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.

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. 

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

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

Horrendous Idol.jpg

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

High on Fire.jpg

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

7. Skeletonwitch–Devouring Radiant Light

Skeletonwitch.jpg

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

Agrimonia.jpg

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

Priest.jpg

WAITING FOR LIGHTNING TO STRIKE

4. Khemmis–Desolation

Khemmis Desolation.jpg

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

Amorphis.jpg

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

Zeal.jpg

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

atlas moth.jpg

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

Clutch Albums, Ranked

 

clutch_logo_300dpi

In honor of Clutch’s new record “Book of Bad Decisions,” below is my ranking of their studio records (in case you’re wondering, I would probably put Slow Hole to China somewhere around Jam Room, and Live in Flint above Live at the Googolplex, though both are amazing).

Clutch remains awesome to this day, and right before the latest record had released two of their strongest ever in Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare. Bad Decisions doesn’t quite hit those heights–very much a Gore to Diamond Eyes/Koi no Yokan situation. But it is worthy in its own right, and Clutch’s continued existence is something to be celebrated.

12. Strange Cousins from the West–2009

strange_cousins_from_the_west

Strange Cousins is the album I return to the least. It seemed like they were a little out of ideas after the Blast Tyrant/Robot Hive peak, and just put out a stripped down blues record that also stripped down a lot of what made them interesting. That said, there are some big highlights on this record–50,000 Unstoppable Watts is a classic Clutch single that I’m surprised hasn’t stuck in their set more, and The Amazing Kreskin is possibly a top 10 Clutch song.

11. Book of Bad Decisions–2018

winters_bald_eagle_3000x3000

 

This may require some more consideration, but for now I have to say the new one is a disappointment. I guess it was always going to pale in comparison to Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare just on the backs of those albums’ openings–it is way too much to ask for a band to repeat Crucial Velocity/D.C. Sound Attack and X-Ray Visions/Firebirds/Quick Death in Texas-level quality on every record.

How to Shake Hands is the only instant classic in my book, though Vision Quest and Ghoul Wrangler are a lot of fun too. But Hot Bottom Feeder? Really? That shit is embarrassing. And I love Gnome Enthusiast from Jam Room, so…

10. Jam Room–1999

220px-clutch_-_jam_room

Speaking of which, ultimately the most disposable of Clutch’s studio record. But it deserves a spot a couple of places above the bottom because of some real classics here–Big Fat Pig, Raised by Horses, and especially Basket of Eggs, any of which would’ve felt at place on Elephant Riders.

9. From Beale Street to Oblivion–2007

from_beale_street_to_oblivion

This is the line–from this record on onwards, I  love all of these records. Love. We are splitting hairs here, but that is the exercise I assigned myself.

This record is in the back of the pack because coming off of Robot Hive it seemed like Clutch wasn’t quite sure whether they wanted to commit to keeping organ as part of the sound or not, and got lost in the middle. So you end up with something like You Can’t Stop Progress, which is a perfectly fine Clutch song, but has misplaced keys that don’t need to be there. They ended up getting this type of song right on the last 2 before “Book”–see Once More into the Breach.

This record comes alive on the back half though, where Fallon unleashes some trademark weirdness/nonsense on top of some of Sult’s best riffs. The one-two punch of The Rapture of Ridley Walker and Opposum Minister is hard to beat in post-moshpit Clutch.

8. Transnational Speedway League–1993

220px-clutch_-_transnational_speedway_league

Moshpit Clutch. And their first record. And the one that bears the least resemblance to anything that came after (I’d contend S/T is much more similar to even Bad Decisions or Blast Tyrant than Transnational is to anything subsequent).

I first saw Clutch in 1999 at age 15. When Prison Planet started and it was more violent than the Slayer pit I cowered in fear from at Ozzfest, I was pretty confused. I’m still confused–can anyone explain to me the violence at Clutch shows for awhile? There a lot of awesome aspects to Clutch, but violence inspiration should not be one of them if we are just going on sound.

Monster Trucks still holds up, Shogun pops up live every once in awhile, but once Clutch entered “we play Electric Worry every show” territory this record took a huge backseat. Fallon’s wordplay mastery was on full display even here, when they were trying to sound like Helmet and Undertow-era Tool instead of themselves. That attitude thankfully evaporated as soon as Big News 1 started.

7. Earth Rocker–2013

Hot streaks! Clutch seems to have a real talent for putting out their best records back to back, and here is the modern-era one. Starting with Earth Rocker, which absent that bizarre chorus in the title track, was instantly worthy of pantheon status. The Face and D.C. Sound Attack are up there with anything in the catalog.

D.C. Sound Attack is part of one of my favorite Clutch moments–At Hellfest 2014 (where they were literally hanging from the rafters for the show, putting American Clutch crowds to shame), some crazy European dude knocked the shit out of me during D.C., picked me back up, then did the two-finger-point-to-eyes-i’m-watching you thing perfectly in line with:

I got blood in my eyes

And I’m looking at YOU

That was fucking awesome.

Also worthy of specific mention is The Wolfman Kindly Requests, a badass album and concert closer.

Career highlights 2 decades in.  This baseline consistency combined with a huge ceiling on each record is why they are the best American rock band in the last 30 years.

6. Psychic Warfare–2015

Storms right out of the gates with maybe the best 3 song string of any Clutch album, and Neil Fallon perfectly encapsulates the band in Noble Savage–

Unapologetic lifer for rock and roll

Fuckin A.

5. Elephant Riders–1998

Not unlike Jam Room and Robot Hive, Elephant Riders has a unique aesthetic that means you don’t always want to listen to it when you feel like jamming Clutch, but it is perfect if you’re in the mood for it. It also has a great Clutch in-song for the poor fools who’ve never heard them before–the stop/start jam of Ship of Gold hooks ’em every time.  Finally, Elephant Riders was the place where Fallon took full hold of his storytelling and scene-painting abilities, which would come define so man later classics like Opossum Minister and Cypress Grove and Quick Death In Texas.  Clutch hadn’t really tackled anything like the title track or Muchas Veces or the Soapmakers lyrically at this point.  Fallon found his footing here (give or take a Prison Planet or Wilkes Booth?), and hasn’t lost it since.

4. Pure Rock Fury–2001

Front-to-back classic with swagger and mystique. I even like Careful with that Mic–kinda.

3. Clutch–1995

Should anybody actually see and consider this post I suspect this will be the biggest point of contention. Have to imagine most Clutch fans would put this at #1, and I wouldn’t argue–career defining on album 2, with the all the stoner rock, blues, metal, punk, lyrical insanity and even that covert Christian bent that would come to define them (my buddy once asked if Clutch was a Christian band. I was infuriated of course…but also he wasn’t wrong.  Consider Tight Like That here or Gullah on Robot Hive) .

I’ll admit this didn’t click for a few listens when I first picked it up. I thought they were this crazy band with the live reputation to back it up–what he hell was I gonna make of the end of Texan Book of the Dead? Eventually it dawned on me though–this is a rock band, playing rock songs, with a lyricist you just have to roll with–not a metal band that has some blues and stoner elements, not a punk band that jams sometimes, not someone writing love songs or anthems. Just a unique, weird, grooving rock and roll band that dominates live.

Listen to them play Peterbilt or Prison Planet to this day, and they’re still that same band.

2. Robot Hive/Exodus–2005

Hot streak No. 2, this time with the most surprising and maybe rewarding result of Clutch’s whole discography. I did not see a lead-organ blues album with bananas lyrical gymnastics coming after the hard-edged assault of Blast Tyrant, but maybe I should have. They followed their heaviest record with their most mellow, and damn if it didn’t just fucking work. After these two records, you knew just who Clutch was, their range and what they were capable of.

Their most iconic lead off track–yes, even more so than Big News–and just lyric after lyric of genius.

Slowly broken windows, returning to the sand;

Half a mind to double up baby, three times is jive;

The seven habits of the highly infected calf

This album is Fallon’s peak.

The record provided three of Clutch’s most reliable live tunes in Mice and Gods, Broken Beard and Gravel Road.  But the real highlights are between the cracks.  Pulaski Skyway’s riff, the jammed out instrumentals, being transported to the weirdest place you can imagine in Circus Maximus, the (anti?) evolution/technology tension of 10001110101.  Any day you listen to Robot Hive becomes a good day. What better measure of a record is there?

1. Blast Tyrant–2004

The Promoter. Profits of Doom. The Regulator. Mob Goes Wild.  Clutch put the pedal down following Pure Rock Fury and made a record actually more fitting for that title, the heaviest and most aggressive record of their career.  Blast Tyrant maintains that momentum and charged atmosphere while still including classic rock jams (Cypress Grove) and real introspection (The Regulator, Ghost). It has an immediate character but seamlessly and effortlessly shifts. It kicks ass. It cemented that Clutch was going nowhere and meant business after the weirdness of Jam Room and jarring radio reach of Careful with That Mic. Its my favorite Clutch record.

There you have it! If you disagree, feel free to fuck right off.

Or start a conversation below, or wherever that’s done on this blog site. Thanks for reading.