October/November 2018–New Records

I limit myself to new music once a month, because otherwise I’ll get new stuff every day, listen to it once and then totally forget about it.  And that’s a bullshit effort to give a band, particularly metal bands that still put out full, cohesive records.

I’m old.

Here’s what I scooped up recently, and what I thought about it after a few spins:

1. High on Fire–Electric Messiah

The new High on Fire is remarkably good, and that feels to great to write after the complacency of the last two.  There were cool songs on Luminiferous and De Vermis, but nothing that just grabbed your fucking attention like Rumors of War or Snakes for the Diving or Fire Flood and Plague and the like.  But here, right out of the gate, 3 of the first 4 tracks are classics.  Sanctioned Annihilation is the best mid-paced crusher they’ve done since Blessed Black Wings.  Perhaps a little let down on Side B, but not by much.

An excellent return to form, making Matt Pike’s recent injury and tour cancellation all the more disappointing.  Get well soon.

2. Anaal Nathrakh–A New Kind of Horror

I check in with these guys every so often, and it usually leaves me cold.  I keep looking for that feeling the first time Eschaton clicked in for me.  I don’t think that feeling is coming back.  Stick to Between Shit and Piss we are Born.

3.  Drive By Truckers–The Dirty South

I love this band.  Out of place on this list, sure, but a great rock band that scratches that Lynyrd Skynyrd itch like just about no one else out there.  I know Southern Rock Opera and Decoration Day really well, but seeing them recently inspired a revisit to the catalog.  This was the consensus next best one, and I get it.  As with the other Truckers albums I’ve heard, there are plenty of swings and misses, but the hits really connect.  If it was just Where the Devil Don’t Stay and Lookout Mountain, the record would still be a worthy entry into their catalog.  But just focusing on those two would do a disservice to Isbell’s tunes.  Danko/Manuel, Never Gonna Change and Goddamn Lonely Love are beautiful tracks that Cooley and/or Hood would be proud to have written.

4.  Revocation–The Outer Ones

Always mean to give these guys more of a chance, and always end up missing their show or just not picking up the new one because a few other records look a little more interesting.  Don’t fall into that trap for The Outer Ones–it is excellent.  Fills the void The Red Chord left behind.

Plus they covered Pull the Plug the one time I did sack up and see them.  That’s worth supporting.

5.  Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats–Wasteland

Not quite up to the level of the first record, but I put it above the second and on par with the last one.  The highlight for me is Uncle Acid unveiling a few new moves, including some twin guitar attack on Blood Runner and some real doomy groove on No Return.  These are welcome changes of pace alongside the tried and true Uncle Acid formula on tunes like Shockwave City.  Their tour with Graveyard next year should be worth a look, even if Graveyard’s last couple records were pretty disposable.

6.  Horrendous–Idol

This is an amazing record, a worthy successor in their string of home runs, and a contender for album of the year.  The best comparison I can think of is post-Human-era Death.  You know every record is going to be heavy, catchy, complex, inviting, familiar and innovative all at the same time.  Horrendous may have unseated Enslaved as best active metal band for me (especially since the last Enslaved was kind of…boring…you didn’t hear me actually say that).  They also put on a high-energy live show that isn’t too self-serious, a rarity in progressive death metal.

7.  Behemoth–I Loved You at blah blah a fucking Children’s Choir?  Really Nergal?

I don’t have much else to say beyond the above.  There are two cool tracks in Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica and Sabbath Mater.  The rest is kinda butt, though not insultingly so.  Sometimes Behemoth is meh, like the Apostasy, and sometimes they are awesome, like on the Satanist.  The Amon Amarth dynamic.  Unfortunately, this one is on the down cycle.

 

All in all an excellent set of records, sans Behemoth and Anaal unfortunately showing their age.  New shit from the Ocean and Bloodbath on deck!

 

Nine Inch Nails–October 27, 2018–Aragon Ballroom

This was the third and final night of NIN’s mini-residency at Aragon Ballroom.  It felt a little more special because of how the tickets had been distributed–there was no initial sale through LiveNation and the other evildoers, and instead you had to literally stand in line for 5 hours to get them morning they went on sale.  Was it cold and aggravating to do so?  You bet your ass.  But that air of community and doing something with other people instead of through your screen while merely in physical proximity to other people was palpable, and worthwhile.  Until it became clear a couple hours later that the FUCKING TICKETS WERE ON STUBHUB FOR ONLY A $20 MARKUP.  Somehow NIN didn’t think to put a no re-sale on these fuckers?  Goddamn it.

No matter once the shows got closer though.  I’ve been to quite a few NIN shows, and they have not disappointed a single time.  The best of the lot was a With Teeth preview “club” show they did at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia in 2004.  That venue holds about 4,000, not dissimilar to the 5-6k at Aragon, and the energy was palpable.  But not far behind was Riot Fest just two years ago, where they smoked every other band from any of the three days by a wide margin.

So what did Trent have in store for this evening?  I was just a little bummed to discover it was not the Broken EP front to back, which has been and continues to be my favorite NIN release.  They did play Wish, Last and Gave Up though, so can’t complain.  And the rest of the set was littered with surprises (Last, Sin) and multiple stretches of true momentum.  Though Reznor is not nearly as crazed as the violent, barely contained maniac he was in the 90s and early 2000s on stage, the energy still surpasses 99% of any other band in any other genre.  The electronic/dance bent of so much of their stuff gives way to a cathartic aggression/release dynamic live.  I hope that never goes away.

The highlight was the sprint to the finish of the main set, where they unleashed in succession:

  • The Perfect Drug
  • Sin
  • Gave Up
  • The Big Come Down
  • Starfuckers, Inc.
  • Wish
  • Head Like a Hole

It was impossible to catch your breath, but I don’t think anyone wanted to.  For me, it was the thrill of realizing NIN’s bench is so deep at this point.  And with Reznor still so prolific and somehow healthy, their status as a dominant, EVENT live act may just be getting started.  Why can’t NIN become Pearl Jam?

The show of course ended with that contemplative moment where they cover Johnny Cash…er….you know.  If Hurt wasn’t perfect, I’d likely be annoyed with it by now.

This was the best show I’ve seen all year.   Now let’s keep it rolling Trent!

Paradise Lost–October 10, 2018–House of Blues, Chicago

I’m late to the Paradise Lost party.  An exhaustive Decibel article a few years ago inspired me to pick up Gothic, which I enjoyed quite a bit, but I did not pursue them any further.  I think my bad experience with Anathema (who sucks, guys, c’mon now) kept me away from the doomdeath/gothdeath scene.  Which may have been a mistake, because after everyone lost their shit over Medusa last year, I scooped that up and things suddenly started clicking.  It is fucking GREAT, and I am truly hooked now, giving Shades of God and Icon a few spins and excited to seek out more.

I was just getting into Medusa when this tour was announced.  It was welcome news because The Atlas Moth was opening and I had to miss their previous Empty Bottle show with Royal Thunder (which I’m sure was amazing, that’s a crazy bill).  But fuck, I missed Atlas Moth again here, so I have nothing to say about their performance other than Coma Noir is amazing and everyone should buy it.  They are a different band from their first 3 records on this one.  Sanford Parker apparently figured them out more than they could for themselves, and their new iteration has put out the best record this year.

Thankfully I was able to make it in time for the headliner, and more thankfully, the House of Blues was NOT sold out.  Now I want as many fans to come to these shows as possible to support the bands and all that good shit.  But as anyone who has ever been to the House of Blues knows, that place is one of the worst places on earth when it is sold out.  Not just concert venues.  Places, generally speaking.  Good luck moving an inch ANYWHERE on the floor–no beer, no bathroom, no breathing.  Plenty of needless pillars fucking up your sightline.  And an incredibly narrow viewing area?  Check.  Fuck this place.

But with the floor nice and open and conditions humane, this was one of the better experiences I’ve had at a smaller show this year.  A lot of that has to do with the professionalism of the band–pacing, stage presence, setlist, all of it.  The sound was a little spotty early, but they sorted that out in time for Greg MacKintosh to fuckin drill the lead on “Blood and Chaos” from the new one, and I was locked in from that moment.  The weight of each tune, the way they are able to make their songs feel like their own separate events in a set, is not a common skill in metal–outside of the obvious ones like Maiden, its really just Enslaved (when not just playing the new record), Opeth and Amon Amarth that spring to mind.  Paradise Lost has this, and it allowed the uninitiated like myself an easy in.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting was the sing alongs, though maybe that was more down to not being grounded in their more goth period.  “Say Just Words” was a lot of fun though, and there were a couple other moments of audience participation that I’m sure go smoother in Europe where the fans are typically more engaged.

Excellent show, excellent band, butt venue, buy Medusa and Coma Noir.

Clutch Albums, Ranked

 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.