June Records

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

Amon Amarth–Berserker

True to pattern, the album after subpar outing Jomsviking is a return to form. Berserker’s best quality is the presence of songs seemingly designed for their live show, to be sung in unison by drunk people with alehorns hoisted when Hegg commands. Thats the point of Amon Amarth.

The Rest (descending order)

2. Black Sites–Exile

The first song has a Machine Head riff at its core, which may or may not be a deterrent. But give this one 3 or 4 spins before making any conclusions–it is a real grower for a band with a unique sound in progressive metal. I kept getting a Queensryche vibe–again, maybe a deterrent for some, but a big compliment from this Mindcrime-obsessed listener.

3. Lord Vicar–The Black Powder

The whole album is good, but the opener steals the show. Best doom song since Candlemass’ prime? Quite possibly.

4. Spirit Adrift–Divided by Darkness

A great album, but also a disappointment. I expected this to be on top of any and all lists this year, but it is lacking that songwriting spark that elevated their last one. Don’t skip it by any means, but check expectations.

5. Ketzer–Cloud Collider

A unique album, thrashy black metal but always played with restraint.

6. Haze Mage–Chronicles

Silly but fun. Each song sounds like Danzig singing about a weird comic book character over a Taint song. Not a bad thing.

7. Possessed–Revelations of Oblivion

Very impressive that Jeff Becerra is capable of this so long after 7 Churches, and the perserverance he’s shown is beyond comprehension (check out the decibel article). But I don’t feel compelled to return to this album. It is competent but rarely inspired.

8. King Gizzard–Fishing for Fishies

King Gizz with another disposable one.

Of 2017’s 5 albums, I would go:

1. Flying Microtonal Banana

2. Polygonwanaland

3. Gumboot Soup

4. Murder of the Universe

5. Scenes of Brunswick East

Fishes is unfortunately most like Sketches. But the next one is apparently a full on thrash album, so no bumming out here.

9. Enforcer–Nadir…I mean Zenith

I really tried with this one, but it is basically a Poison album.

Lucifer–March 21, 2019–Reggies

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Lucifer has been an elusive band for me.  I’ve had to miss the last 3 times I was supposed to see them, once before at Reggies; once before at Thalia Hall opening for High on Fire; and most tragically at the 2017 Psycho Las Vegas show (never be a lawyer).  So despite the fact that it was a school night (but seriously, fuck you Uncle Acid, a goddamn Tuesday next week?) and the first night of the NCAA Tournament, I sucked it up and got my ass down to Reggies.  Good thing I did.

I’m not sure what I was expecting.  I know Johanna Sadonis has put out nothing but quality records in The Oath and Lucifer in the last 5 years.  And I knew Nicke Andersson was going to wear a weird Turbonegro-ish outfit behind the kit.  But as a live animal, Lucifer is not yet a known quantity.  I’m here to tell you that it won’t be long before that is turned the fuck around, because this band just fucking took it to the audience.  Routinely I would hear around me when a song ended, “Wow!”  and “Damn!” as the crowd seemed genuinely shocked at just how rad the whole thing was.

Unapologetically retro and campy, the band with Sadonis at the helm came out intent on doing one thing.  No bullshit between the songs, no let up in the pace, just one 70s hard rock jam after another.  I was a little concerned that the band might appear a little kitschy onstage (indeed, one of the openers, Black Road, fell prey to the attractive, vampy woman/unwashed dude cliche).  But Lucifer felt like a unit that had fuckin fun playing these songs together, and it just so happened Johanna looks like she does.  It was palpable from jump.  I still find myself using that trite “female-fronted” qualifier for bands like Lucifer, but this performance emphasized why that is bullshit.  Doesn’t matter what the gender is.  Does the person give a fuck?  Are they authentic?  Are they talented? Are they doing something interesting?  Johanna checked all those boxes tonight in a fantastic way, and nothing else matters.

Highlights for me were my favorite songs on each of the records, “Purple Pyramid” from the first and especially “Reaper on Your Heals” from Lucifer II, which closed the main set and featured an excellent extended jam in the outro.  Then, just to drive their point home, these fuckers played “Bomber” in their encore.  They were also smoking and drinking non-stop on stage, and engaged in Downing/Tipton synchronized rocking routinely.  If you weren’t having fun, that shit is on you.

Early candidate for a Top 10 show of the year in a spot I wasn’t expecting it.  And I didn’t even get drunk…well…that drunk.  Who wants to be sober at work on a Friday anyways?

Clutch–March 13, 2019–Concord

A Clutch show is always defined by the setlist.  Even now that we are locked in at 17 songs on the head per night, you are still likely to get a good mix across the nearly 30 years.  And if the roulette ball happens to land on that one you wanted, say a rando appearance of Immortal or Oregon or Pulaski Skyway or John Wilkes Booth, then the whole show can be made just in that moment.

Or they might play 9 new songs, and you’re left just the slightest bit…fucking furious?  Nah, just pissed.

I told myself I’d stop bitching about setlists in show reviews, but this night was really defined by it.  There is no way getting around it.  Fallon came out from jump and said he got fuckin wrecked the night before(“drank all the beers last night”).  As a goddamn rock star, such is his right.  Had he never said anything, I wouldn’t have known based on his performance or voice.  But the lack of daring and creativity in the set choices betrayed a hastily-thrown-together evening of whatever was freshest in his head.  As such, we got long strings of new ones which murdered any momentum the show tried to build.  This was most evident when Cypress Grove and Spacegrass peaked out and the crowd tried to get into it—the move right back to the weaker Book of Bad Decisions material stopped everyone dead in their tracks.

The worst Clutch show is still a great rock show and a good time though, and I’m probably being a little harsh because for whatever reason this one lacked even the good modern staples like The Face, D.C. Sound Attack and Firebirds!  I also can’t help feel like I tempted fate by all my crab cake bits, because sure enough, 3 songs in and we get the recipe.  Barf.

I’ll be back next time though, and every time after that.  Just look at what they did in ’16 at House of Blues, and you’ll know why.

Corrosion of Conformity–February 10, 2019–Bottom Lounge

One day I will learn not to drink four beers before the fucking show and then expect to remember much of the show at which I am also going to drink.  But today was not that day!

At least the COC/Crowbar show is a proper venue for just getting loose a bit.  That’s not to take away from the quality of their songs or the impact on their scenes, but this isn’t exactly Meshuggah-level intricacy going on here.  Go to the show, bang your head, wake up and hate being in your 30s.  Got it.

Showed up a bit late and missed Mothership, who I don’t know anything about, and now MAY NEVER KNOW.

Bottom Lounge gets sold the fuck out anymore.  It can be unmanageable when too crowded, with the bar at the entrance of venue area and the merch/bathrooms all the way across the sometimes-unnavigable floor.  People were pretty cool tonight though–maybe on my same vibe?–so even during Crowbar and COC you could still get from end to end.  Now sell 50 fewer tix per show, Bottom Lounge, you fucks.

Weedeater was the 2nd support act.  They are cool in a Zeke-ish way I suppose, but I’ve never been inspired to pick any of their stuff up, and am still not.  They covered Skynyrd’s Gimme Back My Bullets at some point, and Pepper walked out to help with the chorus.  Only it seemed like Pepper didn’t know much about Weedeater, because predictably their arrangement of the song was too fast and muddled.  So when Pepper tried to actually sing the chorus, his vocals didn’t fit with the too-fast-screamed-vocal version Weedeater was doing, causing Pepper to raise his eyebrows and do the slow-back-out.  My thoughts exactly.

My buddy asked me who was still in Crowbar as they were taking the stage, which was a good question.  Turns out Kirk is the last one standing, and this lack of consistency might be the culprit as to why COC eclipsed their NOLA counterparts.  But the comraderie in that scene always seem to shine through, and that happened again tonight.  Kirk and Pepper took turns breaking each other’s balls, and both are veteran frontmen that know how to keep the crowd’s attention and favor until the heavy hitters come in the set.  For me, Crowbar has fewer of them, but bookending the show with opener All I Had I Gave and closers Planets Collide/Like Broken Glass was smart and effective.  The consistent doom/hardcore line straddling of most of their catalog is engaging enough to bang your head throughout.  Can’t ask for more than that.  CROW-BAR.

The crowd was firmly there for COC though, and the celebratory air and multiple crowd participation sections in the show put that on firm display.  I came to COC through Down around the time America’s Volume Dealer came out, so the greatness of Deliverance and Wiseblood took a while to dawn on me.  Shit, Blind was the record we played most in high school.  In the Arms of God was the first new COC record that grabbed me, and it did so profoundly.  That was my favorite record of the year, and I have a strong emotional attachment to it. To hear It is That Way tonight, and to see the incredible crowd response behind it, was a moment of connection with the room that I wasn’t expecting.

Opening salvo of Stonebreaker and Wiseblood instilled a sense of momentum to the show at the outset, though I wonder if the crowd’s cheer for  Pepper’s offer of”something weird” would have been the same had they known it meant we got Born Again for the Last Time instead of Long Whip/Big America.  Dummies!  The staple is a staple for a reason!

The show fizzled a bit in the back half starting with Vote with a Bullet, a song people think they like until they realize it’s the first half of Blind that’s good.  Too much focus on slow tunes and America’s Volume Dealer material as well.  But then came set closer Albatross.  Any metal and stoner fan who doesn’t get at least half a tear thinking about this one is a sociopath.  The exultancy with which it was met by the Bottom Lounge crowd suggests that wasn’t a problem on this particular night.  Good thing too, getting stabbed sucks.

Closed out, of course, with Clean my Wounds.  Though it is a bit tired at this point, screaming “knock it down” with a couple hundred like minded idiots doesn’t get old.

A little rusty, a little uneven, but COC is undeniably that great live band you couldn’t believe the first time you saw them or heard Live Volume (which if you haven’t spun in a while, do it, damn that record is great).   Not even my hangover the next day managed to spoil that.

Chicago “Spring” Concert Preview

Chicago always takes a while to heat back up again, but a sparse January leads into one can’t miss show in February and then a packed March.  So for those of us who avoid the logical decision and don’t kill ourselves this winter, here’s what we have to look forward to:

Corrosion of Conformity/Crowbar–February 9–Bottom Lounge

Play Down songs.  Play Down songs.  Play Down songs.

Or just All I Had I Gave and Albatross.

 

Decibel Tour–Cannibal Corpse/Morbid Angel–March 4 Concord

I wasn’t a death metal fan yet when these two bands were coming up, but I have to imagine the debate between who was the best death metal band often came down to these two, particularly in discussing the Florida scene (fuck off Deicide; Death, fair play).  Looks like Corpse is going forward despite their guitar player apparently being a bath-salted doomsday hoarder crazy person, replacing him with Erik Rutan.  So…Rutan, get involved with Morbid Angel too?  Crossovers!

For real, as long as the rumors are true that MA will go back to playing pre-Formulas stuff on this tour, the lineup at this years Decibel Tour is stacked with good death metal and well worth it.

 

Clutch–March 13–Concord

I didn’t care for Book of Bad Decisions.  That doesn’t mean I’m gonna miss a fucking Clutch show, c’mon now.  The sets last year started to get a little weirder in a great way–Open up the Border?  Big News I and II?  50,000 Unstoppable Watts?  I’m in.

Hopefully on this trek they are passed the “9 new songs” stage and ready to go full 2003 Live in Flint with it.

 

Lucifer–March 21–Reggies

Johanna Sadonis is supposed to be a captivating figure in the live setting, and I wouldn’t doubt it based on the performances on the first 2 Lucifer records and the sadly one-album The Oath project.  Did you know the guitar player from The Oath, Linnea Olsen, has her own band as well now, Maggot Heart?  Lucifer and Maggot Heart are both worth your time.  I’d liken Maggot Heart to In Solitude playing garage rock.  But listening to both bands is a little heartbreaking, because you can see that the dynamism between Sadonis and Olsen is that little thing missing from the two solo projects.

 

Uncle Acid/Graveyard–March 26–Metro

Two bands on different trajectories.  I thought Graveyard was ready to crossover into what Greta Van Fleet is now (I guess?), but the last two records saw an unfortunate decline in memorable songs.  The opposite is going on in the Uncle Acid camp–The Night Creeper had Melody Lane, maybe their most immediate song, and Wasteland is excellent front to back.  Let’s hope Graveyard re-finds their form.  Maybe a more metal-tinged tour will be just the thing.

 

Baroness/Deafheaven/Zeal and Ardor–March 31–Riviera

I’m very interested to see Zeal and Ardor in a larger setting.  If the crowd is unfamiliar, it could be very weird at first, though I suspect (a) there will be enough hipsters in this crowd that a lot of people will know the band, and (b) the uninitiated will be won over quickly because Zeal and Ardor are amazing.

The Deafheaven hype turned me off enough that I haven’t listened to the last 2.  I did see them live recently.  And….they were still pretty ok; and non-descript; and would not be a thing if non-metal people didn’t jizz on Sunbather as if they knew anything about metal.

Baroness may never be that band we heard on Red again–the band of extended, insane guitar solos loosely wrapped up in song structures, the band that was immediate and intricate and harsh and accessible all at the same time.  But the current, classic rock version of the band is plenty worthy.  There was some edge back on Purple as well–The Iron Bell, anyone?  I think this is the first tour in full with the new line-up, so I’m interested to see what past eras of the band play to this line-up’s strengths.  So long as Baizley is at the helm, you can expect a good show and some great album/shirt designs to stare at while stoned.

Then we’re in April, and free!…after two more snow storms.

 

 

Sup in 2019?

Here are some things to get me through this goddamn month.

2018 was excellent for metal.  It would be crazy to put those expectations on this year, but there are definitely some things on the metal and metal-adjacent docket worth enduring winter for (in chronological order):

1. Expected new records–Release dates unknown

-Deftones–Can they bounce back from Gore?

-Amon Amarth–Can they bounce back from Jomsviking?

-Baroness–Can they bounce back from…wait, Purple was good, NM.

 

2.  New Tool album–??

Gets a separate heading.  Fuck these guys for all the teasing and bullshit and $600 clinics.  But they are also Tool, so they are basically untouchable, and if a new one actually comes out it will be nothing short of a fucking EVENT.

 

3.  The Raconteurs Return

I was late to the party on this, and not a huge Jack White guy, but fuck if Consolers of the Lonely isn’t a top 10 rock record of the last 20 years.  Do it again?

 

4.  Lords of Chaos movie release–Feb 8

I’ve been waiting on this for awhile.  The book has its problems, but the subject matter is nothing less than compelling and an important part of modern metal history.  Plus, it is salacious as fuck and there is a Culkin playing Euronymous.

 

5.  COC and Crowbar Tour–Bottom Lounge, Sat Feb 9

Pepper is there.  Kirk is there.  Phil is watching horror movies in his basement (which hopefully doesn’t have any unfortunate banners on the wall).  Just make it happen!

 

6.  Uncle Acid and Graveyard tour–March 26–Metro

Uncle Acid clearly > Graveyard at this point, but the head to head matchup should be a good night, and at least Graveyard has some solid back catalog worth hearing.

 

7.  Game of Thrones–April

AHHHHHH.  Must. complete. re-watch.

 

8. Chicago Open Air–May 18-19

No vendors, no second stage, and the ticket prices can beat it…

BUT who can pass up Tool and System of a Down?  Hold you nose and take the plunge.

 

9.  Judas Priest (May) and Iron Maiden (August) Shows

It will only be about 5-10 years when young metalheads will look in disbelief when you say “I saw Maiden with Bruce and Priest with Rob in the same summer.”  Take advantage while you can.

 

10.  Psycho Las Vegas–August 16-18

I’ve yet to make the trek out there, but it is always the most enviable U.S. lineup (look at 2017’s if you don’t believe me), and maybe the second only to Hellfest worldwide.

 

Fuck January.

 

Best of 2018

I love all the year ends. They always bring new leads for excellent stuff that I missed, and reminds me to give a few additional spins to records I may have neglected for a few months. I got hot takes on all kinds of shit, so let’s go:

MUSIC

Disappointment

Clutch–Book of Bad Decisions

Sucks to put this here, but any Clutch record that isn’t an instant top 10 has to be considered a disappointment. I’m with the people criticizing the production–there’s a song on here called “Weird Times” that sounds like the Black Keys, and the Black Keys have a song called “Strange Times,” and just the prospect of finishing this thought makes me uncomfortable so I’m moving right along.

And you know what was a “Bad Decision”…A crab cake song! Nailed it.

Honorable Mention

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats–Wasteland

Tomb Mold–Manor of Infinite Forms

Lucifer–II

Scars on Broadway–Dictator

Revocation–The Outer Ones

Top 10

10. At the Gates–To Drink From the Night Itself

Image result for to drink from the night itself

The band doesn’t miss a beat with a new guitar player (somehow–how can there be only one Bjorler in At the Gates?) and picks up the energy from the return album. A savage live show at the Decibel Beer and Metal Festival didn’t hurt either.

9. Horrendous–Idol

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They seem to keep pumping them out. A little concerned that nothing has topped Ecdysis for me, but that’s like saying I’m concerned that Covenant and Domination aren’t quite as good as Blessed are the Sick. These guys are reaching that pantheon, and they are still early in their career. An Enslaved-like trajectory towards a decade of brilliance (say, Isa through RIITIR?) is not out of the question.

8. High on Fire–Electric Messiah

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Thunderous return to form. Fuck that Sleep record, fuckin HIGH ON FIRE!!! (not really, but kinda).

7. Skeletonwitch–Devouring Radiant Light

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The initial reviews were confusing for this one because I just did not see a legit black metal turn for this band–maybe because my favorite record of their’s, Breathing the Fire, is basically a Kreator record. But damned if they didn’t go from Kreator to almost Memoria Vetusta-style Blut Aus Nord. Very impressive.

6. Agrimonia–Awaken

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This sounds like Opeth if Opeth still sounded like Opeth. I see sludge and post monikers when looking at reviews of this. Don’t believe it. If you want to hear some mid-period Opeth type shit, look no further. Those sludge and hardcore tinges help keep Agrimonia just original enough. But again. Opeth.

5. Judas Priest–Firepower

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WAITING FOR LIGHTNING TO STRIKE

4. Khemmis–Desolation

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Could have been the best record if not for the opener Bloodletting, which I still can’t figure out after dozens of spins. I have no idea what that song is supposed to be. But Isolation and Flesh to Nothing? Crystal clear on those–trademark Khemmis epics. Also, any takedowns regarding the alleged quality of the sparse harsh vocals should be dismissed immediately. Its just someone trying to find a reason to be contrarian. Khemmis rules, jump aboard.

3. Amorphis–Queen of Time

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Maybe their two best records back to back roughly 30 years into their career. Stunning…but not number 1 because nothing here quite reached the heights of something like the The Four Wise Ones from Red Cloud. But still better than almost anything else out there, and The Golden Elk comes close.

2. Zeal and Ardor–Stranger Fruit

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I thought Devil is Fine was an interesting curiosity and nothing more. If you had a similar impression of this band overall, divest your self of it immediately and check this out. If you like rock, you’ll like a lot of blues. And if you like the blues and black metal, this shit will blow you away.

1. The Atlas Moth–Coma Noir

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The Atlas Moth has had many great qualities across their first few albums, but straight up metal was not amongst them. Not anymore–the title song rips your face off in the middle (and the beginning, and the end), and there is somehow no let down as the record continues. Each song has an aspect that grabs you and makes you excited for the next track as the current one before it is winding down. That is the core quality of a great record, not just a record with some great songs on it. Coma Noir works as a whole (even when you can’t tell what Stavros is shrieking about). I had no idea they were capable of this.

Just for fun, here are my best of lists for TV, live shows and movies from this year as well:

TV:

10. Altered Carbon

9. Atlanta

8. Sharp Objects

7. Killing Eve

6. The Americans

5. Haunting of Hill House

4. Big Mouth

3. Bojack Horseman

2. Better Call Saul

1. Succession

Shows

10. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Live–April 4–Vic Theater

9. How Did this Get Made?–June 2 and 3–Athenaeum Theater

8. Judas Priest–April 6–The Venue

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs–May 29–Aragon

6. The Chasm–August 16–Reggies

5. Zeal and Ardor–September 29–Subterranean

4. Decibel Beer and Metal Festival–March 31 and April 1–Philadelphia

3. Primus and Mastodon–June 6–Northerly Island

2. Pearl Jam–August 18 and 20–Wrigley FIeld

1. Nine Inch Nails–October 27–Aragon

Movies

*Shit, I forgot Sorry to Bother You–Let’s say #5*

10. Bad Times at the El Royale

9. Cam

8. Roma

7. Searching

6. Black Panther

5. Death of Stalin

4. Hereditary

3. Widows

2. A Star is Born

1. Annihilation