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. 


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


-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?


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


  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


  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


  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.


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.


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.


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, introspectiveu horror from which you cannot escape.

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


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.


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 sepThat riff.

That serpentine triumph at the topofthe

L05wtle track. High on Fire’s crowning achievement–Snakes for the Divine, from 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.


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.


December Pickups and News

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

-Blood Incantation







-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.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard–Aragon Ballroom–August 24, 2019

King Gizz is an interesting animal. Prolific as hell, but not always proficient. They have a wheelhouse, and while I applaud the instinct to challenge themselves and branch out, oftentimes the material is just not strong enough to merit releasing. Five albums in one year is a fun goal, but the material was good enough for three–which still would have been amazing. But Gizz is following their muse, and this should always be supported in a society where all music seems geared towards garnering enough clicks to sell a festival ticket.

2019 has been true to form for the band, but with an interesting twist. To my ears, King Gizz is best at psych rock; the jammier stuff just doesn’t connect. My guess is most fans would say their favorite records are Nonagon Infinity and Flying Microtonal Banana, and these are rock records. So when they put out Fishing for Fishies earlier this year, it was basically a barf for me. Like Sketches of Brunswick East, my main reaction was, “why?”  Then came the twist–not only was King Gizz going to put out multiple records this year, but the next one was going to be a straight up thrash metal album. Now we’re talking. Ultimately, Infest the Rat’s Nest wasn’t thrash, but it was definitely metal. I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was also the first time in awhile the band sounded urgent and inspired.

How would the weird amalgamation of Gizz fans react? Their meteoric rise from Subt–Lincoln Hall–Metro–Riviera–Aragon got people from all over the map into the band. These boys will take over the world. For now, though, they’d have to settle for a collection of 6,000 college kids, deadheads, stoners, and yes, metalheads. How would they get along?

Oddly! King Gizz came right out with 2 from Rat’s Nest, and the most awkward mosh pits of all time ensued.  As a reformed metal elitist, I welcome the 20 year old EDM heads whose weird friend showed them the band into the fold–but chill the fuck out. When people are outside the pit, it means they don’t want to mosh. This isn’t a Slayer show.
Some Polygonwannaland tracks and a strategic relocation to the back soothed, and soon the Gizz show took on its familiar rhythm and spectacle. So many band members, doing so many interesting things. The current track having almost nothing in common with the one that preceded it. It is glorious, and when they amp up the energy, can border on frenzied. The ability they showed tonight to take this spirit from a place like Subterranean and make it palpable to the Aragon-sized crowd suggests the sky is the limit. Don’t bat an eye if these boys are headlining arenas one day.

The metal was front and back loaded, sandwiching 2-3 song jams on specific records in the middle. First was Polygon, then Nonagon and finally my personal favorite stop, selections from Flying Microtonal Banana. Not the ones you might expect either, which is another part of their charm–Anoxia and Billabong Valley work just as well as the more obvious Open Water and Nuclear Fusion (both sadly left out). Always gotta have Rattlesnake though.

On the whole it was inspiring to see King Gizz step up to the plate and blow Aragon away the same way they do rooms 1/3 of the size. This band was a sensation the first time I saw them, and continue to be so even while going through the boom in fandom. No watering down the weird, no lessening the energy, no pandering–just chasing that muse wherever the fuck it’s going. If you missed them when it was 100 people packed in Subt, I’m sorry, but get your ass out there now before LiveNation starts charging your first-born child to see a show (2 years or so?).


Iron Maiden–August 22, 2019

Coming off a couple of lackluster performances by Maiden’s standards, my excitement levels were tempered for this show.  I know they were doing a “legacy” tour, but it seemed that was more driven by their phone videogame than their actual legacy.  Add that in with their shitty beer, and fuck man, am I bummed on Maiden now?


The night started with a solo ride on the Reggies bus next to some crust punk who wasn’t sure who Iron Maiden was, where the bus was going, or what a shower is.  But neither this, or the fact that the opener SUCKED, or the fact that I was at Tinley Park could prevent a big dumb metal smile from coming across my face the minute the curtain went up and I saw the giant WW2 plane.  This wasn’t Bruce-is-wearing-a-hoodie Maiden; this was Iron Fucking Maiden, the one that headlined over Dio and Motorhead on the same tour and smoked both of those legends night after night.   Opener was Aces High, followed quickly by a salvo from Maiden’s best album Piece of Mind (bring it), Where Eagles Dare and Revelations.  The night also brought Wicker Man and Flight of Icarus, two rarities.  Importantly, they also nailed the standards, with a full Eddie sighting in The Trooper and the crowd more than willing to play their role during Fear of the Dark.  If you weren’t misty eyed just from nostalgia by the encore, the emotional impact of a Evil That Men Do/Hallowed be thy Name combo should’ve done the trick.  Bruce had the energy, Smith had the solos, Gers was…still there unfortunately.  It was a proper Maiden show in the American and British sense of the word.

Just because I’m me, of course there are some setlist takes.  What’s with the Blaze Bayley nonsense?  Sign of the Cross and The Clansmen are LOOONNGG and NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.  Seriously, its roughly 15-20 minutes of set time.  You don’t think the show would be better served with 3 of literally dozens of other good Maiden songs there?  Killers? Another Life?  The Prisoner?  Infinite Dreams?  Sea of Madness?  Heaven Can Wait?  Bring your Daughter…to the Slaughter?  What the hell are we doing here?  My guess is Harris wrote those Blaze songs and is like, “Look lads, these are bloody good songs so you best fuckin learn them, alright?” and Adrian Smith is just like “get my bandanas and wind machine right and I’ll solo over whatever nonsense you got.”  Verbatim.

Book of Souls was good but the tour was not (again, by Maiden’s standards), and the non-stop commercialism can be grating.  But when the band and the songs are this good, and they coalesce like they did on this night, who cares–it’s still Iron Maiden.

Baroness and Khemmis–July 23 and 26, 2019

It was a hell of a week for heavy music fans in Chicago. Two of the heaviest hitters in any heavy genre rolled through, and I was heavy…er, lucky enough to catch both shows:

1. Baroness–Durty Nellies, Palatine, Illinois, July 23, 2019

This was my first time at Durty Nellies, a venue name that pops up a lot for Chicago-adjacent shows, similar to The Forge in Joliet.  Unlike Joliet, though, this is easily accessible by Metra, so I hopped on them shits around 7 and got there as the opener was ending.  I can’t remember as I type who it was, which is not a great sign (it was Torche).

The venue is directly off of the train, which is good.  The viewing area was also completely inaccessible due to an immediate crush of people at the only entrance, which was not so good.  Once the opener ended, I made an immediate push to the opposite end of the room.  And of course, the opposite end is nice and open and comfortable.  People are dumb.

The venue had good sightlines from the floor and was nice and wide, but was probably just a little too small for the band.  Bottom Lounge-ish.  Good beer list though, and a good mix of people.  Not just jaded city jerkoffs like myself who are over being at the show–much of the audience was fuckin psyched to be out, even if it was Tuesday night, and that energy did the show well.

I missed Baroness the last few times around, so this was my first look at the new line-up.  They haven’t missed a beat.  New guitar player Gina Gleason brought a palpable energy.  She may not be quite the virtuoso that Peter Adams was (though no slouch for sure), but the joy to be where she was more than made up for it.  She apparently also brings a lot to the songwriting table, so it seems like an excellent addition.

The set was a little heavy on Gold and Grey, and the crowd lagged some because of it. The material was strong enough to sustain the positive energy, though a greater nod to Red and Blue would have been appreciated.  Thankfully, some great inclusions at the start and finish propped the set up.  Everything is primacy and recency, and here the band nailed it.  March to the Sea up top, Take My Bones Away and Isak at the back.

It is hard not to evaluate Baroness through the prism of coming back from the bus crash.  The sheer appreciation for the ability to still put on shows like this radiated from John Baizley.  His role as a frontman has been there from jump, but now he is willing and able to play it.  A story about how Durty Nellie’s was one of their first ever shows as a band contributed to the full circle feeling of the evening.  This was not the best I’ve seen Baroness or the best show I’ve seen this year, but it was downright inspirational in vibe.  Positivity in life and excitement for music on a goddamn Tuesday night.  Fuckin a.

2. Khemmis–Reggies, Chicago, July 26, 2019

Friday night brought another show.  Fucking Chicago won’t let you catch your breath, but that’s the point.  Reggies seems to be Khemmis’ Chicago home.  This was the third straight headlining gig Khemmis has played at the venue.  Having seen them all, I can confidently say they have improved each time.  Stage presence is the big factor here.  For some reason, many in the crowd seemed to have no idea who Khemmis was (local openers bringing a loyal crowd?).  In past instances, the band would have struggled to uncross the arms of these fuckers, but not tonight.

They have grown into the live headliner role that the quality of their records suggests–better set pacing, better dynamic presence, better crowd involvement, and of course better material.  Though the highs weren’t quite as high on Desolation as on Hunted (and I remain baffled by the first song; it is legit like I can’t hear it, Westworld-that-looks-like-nothing-to-me style), Isolation and Flesh to Nothing bring that goddamn ROCK that the best doom always has.  The show is better for it.

And they remembered to keep the Hunted title track in the set, which is where it needs to be permanently.  That is your Hallowed be thy Name boys, don’t forget it.

Mastodon–June 14th, 2019–Northerly Island

I’m not sure why Mastodon can’t just play their own shows, opening now twice for weird bands at Northerly Island–though Primus>Coheed, c’mon.  Today’s venture was well worth the trek, because they were doing Crack the Skye in its entirety.  I saw them do this on the initial Crack tour in 2009.  I was so blown away that every time I tripped I watched (and made anyone around me watch) the movie they played to accompany the album from the DVD. Good times! Unless you are not a metalhead and get freaked out by weird visuals amd aggressive music. Then Im guessing it was a bad time. Sorry.

We walked in 5 minutes before Mastodon started, and the early setting took away from the drama. This was very much a Coheed crowd, with Mastodon opening for them. About halfway through Oblivion, any of that nonsense was gone though, and the band absolutely nailed it.  Ripped right through the album and even tacked on a few classics (Blood and Thunder and Crystal Skull were very welcome).  The visual aspect was there too, with a new full movie accompanying the album.  The new movie will not be unseating the original in my drug routine, but it was cool nonetheless, and gave me a chance to do the above-mentioned brag to unfortunate people standing near me between songs. “The old one had even crazier weird flowing spiral things!”

It would be interesting to see them try a full album show with Remission, because that version of Mastodon seems so removed from our current Once More/Emperor crew.  Not so Crack the Skye.  The album is heavy, but the prog is so forward that this iteration of the band seemed comfortable throughout, even Brent “I hate metal” Hinds. That engagement is vital, as it would have been easy to phone in this set. Opening act, 50 mins to play, half-engaged crowd? Mastodon brought it anyways.

We did not stick for Coheed, so my uninformed opinion that they are annoying and poseur-ish maintains.  Bring it.

Chicago Open Air–May 18 and 19, 2019


The scaled down Chicago Open Air couldn’t help but be a disappointment this year. Think about Sunday last year–within a 5 hour span, you had Amon Amarth-Behemoth-Lamb of God-Slayer-Ozzy. That’s some Hell Fest level shit right there. Now with only 2 days, 1 stage, no craft beer tent with free metal juke box, and 4 good bands over the 2 days, there was no escaping the spectre of the festivals imminent death.

Not a bad top of the ticket for a funeral though–SOAD, Tool, Gojira, Meshuggah.

Meshuggah kicked it off on Saturday.  They brought it as always, though it felt a bit rote in comparison to the second stage show from the previous year.  Listening to Thorndendal shred and Haake pummel while Jens Kidman is up there just berating the audience like a madman is good in any setting, but nothing really stood out.

It was a lot fucking better than having to endure Ghost though.  Listen everyone, Ghost sucks.  They just do.  The imagery is lame, the guy can’t sing at all, the riffs are barely present, the songwriting is boring.  They are the Nickelback of metal, and I’m hesitant to even grant them that tangential relationship to the genre.  Stop it.

Thank fuck they ended, and it was time for the long-awaited (for me) return of one of my foundational metal bands, System of a Down.  System was the highlight of the whole festival. Never a tight live act, the band relies on the energy and dynamism of their catalog and audience participation in the live setting.  Each element was in full effect here. Having missed the Riot Fest set in 2015, I was simply excited to be in their presence and have the opportuntiy to shout Chop Suey with few thousand fellow former, and some current, disaffected teens whose musical taste was largely shaped by Toxicity. The nu-metal scene has a lot to apologize for, but I am sure I’m not the only metal fan made so by SOAD.


Here’s some advice–if you’re 35 years old, don’t stay up til 4 a.m. then try to go to a music festival the next day.  Interpret the below takes with this in mind.

We showed up for Gojira and then had to sit through The Cult.  What an interesting contrast.

Gojira struggled to fill the space. This likely had more to do with the sound system than the band, but anyone who has seen them in a smaller room knows the real power is their ability to overwhelm, and without that, they do not deliver in the way you want. The material and stage presence was still strong though.

They fared much better than The Cult.  The tragedy of what happened to the Prodigy was palpable, and so was the hostility.  I didn’t notice any outright booing, but you know things are rough when the singer defeatedly says between every song, “C’mon guys, this is a rock show.  We are supposed to be having fun.”  He may as well have said, “Please?  Just pretend to like us?” Fire Woman or Smokestack Lightning or whatever the fuck that song is called is still a good song, but the band’s inclusion here was more indicative of the ineptness of this dead festival than anything else.

Tool did not fare quite as well as System on Sunday. Heres a hot take–retire the current “classics” in the set. Stinkfist, 46 & 2, Schism–they are all great, but we have heard them all numerous times by now. I think the Tool live show would be invigorated by some deep cuts.  Despite a bit of monotony, however, it is always a privilege to watch these guys play their instruments. Maynard was also center stage and visible, which offered a new dynamic and bodes well for the upcoming tour on the somehow real new album.

In between the sets, you could…buy a pretzel? Yikes. Outside of the bands themselves there was nothing festival about this. I would be stunned if this isnt the last Open Air. But if they do bring it back, enough with the cost trimming. It didnt do you any favors attendance wise, and alienated plenty who did show.