunt album any better.
Not Metal, But You Need This:
Teeth of the Sea, Master (Rocket Recordings): This was one of those random discoveries at Roadburn that I love. I’d learned of Teeth of the Sea only because they’re on the same UK label as Goat, and on the way from one festival venue to another, I walked in on this duo, who were creating a cool, intense combination of electronic, krautrock, and extreme music, and I stood there spellbound. Well, their second album is out this week, and it’s incredible how it refuses to limit itself to one particular genre. You hear Van Der Graaf Generator one minute, Giorgio Moroder the next, the searing intensity of Suicide a minute later, and even a touch of doom here and there. It’s “progressive”, it’s “extreme”, it has "indie cachet" all at once, yet feels far from scattershot, the foursome showing tremendous discipline in their songwriting. Master is, regardless of genre, one of the best, most inventive albums of the year,and this is one that can very much appeal to fans of heavy music. Stream and purchase it via Bandcamp.