Top 10 Enslaved Songs

My anticipation for the new (now sadly delayed) Enslaved record prompted a full voyage through their whole discography.  Unsurprisingly, my response was “holy shit!” I first jumped aboard around 2007 with Isa, and still have trouble making sense of some of the more arcane Mardraum/Monumension freakouts. But the eclecticism and mastery shown from Frost onwards (not so much Vikingr, sorry) is nothing short of legendary.

Perhaps most impressive is their ambition.  Though slightly derivative out of the gates (having one Emperor record (Vikingr) and one Immortal record (Bloodhemn) as they do), Enslaved managed to eclipse both of these black metal giants by never stopping their growth and never backing away from their instinct to make the less obvious choice.

Ranking albums is kind of my thing here, but with such distinct eras and such a vast discography, let’s celebrate these extreme metal champions with a list of their best songs:

Honorable Mentions:

Convoys to Nothingness–Monumension

Monumension can be frustrating because the genius is constantly obfuscated by the bizarre.  The exception is Convoys, which powers through with clarity around the 2-minute mark with a memorable mid-paced riff. Of course, Enslaved then bizarrely mutates that riff, notably at the five minute mark, where a down tempo shift renders it less and less recognizable until it finally disappears into… I don’t know, maybe that painting on the cover?

This structure, though still loose, helps shape a “song” out of the collection of sounds. The tension between chaos and coherence is vital to Enslaved’s later period, and though they still were figuring out how to navigate it here, it is thrilling to experience the sheer inventiveness.

 

Secrets of the Flesh–Isa

Who doesn’t love an extreme metal instrumental?  Secrets of the Flesh rips right out of the gate and never stops kicking your ass.  As perfect a riff as they’ve ever conceived, it is a shame this one isn’t a staple of the live set.

Note–I’m aware there is nothing from Below the Lights on here.  That was not a mistake.

 

TOP 10 ENSLAVED SONGS:

10. Ground–Vertebrae

Ground contains beautiful passages, a soaring solo, and an iconic moment in Enslaved history (“There’s a sound made by…BURNING…FLESH!!!). Without the clean passage–solo–BURNING sequence, its debatable whether Enslaved would have found that groove of songwriting they enjoyed until In Times. From 2:45 until the end, Ground is as good as extreme metal gets.

 

9. Ethica Odini–Axioma Ethica Odini

As soon as Ethica’s riff hits, you know Enslaved hadn’t taken even a tiny step back, somehow, as their blistering streak continued.  This is the album that cemented them as the best extreme metal band on the planet.

Eschewing a slow build, the need for momentum, and the entire notion of easing in, Ethica Odini roars out so ferociously that it is literally difficult to catch your breath. Ethica Odini represents a band perfecting their balance–clean v. harsh vocals, keys v. guitars, dark v. light. The beauty of the song is that even after 100 listens, knowing all the moves doesn’t diminish the magic.

And at 6:20–that clean vocal passage into the soaring solo…

Admit it, you cried the first time you saw it live. Don’t worry, so did I.

 

8. Death in the Eyes of Dawn–RIITIR

RIITIR was different than Axioma. Now Enslaved was using extreme metal instrumentation to play prog rock songs, instead of playing progressive extreme metal songs. Death in the Eyes of Dawn crystalized this notion, and though I have grown increasingly bummed on this transition as we get into E territory, it is excellent here. The emphasis is still on Rock and Song, even while the Prog is being turned up. This is Enslaved passing through that sweet spot of Axioma towards their current period.

 

7. Fenris–Frost

Frost came before my time–I was not super grym as an 11 year old. The Enslaved of this era seems like an entirely different entity,  but once you stop looking for through lines and just enjoy the early records for what they are, there is plenty to savor. Frost is probably the fan favorite, and Fenris is its best song. This fucker grabs you and holds on viciously.

I always like my blasting black metal with a side of Celtic Frost, so give me early Darkthrone over Mayhem or Immortal, and give me Fenris over anything else from this period of Enslaved.  It’s all about that crunching, galloping main riff, which Dissection would have been proud to put on Storm of the Light’s Bane. Keep this one in the set as long as you want boys.

 

6. Fusion of Sense and Earth–Ruun

Though no Isa or Vertebrae, Ruun shouldn’t be overlooked–it is maybe the last time Enslaved raged.  Nowhere harder than on Fusion…, with a thrashing storm of a verse and a huge stomping riff (first appearing at :50) that lends serious heft to the affair.  This is still 3rd era Enslaved though, so that ethereal spirit journey is never far away.  That they were able to…oh no…FUSE all these elements together (sorry) on this track makes it a stand out.

 

5. 793–Eld

I mean…it’s sixteen minutes of Viking metal at its highest level, what more do you want? For me to break down each minute?  Fine, if you insist:

1–Ominous intro, bad early black metal keys–pretty standard

2–I’m guessing this is the soundtrack for Grutle making his way to that throne on the cover.  Not looking unlike Joffrey Baratheon, disturbingly.

3–Grandiosity levels are increasing, but this still sounds like some Mortiis shit, until…

4—Guitars acoustic and electric spring forth into a Bathorian stomp

5—Ok, here’s a hot take for you—this is the same riff as Ethica Odini. At the very least, the chord progression (I think that’s the term, I don’t play instruments, fuck off) is strikingly reminiscent.  Not a bad thing.

6–The acoustic and electric guitars, still pounding that…familiar…mid-paced riff create a pleasing contrast, pushing the folk aspect to the fore not unlike the style Moonsorrow has perfected

7–Excellent lead comes back over the Ethica Odini riff

8–Back to Bathoryville

9–Now off to Blashyrkh–abrupt but awesome transition, a hallmark of the 2nd era

10–The band breaks it back down as an emotive, almost tragic lead takes center stage

11–Some folk instrumentation that I can’t quite identify, it works just fine in a Nightside Eclipse, lets-pretend-these-keys-sound-good sort of sense

12–The tragic lead is back, another remarkable transition providing the organizing principle for the back half of the song

13–Mid-paced stomper breaks out–had to tip the cap to Darkthrone

14–Didn’t last, back on the longship home to Bathoryville. Riff really beefs up at 13:20 before…

15–Blast us home!

16–The acoustic guitar cycles back around to the end.

A singular entity in their discography.

 

4. The Beacon–Axioma Ethica Odini

If I don’t listen to this whole record front to back, it’s usually because I’m so emotionally ravaged by The Beacon that I can’t bear to continue.  The opening riff storms right out of the gate, the chorus does not let up though the dynamics shift, the clean vocal-bridge is perfect and then the main riff comes back with those flourishes in the lead. It is such a perfect first two minutes that it is hard to imagine what they could do to top it.

So what does Enslaved do? Subtle tempo change for the chorus, clean bridge into a pure moment of savagery (STRUGGLE!!!), into the most pleasingly straightforward headbanging session on the album.  Then Monumension real quick before heading back to the chorus.

Got all that?

 

3. Isa–Isa

Isa has reached iconic status, an absolute lock in the live set. This is the song, and maybe more importantly the riff, that signaled Enslaved’s entry into their 3rd era Golden Age. Belting it out as one is about as fun as a metal show gets–altogether now—

IIIII—SSAAAAAAA!!

 

2. To the Coast–Vertebrae

This one might be a little out of left field, but for me, To the Coast is (almost) the pinnacle of the transcendent Enslaved feeling.  Equal parts engaging, open, harsh and devastating.

 

1. Roots of the Mountain–RIITIR

Put your hands to the sky and let the spirit take you away:

Feel the flames, the streams of life below
Feel the flames, that blind your inner eye
Seek and find, what lingers deep inside
Seek and find, but do not try to understand
Spread the wings, and fly into your mind
Spread the wings, and find the eagle in the sky
Find the source, the ancient passion play
Find the source, the roots of the mountain

Every aspect of the song is breathtaking, but pay attention to the glorious double bass and guitar solo passage starting around minute three. And, of course, that final chorus when the clean and harsh vocals intertwine, elevating you at last to transcendence.

Best Metal Albums of the Month–April 2020

Kvaen v. Sweven–Battle of similar final syllables!  I’m lame as fuck!

 

1. Kvaen–The Funeral Pyre

I am just a sucker for the word “pyre” this year–perhaps because the whole world has become one? Like Slaughter Messiah last month, Kvaen is here to bring the speed and bite back to your black metal. And fuck if it isn’t just about as fun as the Midnight album.

Like Destroyer 666 and Watain without the guilt!

 

2. Sweven–The Eternal Resonance

Morbus Chron died so Sweven could live.  Fair trade.  If you loved the album Sweven but favored the Pink Floyd over the Pestilence aspects, you just found your album of the year. The record avoids the jam band crutch of pure meander, picking up the pace and focus with uncanny timing to snap the songs back into form.

 

3. Black Royal–Firebride

When you think “this sounds like if Asphyx fucked Mastodon,” you are probably listening to a good album.

 

4. Lucifer III

Warning–Lucifer is a band I am simply in the bag for now.  Don’t listen to anything I have to say in the guise of criticism, because my objectivity is out the window.

But do listen to me when I say this–Lucifer is rad. Is this their best record?  Does it approach The Oath?  NO, but who cares? It is awesome that Lucifer is a thing that exists, so turn it up and get loose.

 

5. Rosy Finch–Scarlet

A nod to the excellent angrymetalguy blog for another under-the-radar recommendation here. This record is an interesting Melvins/Royal Thunder mix. Though the songs don’t have enough hooks to really lodge in your brain, the band provides a welcome throwback to quality early/mid 90s alternative, and is well worth a look.

 

6. Earth Rot–Black Tides of Obscurity

Earth Rot are in a similar lane to Sulphur Aeon and The Great Old Ones. They are technically excellent, and the record is always engaging, but they play a style of death metal that does not hold my attention at the upper-echelon level of, say, a Tomb Mold or Horrendous. This is a shame, because when Earth Rot clicks into place like on the swaggering stomp in the middle of The Cape of Storms, it’s hard to imagine better death metal coming out all year. A strong effort, and a band that can absolutely reach the next level–but not there just yet.

 

7. Wake–Devouring Ruin

I’m not feeling the new direction. For many metal fans, this will be a year-ender, and I get that on an intellectual level. It is certainly dense and ambitious, and I intend to keep spinning it in the hopes it grows on me.

Misery Rites didn’t have to grow on me. Sure, it featured atmospheric touches and tempo changes, but it never stopped going for the throat. And when a visceral, vicious metal band decides to stop writing coherent songs in favor of atmospherics, they risk losing what made them powerful in the first place. This might be the old gatekeeper streak in me. This isn’t grindcore, pussies!

Simply put, Devouring Ruin leaves me cold, as most dissonance-focused metal projects tend to. The only exception is Gorguts. And Wake may be objectively great, but they ain’t Gorguts.

From now on, if I see the terms “dissonant” and/or “noise” as descriptors, I am steering clear. He said while planning to buy the new Ulcerate record.

 

I also want to mention the two great, and one not so great, rock records I spun this month:

1. Pearl Jam–Gigaton–A welcome return to form. If you wanted to put it on top of the Binaural-Lightning Bolt era, I wouldn’t argue. Only quibble is it may be lacking that one transcendent moment, like an Unthought Known. Sometimes with PJ, though, you can’t make that judgment until you hear the songs live. I’m thinking Superblood Wolfmoon and Quick Escape have real potential to enter the pantheon, and hopefully that hypothesis can be tested again before I fucking turn fucking 40.

2. Local H–Lifers–Big riffs, killer lyrics, permanent sneer–sounds like Local H to me.

3. The Strokes–The New Abnormal--Ugh.

Hey Rick, how should this chorus go?

I don’t know Julian, maybe just shoehorn in an abject Billy Idol rip-off, then follow it up with the only riff we have that’s actually good? That way people will really feel how awful the chorus is?

Cool with me, can I go play in a band I actually like now?

Reggie’s Rock Club–The Best Venue in Chicago

Reggie’s Rock Club is the coolest place in Chicago. Want to hang out on a rooftop? Go to a record store? See two separate shows within a 30 second walk of each other? How about a free ride to any concert? Where you can party DURING the ride, instead of worrying about DUIs or traffic? Reggie’s does ALL OF THIS. All the time. Plus, they will only give you half a dirty look if you like sports and ask them to put a game on instead of the Simpsons episode they usually have rolling…

Reggie’s is all about the live music, from the bus to its two venues to the ticket stubs built into the bar. Also the Pearl Jam and NIN vintage concert posters that I definitely am NOT going to steal one day. To honor this Chicago institution, I compiled my best memories, or at least the nonsense I concocted to fill the substance-fueled gaps. Let’s hope Reggie’s maintains it’s amazing ways for years to come. Help out if you can:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-reggies-staff

 

TOP 5 SHOWS:

1. Slough Feg at Alehorn of Power VIII–July 12, 2014

I knew their material was excellent, but having never seen Slough Feg before, I didn’t know that Mike Scalzi and company were ROCK STARS on stage. Slough Feg has the kind of A+ material that deserves to be played to arenas, and damn if the boys didn’t treat the narrow Reggie’s confines like the mainstage at Wacken.

Also special note goes to the 20 or so Traveller bros that showed up wearing the shirt with that album’s iconic cover. If you were at Reggie’s for another reason besides seeing Slough Feg, the sight of dozens of unkempt metal dudes wearing a shirt with a weird spacedog on it must have been…curious.

The Lord Weird Slough Feg shirt | TShirtSlayer TShirt and ...

Undaunted by the valid of suspicions of other patrons, that small community banded together and lost it when The Final Gambit started. A pop worthy of the crescendo role that song plays in the album itself. A small group of like minded people there for the music and the good time with no pretense–Reggie’s crystalized.

2. Dillinger Escape Plan and Royal Thunder–May 8, 2013

I moved to Chicago on May 7, 2013. The only people I knew were my cousins. One of them ran a bar, and the other was dating a bartender working there. So, naturally, I went to that bar and got drunk. Having only one thing to talk about then (as I do now), I harassed the poor bartender/new boyfriend about this show the next day. It was at some random joint named Reggie’s. He knew DEP, and I convinced him that Royal Thunder was worth a look, so he agreed to go.

The next day, of course DEP blew the roof off the building and Mel Parsonz made a believer out of my new friend within the first powerful howl. It was quite the bonding experience. Not only did I discover my new favorite place, I made an amazing friend, with whom I have since shared many ridiculous concert experiences–two absolute benders in a Mindless Self Indulgence show and again with Municipal Waste stand out. And two years later, I was honored to stand up when he and my cousin got fucking married! Without live music, and the amazing places like Reggie’s that make it possible, I likely wouldn’t have been so lucky.

 

 

3. Lucifer–March 21, 2019

I did a full (and slightly sexist, despite my best efforts) write up of this show on this site, check it out here. I don’t have too much to add, except the warmth of the show hasn’t faded. It remains a great example of the perfect venue making a cool show fucking legendary.

 

 

4. Amorphis–March 26, 2017

An only-at-Reggie’s kind of evening.  We watched North Carolina-Kentucky in the Elite 8 in the bar, walked to Chinatown to eat, then came back and casually saw straight up metal legends in Finland’s Amorphis. Pretty fucking hard to replicate, I would argue.

Also, holy shit, the entire show is up on Youtube and the quality is excellent. Check the whole thing out, but how about Bad Blood-My Kantele for now:

 

 

5. Khemmis–January 13, 2017; July 1, 2018; July 26, 2019

Had to sneak in a mention for the best new metal band of the last five years. Reggie’s is Khemmis’ Chicago haven, where they have been able to HEADLINE on three separate occasions. I’m happy to report they started strong and have only gotten better, with their crowd size steadily increasing each time around. 

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

The ChasmAugust 16, 2018

Just because the band kicked so much ass it was almost beyond belief. Mexico’s best death metal band (sorry Brujeria) opened for Batushka and totally stole the show, making all the pomp and circumstance from that oddity seem downright silly. 

Damaged Justice/After Forever–January 5, 2019

The one free post-show drink ticket. Its almost as if Reggie’s knows that ticket will lead you to maybe stick around for another…and another…and end up staying until close. But the booze wasn’t the only culprit this time around, because I was lucky enough to hang out with the dudes in After Forever, who were fucking awesome to just bullshit about metal with. This could only happen at Reggie’s, give or take an Exit trip. 

Judas Beast–Multiple Dates

I couldn’t write up Reggie’s without mentioning their reigning champion, the best tribute act ever that flawlessly executes both Maiden and Priest tunes with appropriate bombast and set designs. 

 

TOP 5 BUS RIDES:

Tool–June 8, 2017

It was one of the first big shows, and Reggie’s bus experiences, for my then new girlfriend and I. It was my fourth Tool show with a lifelong friend and fellow Reggie’s vet. And I managed to convince my decidedly non-metalhead cousing to join the heshers for the ride, her well-placed affection for 46 and 2 helping in the mission. We all had to work that day from disparate parts of the city, some had cars and some did not, and everyone wanted to get a little loose. How the fuck was this going to work? Simple–get your ass to Reggie’s and everything will be fine.

Miraculously, everyone got there before the buses loaded up. So we excitedly boarded and got on the road and…fucking traffic jam. But here is the real miracle–no one gave a shit, because we had a cooler full of beer and 40 randos to party with, all of whom had no concerns except figuring out what Tool would open with (The Grudge, btw, what a fucking draw!) By the time we got there, we were all a little closer with each other, both in life and Tool fandom. The ride added a level of anticipation and excitement that can be hard to build for a show when you’re an adult. The constant nonsense you have to deal with everyday takes up so much brainspace. Having that pocket of time to revel in the freedom of concert night is nothing short of an oasis.

My thoughts on the recent Tool live experience are documented elsewhere, but we were all loose enough upon entry that any setlist concerns were easily outmatched by the virtuosity on display. As for the aforementioned 46 and 2,  I almost got in real trouble, as I mistook the final meanderings of Third Eye for another song entirely and told my cousin it was cool to go to the bathroom.  Thankfully that familiar bass hit of 46 and 2 started only 20 seconds later, and I was able to grab her before she left to stand in line out of earshot. Had I needed to explain to her that she missed the song, I might have been walking from Rosemont that night. Which would have sucked, cause as you may have gathered, I kind of dig the Reggie’s bus.

Also a special mention for the bus accommodating our friend who met us at the venue, as he needed a ride back to the city because his ride got his asshole blown out by Maynard’s voice had to bail early. 

 

 

Judas Priest–October 3, 2014

Oh boy.  Here goes. I was on a solo mission for this show, but one of the best things about Reggie’s is you make quick friends and the bus is conducive to random hangouts.

This one took an interesting turn.

This bus had a table in the back, and I was back there having some beers with a few randos.  All really nice people.  One guy was VERY excited for the show. After a few minutes of conversation I had some…concerns…about his ability to successfully exit the bus and gain entry into the venue (Hammond Horseshoe), based on the drunkeness level. At some point he picks up an empty cup, turns his back to the table, and stands up. We are on the fucking highway going 60 mph with no seat belts or anything to hold onto, mind you. This fucking guy holds this position for awhile, so I stopped wondering what the hell was going on and and started smoking a cigarette. 

My downed window apparently caught his attention, because the next thing I hear is, “Hey bro, can you throw this out the window?” 

I turn around to see him shakily holding the cup, which is now filled. With a yellow liquid. That is splashing everywhere.

“Dude, is that your piss?”  

“Ya, can you just throw it out the window?”

“Hey man, I don’t think we are tight enough yet for me to be handling your piss.  Sorry.”

I then stopped interacting with this gentleman. I think I saw him in the show later, but thankfully by then I was locked in by legit intimacy of the Venue and how damn close Halford was standing to me.  It was rad.

I’m not sure what became of the cup of piss. I suspect it did not meet a clean end, and some other poor passenger bore the brunt.  Fuckin Reggie’s bus, man. 

 

 

Prophets of Rage–September 3, 2016

Something about the good vibes on the bus, the weather, and lucking into the perfectly balanced buzz made this the most fun I’ve had at a random-ass summer rock show maybe ever. Do B-Real and Chuck D sound like Zach?  Of course not.  But that night no one cared, and I doubt even the real Rage would put on a show this celebratory.

 

 

Iron Maiden–June 15, 2017

This had all the hallmarks of a good Reggie’s midweek adventure. You sneak out of work early to get wristbands and a solid buzz. One of your crew is late, so you have to beg the staff to keep a wristband in reserve (which they accommodate, because they are fucking great). You pile in and quickly start singing along loudly and poorly with the rest of the bus to a song by the band you are heading to see (The Trooper, amongst others). Your friend decides to walk home from Tinley Park three songs in because Bruce is wearing a hoodie, and he proceeds to get stranded at the non-operational Metra station where he has to borrow a rando’s phone to call you to have you order him a $40 Uber home.

Typical Reggie’s midweek adventure. 

I will note that the bus was just as, if not more, memorable than the show here, which means it wasn’t the best Maiden show. But it was a great fucking time.

 

 

Chicago Open Air–May 18, 2019

Dark skies and a bad forecast gave us some doubts, but we trudged to Reggie’s anyways. Good thing, because the skies opened up as we boarded the bus, which dropped us off a short walk from the venue. A far cry from the nonsense the year before, where I endured a grueling Pace bus from Midway. Besides being shitty and boring, the bus was late as fuck, causing me to miss the LAST FUCKING DEP PERFORMANCE IN CHICAGO.  Fuckers.  I should have known better.

The show itself was excellent, with SOAD pretending to like each other long enough to inspire full-crowd participation in Chop Suey and Toxicity like it was 2003. It was beautiful.  And almost just as beautiful, we walked straight to the parking lot entrance afterwards and got the fuck out of there on a bus that had an IPOD we all passed around, trading Megadeth and Lamb of God tunes and just generally celebrating the whole experience. 

 

Thank you, Reggie’s. 

March Rankings

2020 continues to be a strong year, though I’m not so sure there were any album of the year contenders here. Solid outings all though, with some encouraging returns to form and pleasant surprises from bands first coming across the radar, so all in all a very engaging batch. Let’s get to it:

1. Tombs–Monarchy of Shadows

I loved Path of Totality, liked Savage Gold, and was lukewarm on the Grand Annihilation, so the prospect of some new Tombs music did not inspire the level of excitement it once did. That is, until about 30 seconds into the first song and title track, when it becomes apparent that Tombs decided to stop fucking around and just rip out some throats. The cavernous horror of Paths of Totality and goth leanings from the last two are not gone, but they are de-emphasized in the name of playing METAL. Monarchy is relentless in this pursuit. The frostiness of Once Falls the Guillotine and Man Behind the Sun pair well with a mid-section in Necro Alchemy that invokes of Satisfaction-era Hatebreed (not complaining). Even the re-recorded track has a new vitality. Tombs is back.

2. Slaughter Messiah–Cursed to the Pyre

Terrible Certainty-era Kreator doing coke with Aura Noir. Pyre is a front-runner for song of the year, with a turbocharged back half that seems like it can’t possibly keep kicking this much ass until it starts kicking more.

3. Kvelertak–Splid

This record puts into full focus what was missing from the last two. This band is about having fun in true Norwegian punk fashion, man. Pure Euroboy-Scandanavian-Leather-King-of-the-Rodeo shit. Mix in elements of extreme metal, and you are on to something. Kvelertak back to roots and sounding like the…wait for it…PARTY ANIMALS we know they are.

4. Godthrymm–Reflections

I was late to the brit-style doomdeath party, and I still don’t really give a shit about Anathema. Paradise Lost, on the other hand, grabbed me, and by extension so does Godthrymm. Katatonia and Paradise Lost, in different ways, each incorporate hooks and rock enough that there’s a propulsive spirit amongst the mope. I’m not sure Godthrymm pulls that off. This record is heavy and mournful and exhausting, which means (a) they executed their vision well, but (b) it is not something you will return with great frequency. If this is your genre, though, it’s a can’t-miss.

5. Blaze of Perdition–A Harrowing of Hearts

This was an interesting one. The atmosphere was reminiscent of Tribulation or In Solitude, more towards the gothic side of the black metal asthetic than the frightening side. The songwriting is strong here as well, but similar to Godthrymm, this is just not the type of music that is going to hold my attention for too long.

6. Oath of Cruelty–Summary Execution at Dawn

Angelcorpse-worship war metal. There isn’t too much else going on here, but if you get the itch, this one will satisfy. So will Exterminate or The Inexorable though, so prob just listen to those.

February Rankings and March Pickups

*This was delayed by the apocalypse. Please help any way you can, including giving to bands and venues affected by tour cancellation, and also the Red Cross and UNICEF and the like.*

February, the last normal month in human history, at least gave us an early favorite for album of the year.  I fucking loved these records and expect they will stay on heavy rotation all year, so let me say up top–all of them are highly recommended.  But if I must parse:

1.  Midnight–Rebirth by Blasphemy

Their best album by a mile and my favorite record since…well, Crypt Sermon I suppose, but still.  Holy shit!  I expected dirty, Venomous nonsense of the highest order.  I did not expect a United-style Priest anthem in the middle, or songs with real emotional heft behind the sleaze, but just listen to Rising Scum and You Can Drag me Through Fire.  A next level jump by a band already at the upper echelon of the underground.


2.  Xoth–Interdimensional Incantations

The cover art says it all.  The last Vektor album with an injection consisting of equal parts death metal and mania. Might be too out there for some, but if you like thrash and losing your mind, get to it. 


3.  Haunt–Mind Freeze

Haunt is the most consistent and reliable trad metal band going right now.  If those adjectives don’t get your heart racing, that’s on brand too–nowhere on Mind Freeze do they blow your mind, same as with If Icarus Could Fly and each release before that. But they aren’t swinging for the fences–they are trying get on base with each song. Would you rather have a record with 2 great songs and 6 garbage ones, or 8 pretty good ones, any of which could do the job in your live set?  Haunt favors the latter, and I can’t knock them for it. 

 

4.  Aethyrick–Gnosis

An outstanding melodic black metal album. Aethryick tends towards the atmospheric/mood side of the spectrum–think Dawn as opposed to Dissection or Naglfar. And they do so brilliantly, able to ring real emotion similar to Mgla’s brand of alchemy. Let’s just hope they don’t share some other things with Mgla…


5.  The Great Old Ones–Cosmicism

I really enjoy GOO’s brand of death metal. They nail the Lovecraft aesthetic, and routinely have passages that come out of nowhere to just demolish the listener. These parts must be something to behold live. But they can never maintain that power throughout a whole song, let alone a record, which keeps them from rising to the very top of the genre. The album is still worth your time, and is perfectly suited to a particular type of mood, but you won’t be reaching for it like you do Tomb Mold or Horrendous records. 



6.  Blessed Black–Beyond the Crimson Throne

Blessed Black is a rock band. There is nothing wrong with that, but don’t go in expecting to hear stoner metal in the vein of Khemmis or even The Sword, because these guys are much more in the Kyng/Droids Attack/Taint lane.  With that in mind, this is a solid collection of songs with good riffs and some standout soloing, and enough adventures towards the edges of traditional song structure that bodes well for the future.  I will definitely see these guys live, and if they arrive at a sound and vision that’s truly their own, look out. 

 

March Pick Ups:

Early thoughts–Interesting batch where each band has a seemingly obvious like for like (see below).

Hopefully some nuance reveals itself in the next few weeks, but even in this framework these are really enjoyable records. Tombs and Kvelertak sound reinvigorated, and Slaughter Messiah is the pummeling Destroyer 666-type machine I’ve been missing.

Provided this isn’t actually the Stand playing out, I’ll rank ’em up in about 3 weeks. 

Slaughter Messiah (Kreator)

Godthrymm (Paradise Lost)

Oath of Cruelty (Angelcorpse)

Blaze of Perdition (Tribulation)

Kvelertak (Turbonegro)

Tombs (shit…um…Tombs)

2020 Preview and January Rankings

It’s winter, so to once again keep us all from that ledge, here’s a reminder that there is a reason we all endure these 3 (fine, 4) fucking months of nonsense–cool metal shit is on the horizon:

1. Festivals

Decibel Metal and Beer–Philadelphia–April 3 and 4

Converge playing Jane Doe and Pig Destroyer doing Prowler in the Yard?  Holy shit!


We are locked in this year, so look for a full report, provided I can remember any details. 

Also, can we get Philly locals Crypt Sermon involved?


Migration–Pittsburgh–August 1 and 2

My hometown of Pittsburgh becomes the center of the US extreme metal universe in August.  Tomb Mold, Spirit Adrift, Vastum, False, Falls of Rauros, Witch Vomit–20 Buck Spin has the deepest lineup of any label out there, and they’ll all be playing in beautiful Millvale, PA, right next to an old steel mill.  To be fair, that’s everywhere in Pittsburgh.

See you fuckers at Grist House.



2. New Records

Carcass–There’s no way it will be as good as Surgical Steel, but then again none of us thought there was any way Surgical Steel would be better than Heartwork, but here we are.

Deftones–On this list last year.  Let’s not make this a Tool thing, guys.

Enslaved–I am nervous about this one, but they are still Enslaved. Remember songs, Ivan?  See if we can get a couple of those on this record. 

Fuck, that’s really it. I hear rumors Argus and Pharaoh may have something in store? Let’s hope see, because otherwise it is shaping up to be a lean year. Though the new Midnight album fucking rules so no one else really needs to put anything out anyways. 


3. Shows

-Opeth–February 14–Riviera

Opeth with Graveyard, two bands I used to love who have…progressed?…into areas I’m not so into.  Still, I recall vividly multiple occasions where an Opeth show stopped my fucking heart, and Mikel is still a great stand up if nothing else. Hopefully the fact that I’m making this our Valentine’s Day celebration doesn’t stop my engagement in its still-fledgling status, but that is a distinct possibility. So boys, how about playing Bleak? That way it won’t be all bad when I’m recounting to my therapist why my life fell apart so I could see a band I’m kind of over. 


-Vader–February 20–Reggie’s

Reggie’s is welcoming some legends this “spring,” starting with Poland’s favorite Slayer-aping death metal lifers. That’s not a knock, by the way–Vader sounds like mechanized Slayer, get over it. De Profundis is still one of my favorite death metal albums ever.  Litany and Revelations both rule, too.  I haven’t kept up with the last couple, but I’m guessing they sound like Slayer. 

 

-Autopsy–March 7–Reggies

Legends part 2.  With Tomb Mold, Vastum, Witch Vomit and others flying the flag of the dirty, gurgling side of death metal, Autopsy is as relevant as ever. And on the back of their own strong output since reforming, this is likely to rule pretty hard.  Also Professor Black is opening! It is probably too much to ask that he mix in some Dawnbringer, but if Superchrist songs don’t give you dumb-metal-face, I mean, what the fuck man.


-Insomnium–March 22–The Forge

On quite the roll with Winter’s Gate and Heart like a Grave. Who wants to drive me to Joliet?

 

-Midnight–March 27–Empty Bottle

Fuck me Athenar.


-Monster Magnet–March 28–Metro

Powertrip in full!  Finally the band realizes this is by far their best record, and won’t play a bunch of BORING SHITTY MEANDERING NONSENSE FROM SPINE OF GOD AND SUPERJUDGE!!

Wow that felt good.  Whew. Fuck you all.  Powertrip and Monolothic Baby! are where its fucking at, and go see the damn show if you don’t believe me. 


JANUARY RANKINGS

An odd grouping of stuff from the year-end lists I didn’t hear the first time around.  A lot of prog/power, but theres also a band called Funeral Fukk, so I’m not getting too classy.

 

1.  High Command–Beyond the Wall of Desolation

Do you wish Power Trip wrote lyrics like The Sword’s first 2 records?  Do you occasionally headbang involuntarily until you stumble into a wall in your apartment? Get this shit immediately. 

 

2.  Wilderun–Veil of Imagination

Well damn, this was out of control.  I had to keep checking that I wasn’t listening to Blackwater Park, and not because the material is too close (though on occasion…). The melding of death metal with legitimate heft and progressive rock hasn’t been done to this level by anyone since Akerfeldt hung them up.  

 

3.  Funeral Fukk–Carnal Confessions

This album is shockingly successful. It executes everything it sets out to do, and invokes Woods of Ypres and Solitude Aeturnus in equal measure while establishing its own lane.  So why isn’t it number 1 of the year, let alone this list? 

Because its a concept album about the victims of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. It is SO fucking good, but how often are you going to find yourself in the mood for that?  Turns out, not that often.  

Let me be clear though–the songwriting is captivating, the riffs are memorable and crushing, and the atmosphere is pitch perfect.

Just–fucking ew, guys, come on.  Ew.  

 

4. Arch/Matheos  and 5. Dimhav

Every year I see power metal albums at the very top of charts, every year I scoop a few up, and then every year I’m reminded–I just don’t really dig power metal.

Except for Pharaoh, for whatever reason.  Get your asses back out here, Pharaoh. 



Up next

Aethyrick–Gnosis

-Blessed Black –Beyond the Crimson Throne

-The Great Old Ones–Cosmicism

-Haunt–Mind Control

Midnight–Rebirth by Blasphemy

Xoth–Interdimensional Invocations

 

December Rankings

It was a strong close to the year, though maybe not as I may have expected:

1. Blut Aus Nord–Hallucinogen

Lives up to its name.  Truly hypnotic and a worthy successor to the Memoria records, Blut’s finest hour.

2. Gatecreeper–Deserted

I liked what I had heard before, but I fucking loved this. Mid-period Dismember if instead of melodic death metal, it injected a healthy dose of Bolt Thrower. Best surprise–how damn catchy and memorable it is.

3. Blood Incantation–Hidden History of the Human Race


Believe the hype.  I didn’t find it as engaging as the absolute top tier of death metal this year, your Tomb Molds and Gatecreepers. But it is worth acknowledging that engagement is not their concern.  This is challenging and intricate while still pummeling, and I will gladly keep peeling the levels away.

4. Vastum–Orificial Purge

Equal parts cerebral and primal, Vastum lives in a peculiar murk but is so damn engaging that you will keep wading through.

5. Refused–War Music

Damn, if this wasn’t so close to IT.  A true successor to Shape of Punk…But this album always steps back from the brink of true abandon, even at its most frenetic.  The urgency is there in the lyrics, but counter to Dennis’ words, the songs don’t ever let the wick burn all the way down to a full explosion. 

6. Obsequiae

Do you like Jester Race and The Mind’s Eye?  Step right up.

7. Die Choking

Only this low because grind is not my wheelhouse, this album is top quality and I recommend it highly for anyone who gravitates to this genre.

8. Exhumed

You know what you are going to get with Exhumed. When you want some straightforward, gorey death metal, there is no substitute. But you won’t find yourself returning unless you have that particular itch.

9. Leprous


After Malina, anything was likely to be a letdown, but this is an unlistenable vanity outing for the vocalist.

 

Best of 2019

Death metal dominated this year after black was on top for so long. Stellar quality across the board though. I didn’t make it to as many shows as I would have liked, but I did get to see current titans Tomb Mold and Khemmis, so can’t complaint too much. Psycho and Decibel Metal and Beer and Migration next year? Whos with me?

BEST RECORDS OF 2019

Honorable mentions:

-Essence of Datum–Spellcrying Machine

-Immortal Bird–Thrive in Neglect

-Obsequiae–The Palms of Sorrowed Kings

-Tool–Fear Inoculum

10. Blood Incantation–Hidden History of the Human Race

9. Gatecreeper–Deserted

8. Black Sites–Exile

7. Blut Aus Nord–Hallucinogen

6. False–Portent

5. Darkthrone–Old Star

4. Haunt–If Icarus Could Fly

3. Amon Amarth–Berserker

2. Tomb Mold–Planetary Clairvoyance

1. Crypt Sermon–The Ruins of Fading Light

Movies—

  1. Under the Silver Lake
  2. Parasite
  3. Uncut Gems
  4. Ready or Not
  5. Velvet Buzzsaw
  6. Booksmart
  7. Midsommar
  8. The Irishman
  9. The Lighthouse
  10. The Perfection

TV

  1. Watchmen
  2. Succession
  3. Rick and Morty
  4. Fleabag
  5. Mr. Robot
  6. Righteous Gemstones
  7. Stranger Things
  8. Broad City
  9. True Detective
  10. Russian Doll

Shows

  1. Riot Fest
  2. Iron Maiden
  3. Lucifer
  4. Amon Amarth
  5. System of a Down
  6. Baroness and Khemmis week
  7. Tomb Mold
  8. COC
  9. Black Lips
  10. Earthless/Maggot Heart

Top 30 Metal Albums of the Decade

This started as a Top 20, but I couldn’t stand to leave a few of these off. Let me know what I fucked up, I’m sure there’s plenty!

Honorable Mentions:

*Everything Horrendous, Baroness, and High on Fire did*

Behemoth–The Satanist–2014

Judas Priest--Firepower–2018

Moonsorrow--Jumalten Aika–2016

Pallbearer–Foundations of Burden–2014

Paradise Lost–Medusa–2017

Primus–Green Naugahyde–2011

Primordial–Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand–2011

Spirit Adrift–Curse of Conception–2017

Trap Them–Darker Handcraft–2011

TOP 30 OF THE 2010s

30. Hammers of Misfortune–Dead Revolution–2016

I had to sneak a Hammers record on here. 17th Street was close, but this gets the nod, with the band fully coming into its own without Mike Scalzi. As always, Hammers rises above their peers with superior songwriting. Never predictable, always memorable. And they kicked just a little more ass on this one than usual. Their tour with Gates of Slumber is also worth mentioning–one of the best of the decade. North Star Bar in Philly, we miss you.

Highlight–The Precipice

29. Zeal and Ardor–Stranger Fruit–2018

Image result for zeal and ardor stranger fruit

I really wanted to ignore this band. Seemed like an internet fad, if an interestingly conceived one. But Stranger Fruit was one of the most remarkable achievements in recent memory, and could not be ignored. Don’t you dare look away.

Zeal and Ardor’s songs may have distinct metal/non-metal parts, but the blend here feels organic in a way Devil is Fine never achieves. The vocal dynamics and ferocity push the band beyond the novelty. Stranger Fruit marks Zeal and Ardor becoming a true Band, in a genre of their own creation, where the point is to subvert all expectations–from the listener, from society, from anywhere.

Highlight–Don’t You Dare
28. Panopticon–Roads to the North–2014

When Agalloch collapsed, it felt like a true loss. As with Opeth’s demise, a permanent hole had formed (whats that? Heritage? NEVER HEARD OF IT). Other folk/black bands just could not reach the transcendent peaks of The Mantle and Ashes Against the Grain, and that was that.

Austin Lunn had other ideas. Kentucky was the mission statement, but it was Roads to the North where Panopticon reached pillar status. Equal parts provocative and meditative, this album filled the Agalloch void while staking its own claim by situating American folk/black outside of the Pacific Northwest. Fuck off Wolves in the Throne Room, what you know about the Appalachians?

Roads is the Panopticon sweet spot–for proof, it has a condensed, superior version of their whole last double album right in the middle of the playlist, The Long Road trilogy. Need shelter from this world? Start Roads to the North and shut off everything else.

Highlight–The Long Road

27. Electric Wizard–Time to Die–2014

Put on Incense for the Damned. No further explanation should be necessary.

Highlight–uh, prob Incense for the Damned, I guess?

26. Deftones–Koi No Yokan–2012

Give me Koi over Diamond Eyes. Both are very strong, but Diamond Eyes is to Koi no Yokan as Around the Fur is to White Pony. Koi still rages–fuckin Goon Squad?–but it is in songs like Rosemary and Romantic Dreams where the Deftones’ maturity is revealed. Consistent front to back, Chino and Carpenter doing career-best work, and all more than a decade after Max yelled “SOULFLY!!” on Head Up for no apparent reason.

Highlight: Rosemary

25. Agalloch–Marrow of the Spirit–2010

This is how I remember Agalloch. The Serpent and the Sphere was a good album, but the magic had dissipated palpably. Maybe they put all they had left into this. Triumphant and devastating, it distills everything they did well into five perfect compositions. From the moment that opening maelstrom relents and the guitars ring out alone at the top of Into the Painted Grey, you know you are under Agalloch’s spell. It is all-encompassing.

Highlight–Into the Painted Grey

24. Horn–Torm Am Hang–2017

purchase art

If you have never heard of Horn, and you like traditional metal and/or black metal, seek it out immediately. This took me completely by surprise, but I could not stop listening to it.  Horn combines the anthemic spirit of Amon Amarth with the mindset and instrumentation of Moonsorrow, and makes something all their own.

Highlight–Ahrenschnitter

23. Crypt Sermon–The Ruins of Fading Light–2019

The newest record on this list earned its spot by being too much fun to deny. When doom metal is great, the highs are unrivaled in extreme music. The best Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus and Argus songs compete with anything out there. On Ruins, Crypt Sermon enters this pantheon with an album featuring killer riffs, a stellar vocal performance (walking just close enough to power metal without toppling into cheese), and epic song structures that make each listen an event. You know when you are doing something while listening to music, but then you have to stop doing that thing because the compulsion to headbang is too strong? Every. fucking. song.

Highlight–Our Reverend’s Grave

22. Between the Buried and Me–Coma Ecliptic–2015

BTBAM is divisive, but shouldn’t be. An extreme metal Dream Theater should have a lot of across-the-board appeal for even the most rigidly pigeonholed, but you still don’t see BTBAM get a lot of love as a pure metal outfit.

They are one. And Coma Ecliptic is their masterpiece. The band manages to fully engage their prog, concept album nerdery without disappearing up their own ass (cough Colors, ahem, Parallax…). Cohesive musically and narratively, and moving in a way prog metal often struggles to achieve. It is brilliant–but somehow only the fifth best concept album of the decade? Fuck, guess you have to keep reading!

Highlight–Famine Wolf

21. Enslaved–Axioma Ethica Odini–2010

Here’s a hot take for you–Axioma is the last great Enslaved album. It ended their era of dominance, where from Isa to Axioma they were the best band in all of metal. Not that In Times and E are awful. They are just missing that bit of magic, with E particularly formless in a way you wouldn’t think possible for the band responsible for this record. There is black metal, prog keyboard, and clean singing all in the same song on just about every track, but it is never chaotic or incoherent. Instead, its routinely triumphant, like the midsection of the title track and Giants. If Enslaved is determined to morph into Pink Floyd, so be it–following their muse gave us records like Axioma Ethica Odini.

Highlight–The Beacon

20. Converge–All We Love We Leave Behind–2012

Call this a dual vote for Axe to Grind and All We Love… I’m not out here badmouthing You Fail Me and No Heroes, but I will say that the moment Dark Horse starts on Axe to Fall–holy shit, Converge was back.

All We Love…kept it going, and actually came out this decade, so it gets the nod. Still furious of course, but the resurgent, propulsive thrash backbone keeps the songs on track and funnels Bannon’s invective right to where it belongs.

Highlight–Trespasses

19. The Ocean–Pelagial–2013

A record about slowly sinking, literally and figuratively. Pelagial sounds pretentious in theory, but in fact it’s the opposite. It is visceral and earnest.
The wave crashes. You gasp for air as the sounds become dense, letting less light in. You contemplate your slipping existence as riffs and lyrics cycle back–water is fluid that way–and one question lingers–“how much control do we have over what we wish for?”

Well I can control this list, and this fucker is firmly on it.

Highlight–Bathyalpelagic movement

18. Vektor–Terminal Redux–2016

Dark Angel in space. The band collapsed just months after Redux’s release. As a result, this record feels lost to history, cancelled and forgotten despite being only 3 years old. On musical merit alone, though, it is worth revisiting. The album is breathlessly innovating and energizing, an exercise in sheer escalation with incredible performances across the board. It’s also a Nocturnus-style space opera and the best thrash album of the decade.

Highlight–Pteropticon

17. Amorphis–Under the Red Cloud–2015

Amorphis have carved their own path, hitting three separate peaks in three different eras. First, of course, was the Edge-of-Sanity-if-they-were-weird-Finnish-dudes death metal highlighted by Tales from the Thousand Lakes. Next was essentially a classic rock band, fully shifted into by Tuonela and then peaking with Eclipse. These days, they have found a real pocket of form by melding the two into a melodic metal machine that puts out great record after great record. Under the Red Cloud belongs here because the songs are so damn memorable. Bad Blood and Death of a King are instant classics welcome in any setlist, and goddamn if your heart doesn’t just pump harder the moment The Four Wise Ones start. It competes with On Rich and Poor and House of Sleep for the best Amorphis song ever.

Also, go see this metal institution live while you can. Who knows how often they’re gonna accept lukewarm receptions in this shitty country when they are greeted like Iron Maiden in Scandinavia. Plus that dude’s microphone is fucking weird.

Highlight–The Four Wise Ones

16. The Oath–S/T–2014

The Oath was the perfect collision of the dirty riffs Olesson pumps out in Maggot Heart and the occult atmosphere and lyrics Sadonis features in Lucifer. It just worked too well, I guess?

Highlight–Night Child

15. Tombs–Path of Totality–2011

You know that terror during a particularly intense drug experience of “oh my god, what if this is permanent?” That’s Path of Totality. 57 minutes of cavernous, introspective horror from which you cannot escape.

And once it finally ends, you can’t wait to do it again.

Highlight–Bloodletting

14. Baroness–Yellow and Green–2012

I still maintain this is the band, and this was the record, that could have made guitar music relevant on a significant scale again. Years removed from the accident, there’s enough perspective now that Yellow and Green isn’t tainted with sadness. Which is fitting, because there are so many moments of warmth and redemption on this album. Sea Lungs feels like rebirth, and Eula is a ravaging catharsis like no other.

Also, Green exists.

This is a meaningful album to many Baroness fans, and merits a ranking reflecting as much. The proof is at the show–no songs get the pop that Yellow’s do, even songs like Cocainium and Little Things. Is Purple a little heavier? Gold and Grey a little more ambitious? Sure. Does Yellow and Green contain Baroness’ best SONGS? You bet your ass it does.

Highlight–Eula

13. The Atlas Moth–Coma Noir–2018

I didn’t know what to expect when I put on Coma Noir, but it sure wasn’t to get my asshole blown out by a goddamn mechanized killing machine. Sanford Parker cracked the code, and now not only was The Atlas Moth effortlessly emotive and atmospheric, they were also a steamroller.

And that album cover. Who is this man? What does he want? What is Coma Noir? What have they done to this city? The world? Is there any hope?

A front-to-back Experience from a band fully hitting their stride.

Highlight–Galactic Brain

12. Horrendous–Ecdysis–2014

“Ecdysis” is the act of shedding your skin to grow into a new form. Fitting.

If we think of Horrendous as the new Death (which we should), then Ecdysis is Human. A leap forward so huge it almost defies belief. So while Anareta and Idol may be objectively more impressive, as ITP and Symbolic were, subjectively I’m taking the record where the band took the leap.

Ecdysis immediately invokes Death and Atheist, while maintaining the sheer fun of early Unleashed and Entombed. How do they do it? Well, at Decibel Metal and Beer fest 2018, they revealed the secret:

“What no one knows is we play death metal, but with Motley Crue riffs!”

Too humble for sure, but there’s something to it. As complex as Ecdysis gets, it never forgets this is metal, and sometimes the point is just to bang your goddamn head for fuck’s sake.

Put on Ecdysis. Bang your goddamn head.

Highlight–The Stranger

11. Mastodon–Emperor of Sand–2017

I liked The Hunter and Once More…just fine, but mourned the death of the genius machine Mastodon was from Remission to Crack the Skye. And then out of nowhere, Emperor hit, and they were back. Sure, the clean choruses and big hooks were still in play, but were now alongside the complexity and manic energy that made Mastodon’s name. Emperor of Sand belongs to every era of Mastodon. And its a metal album, Brent, whether you like it or not.

Highlight–Precious Stones

10. Amon Amarth–Deceiver of the Gods–2013

If you have a friend that listens to metal, I guarantee at some point you’ve shouted “Serpents kin, born of sin, dark within, FATHER OF THE WOLF!” right in that fucker’s face. The best record by a band with many great ones. More consistent than Once Sent, more anthemic than With Oden on Our Side, more immediate than Twilight. No prominent band flies the metal flag better than Amon Amarth.

Highlight–Father of the Wolf

9. Leprous–Malina–2017

Here I am, probably 100 listens later, and I still cannot get enough of Stuck, or From the Flame, or Captive. Is Leprous metal? Pop? Who fucking knows? What I do know is Malina is full of catchy, anthemic songs, powered by a staggering vocal performance. Leprous stands out by constantly shifting. The pace quickens when your instinct says it’s time to slow down. Falsetto is juxtaposed with a huge riff. The band suddenly locks step into a massive groove in the midst of a jazzy interlude.

Malina is always one step ahead, and you won’t stop chasing it from the first spin onwards.

HighlightFrom the Flame

8. High on Fire–Snakes for the Divine–2010

Fire, Flood and Plague careens out of control right from the jump, Ghost Neck features Pike’s wildest vocals, and Frost Hammer is as heavy as it gets. That’s all well and good, but what separates this from Electric Messiah and Luminiferous, both of which would have been worthy of inclusion on this list? What separates it from everything High on Fire’s ever done?

You know what it is.

That riff.

That serpentine triumph at the top of the title track. High on Fire’s crowning achievement–Snakes for the Divine, from Snakes for the Divine.

Highlight–SNAKES FOR THE DIVINE

7. Carcass–Surgical Steel–2013

Heavier than Heartwork but more melodic than Necroticism, this is the sound Carcass was trying to find on both those albums. Took ’em 18 years (and Swansong, yikes) to figure it out, but they got there. We are all luckier for it, because to state it simply, Surgical Steel fucking rules.

Still, WHAT DO THE FUCKING NUMBERS MEAN JEFF?? This isn’t Lost.

Highlight–The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills

6. The Sword–Apocryphon–2012

The Sword may have officially ended after Used Future, but functionally it was all over as soon as Apocryphon came out. It was too good. Instead of going down the straight line collapse into C-grade ZZ Top that started at Warp Riders, they roared back into metal for one last go around, with a fury unmatched by even the most cacophonous moments on Gods of the Earth. Killer song after killer song, you can’t fuck with Apocryphon from moment one all the way to the title track. I’ll shout out side 1 in particular–Cloak of Feathers to Execrator features The Sword at their most engaging, with the best damn riff of their career anchoring the classic Hidden Masters.

We’ll miss you guys.

Highlight–The Hidden Masters

5. Royal Thunder–Crooked Doors–2015

Time Machine is the best song of the decade. Parsonz and Weaver’s interplay thoughout is nothing short of remarkable, but it’s that soul-searing “I’m no stranger to your black streak” sequence that makes it hard to go on with your life. Puddle on the floor, every time.

Crooked Doors is so much more than just Time Machine, though. That bass THUNDER (sorry) that pours out in the pounding lurch of the very next song (the excellent Forget You) tells you to strap the fuck in. Crooked Doors is all about naked honesty. Every last ghost you have is getting exorcised tonight.

Plus, it fucking ROCKS. Check out Glow and The Door if you don’t believe me.

Highlight–Time Machine

4. Dawnbringer–Into the Lair of the Sun God–2012

Flight of Icarus. Tales of the Black Freighter.

Into the Lair of the Sun God.

From the moment Chris Black says “Into the ocean–Away!,” I is frenzied metal bliss. II blazes right out of the gates and never slows, while V is the best power ballad this side of I Remember You. And that climax in VIII and IX, where you learn…

Well shit, I’m not just gonna tell you! Listen to the fucking record!

Careful, though. It might just become so powerful that you have to go on a quest to destroy it, lest it consume you entirely…

Highlight–Its like, all one thing, man

3. Clutch–Psychic Warfare–2015

“Unapologetic lifer for rock and roll.”

One day I hope to earn the right to claim that. Clutch has lived it from day one. They already had one mid-career pocket of back to back classics in Blast Tyrant and Robot Hive. A decade later, they did it again. Show me a record with 3 better songs to kick things off than X-Ray Visions, Firebirds and A Quick Death in Texas. I’ll wait.

And Noble Savage. And Behold the Colossus. And Sucker for the Witch. You can never fuck with Clutch, but you REALLY can’t fuck with Psychic Warfare.

A pantheon record from a pantheon band.

Highlight–Noble Savage

2. Christian Mistress–Possession–2012

Image result for christian mistress possession

In high school, I remember having an ongoing argument with my buddy and his brother, the only real metalheads I knew, about who was better–Iron Maiden or Motorhead. Those cretins insisted it was Motorhead. The attitude, the speed, the image–it’s what being metal was all about.

I strongly disagreed! The answer was clearly Iron Maiden. The twin guitars, the epic song structures, Bruce soaring over everything–that’s what metal is all about.

I wonder how us 3 dipshits would have reacted if someone told us there was a band that combined the best of both, plus Priest, but with a sound all their own. New, but also like it had been there forever. And that it wasn’t Black Sabbath.

Incredulity and shouts of poseurdom, I’m sure.

Christian Mistress is that band. Possession is the album.

Twin guitar leads, galloping pace, ripping solos, all alongside a whiskey soaked voice offering metal hymns, with attitude to burn and ingenuity at every turn. This album never lets up, wavers in vision, or serves up any filler. If you like metal and don’t know Possession, (1) shame on you, but also (2) welcome to your new obsession.

Highlight–The Way Beyond

1. Khemmis–Hunted–2016

Image result for khemmis hunted

5 songs. Each an instant classic. Expert-level passages in …And Justice for All-level song structures. The guitars gallop and crush in equal measure, the vocals shred (end of Candlelight) and soar (midsection of Three Gates) depending on what the moment calls for, and the songs have a timeless quality like they’re peeled straight from Master of Reality. And the title track anchoring the album’s close…finally, I’m out of words to describe how amazing it is.
You emerge from Hunted the album and the song renewed. Reminded why we listen to metal in the first place.
Hunted–a bruising, redemptive journey that tears you apart and builds you back up. The cleansing power of destruction–that’s what the best metal offers. That’s what keeps us all coming back. Good luck topping this, 2020s.

Highlight–Hunted

December Pickups and News

Rankings to come later, but here’s what I am listening to this month:

-Blood Incantation

-Obsequiae

-Vastum

-Exhumed

-Gatecreeper

-Refused

-Leprous

-Blut Aus Nord

-Die Choking

Early indications are Refused is back, Leprous is gone, and the year of death metal continues.

Some big announcements this week to stem the oncoming winter depression as well:

-Gatecreeper added to Decibel tour

-Bloodbath touring in May

-Vader touring in February

Death metal can’t be fucking stopped. Long may this continue.