Sunday, June 28, 2020

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - Lamb of God

VIII: Bag of Mold

lol it was so fuckin' predictable that they'd announce a new album only a few months after I finished my discography retrospective.

There are two huge elephants and one burning question in the room right now, so I'm gonna just tackle all three of them right off the bat, Lawrence Taylor style. 

ELEPHANT #1: Chris Adler has been replaced by Art Cruz.  This was actually the impetus of the previous seven reviews.  It felt like the end of an era so I figured it was high time to revisit that era.  Lamb of God was notable for having a rock solid lineup for over twenty years, something basically unheard of in metal, so Chris's departure was a huge shock to people who weren't paying attention.  I say this because if you've paid attention to any interviews or behind-the-scenes material over the years you could tell he was clearly miserable and really felt constrained.  I've been prophesying a breakup ever since Sacrament.  It's been common knowledge for eons that Chris was the most talented member of the band as it was (like I've said before it's pretty rare in metal to find a drummer with an instantly recognizable style) and his frustration with the band's ever-safening songwriting was thinly veiled at best.  So last year, he finally had enough and walked away before being replaced by Cruz (who I swore was previously the drummer in All Shall Perish until this very sentence when I double checked and realized it was actually my perennial punching bag Winds of Plague).  So with all the background aside, the big question here is whether or not he holds up to Adler's dominant kit mastery.  The answer is... yeah, actually.  He was either playing way the fuck below his level in Winds of Plague or he's the Bruno Mars of metal and has a superhuman knack for replicating other peoples' signatures.  If I hadn't known beforehand that Chris had left, I never would've known he wasn't on this album.  His laser precision and ineffable groove is replicated with 100% authenticity here and I'm much more impressed than I expected to be.

ELEPHANT #2: They're on their eighth album and just now decided to roll with a self titled album.  A lot of people feel the need to point this out it seems, simply because it's odd for a band to do this at any point after their debut, but to me this was actually a fucking huge red flag.  Again reaching back to behind-the-scenes footage that I used to gobble up in high school, I distinctly remember that there was a disagreement between band members about what to name their upcoming album, and they were down to two choices: Sacrament or self titled.  I could be misremembering because this is like a fifteen year old memory at this point but I recall Chris being the most vocally against a self titled album because he felt like it was a cop out and a sign that a band had run out of ideas.  Considering the fact that I heard this exact same story for basically every following album, it's really not a surprise that they finally went and did it once he was unable to veto it.  They've been rewriting Ashes of the Wake for ages now, even when the external circumstance of Randy's stint in prison gave them the perfect inspiration to branch out, so yeah I absolutely feel Chris's apprehension that the band feels like they've run out of ideas at this point.  I know most bands who do this do it to either signal a reinvention of their sound or to declare that this is their definitive statement, but this simply isn't the band to be doing either of those things since pattern recognition tells me this next album might as well be Ashes of the Wake 4: Ash Free or Wake Hard

THE BURNING QUESTION: Is Lamb of God any good?  Do those two elephants stink up the joint as much as I and many fans expect them to?

...No?  I think?  I'm still kinda reeling because everything signaled yet another mediocre snorefest and then somehow they spat out their best album since Wrath.

The weird thing is that this absolutely feels like yet another rehash of Ashes, but the majority of the songs just fuckin' bang this time around.  I mentioned Cruz wound up being the perfect replacement for Adler, and honestly that makes me wonder if his mere presence reignited the rest of the guys' imagination.  It's not like this drum performance would be any different with Adler.  I've seen a lot of fans and reviews mention how Cruz is much more loose with his playing, but honestly I'm gonna make a sweeping claim and say that nearly everybody who says that is just taking Mark Morton at his word and aren't analyzing for themselves too closely.  Yeah Mark told the media that he's a refreshing change because Chris played to a click track while Art doesn't so they feel more free on stage, but this has somehow morphed into "Art is creative while Chris was a metronome", which is both flatly untrue and totally irrelevant since he replicates his predecessor's style so perfectly.  This is exactly as dialed-in and fully torqued as it always has been. 

The reason Lamb of God succeeds while the last handful of albums failed despite essentially being the exact same idea is simply because most of these tracks take have the fire and energy of "Laid to Rest" and "Desolation" instead of their usual shtick of constantly rewriting "11th Hour" at varying speeds with increasingly diminishing returns.  For the first time in a long while, they maintain whatever new ideas they have for the duration of the album instead of cramming them all into one song.  "Reality Bath" opens with the first prominent bass part in their career, "Routes" is basically pure thrash metal (something they've always flirted with for a riff or two each album but never really went whole hog with it), "Resurrection Man" is basically a misplaced Slipknot song featuring Randy's best Architects impression with the opening BLEGH, throughout the entire runtime there are more solos and overt melody than they've ever really done, there are just tons of little touches of the creativity I thought they'd been fresh out of for a decade.  Not all of these ideas hit bullseye ("Resurrection Man" is actually one of the worst tracks of the bunch) but it's nice to hear them branching out for a change.

However, their previously crippling filler problem is still here to some extent.  Lamb of God has always been a "hit single" type of band with only a couple of albums featuring any real deep cuts beyond the ones they play live constantly, and the self titled is the first to really break from that mold by having the singles be some of the weakest.  "Checkmate" is exactly what I was afraid this album would be full of.  It's a very LoG-by-numbers track that elicits exactly zero excitement in somebody like me who has been following them for almost their entire career and has grown very tired of them rehashing the same ideas over and over again.  "Gears" suffers mostly the same problem, and it's hard to really describe because its biggest problem is simply that it's the type of song they've already written like fifty times.  The breakdown riff would've been awesome if they didn't already use it in "Contractor", ya know?  The lone outlier in this regard is the opener, "Memento Mori".  I actually kinda hate the clean/spoken intro, but once the song picks up into familiar territory it plays out like any generic Lamb of God song would play out, but they... I dunno man they feel it this time.  That's basically how I can describe any track here.  They're still rewriting Ashes of the Wake over and over again but for the first time they've managed to do it in a way where it sounds lethal instead of focus tested.  "Reality Bath" is basically "The Faded Line" by way of Slipknot but it sounds like they're really putting their hearts into it.  "On the Hook" is "Beating on Death's Door" again but "Beating on Death's Door" is probably their most underappreciated track so hearing that type of high octane brutality again is a massive breath of fresh air.  I mentioned that the previous album's guest vocalists felt like pointless gimmicks, and somehow the two this time are paradoxically more transparently gimmicky but also work a hell of a lot better.  Jamey Jasta and Chuck Billy show up on "Poison Dream" and "Routes" respectively, and the former song morphs into a Hatebreed track when Jasta shows up and the latter sounds like late-career Testament.  Come on that should be cynical to so blatantly cater to these guys' original bands, but it turns out Lamb of God is surprisingly really good at ripping them off.  It takes what should be lazy and turns it into everybody simply playing to their strengths.

This is hard to write about, honestly.  This series was fun at the start because their first five albums are all actually very different from each other but this current era of the band is generally much less creative.  Basically all I can say is "read my reviews for the last album but pretend they're good."  I know how cheap and unhelpful that is, but it's true.  If Resolution maintained the momentum of "Desolation" the entire time it'd probably sound fairly similar to Lamb of God.  It's got all the fire and energy of that track with some pronounced influence from nu metal in spots and a renewed love of breakdowns that have been absent since 2006, which I'm sure is a turnoff for most of you but I maintain that the breakdowns were never the problem and if you're going to spike the nu metal influence, you could do a whole hell of a lot worse than Slipknot when it comes to inspiration.  The biggest flaw of the album is simply the track ordering, because putting the three most generic songs right at the start is a big fuckin' thonk.  The album picks up a ton of steam after "Gears" and it's refreshing to hear this much propulsion out of these old bones.


RATING: 73%

Thursday, June 18, 2020

10 YEAR REUNION: Blood Stain Child - Epsilon

It's a thing alright

Okay so it's less than ten years old, fight me.  I'm choosing to jump way ahead and redo something outside the purview of this series less because the original review was written poorly (though I definitely did that "lol japan so wacky" thing that I've grown to despise), but because while homophobia wasn't my intent when writing it, I definitely leaned on some insensitive tropes when trying to describe how sugary and poppy this album is.  I didn't really want to do the performative self flagellation thing, but I just know some smartass is going to bring it up so I'm getting ahead of it.  Eat my balls.

Epsilon is a weird album, though I suppose that was obvious from just a passing glance.  Take a look at that Waifu Fantasy XIII aesthetic and whatever music popped into your head probably wasn't too far from the truth.  This is the dumbest shit in the world, with effort-free pop melodies and exuberant dance beats taking up the lion's share of the runtime, usually slathered liberally over the top of punchy melodeath.  The dudes from Disarmonia Mundi contribute guest vocals on a few tracks, and man that just makes so much sense since what I remember of that shitty band was basically this exact kind of not-metalcore-but-the-exact-niche-of-melodeath-that-metalcore-always-rips-off.  That describes most of the heavy elements at play within Epsilon.  The drums are louder than the guitars by a pretty huge magnitude and it's produced to be weirdly trebly, and it does create a neat effect with the electronic elements by never being beefy enough to truly clash, it does tend to cause the cymbals to sound like a neverending fog of white noise in the background.  It winds up being more of a bap than a boom, punching through the sonic center with gusto whenever the percussion picks up.  People smarter than I am tell me that the non-metal elements at play here belong to a subgenre known as "trance", but that's way out of my wheelhouse as a guy who listened to an Infected Mushroom album once before going back to my Slayer records so I'll just take their word for it.

But despite the overwhelming amount of sugar and pop sensibility on top of aggressive melodeath, the actual weirdest part about this album is the fact that it actually wound up being solidly decent.  In fact I think it's enjoyable despite the gimmicky genre clashing, because the songs that are the clearest attempt at blending the two sides of the band's coin 50/50 wind up pretty awkward.  "Eternal" is a great example, with this cute animu girl cooing sweetly over blastbeats just sounding confused and odd for the sake of it.  There are four songs here I genuinely think are great that I've gone back to listen to plenty over the years, and they're split pretty cleanly between the light and heavy sides of the band.  "Sirius IV" and "LA+" focus much more on punchy and aggressive metal, while "Stargazer" and "Moon Light Wave" are basically pure electronic dance pop with guitars vaguely gesturing at distortion in the background.  That's not to say that they're only good when they're picking a side, "Dedicated to Violator" is a very un-metal track and it does absolutely nothing for me, but the hooks on the two aforementioned happy dance songs are phenomenal.  I've never really bothered listening to the rest of Blood Stain Child's catalog but a part of me really hopes they kinda just ditched metal altogether because "Stargazer" is far and away the best track on here and it's the one that flirts with metal the least awkwardly. 

Oddly enough there isn't much to say about this, really.  It's melodeath + trance and that's pretty much the beginning and end of it.  Some of it is surprisingly great and even the lame songs have some pretty infectious hooks, but there's no denying that the styles are pretty abrasive when it comes to actually comingling with one another.  It's a novel oddity that spits out a few surprisingly good tracks with "Stargazer" and "Moon Light Wave" but most of it is honestly just transparent filler.  The good songs are good enough to keep me coming back throughout the years but never for much longer than a quick sightseeing tour before going back to other bands that at least blended their disparate ideas more cohesively.


RATING: 59%

Saturday, June 13, 2020

10 YEAR REUNION: Gojira - From Mars to Sirius

Zakk Wylde in a tweed blazer

Gojira is one of the most random heavy bands to completely catch fire and take off in the mainstream metal press.  On one hand I kinda get it since they sound like a conglomeration of three other huge bands in that same sphere, sounding like a mix between a slow Meshuggah, prog-era Mastodon, and Devin Townsend's heavier solo works like Terria.  The problem for me is that they sound like a worse version of all three of those bands, since Meshuggah works best when they kick the tempo up, Mastodon was infinitely superior as a kinda-sludgy outfit with a fuckload of hooks, and Devin is at his best when he's leaning fully into chaotic metal or calming ambient/prog while his more blended work tends to be hit or miss.  Gojira is the perfect trifecta in that regard, created in a lab to appeal to bearded metal journalists in coffee shops while maintaining an undeniable weight to their riffs.

The problem is that these riffs suck.  At least on From Mars to Sirius (admittedly I haven't bothered listening to their more recent albums simply because this one is such a turnoff) they tend to stick to simplistic chugs and squealy harmonics and not much else.  They tend to shy away from cliche power chords I suppose but they replace them almost exclusively with dissonant clangs and drawn out ringing chords that I think are supposed to sound ethereal but ultimately just sound confused.  This hyper specific "dumb guy gets a smart job" style of riff writing winds up turning every song into a midpaced slog that feels like it never ends, which is only exacerbated by the hour long runtime.  I don't want to harp on them too hard simply for their music not being particularly complex but holy shit really pay attention to "Ocean Planet".  It's like five and a half minutes long and features a whopping three riffs, two of which are more or less purely made up of unchanging quarter note chugs.  The closest thing to a hook they have is the verse riff, which repeats so many times that my eyes seriously glazed over when I tried giving it my full attention.  That pinch harmonic gets repeated thirty fucking times throughout the song, which doesn't sound like a big deal since who cares it's only one note, but trust me when I say it's the central feature of the song, the only thing that gives it some sort of identity, and it's just one fucking squealy bend that sits in the middle of the same riff in the same place with the same lead in palm mutes every fucking time.  It is absolutely agonizing.  Also keep your ears open for that pick scrape/rake thing they do in this song.  It shows up in like six other tracks and just sounds like when you mess up in Guitar Hero.  Maybe it feels unfair to rag on a band for reusing techniques throughout an album, especially since metal as a whole is so heavily dominated by bands that never graduated beyond palm mutes and power chords, but at least those cliche bands are playing different notes with those basic techniques.  This is more akin to putting the "Master of Puppets" riff in every single song.  Not as a leitmotif, but because the song needs a thrash riff at that particular point and it happens to be the only one you know.

The rest of the album really doesn't fare much better.  Their only saving grace is the absolutely undeniable heaviness they carry.  "From the Sky" switches things up by focusing on a tremolo riff instead of a chug, and it's ultimately just as boring as the rest of the album but I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel like getting brained with a bag of hammers.  "Flying Whales" seems to be the most iconic song on the album, and honestly I think that's pretty well deserved since it's the only one that moves forward in any capacity and switches things up as it goes, deftly weaving between Leviathan era Mastodon and soaring Townsend splendor.  It's the only song that justifies its runtime and winds up being pretty good in spite of itself.  That smothering weight can't save the rest of the album though, and it winds up being a brief respite in the middle of the album that showcases the correct way to make all of these elements work.  Everything else is just neverending chugs and drums that somehow follow the guitars almost perfectly.  I don't think it's exactly fair to blame an album simply for not being something, but the fact that this is seen as an important album in modern prog metal is absolutely baffling to me because these riffs are as simple as fucking Pantera.  You can't fool me by making the actual chords jangly when the meat of what you're doing is just "5 Minutes Alone" but lamer.  The only other exception is the closer, "Global Warming", but I'm not even kidding when I say it has the exact same tapping melody playing over the top for a solid seven and a half minutes without breaking. Come on guys even when you do something different you do it for way too fucking long.

I don't even want to talk about this anymore.  From Mars to Sirius is just boring as fuck and that's about all there is to say about it.  It slogs on and on through the same handful of tricks for a torturous amount of time and genuinely gives me a headache to listen to.  I can dig simple shit, I think Amon Amarth used to be absolute titans when it came to making the most basic beginner level riffs sound like the coolest shit in the world, but Gojira absolutely misses the mark.


RATING: 30%

Friday, June 12, 2020

Ulcerate - Stare Into Death and Be Still

Double Doink!

My relationship with Ulcerate is somewhat similar to the relationship Charlie Brown has with Lucy's football.  Every few years, they release another album to widespread acclaim, so I take the snap and then whiff the kick as they pull my football-shaped enjoyment away at the last second.  I want to like Ulcerate.  They're one of the most important metal bands in recent memory, their discography is very consistent, they've influenced a multiplicity of young death metal bands, they're chaotic and unrelenting, on paper they are just everything I want in a metal band nowadays.  And for whatever reason they've just never vibed with me.

Stare into Death and Be Still is different while being exactly the same.  This time I actually made contact with the ball and even managed to avoid a ridiculous Scott Norwood shank.  It's not pretty, and I hit the post, but dammit I put three points on the board!

What makes this different from other seminal works of theirs that I never managed to care about like Everything is Fire or Shrines of Paralysis is pretty difficult to pinpoint, because this really isn't all that different.  It's still an unrelenting deluge of cataclysmic percussion and dissonant guitars that don't really riff as much as they whir and clang.  Maybe the guitar tone is a bit beefier and less scratchy?  Maybe the songs themselves are simply more well constructed?  Their approach to songwriting is just as non-euclidian as ever but the flow feels a bit more natural to me this time around.  Ulcerate always had a strange Uncanny Valley feel to them, where their songs always yawned and swayed like organic creations but felt lifeless and stiff at the same time, like saltwater frying a fish's nerves and causing it to flop and spasm long after it dies.  Stare into Death and Be Still simply managed to catch a live one, I think.  Like always, this is much more about overarching atmosphere than riffs or hooks, and as a result the whole experience tends to feel like one long song instead of a collection of them.

And if you'll allow me to mix my sports metaphors, I think the reason this isn't quite a home run despite some solid contact is exactly this.  There are tons of twists and surprises within the riffs themselves, but rarely within the wider context of a song or the album.  58 solid minutes of this suffocating atmosphere is just that, suffocating.  That absolutely works at times but around the second act of this behemoth it goes from exhilarating to tedious.  It's like the coaster I built in Rollercoaster Tycoon when I was 9 that had like fifty inversions and took twelve minutes to finish.  Sure there are subtle variations in tempo and approach on Stare into Death and Be Still, but ultimately you're just doing the same loop-de-loops over and over again on the same track for an uncomfortably long time.  Each successive Ulcerate album has been a few minutes longer than the one preceding it, and that trend continues here, and I really think it's to the album's detriment.  Despite all eight tracks basically feeling like the same long song, it's still quite noticeable that only two of them run for less than seven minutes.  This wouldn't be a problem if it felt like the songs were actually leading somewhere, but after repeated listens the only time I can truly pick out a song with a climax is "Drawn into the Next Void".  The rest of it sounds like sonic flash rust, standing still and deteriorating before my eyes despite the immaculate craftsmanship put into the initial product.  Every Ulcerate album tends to spin its wheels to some degree, and admittedly Stare into Death and Be Still manages to get a good amount of traction and actually move forward, but a lesser degree of the same problem is still the same problem.

When Everything is Fire dropped in 2009, I recall the buzz around it at the time being something akin to "It's Deathspell Omega but death metal", and I see where that statement is coming from.  But the key difference to me is that for as anarchic and chaotic as DsO can be, they always have a point to make and more often than not they do it very well.  Some of this boils down to my own personal preference, since I notably tend to prefer my death metal to be a bit more pugilistic than textural, but the fact that I like Portal well enough tells me that Ulcerate simply struggles to reach their destination at times.  I would definitely say I have a positive impression of Stare into Death and Be Still overall, but the problems that have always plagued the band haven't really been ironed out here.  They made it work more than usual, but at the end of the day I can't help but think this heavily atmospheric style of dissonance simply fits more naturally in a black metal context and a shorter package, and that's why Serpent Column absolutely wrecks my shit while Ulcerate merely manages a brisk foot tapping.


RATING: 56%

Thursday, May 28, 2020

THE TOP 50 ALBUMS OF THE 10s: Part V

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.  We finally made it to the top ten, which will likely hold zero surprises if you've been following this blog over the last decade and will surely be the most BH of all the segments here.  As always, after the #1 slot is covered, there will be a short list of honorable mentions for all the great stuff that I had to cut (and showcase the bands that missed it due to double-dipping discographies) plus a sample packet so you can listen to anything that may have piqued your interest.  I usually just do youtube links for these but I'll be doing a Spotify playlist as well this year since joining the modern age is good sometimes and I'm sure these bands appreciate the .00000003 cents this traffic will earn them.  Anyway, let's get to the point!


AND NOW FOR THE HOME STRETCH


10: 1914 - The Blind Leading the Blind (2018)
I almost feel bad ranking this one, even though it obviously fucking smokes, purely because the reasons I love it so much are so similar to Black Kirin a few spots ago.  1914 is phenomenal when it comes to faithfully recreating the hopeless futility of war.  As the band name should telegraph, 1914 focuses specifically on The Great War, WWI.  This guttural, visceral, nihilistic representation of the conflict that plunged basically all of Europe into bloody chaos is otherworldly.  The atmosphere never deviates from the desperate panic and despondent helplessness that encapsulated the conflict, and the way it ebbs and flows between chaotic battle and pleading for mercy and forgiveness is heartbreaking.  The Blind Leading the Blind is a monster of black metal rage deftly weaving between blasts of aggression and downtrodden dirges.  I know I keep repeating words like "panic", "despair", "futility", and "hopelessness" but they really do sum up the album as succinctly as possible.  This is bleak and depressing, and most of all furious that it all happened in the first place.  I think what pushes this over Black Kirin, despite their similarities, is that this beautifully marries the overarching emotional atmosphere with the nitty gritty details.  You know how in The Sum of All Fears there's an infamous moment where Tom Clancy devotes an entire chapter to painstakingly describing every tiny thing that happens inside a nuclear bomb in the brief window between the detonator being activated and the actual explosion?  Nearly every song on The Blind Leading the Blind is lyrically similar to that.  It's all about the details, numbers, and specs of what's going on.  What that chapter in The Sum of All Fears is to military tech nerds, The Blind Leading the Blind is to whatever specific type of nerd I am.

9: Tengger Cavalry - Ancient Call (2014)
This album pisses me off nowadays simply because it's the only one on this list that essentially doesn't exist anymore.  Before his tragic passing, Nature Ganganbaigal had a terrible habit of constantly redoing old music, sometimes re-recording the same track seemingly dozens of times on dozens of releases, constantly tweaking his creations until they fit whatever whims he was feeling at any given time, and as a result almost the entire run of music he created while living in China has been more or less whitewashed out of existence unless you can find an original copy or get lucky during a pirate run.  So I'll still include a few tracks here on the Spotify playlist, but it's with the caveat that they're going to sound a little different than the album I'm actually ranking here.  The redone version is fine, but the original release of Ancient Call is what I'd consider to be the last truly great folk metal album (outside of the pagan/viking black/folk niche that never dies of course).  Tengger's brand of melodic death metal with oodles of galloping riffs, resplendent Mongolian folk instrumentation (the melodies of those horsey fiddles are still one of the greatest sounds mankind ever created), and his absolutely visceral harsh vocals combined with his shamanistic throat singing were absolutely out of this world and as a result there was a good five year stretch where they could be argued to be one of the best metal bands in the world.  The re-recording you'll hear here redoes the production to be a little more muddied and confusing and replaces those caustic screams with more normal death growls (at least during the tracks/versions where they weren't excised completely in order to replace every single vocal moment with deep throat singing), so please, take my word for it (or seek out an old version) when I say that the original incarnation of Ancient Call was already magnificently unique and in hindsight really should've been my Album of the Year for 2014.  This sound was already totally unheard of at the time outside of battle music in the Dynasty Warriors games, and even then that little cultural primer was far more Chinese than Mongolian like it is here.  This is the perfect ode to those nomadic cavalrymen from the steppes, and it breaks my heart to know that Nature felt the need to constantly fix what wasn't broken.  UPDATE: A wonderful anonymous commenter pointed out to me that the original mix does indeed still exist on youtube.  Listen to the good version (the one I'm basing this ranking on) here.

8: Maximum the Hormone - Yoshu Fukushu (2013)
I foresee this being the entry that grants the heaviest eyerolls.  The band name alone should turn off most people since they seem like such a joke, and most casual listeners who recognize the name probably recognize them as the band that played the nu metal tracks during the credits of Death Note.  Despite that, I actually discovered them the third way most of the English speaking world was, which was via the music video for "A L I E N" going viral on reddit a few years ago.  Most of the rubbernecking was from Americans doing their usual "lol japan so wacky" thing, but I found myself enraptured by how mercilessly heavy most of that song was.  I totally get why this band doesn't resonate with most of the people in the scenes I usually hang around.  They're goofy, with one of the few English words that comes through clearly during the album being "vagina", the drummer's vocals sound exactly like what most Americans imagine when they think "anime girl", they lean into punk and nu-metal influences, one of the four members' only job is scream-rapping, they're just a really bizarre confetti explosion that can be hard to take seriously.  But if you take the tiny leap of faith required to accept the band on their own terms, they quickly reveal themselves to be secret geniuses who basically picked up exactly where System of a Down left off.  Yoshu Fukushu is an album that's just... I dunno man fuckin' pure.  There's no pretense of intellectualism, no mysticism, I'd even argue that the Japanese Weirdness that amuses so many gaijin isn't even a crutch or mask of any sort.  This is just a very honest expression of juvenile rage and scat humor put to a soundtrack that melds the catchiness of punk with the aggression of metal.  Honestly, learning that the album was written by guitarist Ryo with the intent of mostly expressing how he felt when he was 13 years old made the whole thing make so much more sense, because half of the album is about depression and having no place to belong while the other half is about Dragonball Z and masturbating.  It's all the same reasons Descendents are so much fun.  The immediacy of the frantic, off kilter riffage is only a thin gossamer over a wealth of cultural in-jokes and surprisingly intricate wordplay.  Tracks like "F", "Mesubuta no Ketsu ni Binta (Kick Mo)", and "A L I E N" can completely pummel you into the ground while "Koi no Sperm" plasters a big stupid smile on your face.  This is the exact blend of punk infectiousness and melody with sheer furious aggression that appeals specifically to me and I don't think a universe exists where I don't fall hopelessly in love with Maximum the Hormone.

7: Gotsu Totsu Kotsu - The Final Stand (2018)
Speaking of bands created specifically to appeal to me, regular readers of mine simply had to know that GTK was coming up eventually.  As good as Legend of Shadow was, it ultimately wound up ranking in the low 50s and missed the final cut.  I loved how warm and organic that album was, feeling like a death metal jam session that got recorded.  But after that album, when two of the three members were replaced with instrumentalists just as insane as the bassist, they reached an echelon of intensity I didn't think possible.  I don't want to go into too much detail for reasons that should be obvious, but the short version of why GTK kicks so much ass is that they sound like four bands playing at the same time and never take their foot off the gas.  The addition of slap bass sounds like a dumb gimmick but I dare you to listen to the last minute or so of "Nadegiri" and say it sounds like anything other than the most natural thing a band this fucking bonkers could've done at that point in the song.  The Final Stand is probably the most relentless of GTK's catalog (pretty sure I likened it to getting slapped with a bundle of stop signs in my review for this album and that's still apt) and there isn't one single moment I could ever fathom changing.

6: Enforcer - From Beyond (2015)
I wasn't kidding when I said Enforcer damn near ruled this decade with an iron fist.  During this time, their prime, they didn't offer anything truly new, but god dammit they never needed to.  From Beyond is pure molten speed metal straight from the heart.  One of the most important distinctions when talking about these throwback acts is the difference between "sounding like an old sound" and "sounding like a lost relic from a different era", but Enforcer bucked that dichotomy by being one of the only bands in the genre that sounded like the latter while still being distinctly a product of their time.  From Beyond is the kind of album that could only happen by transporting your brain back to 1985 and returning to the modern day with the expressed intent of taking only the elements of that old sound that worked and amping them up to 11 while discarding the unnecessary elements.  There is no fat here, this is lean and tough and ready to rumble without one wasted second.  You can't even accuse this of lacking variety since "Below the Slumber" does a great job of expressing numerous peaks and valleys, while "Hungry They Will Come" is entirely instrumental.  Enforcer just hit bullseye with every idea they threw at the board.  It's basically required that I discuss their always latent glam influence since Zenith made it impossible to ignore, but I think From Beyond is actually the furthest they ever distanced themselves from it, and it's great despite that, not because of it.  I mentioned in the Death by Fire entry that they had reached a point of nearly inventing thrash a second time, and this is that point.  It's still distinctly rough-and-tumble speed metal that gorgeously toes the line between the European and North American camps, but the aggression and attitude is off the charts on this one.  The fact that they became the Minnesota Vikings of this blog and never took home the Album of the Year is purely because they always happened to release something in a really strong year where at least one more band would best them.  Don't let that take away from their supremacy during the first half of the decade.

5: Avantasia - Ghostlights (2016)
Tobias Sammet's neverending metal opera is the exact thing I should hate wholeheartedly, and for years I did.  The placement of Ghostlights here obviously means that I think it's a phenomenal album, but upon having my bias shattered by how much I loved it I actually went and binged the rest of the project's catalog and discovered that the rest of it actually does suck as much as I remembered.  Ghostlights stands as some weird, brilliant fluke where all of the stupid elements of Avantasia coalesce into something astounding.  So much of this is clearly inspired by Meat Loaf and that usually ends up terrible, but somehow overwrought schlock like "Mystery of a Blood Red Rose" hits bullseye.  This is the only album in the top ten here that actually has weak spots, particularly the awful ballad "Isle of Evermore" and the sluggish and overlong "Seduction of Decay", but everything else is so good that they wind up not even really mattering.  Every vocalist shines, Jorn Lande and Marco Heitala especially.  Hell even my personal punching bag Michael Kiske turns in a good performance.  The more traditionally power metal tracks easily stand out as the best of the best here.  I don't know if you can find a single person that doesn't place "Unchain the Light", "Babylon Vampyres", or especially "Master of the Pendulum" as the strongest tracks on display.  Despite Tobi's insistence on crafting these sprawling rock operas, I think it clearly shows that his strength is still in the high octane power metal he used to pump out in Edguy's prime.  That may have been Ghostlights's secret weapon, simply having more "normal" power metal songs than the rest of Avantasia's discography.  You don't have to sit through ten awful tracks just to hear "Devil in the Belfry" this time, and there are like six or seven iterations of it this time around.  I'm not sure I can ever adequately explain why Ghostlights is such a knockout when it's constructed so similarly to the rest of the shitty Avantasia albums I still hate, but somehow all of these dumb, pompous, overblown ideas congeal into something magical this one time.

4: Crypt Sermon - The Ruins of Fading Light (2019)
I'm obviously not all that big into doom metal, since you have probably noticed that only Khemmis and Tyranny wound up ranking here in the low 40s, and neither of them are really traditional doom, but Crypt Sermon nailed it in a way that cut straight to my heart.  It really boils down to wishing less bands ripped off Sabbath and more ripped off Candlemass, and Crypt Sermon does that close enough for me to take notice.  Luckily they stand on their own, and holy shit do they do it with aplomb.  I saw a surprising amount of lukewarm enthusiasm for this when it first dropped, mostly from people preferring the debut (which was also great), but this is such an obvious improvement in every way I can't even fathom that line of thinking.  Brooks's voice takes on a more trebly timbre this time around, sounding pradoxically confident and desperate.  His more hoarse screams sound like a man at the end of the blade who just discovered all of his beliefs are lies  The rough production fits so well with the tumbling percussion and oooo choirs, and the bass presence is absolutely devastating.  They rarely rise above a brisk gallop (though "The Ninth Templar" opens the album with one hell of a bang and is far and away the fastest song), usually opting to just knuckle down and pummel you with a sledgehammer.  I'd be lying if I said the best song was anything other than "Christ is Dead", which distills every single thing I love about this band (and genre as a whole) into six concise minutes that seem to fly by in under two.  All of the emotion, the grandeur, the pounding riffage, the searing leads, everything is thrown into this one and given the most passionate performance these guys could possibly muster.  The Ruins of Fading Light nails what I mentioned earlier, sounding like a lost relic from a classic age instead of simply imitating one, and as a result they're pretty easily my favorite band on Dark Descent's roster at this moment, possibly because they're one of the few bands that breaks from the label's usual formula of chaotic black/death and instead aims for sweeping epic doom and nails it with focus and intensity.

3: Gotsu Totsu Kotsu - Retributive Justice (2015)
And here's the obvious reason I didn't want to spend too much time on The Final Battle a few spots ago, because I knew GTK would be reappearing just a few slots later.  I can't understate their indomitable supremacy of death metal during this decade.  I even mentioned Legend of Shadow just barely missed the cut as well, and even then there's a part of me that feels like I underrated it a tad simply to keep all four of their releases from this decade crowding the list.  They are just that fucking good.  As mentioned, they are a band that was invented specifically to appeal to me, because I don't think too many death freaks are clamoring for colorful hypermaximalist death metal with raucous slap bass.  This particular album was such a revelation for me because even though my mind was thoroughly blown with their 2013 classic, I noted that one of their big appeals to me was how basic the drummer and guitarist were in comparison to the absolutely fucking wild bass and vocals, completely inverting the usual dynamic of death metal.  So when both members were replaced, I was worried that the band would lose some of that character.  "Insane Battlefield" opens the album and starts a 58 minute long streak of virtuosity that left me a pile of ash in my seat.  It turns out that adding a drummer who can actually play super fast and a guitarist who can effortlessly solo with his feet made them even better.  Even the nearly hour-long length isn't a deterrent despite the band never slowing down or entertaining too many different ideas.  This is an anarchic whizbang avalanche of tumbling lunacy that punches you in the face from the word go and proceeds to take your lunch money and fuck your mom in front of you.  There is so much muscle-bound superiority to be found here, with frantic tempos and swirling leads, often letting the rhythm section take total control and lead the songs through a completely chaotic path.  Regional sounds aren't really a thing like they were in previous decades since the internet came along and gave everybody a global reach, but I feel like there's still an intangible character specific to Japan, and GTK exemplifies it in a way unlike the more melodic styles the island is known for.  Japan simply does not do restraint.  Everything is as fast, loud, and over the top as possible, and Retributive Justice personifies this during the ten billion somersaults it does during its runtime.

2: Visigoth - Conqueror's Oath (2018)
I know The Revenant King is commonly seen as the superior album, but Conqueror's Oath has rapidly entered the halls of "super popular and self-evidently great albums I find myself needing to defend for some reason".  I obviously fucking love the debut, but the followup here irons out every tiny little issue I might've had with it and adds sequins and spiked gauntlets on top of it.  This is everything I ever wanted in a throwback metal album.  It's a massive, veiny, throbbing rod of riffs and choruses straight out of 1982.  Even with an order as tall as topping the mountain that was the debut, Conqueror's Oath blew it away like it was fuckin' Krakatoa.  Everything that was great about the debut is greater here, and it's done with the added benefit of a veritable cornucopia of new ideas.  Visigoth didn't rest on their laurels here, only reusing the template that carried the previous album on a handful of songs and filling out the rest of the tracklist with epic odes and furious barnburners.  The sheer speed of "Outlive Them All", the massive chorus of "Warrior Queen", the pounding march of "Steel and Silver", the entirety of "Traitor's Gate", I'm getting chills without even listening to the album as I write this.  If nothing else, they deserve a trophy for making motherfucking Utah sound like the most exciting place on earth with "Salt City".   It simply boils down to the distinction between the two albums for me being that Conqueror's Oath is a much more exciting album.  It's exactly as muscular as The Revenant King, but with more tempo shifts, improved bellowing baritone vocals, stronger hooks, and more ideas all crammed into an even more focused and succinct passage.  I don't think it's exactly helpful to pontificate on what makes a "perfect" metal album, but considering the fact that I've only given like five throughout my reviewing career (three of which are 12 years old from the time when I scored albums differently and likely wouldn't score the perfect three digit 100% nowadays if I bothered to rewrite them) it's something I don't take lately.  Conqueror's Oath is a 100% album.  Not one single second is wasted, from the starting gun this tramples over listeners like a bloodlusted cavalryman.  The fact that this is something I'd consider a perfect album yet still sits at #2 should tell you how much I adore the last entry here.  So let's not waste any more time.

AND THE WINNER IS...



1: Sigh - In Somniphobia (2012)

Mirai seems to have absolutely lost his mind in recent years, but before the unceremonious ousting of long-time guitarist Shinichi, there was one triumphant swansong in 2012 known as In Somniphobia.  Part of the reason I love this so much is that I should logically hate it thanks to the heaps of jazz influence (notably one of the few genres of music I just can't fucking stand) and the 40 minute suite made up almost entirely of trippy noises.  I can't fully describe why this was preemptively penciled into this slot eight years ago without descending into extreme pretension, but it's really the only way to make sense of it for me.  "Somniphobia" is the fear of sleep, and all sixty four minutes of this masterpiece feel like exactly this, a crippling anxiety that takes over the minute you lay down.  It's an extended nightmare that tumbles through so many different sounds, themes, and ideas, all of which are haunting and horrifying.  In Somniphobia is art, full stop.  What this album is to me, is being on your deathbed, mere minutes left in your existence, everything you'd done in your life is about to be rendered moot and nobody is there to share in your sorrow in your last moments.  What you experience in your last conscious moments awake are a series of twisted hallucinatory fever dreams and nightmares from your past, all flooding back to remind you that no person is perfect, and no matter what good you've accomplished in your life, you've caused and equal amount of harm and suffering and heartbreak.  In your last moments, you aren't who you used to be, you are instead broken down into fragments of what used to be a whole consciousness, now splintered and scattered across landscapes adorned with horrible, shameful memories and twisted, deplorable monsters.  In Somniphobia is a journey through those last moments to me, as evidenced by the occasional punctuation of what sounds like a flatlining heart monitor, and the closing lines of "I'm sorry, but I must go now...".  Was this Sigh's intent?  Most likely not, but that's why it's so gorgeous.  I'm not having my hand held through a linear narrative, Sigh doesn't paint picture for me to marvel at.  Instead they give me a gigantic canvas and all the materials they have and say "Now paint me a picture".  The sheer imagination is given vicariously to the listener, and is then allowed to project whatever twisted nightmares one can imagine on to your own psyche.  This is an album that you, the listener, write as you listen to it.  By experiencing and embarking on this journey, you have become the creator of your own nightmare, and In Somniphobia merely supplied you the tools.  The pacing, atmosphere, and sheer breadth of weird twisted ideas that all hit bullseye cemented this as a modern classic and time has done nothing to soften it.  Despite the sheer length of this entry, I didn't even talk about "The Transfiguration Fear", but take my word for it when I say it's the greatest metal song written since 1984.  This album is untouchable, and long before I even began truly working on this list, a part of me knew this would take home the BH Award for Album of the Decade.


And that's it!  Holy shit, thank you all so much for undertaking this journey through the recent past with me.  The scariest part of this, for me, is the mere knowledge that I know I missed a ton of great albums that deserved placement.  This was such a jam packed and busy decade, with the proliferation of global internet distribution like Bandcamp opening the floodgates to so much new music for me that I could never keep up with everything.  So please, let me know what unforgivable snubs I'm responsible for!  I genuinely want to know what amazing things I've forgotten.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Of course, the honorable mentions.  As usual there were some repeats, though I did manage to avoid a situation like my 90s list where the same six bands dominated 30% of the list.  As such there were much less than usual, with only Hour of Penance, Gargoyle, Gotsu Totsu Kotsu, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Visigoth landing on the list twice.  My usual shtick for honorable mentions is to list the albums that would've made it had I instituted a "one album per band" rule, but that'd only give us five this time around, which is much less than usual.  So instead, here's an arbitrary number of them in no particular order.

Foxy Shazam - Foxy Shazam (2010): I mostly just want to make it clear that if I had expanded the list to include obviously non-metal stuff instead of cutting myself off at the borderline, this very likely would've been #1.  Foxy was/is without a doubt one of the greatest modern bands and their self titled is flawless from start to finish.  Very few bands bother trying to sound like Queen and even less of them are any good, but Foxy just shits all over everybody from a monumental height.

Craven Idol - The Shackles of Mammon (2017): I've mentioned before that Dark Descent's roster is fucking incredible when you look for bands that don't sound like their usual niche, and Craven Idol is an amazing example.  This is black/thrash to the fucking bone and rips faces like they were old mail.

Dynazty - Titanic Mass (2016): Before these guys turned into Amaranthe for Dudes, they were one of the strongest and hookiest trad/power bands on the planet.  As disappointing as Firesign was, Titanic Mass was basically everything I wanted from a modern take on throwback arena metal.

Malokarpatan - Nordkarpatenland (2017): I still don't really know what this is exactly, it's some sort of black-metal-by-way-of-trad-metal thing and I feel like there's probably a huge scene of bands who kick ass in the exact same way, but I never really bothered exploring further despite falling instantly in love with this modern classic.

Kostnateni - Hruza zvitezi (2019): This sat in the #50 slot for a very long time before the final reordering finally nudged it off.  Don't let that sound like a condemnation, because this chaotic black metal release is basically everything I want as a DSO fan and this was by far the most painful release to snub in the end.

Striker - City of Gold (2014): I mentioned that Enforcer ruled their niche with an iron fist despite a few incredible contemporaries.  Striker is the most obvious of those contemporaries and this is their best album despite me ranking Eyes in the Night as AOTY in 2010.

Wombripper - From the Depths of Flesh (2018): This is one of the nastiest albums ever fucking recorded and that's all I have to say about that.

Smoulder - Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring (2019): I'm always kind of wavering on whether or not the vocals are weak enough to prevent this from being a truly great album, and right now I don't think they are.  Despite having an obvious weak link in the band's sound, this was one of the more painful snubs in the end.

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SAMPLE PACKET

This is usually where the mass of youtube links to two songs each goes, but frankly I don't want to grab a hundred fucking youtube links.  So instead, y'all're gonna get the Spotify playlist, which includes everything except Gargoyle and Satan's Hallow, which aren't on the service.  So you'll get those six links, the rest of it is in here.  It's the exact same as usual (two songs per album, with the exception of False because the album is only three fifteen minute tracks, so you only get one there), but hopefully much less cumbersome.  If for some reason you can't access the playlist or simply hate Spotify and want to shit in its mouth, let me know and I'll put in the labor to grab all of these songs separately.

And the three albums not on the service:
Gargoyle - Niji Yuugou: "Niji Yuugou", "Shi Ni Itaru Kizu"
Gargoyle - Geshiki: "Mankai Oratio", "Gordion Knot"
Satan's Hallow - Satan's Hallow: "Reaching for the Night", "Beyond the Bells"

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A DUMBASS BAR GRAPH

And lastly, let's have a look at how each year did by my count.  The green bar represents the raw number of albums chosen per year, while the purple bar represents a weighted score for how well that year did (I assigned a point value 1-5, with one point for appearing in Part I and so on).

Well that was far less interesting than I would've hoped.  The only real disparity between the two bars is 2019 landing with four albums but a higher weighted value than 2012 and 2014, the only two years with the same or more albums chosen.  Otherwise the two scores correlate almost exactly.  I guess this is useful for proving a recency bias but that's about it.  I'm including it anyway because I spent the ten minutes tallying and entering the data and I value my fucking time.

And that's it!  Once again thank you so much for sticking through this endeavor and seeing it through to the end with me.  The last decade was absolutely fucking loaded with belters, and I see no sign of our preferred scene dying any time soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

THE TOP 50 ALBUMS OF THE 10s: Part IV

Fourth verse, same as the first.  The next ten in the countdown, let's go!

CONTINUING ON...

20: Deathspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones (2016)
This is probably going to be a controversial choice for a few reasons.  The first is that this is only four tracks and under a half hour in length, leading many people to consider it an EP and ergo ineligible for this list.  However, the band themselves consider this to be a full length so dammit I'm going to count it.  The second point of contention is that this is the only DSO album on the list, meaning Paracletus, perennial favorite of Melonheads and RYM nerds and unquestionably one of the most influential albums of the decade (and one of the only 2010 representatives I even bothered considering for the list), is getting snubbed.  They made their mark years earlier with Circumspice but it feels like their 2010 juggernaut was the album that truly cemented the eventual avalanche of dissonant jangleblack that's been flooding the scene ever since.  It boils down to this: Paracletus is a great album and I'll never try to downplay its historical significance, but at the end of the day I simply like The Synarchy of Molten Bones more.  It could be nostalgia at play here, because this was actually the first DSO album I ever heard.  Obviously I dug into their back catalog soon afterwards and suddenly a lot of modern black metal started to make sense, but at the end of the day I think the only other LP of theirs that I truly place among the best of the best is Fas, which came out in 2007.  Synarchy subverts their usual style by retaining the absurdly dissonant technicality but keeping the full experience much more compact.  Deathspell Omega is a very intentionally disorienting band, with nearly everything they do aiming for total sensory overload, and I think the shorter, more focused chunk of insanity we get here is really the best format for them (or at least the most digestible).  Either way, I adore the shit out of this record specifically because of how catawampus everything is.  It's thirty straight minutes of dutch-angled lunacy where everything feels tilted 30 degrees counterclockwise.  How do black metal riffs sound?  Well imagine what you're imagining but with ten extra notes per bar, none of which fit and with rhythms more incoherent than the subway preacher.  How does black metal drumming sound?  Well imagine that but played by four different people at once all trying to keep their kits together amidst a tornado.  It's pure chaos and it should be clear by now that I fucking love that.

19: Jess and the Ancient Ones - Jess and the Ancient Ones (2012)
This is the second entry that isn't strictly metal but the crossover in fandom is big enough that I feel safe in honoring its greatness.  Jess and the Ancient Ones was part of that short-lived groundswell of bands that threw back to old hippie prog and occult rock like Coven, occasionally mixed with doom metal.  The scene was quickly saturated with groups, some of which were fantastic like Year of the Goat and Blood Ceremony, but the one that easily stood head and shoulders above the rest was JATAO here.  Maybe it was due to the metal connection of Antti Boman (of Demilich fame) on guitars, but I honestly kinda doubt that considering there was basically zero metal in their sound.  The band would eventually drop the overwhelming darkness of their sound as well and eventually become the reincarnation of Jefferson Airplane, but back when their tie-dye rugs were instead black candles, they were something special.  As far as I know, they're still kicking, but you won't hear them crank out a track as malevolent and arcane as "Come Crimson Death" or "Twilight Witchcraft" anymore.  I feel like they just barely missed their window of superstardom, because witchy aesthetic and dressing like Stevie Nicks is so popular nowadays, but didn't seem to be much of a thing in 2012.  The fact remains, Jess and the Ancient Ones's self titled debut (and Astral Sabbat EP the following year) are peak 60s/70s occult rock that really should've been a smash hit across several genres, and I'd actually be willing to go to bat for "Prayer for Death and Fire" as one of the greatest opening cuts of all time.  I'd keep going but really, just shut up and listen to the three songs I namedropped.  The whole album is fantastic of course but those three are otherworldly, and that's not even mentioning "Sulfur Giants".

18: Cradle of Filth - Hammer of the Witches (2015)
Cradle of Filth has a long and bizarre history with metalheads.  I don't really know what their perception was early on, but I can gather from older folks and past interviews that they were generally seen as a decent band with a penchant for publicity-whoring, but I was introduced to them the same way many people my age were: sparklegoth nerds buying all of their merch from Hot Topic in middle school.  The metal scene around the time of Damnation and a Day completely turned on them and started throwing around idiotic terms like "faggoth" while throwing the baby out with the bathwater and declaring their previously good early work was just as tainted.  Opinion seemed to shift around 08ish and now the moral panic has died down so people can admit they just had a down patch in the mid 2000s.  Despite all that nonsense, their brand of symphonic black metal never really gelled with me until Hammer of the Witches here, which seemed to help an awful lot of people convert back to Cradle's side.  The weird part is that, for me at least, it was an instant conversion.  This wasn't a slow burn, nor was it a long unfurling of past prejudices, it was like two seconds into "Yours Immortally..." when I threw my hands up and yelled "what the fuck dude this rules".  After exploring their back catalog, I can see pretty clearly why this was such a fluke hit.  This is easily the most focused and intense album they've written since the 90s, with the sleazy vampyric theatrics complementing a wide array of balls-heavy riffs from across the entire spectrum of extreme metal, touching on black, death, and thrash metal.  Hammer of the Witches is a shimmering epic that stands impossibly tall thanks to the soaring orchestral moments remaining attached to the talons that keep pulling up the loose earth.  The entire hour is an enjoyable deluge of pagan blasphemy, but I'd like to single out "Blackest Magick in Practice" as the greatest feast of crushing riffage and otherworldly melody.

17: Suffocation - ...of the Dark Light (2017)
I think I've made it pretty clear that I think Suffocation in the 90s was the hands down greatest death metal band of all time.  They've stayed good at least since then, but they were truly otherworldly with Cerrito filling the other guitarist role with Hobbs.  2017 was a treacherous time for them and I have to admit I approached this album with a lot of trepidation.  Cerrito had been out of the band for nearly 20 years, Guy Marchais wasn't as good but he was definitely a worthy replacement and he had just left as well, Mike Smith is one of the most iconic drummers in the game but he was gone too, and Dave Culross was a great fill-in for him but he was gone too, and even Frank Mullen, the face, spirit, and frontman, had announced his retirement just before this album, and even though he planned to stick around through recording it was still a black cloud over the band.  So almost the entire classic lineup is gone save Terrence Hobbs (and Derek Boyer, who wasn't around in the early days but had been a mainstay since the reunion), and otherwise every single slot had been filled with kids younger than me who weren't even alive when Effigy of the Forgotten came out.  The look of the album, the song titles, the lineup, everything felt wrong entering this one.  And yet, somehow, they put out their best album since the classic run with Doug Cerrito.  The fact that this is so hungry, so youthful, and so full of vigor made me reevaluate the entire death metal scene, because a huge reason the early stuff was so good was because they were a bunch of kids trying to prove themselves, and until this album it had never once crossed my mind that it'd be a good idea for old bands to add young members to regain that fire.  Legacy acts always replace members with other scene veterans, and I can understand this since guys they've known for decades are probably already in tune with the remaining members and likely have great chemistry already, but the simple act of stacking the deck with unproven kids way over their heads has now been proven to be a successful method for reigniting the fire that made any given band's early era so exciting in the first place.  Charlie, Eric, and Kevin all completely dominated in their new roles and helped pump out an album that I thought Suffocation could never make again.  I've never been more excited for the future of a band that's existed for over 30 years.

16: Black Kirin - The Nanking Massacre (2017)
It might seem weird that this album is always the counterpoint I use whenever I talk about how much Sabaton sucks, but if you've read my reviews for either band I hope it makes sense.  Sabaton takes bloody warfare and turns it into pumping aerobics-metal anthems from a "soldiers are baby angels" perspective and rah rahs about how fucking cool it is from their mansions in Sweden.  Black Kirin takes bloody warfare and tears the curtain down to show you the miles-high piles of bodies directly from their homeland in China, the same place where this incredible tragedy that the album is about actually took place.  There is nothing cool or badass about your ancestors spending a terrifying month being raped and slaughtered for sport by an invading force, and The Nanking Massacre presents the ordeal in a horrifying light, with no tone-deaf ticker tape parades celebrating the "brave heroes" who impaled your grandma on a bayonet.  This is extreme, disorienting, and uncomfortable, just like the war crime itself.  Despite only featuring three "real" songs and four interludes, The Nanking Massacre perfectly captures the cycle of senseless violence that befell upon Nanjing during the Second Sino-Japanese War, cowering in fear from the bombs and marauding soldiers interspersed with tense moments of mourning between the chaos, unsure if it's finally over.  This is one of the most harrowing and uncomfortable albums ever recorded just for how visceral it is, exploding with frantically mournful melodies amidst violent blasting and shrieking.  Yes, I know Black Kirin sounds nothing like Sabaton, but that's exactly the point.

15: White Ward - Love Exchange Failure (2019)
Like Paracletus, there is another album that I liked a lot that I considered including purely for historical significance but decided to cut during the final ordering, and that was Deafheaven's Sunbather.  Like Liturgy, they took an abrasive style associated with coldness and misanthropy and created something warm and bright with it.  Pardon me for spending so much time talking about different albums during this section, but I feel like White Ward's Love Exchange Failure is the best possible version of Sunbather despite taking a notably different approach (namely focusing on jazzy instrumentation above old school skramz and shoegaze elements).  This record brilliantly toes the line between cold misery and warm life, placing a style of music so often associated with wilderness and desolation and instead placing it thematically within the lonely concrete jungles of modern life.  This feels like a long walk through a crowded city, surrounded by strangers, the loneliest man in the world.  It's much more about the overall mood and emotional color here as opposed to individually great tracks, but each track is a knockout anyway.  White Ward has an incredible knack for giving the songs a lot of space to breathe and develop, so every climax is well earned and cathartic, shifting from atmospheric post-soundscapes to film-noir-y darkjazz piano to explosions of wailing black metal blasting.  The frequent use of the saxophone is a stroke of genius as well because those legato melodies have more soul than Shang Tsung's trophy case and do a lot to keep the feel distinctly urban, even during the more traditional black metal segments.  It doesn't add a new dimension as much as it fills in a space that I had never realized was empty before.  I know this sounds like the most pretentious hipster bullshit on the planet, and hey, maybe it is, but it works so unbelievably well for me.  Love Exchange Failure was actually the last new album I listened to in 2019 and there was some lingering worry within myself that I was rating it too highly on my year-end list at #5 since I hadn't given it too much time to sink in yet, but in reality what it did was cap off the decade by sending me on a spiritual journey that I didn't even know I needed to undertake.  It's only gotten better since then, marinating like a porterhouse.  I'm obviously writing this during the Covid quarantine so the idea of urban loneliness is hitting me even harder than that.  Maybe it's a personal thing for me, but this is very much a "right place, right time" album for me and I think I'll always love it to some degree.

14: Mgla - Age of Excuse (2019)
In an early draft of this list, all three Mgla albums from this decade had ranked.  But at the end of the day, after relistening to all of them, I still can't quite speechify what it is about them that makes them such a standout to me.  Everything they've ever done has been similarly evocative semi-melodic black metal with incredible songwriting and an impeccable ear for hooks, but I think if I'm honest with myself the only one that ever truly blew my socks off was Age of Excuse.  Funny since I've gathered that many fans see this as the first album in their discography to not be an improvement on the previous one, but something about this one just hit me in a way that With Hearts Towards None and Exercises in Futility didn't quite manage, as great as they are.  I think it comes down to simply having a stronger personal connection to this one, since this was the album where I finally realized that the X factor for the band was Darkside's drumming.  I've mentioned before that it's rare for a drummer to have an immediately recognizable personality, especially in extreme metal, but the way he dances across the cymbals amidst the chaotic blasting and pummeling grooves easily puts Darkside in that upper echelon.  If I’m going to split a drummer in half, I can tell you that his feet are pummeling away at the bass drums as well as any BM drummer can reasonably be expected to play, but his arms seem to be possessed by Durgha. His cymbal work is absolutely out of this world, and he takes what 95% of bands would use as a simple blasting section to smash the ride or hi-hat as fast as possible and instead flips it on its head, skipping around like Neil Peart in a dynamic whirlwind of off-kilter rhythms and cacophonous splashiness.  And it's all intertwined with riffs that you've heard a million times before, but are constructed in such a way that they've become something splendorous.  It's like building a 1:1 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower entirely out of legos.  They've grown so much in a way that's rather understated, because the more primal misanthropy of With Hearts Towards None doesn't seem all that different than the more magniloquent Age of Excuse until you really sit down and dissect it.

13: Nails - Abandon All Life (2013)
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12: Enforcer - Death by Fire (2013)
As I'm sure you've noticed, I absolutely adore bands that take something familiar and then twist it into something new.  Metal is such a young genre and the possibilities are endless, so as a general rule I tend to not be all that interested in throwbacks.  However, the throwbacks that I do love, I love a lot.  When it comes to the boom of retro traditional/speed metal throwbacks, as great as some bands in that niche can be (Striker had two absolute scorchers that missed the list), nobody ever truly held a candle to Enforcer.  Their third album, Death by Fire is a ripper of a nearly unparalleled magnitude.  I mused at the time that it sounded like Enforcer was on the way to accidentally inventing thrash metal a second time, and this album exemplifies that, sounding like some alternate universe where Metallica had all of the same influences in 1983 sans Motorhead and The Misfits.  Blazing fast, gorgeously melodic, and maddeningly catchy, there isn't a single thing that I wish this album had done better.  The obsession on blistering speed is one of the album's greatest strengths, because even when they drop to a mid-pace tempo they still bring the fucking heat.  I suppose I was being a tad facetious two sentences ago, because one thing Enforcer has that Metallica absolutely lacked was an appreciation for glam metal.  I feel like it was always sort of understated in the band's classic era (until Zenith came along and leaned into it whole hog), but there's an undeniable undercurrent of early Motley Crue in here, especially thanks to Olof Wikstrand's vocals, which are eerily reminiscent of prime Vince Neil.  Death by Fire is just a fuckin' riot and listening to it nowadays is actually somewhat depressing since the band has so wholly abandoned this reckless speed.

11: Vektor - Outer Isolation (2011)
Vektor is such a frustrating band.  Black Future was so fucking good that I managed to overlook the obvious songwriting problems where the band would jam on something for too long and write themselves into a corner, ultimately moving forward by taking a page out of Opeth's book and just smash cutting to a new riff with no thought for adhesion.  Terminal Redux had the exact same problem, but my love for the record definitely faltered over time due to the extreme overloading of disparate ideas.  Outer Isolation, on the other hand, is the one time I think they truly nailed it.  While it doesn't have any individual songs or riffs as phenomenal as "Oblivion", "Black Future", "Liquid Crystal Disease", "Ultimate Artificer", and so on, it's easily their most coherent and focused attack.  Vektor's biggest problem has always been their devastating inability to trim the fucking fat on their records, always bloating them down with so many riffs and squealing solos and Schmier-esque shrieks that it becomes total sensory overload in a way that only works about half the time.  Outer Isolation, simply by being twenty minutes shorter than the surrounding albums and pulling three tracks from their demo era, completely solves that issue.  This is a much more simple, focused attack than their more acclaimed albums and that absolutely works to its benefit.  You'll never hear a ripper quite as succinct as "Dark Creations, Dead Creators" on Terminal Redux, and even though "Cosmic Cortex" breaks the ten minute mark it's structured in a much more coherent way than they typically approach their songs.  I wish there was more to it but that's really it.  Outer Isolation is the same whacked out mega-technical hyperthrash as the rest of their oeuvre but paradoxically more spaced out and sardine-packed into a more digestible package.  That's all it took for Vektor to truly create a start-to-finish modern classic.  Yes, I know Black Future ranked two places higher on my previous top 50, but that really had more to do with how absolutely fucking stunning the first five tracks were in conjunction with the later four still being good.  Outer Isolation already starts at a cosmically high echelon and never dips from there.  I said it back then, and I'll say it again now: Vektor became living legends because they proved definitively that thrash didn't have to be an artistic dead end with no room left to explore, and they pushed the genre forward by moving it sideways, and even though DiSanto eventually revealed himself to be a wife-beating shithead in addition to being impossible to work with, there's no denying that he cranked out some of the best riffs the genre has seen in decades.


Well my dudes, we are almost there!  Tomorrow comes the big one, the top ten!  I'll save the grandstanding for then, so until then just hang tight and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

THE TOP 50 ALBUMS OF THE 10s: Part III

Part tres is upon us, so once again let's just get right into the shit and not screw around with transitions.

CONTINUING ON...

30: Anaal Nathrakh - The Whole of the Law (2016)
Full disclosure, I initially had this ranked much, much lower, off the list entirely in fact.  I predicted this was probably the least great of the 120ish great albums I had initially selected for ranking.  But in the process of relistening to a whole bunch of stuff, this is easily the album that crushed me the hardest compared to what I remembered.  I think AN's decade as a whole was pretty mediocre, and the utter forgettablility of albums like Passion and Vanitas just soured my memory.  Because in the middle of this decade in which they otherwise struggled to maintain their trademark intensity, The Whole of the Law was, somehow, a magnificent throwback to the utter chaos of Hell is Empty and In the Constellation of the Black Widow.  I can't remember who said it first, but I recall somebody once referring to Anaal Nathrakh as "the sound of the apocalypse", and holy fuck this album captures that feeling more than almost anything else they've ever done.  The tone is very much a Book of Revelations style apocalypse, with Dave Hunt's almost angelic operatic clean vocals touting the ultimate virtue of death and murder and genocide with a sound of pure triumph and victory, and it's contrasted against chaotic and nearly inhumanly intense music that straddles the line between black metal and grindcore, and when his vocals switch to their harsh register he sounds like an absolute monster.  I don't mean this purely to say he sounds aggressive, I mean he doesn't even sound human at all.  His shrill screeches sound like they're coming out of a feral creature, one that is rampaging through a panicked crowd and indiscriminately eviscerating every living thing in its path.  It's so grandiose while being so intense that it seriously gives me fucking anxiety.  The Whole of the Law is the sound of the clouds opening up, Jesus himself, surrounded by angels (and I mean the horrifying abominations in the Old Testament that were incomprehensible orbs of fire and eyeballs surrounded by wings) looking down upon humanity with disgust before hurling down tactical nukes and swearing that this is for our own good.  There's a reason those old descriptions of angels open every message with "Fear not," and tracks like "Depravity Favours the Bold" sound like those clearly terrifying messengers trying to calmly assure you that you deserve this while the earth opens up around them and the entire planet erupts in fire and panic.  (Side note: the cover of Iron Maiden's "Powerslave" that appears on some editions is a phenomenal example of why I believe bands should almost never do just straight covers without adding their own style to the original, because this rendition of a trad metal classic is nearly unrecognizable and absolutely fucking insane, and as a result it's one of my favorite covers of all time.)

29: Moonsorrow - Jumalten aika (2016)
Folk metal's heyday has really been in the rearview mirror for a long while at this point, and it was still true in 2016.  Nowadays the only bands that really have any sort of clout are the more midpaced and black/viking metal based bands that focus on reverent pagan aesthetics, as opposed to the "battle metal" type bands like Ensiferum and Turisas or the dorky polka-metal bands that exclusively wrote about getting drunk like Korpiklaani and Finntroll that ruled the roost for a time in the 2000s, and even then these bands that persisted are mostly relegated  to their own tiny niche of fandom that barely intersects with the rest of the metal world.  One of the lone holdouts that still has a lot of crossover popularity is Moonsorrow, and to this day they stand as a relic of an era that was lost twice over.  They were basically untouchable in the previous decade (and I 100% snubbed Verisakeet on the previous decade's feature, my bad) and only put out two records during the focus decade this time, but the second one, Jumalten aika, is every bit as good as their first five.  These midpaced jaunts are overflowing with pomp and vigor, with vocals so venomous that they run the risk of clashing with the epic and heroic melodies.  This one is kind of hard for me to write about because it's simply a style I'm less familiar with, but I know that every second of this is phenomenal and Moonsorrow has absolutely earned their place at the top of the heap when it comes to viking metal (and I mean actual viking metal, the stuff that sounds like mid-era Bathory) in the current age.

28: The Black Dahlia Murder - Nightbringers (2017)
Look I fuckin' love Black Dahlia, alright?  I think the era of them copping shit for no reason is pretty much over but there will always be some lingering bitterness at being erroneously labeled a poser for a decade (I'm a poser for much more valid reasons, dammit!).  Either way, their seventh album, Nightbringers has seen itself consistently inching its way towards my favorite over the years, at this point in time even overtaking fan favorite Everblack.  I don't know if they'll ever top the brilliance of Nocturnal but this is probably the closest they ever got.  Now that Verminous is out and kinda disappointing, this sentiment has been tempered somewhat, but I'll still stand by my initial claim that bringing Brandon Ellis into the fold was a stroke of genius for the band.  Brian Eschbach has been the main creative force of the band for eons, but bringing in a kid like Ellis reinvigorated the band into such a form they hadn't reached in years.  This is hungry, and the single-minded focus on blistering intensity interwoven with their signature melodic touch hasn't sounded this feral since that 2007 masterpiece.  "Kings of the Nightworld" is right next to "I Will Return" and "Deathmask Divine" for me at this point, and that's not even mentioning the fucking insanity of tracks like "Widowmaker" and "The Lonely Deceased".  Even the slower and more overtly In Flames influenced title track is a fucking destroyer.  Nightbringers is likely the most straightforward and intense album they've penned since the early years, with none of the more esoteric touches of Ritual or Everblack, but you know what?  That's fine.  Turns out Black Dahlia doesn't need to get all that creative in order to put out something truly brilliant.

27: Blood Incantation - Starspawn (2016)
God I wish I hated this band.  There will always be a troglodytic part of me that reflexively wants to push back against bands that pick up a ton of hype out of seemingly nowhere.  But try as I might, Blood Incantation is really fucking good and I can't take that away from them.  I think their much lauded (and record breaking, if we're considering the yearly polls on MA to be worthy enough to count) followup to this, Hidden History of the Human Race, kind of collapses under its own weight at points (though I still like it a ton), but their debut Starspawn is every bit as fantastic as the hype would suggest.   This is murky, but less in that "cavernous" sense that so many new death metal bands get tagged with.  This is murky in the sense that it was picked up from a high powered satellite from some farflung pocket of outer space where nothing logically should live.  Tracks like "Chaoplasm" directly refute the Fermi Paradox because oh yes, there is intelligent life beyond the stars, and they have visited Earth, and they do plan on eradicating us.  I could do the Responsible Journalist thing and describe this coherently, mentioning how Blood Incantation takes the reins from Tucker era Morbid Angel and cranks the twisted atmosphere up to a billion while pummeling with more riffs than should feasibly exist.  Instead, I'm gonna do the BH thing and describe it abstractly.  I mentioned the Fermi Paradox up there, and the shortest explanation of that is "If there is intelligent extraterrestrial life out there, how come they've never made contact?  Where is the evidence of such a thing throughout the billions of years of Earth's existence?"  My personal belief is that this is super narcissistic because what the fuck makes us so special?  Maybe there is some ridiculously complex Rick and Morty styled intergalactic senate but why should we be involved?  If you were building a ten lane superhighway through a mostly desolate stretch of land, would you really bother hiking five miles over to an anthill so you could try to communicate with them and explain what a highway is?  Fuck no, you wouldn't even think of them.  Starspawn is the sound of somebody specifically seeking us out with the expressed purpose of pouring napalm into our anthill.

26: Archspire - Relentless Mutation (2017)
I was so hard on The Lucid Collective because it felt like all flash and no substance.  I was so put off by their hypertechnical approach to death metal that I kind tossed Archspire into the bin with Brain Drill and Rings of Saturn.  As a result, I wound up sleeping on Relentless Mutation and snubbing it on a level of the Grammys inventing the heavy metal category just to give the first award to Jethro Tull instead of Metallica when I did my "best of 2017" feature.  When tech death was completely oversaturated in the late 2000s, I lost interest almost entirely because Origin set the high water mark for absurd-speed-and-technicality-while-still-being-coherent-and-catchy with Antithesis in 2008, and every other band in the scene was constantly caught under that looming shadow.  Nobody could one-up one another anymore because Origin did it too well, and it was no longer fun to follow the scene as it grew.  Nearly a decade later, Archspire finally managed to do it.  Where The Lucid Collective rivaled Origin on a technical level but completely failed to write enrapturing music while doing it, Relentless Mutation surpassed them on both levels and cemented their place on the top of the heap.  Vocalist Oli Peters and drummer Spencer Prewett have become undeniable superstars in the genre for this reason.  I know it's cliche and kinda pointless to say "Wow Archspire is really fast" but god dammit they are.  Prewett's feet move so fucking fast that he sounds like a washboard and he has the rare combination of absurd technical skill and a lot of individual character.  Metal doesn't get a whole lot of drummers like that, instead usually falling into the ol' Rando McBlastypants trope where 99% of tech death drummers could change bands tomorrow and I'd only really notice in a few instances.  Peters on the other hand very obviously barely uses death metal as an influence for his vocal attack.  Yeah obviously he's growling and all but the minute you learn that his main influences are Tech N9ne and Twista (I had to ask my brothers about this and they tell me their style of rapping is called "chopping", so I guess Frank Mullen has competition now) his rapid fire staccato starts to make a whole lot more sense.

25: Liturgy - Aesthethica (2011)
Any left wing folks who hang around those spheres of Youtube are probably familiar with Patricia Taxxon, a musician/video essayist who pops up from time to time.  She recently did a video about the arrogant futility of trying to "objectively" critique art that aligns very closely with my own beliefs, and in that video she posited a variation of Newton's Third Law of Motion (the equal and opposite one) that I'd like to begin referring to as Taxxon's Law, which states "The act of establishing a rule or convention in regards to art or artistic practice will necessarily result in the implicit formulation of an equal and opposite 'anti-convention'."  Liturgy absolutely embodies this idea, and I'm fuckin' here for it.  They had a lot of notoriety around the release of this album due entirely to non-musical factors, namely the fact that the band presented themselves aesthetically more akin to an indie band, an infamous interview where frontwoman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (she literally came out as trans on the day I wrote this so if this winds up being an accidental deadname I'll come back and edit this) rambled semi-incoherently about the band's ethos, and a really goofy "manifesto" she wrote essentially decrying everything black metal was "supposed" to be about.  This is that equal and opposite anti-convention, Aesthethica concerns itself so much with subverting the cliches of black metal by using it as a vessel intertwined with a (frankly impossible to understand) unique philosophy that this wound up creating something wholly unlike anything else.  The shrieks, tremolo riffs, and blast beats are here, but they're used in a very organic, almost jam-like way to evoke an atmosphere completely antithetical to what Burzum is about.  This is jubilant, anti-nihilist, expressive, and exploratory.  I have an aversion to wacky experimentation for the sake of it, but I can't help but feel like Aesthethica has something more to say beyond "wow look how weird we are".  I realize it can seem hypocritical to say that objectivity has no place in art criticism and then imply that everybody's subjective tastes are clouded by extramusical factors.  I get it, maybe it's not your thing to hear a band jam on one two note riff for seven minutes, lengthy a capella interludes, or a complete intentional inversion of an atmosphere that you've grown to associate with a specific sound, this type of organically sprawling chaos isn't for everybody.  But I do think there's something important (frankly, historically so) about a band taking a sound so intrinsically linked with danger, misanthropy, and blasphemy, and using it to create something wholly positive and expressive, and in the process managing to offend the very people who flock to the genre specifically because it's offensive.

24: Sargeist - Let the Devil In (2010)
And what better way to completely undercut my point than to follow up a reverent piece about subverting the darkness that breeds the toxicity in black metal with a band that sticks very closely to genre conventions and absolutely revels in the hatred that made black metal so infamous in the first place?  Sargeist is fucking nasty and caustic, and despite loving the exuberant atmosphere that Liturgy posits, I can't help but adore the traditional black metal itself just as much.  What sets Let the Devil In apart from its contemporaries is how they approach the melody in their music.  Shatraug manages to straddle the line between subtle and grandiose extremely well, though this particular release leans much more towards the latter than something like Satanic Black Devotion.  This is really an example of a release that is, by a long shot, greater than the sum of its parts.  If you break it down to its base components, this album could be any given album that worships the second wave of black metal out of Scandinavia, but there's just some sort of intangible grandeur and craftsmanship portrayed in Let the Devil In.  This is going to be a comparatively short entry because that's really all there is to say about this particular album.  It's everything you expect a great black metal album to be, but even better.

23: Visigoth - The Revenant King (2015)
Holy shit this is the first album to utilize clean vocals as the primary delivery style in like twenty entries.  What can I say?  Extreme metal brought the fucking heat this decade.  Despite my fascination with watching the evolution of metal happening in real time keeping me drenched in extremity, there are always some bands championing a traditional style that keep things fresh and exciting.  Visigoth is, by far, the most visible and popular band in the epic metal niche to emerge in the last decade within the underground, with so much crossover appeal that I wouldn't be shocked to see this album top a similar list if all metalheads the world over were polled.  I can barely disagree, because Visigoth is the second coming of Manilla Road in some alternate universe where Mark Shelton wasn't an awful singer.  The Revenant King even goes so far as to cover the Road classic, "Necropolis" halfway through the album, and frankly blows the original clean out of the water simply by virtue of taking such an energetic song and replacing Shelton's nasally nerd-voice and replacing it with Jake Rogers's incredible booming croon.  The lion's share of The Revenant King is midpaced and epic, conjuring images of entire Conan the Barbarianesque tribes of fur-clad berserkers maiming several opposing armies at once.  This is a triumphant slab of muscle-bound gallops and pounding percussion, and basically every single second is the sound of a brutal pillaging.  From the mournful clean passages of "Vengeance" to the high octane fervor of "Blood Sacrifice", this is pure molten steel straight out of the early 80s with a modern sheen that takes away nothing and adds forty tons of weight.  I sometimes joke about albums being "big and large and huge" but damn if that doesn't fit Visigoth like a glove.  The whole album stands out as great but the opening salvo of the title track followed by "Dungeon Master" and "Mammoth Rider" is nothing short of divine brilliance.  I could rant forever about how this album makes me feel a million feet tall but I think you get the point.  If any of my readers have found themselves rolling their eyes at all the blood drenched satanism I've championed on this list and just want some good old fashioned heavy metal, you owe it to yourselves to go binge some fucking Visigoth.

22: Chapel of Disease - ...and as We Have Seen the Storm, We Have Embraced the Eye (2018)
Let's get heady again.  Chapel of Disease was previously a solidly good death metal band that flirted with some interesting ideas in the realm of prog and doom, but with Long Title they have fully embraced these outside influences to create something unlike anything else.  One hugely hyped album from this decade that I was never able to latch onto was Ecdysis by Horrendous, but everything people said about that album is what I'm hearing here.  This is truly out-there, forward thinking metal achieved, oddly enough, by reaching backwards.  The only elements of their old sound that have really stuck around in any capacity are the harsh vocals and occasionally aggressive rhythm section.  For the most part though, this is a very bright and evocative album, with a significantly lighter guitar tone than they had employed in the past.  The production is very shiny and 70s, with twisting guitar lines expressing a jubilance and flourish rarely associated with such a grimy subgenre.  This is another one that's kinda difficult for me to really go in-depth with simply because it pulls from so many areas which I'm unfamiliar, but I can't deny the absolute splendor of Long Title.  The first three tracks in particular flow into each other so well that even after countless listens I have trouble distinguishing where the track breaks are, creating a stunning accidental 21 minute epic that, just like Liturgy up there, takes established aesthetics and completely upends them.  This isn't dark at all, it's a luminescent sunburst that just so happens to growl at you.  2018 was obviously a good year, it's come up a few times already, but there's no denying it was littered with legacy acts and shameless throwbacks, and Long Title was the sweet petrichor after a long, dry summer littered with the Judas Priests of the world wheeling their old asses out of the retirement home.

21: Satan's Hallow - Satan's Hallow (2017)
Hey speaking of Priest, Chicago's Satan's Hallow stands as the worthiest successor to their brand of fist pounding metal from the early 80s.  I briefly spoke with guitarist/songwriter/mastermind, Von Jugel, shortly after he moved out of state and unfortunately ended the band right when they were catching fire, and he described to me that his intention was to create something ineffably tight, akin to a killer setlist.  I'd be lying if I said that isn't exactly what this feels like.  All killer, no filler, that's Satan's Hallow in a nutshell.  There are no nifty tricks here, it's just straightforward old school heavy metal that follows all of the rules but posts up a huge middle finger while doing it.  I sense a lot of Stained Class thru Defenders of the Faith era Priest in here with a heaping helping of early Mercyful Fate, and as that should signify, that means this thing is loaded with balls out riffage that tears listeners to shreds with ease.  Mandy Martillo's vocals are a huge draw as well, with a wavering vibrato that always sounds like she's just about to go over the edge and break into a banshee wail.  She never does, but she doesn't need to.  This is frenetically upbeat trad metal from the NWOBHM era with heaps of solos and a lot of speed, it's basically everything I want a good throwback to me.  It takes the elements that aged well and injects them with new life, creating a 28 Days Later style Fast Zombie from a bygone age with the strength of an olympic wrestler.  Years later, I still listen to "Beyond the Bells" every fucking week.

I half-lied when I said less extremity was coming this week.  We got some Visigoth and Satan's Hallow this round, but looking over my list again, it's gonna stay brutal for a while.  So buckle up, buttercup, tomorrow is gonna wreck shit too!