Monday, May 1, 2023

Raider - Trial by Chaos

Quantum Thrash

I wish I liked Raider so much more than I actually do.  I wanted to frontload this review with praise because basically every single component involved in Trial by Chaos is individually fantastic.  The riffs are razor sharp and superlative in both quantity and quality, the pace is breakneck on a level of classic releases by the most insane bands in the genre like Sodom, Sepultura, and Sadus, the vocals are primarily an unbelievably venomous snarl, the album is cohesively destructive, every single thing I like about thrash is present in abundance and the quality thereof is immense.

So why have I knocked back like eight straight listens of this album and still can't remember literally anything except the choruses in "New Dominion" and "Labyrinth"?  My instinct is to argue that they're the only two moments where the guitars let their foot off the gas and let the brutality wash over like a wave of sarin gas as opposed to forty bazooka shells per second, but I'm willing to bet I'd find more moments like that on subsequent listens.  Those moments of genuine hooks are likely there elsewhere but I'm still functionally reviewing blind despite spending literal hours with Trial by Chaos.  

This may be an odd comparison since there's an extremely high chance that the entire metal listening populace has completely forgotten about this band over the last decade, but the band this actually reminds me of most is Battlecross.  There was this period of time in the early tens when they were undergoing a pretty big push by Metal Blade and found themselves all over the bigger metal media outlets.  I heard them constantly during the three month window where I had satellite radio, they played Mayhem Fest, their second and third albums were pushed and championed really hard, I had no shortage of opportunities to hear them and soak in their absolutely vicious brand of thrash, injected with enough brutality to earn them the death/thrash moniker and enough melody to see them erroneously pegged as metalcore because 2012 was a very stupid time.  Their hallmark feature, however, was how wholly forgettable they were.  Every single song was the best fucking thing I'd ever heard and then within the course of a moderate-length toilet break I would forget they even existed.  They had this approach to thrash that consisted of throwing ten gazillion riffs at you in thirty minutes, all of which were good on their own, but when smashed together it just became a total blur of percussive noise that dissipated within seconds.  I know I've made this exact comparison for this exact reason in it least two or three other reviews and, hilariously, I can't remember which ones.  There are certainly more temporally relevant examples than Battlecross and yet I keep reaching back to them because they're the only example of this phenomenon whose name I've been able to remember.  I want to be pretentious and give it its own genre, "quantum thrash" or something along those lines.  Something that only exists during the exact moments I'm engaging with it.

That's the liminal space where Raider resides.  It's a huge shame because, and I can't state this enough, all of the components are there.  A few members are also in Cathartic Demise, a band with a similar style that I really enjoy, but it seems like scaling back the more overtly melodic moments of that band and giving them an in-your-face wall of sound production turns all of those excellent riffs into a faceless morass of intensity.  The moments that do stand out are all the brief moments where they break from this overwhelming and arduous aural assault.  Those octave patterns that hold while the drums and vocals pound away in "Labyrinth" stand out partially because they're the only notes on the entire god damned album longer than a quarter note, and because it gives the music some melodic subtlety while allowing the vocals to rip out one of the only actual hooks on the album.  It genuinely reminds me of Arsis at their best, that bit is straight out of "The Cold Resistance".  "Juggernaut Cerebrivore" stands out entirely for the first minute featuring haunting clean guitars that build to a sincerely explosive release.  It's one of the starkly few times the album the album isn't brickwalling you to death and the only moment that reminds me of a band whose entire appeal isn't all-intensity-all-the-time, that being Metallica in this case.  Every other moment edges much closer to the more ferocious acts from thrash's heyday like Demolition Hammer or Morbid Saint.  Those bands both rule, as does every other name I've dropped so far, but they all have actual hooks and memorable moments to complement their relentless savagery.  Raider has savagery in abundance with so few memorable moments that, without scrolling up to check, I seriously can't remember which two songs I highlighted in the second paragraph because I'm pretty sure "Juggernaut Cerebrivore" wasn't one of them.

Maybe this is a me problem.  I'm cognizant enough to recognize that I like all of the elements at play, and maybe this album simply isn't one that instantly hooks you and instead reveals its tricks over time.  As I get older, I find myself with less and less time to spend with albums that I need to "learn" to enjoy.  Maybe this makes me a dummy that requires instant gratification, maybe I just accidentally discovered why oldnoobs who only listen to bands they loved as teenagers and convince themselves that every new mediocre nothingburger is actually another masterpiece exist in the first place, maybe I'm just not in the right headspace for this kind of music right now and I would've reacted much differently if my first listen happened a month from now, who the fuck knows?  At the same time, I am the target audience for this, I do enjoy plenty of bands with a similar ethos, including bands that share members (Cathartic Demise) and inhabit the same scene (Invicta, Detherous), so there's something here that just isn't working.  Is it unfair to say an album is kinda mediocre and ultimately skippable despite enjoying all of the elements at play and not being able to explain why beyond vaguely gesturing at a memory hole?



Wednesday, April 19, 2023

In Flames - Foregone

Somehow better and worse than mediocre

I'm gonna be reviewing this album in a vacuum, due primarily to simple disinterest in the band after not caring for the few post-Reroute tracks I'd heard after only really latching onto a handful of classic tunes as a teenager anyway.  I figured they weren't really for me and negative word of mouth combined with dreadfully confusing aesthetic choices seemed to confirm that.  But hey, "Embody the Invisible" popped into my head the other day and I thought "Man, that song seriously fucks.  I wonder what they actually sound like nowadays?" and thus gave their newest, Foregone a cursory listen.  In Flames is easily the biggest and most divisive metal band that I've completely avoided Capital D Discourse on so I have a twenty-plus year gap in my knowledge and never cared about personnel changes or primary songwriters in the band, so this is probably going to be one of the shockingly few reviews that isn't predicated on comparing it to their recent albums.  

What this sounds like to me is basically a pretty solid metalcore album from the mid aughts heyday of the genre (seriously add like three open string breakdowns to a few songs and this is an early Avenged Sevenfold album).  Metalcore was always heavily based in melodeath anyway and In Flames was probably the biggest metal influence on the whole sound, and what this tells me is that the band simply assimilated into the genre that they inadvertently helped invent.  There are tons of explosive sections that run sheer aggression, notably in tracks like "Foregone pt.1" and "State of Slow Decay", but I'd say the primary feature are the cleanly sung choruses.  This is a shame because those are almost uniformly the worst part of any given song.  I recall a few moments of clean singing on Colony that weren't good at all, but this new style he's adopted are just straight up cringe inducing.  They are so overwhelmingly sweet that they've rotted out all of their teeth.  Otherwise quite good tracks like "Meet Your Maker" are severely undercut by these absolutely awful clean vocals that sound straight out of the least catchy Periphery song you've ever heard.  I have no idea why they're so prominent since they clash so strongly with everything surrounding them.  They're all slathered in some sort of effect that makes them sound... well not quite autotuned but somehow fake anyway, like you fed an AI a bunch of Killswitch Engage songs and it spit out a rudimentary approximation of the A Day to Remember guy with none of his warmth or charisma (which is already disastrously lacking).  They're the weakest element of the entire album by a mile and they make good songs flawed ("Meet Your Maker") and bad songs unbearable ("Pure Light of Mind").  "Bleeding Out" goes from a pretty okay chuggy/groovy song to a damn near unlistenable splattering of saccharine pap once the chorus hits, it is astounding how ruinous these vocals are.  They're like a 50% accurate Ghost impression on "Foregone pt.2" and I'll never understand how not one person raised their hand in the studio and suggested a second take that didn't sound quite so comically embarrassing.  I involuntarily started giggling when the music dropped out for a nearly a cappella moment during "In the Dark".  Special mention has to go to "Pure Light of Mind" for being so, so much worse than anything else on the album.  Anders is the worst part of that song of course but the structure and presentation is so sickeningly harmless that it's damn near nauseating.  Anybody pegging that one as a highlight can be safely ignored because holy shit it's the absolute worst song on the album and it's not even close.

Excepting those truly atrocious moments, the rest of the album has some seriously good bones to build on.  Amazingly, the vocals are pretty good when they stay harsh.  It blows my mind that Anders can be such an atrocious, ill fitting clean singer while also supplying such intense harsh vocals.  Sure there's nothing quite as feral as the "Will forever wander alone" bit in "Embody the Invisible" but he delivers some excellent intensity when he stops himself from sounding like Martin Steene with a swoopy haircut. There's more chugging than the best As I Lay Dying albums but they tend to come across as pounding instead of plodding.  Tracks like "State of Slow Decay" kick things into an astoundingly high gear for a bunch of middle aged men who apparently abandoned speed and aggression well over a decade ago and I'd be willing to say that "The Great Deceiver" would slot in perfectly on any of those classic 90s albums.  "Foregone pt.1" kicking off with delicious blast beats and infectious lead hooks is exactly the kind of thing that I had secretly hoped they would've done more of on those old albums instead of "just" being Iron Maiden with growls.  The first half is clearly superior and the last four songs all kinda blend into one big megasong but it never truly hits a bad patch with a bunch of terrible songs in a row.

There's a real sense of identity here that's wholly separate from the era that gave them so much clout in the first place and manages to be good on its own.  There's a sort of intangible confidence throughout Foregone and I think that's why it's endeared itself to me despite the achilles heel being so unavoidably pervasive.  They toy with a couple different ideas, and not all of them work, but my Cynical Asshole alarm isn't going off while listening to this, it really does feel like the band truly believed in every one of these ideas, both the Clayman throwbacks and whatever dross "Bleeding Out" is supposed to be.  As a guy who hasn't listened to a note of the band since 2007, jumping in all these years later has revealed them to be suddenly playing this very nebulous mashup of all sorts of heavy genres.  Like there's is so much vibrant bounciness to a plurality of the riffs that I can only assume it comes from nu metal (I don't know how else to describe it: groove metal grooves, nu metal bounces, this album bounces), the choruses are pulled straight from emotional metalcore, the heaviest moments are unabashedly melodic death metal, et cetera.  It all coalesces into something that resembles an alternative tinged Napalm Records style corsetcore pop metal that occasionally licks its teeth and suddenly ejaculates Whoracle at you.  I guess if I had to explain what "alternative metal" should sound like if genre-obsessed giganerds ever bothered to codify it, I'd reckon it'd be something like this.

The main reason I was never able to truly get into In Flames as a teenager in the first place is because I felt like the quality of any given song was an absolute coinflip, constantly rocketing between rousing, evocative barnburners and the most unengaging shit imaginable.  It's kinda nostalgic to check in on the band for the first time in nearly two decades and learn that they're still struggling with that exact same problem.  I hate to sound like some kind of grouchy luddite but the fact is simply that In Flames, despite toying with increasingly modern, glossy, and unthreatening elements throughout recent decades, seemingly still aren't all that good at incorporating them while they still have genuine skill in replicating the early style that made them metal legends in the first place.  Foregone is such a strange experience for somebody who lacks as much context as I do, because I have no idea if the bad parts are any better or worse than the last six albums.  There are a lot of flaws and a lot of the ideas are largely unappealing in isolation, but there's a je ne sais quoi that keeps me from outright saying it sucks despite only truly enjoying like three songs without caveats.  What the fuck am I supposed to do with that, ratingwise?  Like it's not good enough to just be good, and it's definitely bad enough to just be bad but that's only truly regarding certain elements that coat the whole experience like a fine mist, and most of the songs are inoffensive but uninspiring but are simultaneously better and worse than mediocre.  What kind of mobius strip of a grading scale would such an anomaly even map onto?  

 Ƭ̵̬̊ %

Monday, April 3, 2023

Devangelic - Xul

Come on you know what it is

I like opening my reviews with something more than the utilitarian band history that so many tend to open with.  Just a preference of mine, you and I probably don't actually care what country a band is from unless it isn't one of the obvious places like North America, Western/Eastern Europe, Japan, or Brazil, ya know?  So I sat here looking at the Metal Archives page for Devangelic, a brutal death metal band out of Italy, trying to find some sort of hook that wasn't some idiotic pasta pun or whatever, struggling to find a good cold open.  I found nothing.  But I did find that the bassist is also in a grindcore band called Buffalo Grillz, whose MA page has the helpful note clarifying that they were only added based on the album Martin Burger King, so that's pretty funny.

Anyway the real reason I'm stalling is because I'm trying to delay the inevitable comparison for as long as I can, because this review could feasibly be four words long and tell you everything you need to know.  Xul, the band's fourth album, is an exhilarating massacre of a record.  What immediately stood out to me was the guitar tone, which should mean something since I know fuck-all about recording and only care about tone if it's noticeably terrible, so for it to jump out as so good probably means something to people who understand better than I do.  It's overwhelmingly beefy, which a prominent low end that lends a ton of extra heft to the already pummeling assault coming from the rhythm section.  It's got this neat little quirk where a lot of the huge powerchords feel like the root and octave notes are just a teensy bit more emphasized than the fifth, and it gives these moments a sound I can only describe as "steely" and I promise it makes sense when you hear it.  Those huge moments contrast amazingly with how utterly devastating the lion's share of the music actually is.  If you look at the BDM scene as a gradient with slam on one end and tech death on the other, Devangelic is approximately one picometer away from being fully enveloped in the tech death color.  Make no mistake, Xul is devastatingly heavy and crushes everything in front of it, each of the eight "real" songs are delivered with such pummeling ferocity at such a blistering tempo that I genuinely worry that my headphones are gonna catch fire.  It reminds me a lot of their countrymates like Hour of Penance and Hideous Divinity, the type of raucous hyperdeath that doesn't really fuck around with complicated licks requiring Petruccian manual dexterity and instead opts to just blow forwards with enough kinetic energy to topple skyscrapers.  It's the type of death metal that kinda becomes tech death on accident simply due to how unbelievably fast it is, which came as a surprise to me when I skimmed reviews of their earlier work and saw them pegged as a Disgorge clone.

I think there's a secret weapon here that helps Xul's head rise above the BDM pack so far this year, and that's actually the frequent breaks in the action.  For as propulsively destructive as it is, Xul avoids becoming exhausting in its assault with frequent breaks for ambient mood-setting and drawn out bridges that let the scenery wash over the listener.  The opener, "Scribes of Xul", takes the time to set the table with 30 seconds of vaguely Egyptian spooky noises, and sports several sections where a big chord rings out while one guitar descends an echoey tremolo pattern, evoking the kind of dread when opening a long dormant and almost-certainly-cursed crypt.  Closer, "Sa Belet Ersetim Ki'Am Parsusa" utilizes similar tricks, while "Sirius, Draconis, Capricornus" kicks the tempo down with a more pronounced mid-paced pounding, with "Udug-Hul Incantation" being even more explicit.  And that's to say nothing of a track like "Which Shall Be the Darkness of the Heretic", which is an express train to Blast City that allows itself to stay interesting by simply shifting the precise angle at which the riffs are punching you.  It's the musical equivalent to that million hit combo from Fist of the North Star.  Two extended interlude tracks also give some much needed space to breathe as opposed to wasting my time like interlude tracks so often do.  

Have you figured out the four words I could've just used as a review?  Were the track titles alone enough of a giveaway?  That's right!  "This sounds like Nile!"

That isn't to say this is a knockoff or a worse version of the American legends, not at all!  In fact I'd take Xul over a solid third of Nile's discography, but the similarities are just too obvious to ignore.  I tried not mentioning Nile in the previous few paragraphs as a challenge to myself and lemme tell ya, those two short paragraphs took nearly an hour to write.  It would've been so much easier to compare the guitar tone to Annihilation of the Wicked, compare Paolo Chiti's incredibly deep roars to Karl Sanders's incredibly deep mummy moan, the insane speed and variety of the percussion to George Kollias, the epic moments to the exact type of epic moments that Nile uses all the time, the ambient interludes sounding like one of Karl's solo albums, it's all right there.  Nile casts a tremendous shadow over this album and it's pervasive.  Every single element has a direct 1:1 comparison to some aspect of Nile's classic sound, and that makes my job as a reviewer super fuckin' difficult because all I needed to do was say it sounds exactly like Nile with no deviations and that would've been that.  However you feel about Ithyphallic or Those Whom the Gods Detest should be exactly how you feel about Xul, and if you've stumbled across this album in the first place, chances are you're familiar enough with the genre to be acquainted with Nile's work already.

So as a guy who really likes Nile, their middle era from Shrines thru Detest in particular, I also really like Xul.  It's hard to articulate because there's always an implied negative to being so similar to one band in particular (hard to avoid implying a band lacks creativity in that context ya know?), but in this case the worship actually saw some tangible rewards handed from the gods since this is on the exact level of quality that Nile churns out on the regular, and it turns out that having more bands making killer music just means more bands are making killer music.  


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Lovebites - Judgment Day

Gotta go fast

It's oddly difficult to be a Lovebites fan when you're approaching them from the perspective of a lifelong metalhead.  A shocking amount of their fans I've come across throughout my expeditions into The Internet have next to zero interest in metal as a style or culture at all.  A sizable contingent of their fans seem to be primarily anime fans who apparently latched onto them because they're five pretty women that write music that sounds like the opening theme to the most batshit battle anime of the decade.  That's not a judgment, by the way!  That particular flavor of fan can give me secondhand embarrassment from time to time since they occasionally treat the band like an idol group and carry themselves with (in)approprate fervor (Did you know that Haruna is nicknamed the "Pocket Nuke" because she's under five feet tall but is one of the hardest hitting drummers in the scene?  Or that Asami was originally an RnB singer whose biggest influence is Alicia Keys?  If not then congratulations on never reading a Youtube comment in your life because you'll see the same factoids spit out with identical wording by dozens of people on every single fucking video they feature in) but honestly I'm happy to share space with these fans because the more people that listen to killer music, the better.  The point is that they're tough to talk about because a plurality of their fans don't seem to have heard a Gamma Ray song in their lives but are just so stoked that KOS-MOS* is real that they helped catapult them to that level anyway.

So as a hygiene-averse hesher who's here for the riffs, they're equally difficult to talk about because they're simultaneously the best currently active power metal band and the most frustrating songwriters on the planet.  The band's fourth full length, Judgment Day is actually my favorite LP of theirs, but it's plagued by all of the same problems they've always had and seem to have zero interest in ameliorating.  The specific angle that Lovebites takes with their music is one of self-indulgent maximalism.  I fuckin' love this kind of ludicrous bombast and am incredibly glad that Lovebites exists, but it's been said that your greatest weakness is your greatest strength taken too far, and boy howdy does that describe this band.  Their Achilles Heel has always been and continues to be their inability to do anything but shred their hearts out at seven million BPM for an hour straight.  I continue to believe that they'd be best served by just releasing one or two EPs per year because jesus shit every single one of their non-EP releases is completely fucking exhausting to finish and Judgment Day is no exception.  They finally wizened up and limited this one to fiftyish minutes but we used to at least get a piano ballad or catchy arena-friendly trad metal song every now and again.  This is just Dragonforce-joins-Helloween from minute one to minute done and it's overwhelming in a bad way.  "Victim of Time" would be the most insanely shredtastic barnburner on 90% of all power metal albums released in the last decade but here's it's just the sixth insane shredtastic barnburner in a row and you've got four more to prepare for.  Boxers get breaks in between rounds dammit why can't listeners?

But with that said, this is still their crowning achievement up to this point.  Judgment Day tore my face clean off in spite of these issues in a way that only their EPs had previously done.  Absolutely nobody channels early Sonata Arctica's ear for hooks performed with such blurring speed as well as Lovebites does, and tracks like "The Spirit Lives On", "Soldier Stands Solitarily", and the title track expertly showcase an undeniable mastery of what makes power metal so magical at its best.  This only dropped last week and I'm already certain that "Soldier Stands Solitarily" is going to be one of my favorite songs of the year.  I actually worry that I'm underselling how gonzo this is despite namedropping Dragonforce, because damn near every single second contains either a screaming guitar solo, wild drum fill, glass-shattering wail, or lead melody so quick and demanding that even Buckethead would give a silent nod of acknowledgment.  If anything sets this apart from the rest of their discography it's how much more focused it is.  One of their oft-mentioned secret weapons is the occasional circle-pit worthy thrash riff that they pull out of their collective asses before clobbering everybody around them, and "Dissonance" is the only track that really flirts with that kind of Megadeth flavored unhinged violence this time around.  On one hand that's a bummer, I love those moments, but on the other hand it means their music has become even more cohesive and all the stronger as a result.  The hooks are stronger, the drumming is more impressive, the solos are more awe-inspiring, everything feels more "whole" than they've ever managed before and I suspect it's largely because they laser focused so hard on all of their best elements (in addition to simply getting better with time like most writers/musicians do).  This is unfortunate imagery but they've always felt like they had a sort of "glass ceiling" above them where it felt like all of their potential was smooshed up against plexiglass, and apparently fourth time is the charm because they fucking shattered that glass and used it to cut the throats of all doubters.  This is musically more or less what they've always done (a bit narrower in scope but not enough to be surprising) but just... I dunno man better than before.

Even with that effusive praise, I am still ultimately of two minds on Judgment Day.  It's just as dense and overwhelming as its predecessors but manages to be the best possible version of itself.  It's their shortest album yet but still feels like four tracks should've been cut and released as an EP instead.  "Judgment Day" is an incredible song and one of the highlights of the album but honestly feels like "Shadowmaker: The Sequel".  "Soldier Stands Solitarily" is the best song they ever wrote but it shares space with "My Orion" which is one of their worst (and the only song that's truly just annoying and kinda sucky instead of a victim of "too much").  I truly do adore Lovebites and Judgment Day is truly great, but I fear that there's a second pane of glass they need to break through next because no matter how enjoyable most of this album is, it's still held back by the same problems they've been struggling with since their inception and pattern recognition tells me that I'm just screaming at the ocean about it at this point.  If their previous work didn't impress you, this won't change your mind, but if you're on the right wavelength it'll absolutely rock your world.

RATING: 80% 

*- I asked some friends for suggestions for an anime character that rides the same line between demure femininity and raw earthfucking power as how the members present themselves and used KOS-MOS as the closest thing I could think of on my own.  One guy laughed at me and said I was showing my age by referencing Xenosaga, which ironically made me decide to just use her as the comparison anyway because what would a BH review be without a reference to a late-golden age JRPG anyway?

Monday, January 16, 2023

Malice Divine - Everlasting Ascendancy

Die sexin'

In my eternal quest to understand why the generation that came after mine seems to be largely so uninterested in the same kinds of metal that I've spent my entire life in love with, I came across a strange criticism I'd never heard before.  I don't remember where I read it or what the subject of the criticism was, but I'd heard something slammed as a "one-genre album".  My gut instinct was to blame short attention spans curated by Vine and Tiktok, but upon further reflection I actually understand where whoever said that was coming from.  Metal bands and albums tend to, almost as a rule, be influenced almost exclusively by other metal bands.  I don't think the genre has hit any sort of Hapsburg level critical mass as of yet, and I don't personally think we're anywhere close to the genre going supernova any time soon, but I get the criticism and I get why it can be exhausting to sit through 45 minutes of blastbeats and/or tremolo riffs with no other inspirations to reach towards.

A good example of why this seemingly compulsory insularity hasn't started to wear on me personally is Malice Divine, a one-man project that rockets past the "one-genre album" and lands squarely on "one-influence album".  Everlasting Ascendancy is, from nose to tail, influenced by Dissection and absolutely nobody else.  The vocals sound like Dissection, the riffs sound like Dissection, the melodies sound like Dissection, this project sounds like one incredibly talented fanboy living out his fantasies of joining the band in an alternate timeline where Jon Nodtveidt didn't wind up in prison.  Where Storm of the Light's Bane leaves off, Everlasting Ascendancy picks up without even a smudged footprint in between with the biggest immediate difference simply being the production being much cleaner.  There are an abundance of acoustic passages to help break up the lengthy runtimes of each songs and the guitar solos are brain-punching exercises in melodic excess, but it all kinda blurs into a slurry of Dissectionisms that keep the songs themselves kinda hard to differentiate from one another. The reason this doesn't really bother me here is because, if you're gonna pull from one band almost exclusively, you could do a whole hell of a lot worse than Dissection.  Very few bands had as finely tuned an ear for the interplay between (and seamless blending of) razor sharp riffs and instantly memorable hooks, and Malice Divine has done a truly remarkable job of recapturing that magic.

The majority of the album is populated with acerbic scorchers, blistering past the listener at crazy speeds complemented by soaring guitar solos that sound like musical victory cries.  Even if there are technically a handful of songs that groove along at a more reasonable tempo and numerous contemplative sections of classical acoustic guitar, the overall impression that the album leaves you with is less of the complex interplay and dynamic push-and-pull of the songs and more akin to an impact crater.  Part of this is, as stated, simply because another band already did all of these things so it's easy to cluster all of these properties into one singular reference, but also simply because the fast, ruthless, pummeling parts with immediately singable hooks are far and away the strongest moments of the album.  The subtleties ultimately don't matter when they pale in comparison to the bombast.  Nobody appreciates the complex engineering of a bomb when it's currently detonating into a miles-high mushroom cloud.  I don't remember which songs have the prettiest acoustic passages or which solos are the most evocative, but I can rasp the chorus of "Apparitions of Conquest" back at you without even thinking about it.  All of these tracks are excellent the whole way through, only really beginning to lose their luster near the end.  "Reclaimed Strength" lacks the extremity of the rest of the songs and paradoxically fades into the background as a result (you'd think a change of pace would be welcome but Galvez is simply much better at in-your-face bombast), and "Illusions of Fragmentation" is the one track where I really think the runtime could and should have been trimmed, but the overall experience is enjoyable enough to not really be too much of an issue.

I suppose that's my main takeaway with Everlasting Ascendancy.  There are individual moments of cool things all over the place (I probably downplayed the non-Dissection influences too much, because there are shades of mid-era Immortal in the classically melodic moments and the opening of the title track is so overtly thrash influenced that it calls to mind Skeletonwitch in their prime) but when taken holistically, it feels much more simple.  And maybe it's because I'm just a big fat dummy, but the blurrier interpretation of the album, the one where everything just sloughs into a big Dissection-colored goulash, is just so, so much more satisfying than trying to manufacture more prominent diversity in the various moving parts.  One-genre albums still absolutely fucking rule.  Own it.


Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Meshuggah - Nothing

Djental Plan

A while back, I had gotten the idea to start another review series (woo so original bh what a braingenius), this next one being an exploration into djent.  It's a genre that I barely know and never cared for but always insisted was a legitimate subgenre of metal and wanted to explore why more people didn't.  I had a whole series of albums picked out from the first seeds to the modern era where I outlined how it developed and why it became so insular... before I got to the modern era and hit a wall for two solid years.  Turns out I wasn't as interested as I thought and boy it's hard to write about things you neither enjoy nor give a shit about.  So fuggit, I'm gonna rewrite the first in that series since it kinda encapsulates every problem I've ever had with this band.  Enjoy my crumbs you peasants!

I've seen some weird takes in recent years that Meshuggah aren't really djent since they still fit more with the metal scene than the newer djent scene, but man I'm old enough to have been on the internet in the early/mid 2000s when Meshuggah was the only game in town, I saw the term "djent" itself spawn from an onomatopoeia of the guitar tone on obZen, they are consistently considered the godfathers of the genre, if you go to RYM and search for "best djent albums all time", the top seven results are all Meshuggah albums and the Doom Eternal soundtrack, they're fucking djent and claiming otherwise is as absurd as saying Slayer isn't thrash metal.

But I do see why this take happens.  They were indisputably thrash metal with a really techy twist on Contradictions Collapse, they tend to be much heavier than most of the djent scene, it took like 10+ years for true imitators to spring up, most of their fans from around the time they blew up tended to be fans of prog metal, they never incorporated clean vocals, their metal roots are just way more legit than the bands that came later.  From the dozens of seconds I spent googling shit, it seems like their true watershed moment and the instance that saw them become the inimitably unique creature they are (that paradoxically spawned a billion imitators) wasn't actually their first forays into the style on Destroy Erase Improve or Chaosphere, but actually 2002's Nothing, as it was the one to first incorporate "8 string guitars".  I'm putting that in quotes because though the guitars were developed at the time and the album was written with them, they weren't actually used on the album since they had shit intonation and constantly fell out of tune as a result of being so new that nobody had really figured out how to make them work perfectly.  So while they weren't truly introduced until the 2006 rerecording when technology finally caught up to what the band was doing, this original 2002 version still stands as (to my knowledge) the first time the sound was introduced to the world, albeit on downtuned 7 strings to emulate the sound they couldn't yet perfect.

So with that in mind, from the perspective of a dude who really didn't "get it" at the time, what did Nothing contain that was so special?  Well as mentioned, it was truly the guitar sound that separated this from the previous two albums.  Destroy Erase Improve and Chaosphere had already introduced their utterly strange songwriting and performance techniques, but this is the one that pushed them over the edge by giving them the X factor that is this incredibly beefy and destructive tone.  It's not like scooped mids and double bass didn't exist before 2002, obviously, but something like Chaosphere was fast, and the simple act of slowing down to highlight their brain-bending polyrhythms and lurching sense of atemporal insanity was the final piece of the puzzle along with a guitar tone that was deeper and more menacing that R'lyeh.  I think their previous work indicated a slow evolution into a different style of metal, whereas Nothing saw them abruptly launch into an entirely new style of art in general.  They were off-kilter and weird before, but tracks like "Straws Pulled at Random" and "Organic Shadows" are so catawampus and disorienting that they make me legitimately uncomfortable.  This menacing heaviness and spaced out sense of rhythm was unlike anything else at the time, inevitably leading to tons of comparisons to jazz despite sounding absolutely nothing like it.  Jazz is notable for its incredibly complex sense of harmony but Meshuggah leapt in the opposite direction, focusing all of their wacky experimentation on rhythm and rhythm alone.  I'm sure there's some complex scientific reason that the leads all sound like either floaty soundscapes or flittering spasms with a million notes on the highest frets, but the real intrigue comes from the inhuman sense of rhythm.  They don't dazzle you with their speed, as noted, it's more the fact that it makes very little sense unless you break down some complex math problem.  Haake's drums are so complex that they loop around to sounding simple, keeping a steady 4/4 beat with his hands but using his feet to pound away in perfect synchronization with the guitars as they chug through impossible to count 13/27 or whatever rhythms.  The skill it takes to take something so complex and make it seem like child's play is absolutely staggering.  And the fact that they utilize this unfathomable precision to pummel you with such crushing weight defies any human explanation.

The overwhelming heaviness of the album simply can't be overstated.  There are mercilessly few breaks for clean guitars, and when they do happen (like the intro to "Obsidian") they act as punishingly brief oases for you to catch your breath before you're thrown back into the grinder.  It's kind of similar to what I remember Swans sounding like (don't hold me to this, everything I know about swans comes from The Ugly Duckling), being very repetitive and very awkward, with extremely few note changes as the songs grind you to dust with sheer weight and attrition.  It's very intentional in its repetition as well, I don't doubt for one second that the album turned out the way it did purely because its intention was to overwhelm you with the musical equivalent of an anxiety attack as opposed to the band simply not being very creative.  It's a technical marvel to have achieved a guitar tone as punishingly heavy as this while retaining absolute clarity, it's all beef and no crunch, and really nobody was doing that in 2002.

And here's where we hit the big caveat, and the reason I was never really much of a Meshuggah fan despite all the praise in the previous few paragraphs.  Nothing's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.  Every single good thing about it can be explained with complex musical theory and technical jargon, but when pressed to explain any sort of overarching emotion, people tend to come up flat.  It's music for STEMlords; hypernerds who see art as a puzzle to be solved as opposed to an overarching feeling or message to experience.  Nothing is exactly what it says on the tin, it has absolutely nothing to say beyond "look how logically complicated I am!"  It's the musical manifestation of those weird dorks defending Elon Musk in your twitter mentions.  It's music for people who take the Rick and Morty bit about how "love is just a chemical in your brain that compels you to breed" as a real cool and good perspective to view the world through.  Breaking the world down into chemical compounds is helpful for study but absolutely dogshit for experience.  I like music because I like art and I like feeling.  Even just within the confines of metal; it can run the gamut of both sound and emotion, from bands as disparate as Blind Guardian and The Crown making you feel a million feet tall, both atmospheric black metal and unremittingly brutal funeral doom can make you feel miserable, death metal can act as a cathartic release for all of your anger and violent impulses, metal can do almost anything and Meshuggah does precisely none of it.  Sci-fi nerds should watch Contact and really internalize why that "they should have sent a poet" line is so iconic.  I can't tell you the riffs are bad if I can't justify carving out a new wrinkle in my brain to even remember the riffs from this vacuous antimemetic anomaly.

Of course, this comes down purely to taste, and this just means that Meshuggah isn't really for me, and that's okay.  But the whole reason I even listened to them in 2023 despite not liking them for fifteen years is because I don't think djent is a broken genre on a conceptual level.  I think they unlocked an entirely new realm of expression and then completely squandered it with a monochromatic approach.  Nothing leaves me cold because it comes off as a completely colorless thought experiment as opposed to a way to express existential confusion and crisis, which I suspect might have been the aim here.  There are moments of adrenaline-raising brilliance like the main riff of "Perpetual Black Second" or wonderfully crushing tracks like "Stengah" and "Straws Pulled at Random", but on the whole this feels less like music and more like science, and it turns out that doesn't result in something I really want to experience all that often.  The massive tone and few moments of groovy deliciousness don't do enough to counteract the achilles heel of the album simply not being all that interesting beyond a purely scientific lens.


Sunday, January 1, 2023


Fun fact: I actually did die this year and that's why I only reviewed one album in a not-fully-sober state all year.  This is The Ghost of BH Past, here to tell you all what albums were Pretty Good in 2022.  

Nah the truth is that the drive/desire/will/whatever to write just hasn't been there for a while now.  Blame the economy, blame FFXIV, blame the cooler mental illnesses you can think of, every culprit is likely responsible to some degree.  I'm not all that worried because I've gone on extended breaks before (though granted never this long) and I've always said I would never "retire" because reviewing is something I've always done in my free time anyway.  So who knows, maybe I'll have an explosion of productivity next year.  Maybe Lamb of God is the last band I ever review in full.  Who knows?  I'm not fussed about it and neither should you.  So even though whatever following I had has likely evaporated entirely, we're still gonna be COUNTING DOWN!


Rules are as usual: Full lengths only and that's it.  The metal only qualifier has been gone for years but I remind y'all anyway just in case.  LESSGO

13: Tómarúm - Ash in Realms of Stone Icons  
I so, so badly wanted to hate this.  I couldn't possibly think of anything more immediately cliche and/or creatively bankrupt and/or tailor made for the least interesting metal equivalent to film nerds who use words like "kino" unironically than some kids from Atlanta grabbing an Icelandic word for a band name and shelling out the money to have Mariusz Lewandowski do the artwork for their debut album where every song is a million years long, inexplicably released on a "major" (for metal) label.  But fuck dude I must love assembly line kino because this absolutely does it for me.  Similar to False a few years ago, this is drawn out black metal where everything happens all the time, including bloodlydoo fretless bass and that shit is catnip for me apparently.  Few albums this year feel even half as huge as this one and I adore it.

12: Voidthrone - Metaphysical Degradation  
I'll admit, there's a solid chance this album could've landed well off the list entirely if I didn't first come across it while stoned and paranoid, because holy fuck that album cover will not help in that situation.  I've been kinda over dissonant black/death for years now because I've just come to terms with the fact that I prefer my death metal to be more pugilistic than textural, and I think that's why Voidthrone has ultimately stuck with me.  This is just as non-euclidian as any band to take influence from Ulcerate or Krallice or whoever in recent years but there is so much dam-bursting fucking power behind it that it becomes unavoidably confrontational.  I haven't heard a vocalist completely deplete his lungs with every syllable like this in forever, nor have I heard such deliberately violent and chaotic music land so memorably in equally as long.

11: Mirror - The Day Bastard Leaders Die  
Throwbacks to traditional metal styles are, ironically, becoming so trendy that the metal populace as a whole has no idea what to do with 'em anymore.  I find that Mirror is the perfect flocculating agent that helps the cream rise to the top in this weird slurry of uninspired knockoffs, because what these Cypriots have that the Riot Citys of the world can only fecklessly gesture towards is pure fuckin' gonzo energy.  Mirror just kicks ass with no remorse or apologies and does it in a way that is somehow just as fresh in 2022 as it would have been in 1984.  The world needs more vocalists as batshit weird as Marvommatis.  Metal is ironically full of bands that follow all the rules that were laid out 40 years ago, and Mirror fucks those rules under the bleachers.

10: Spiter - Bathe the Babe in Bats' Blood  
If you gave me unlimited time and a promised reward of Henry Kissinger's head on a pike, I don't think I could possibly think of a stupider album I've heard all year.  I know "caveman riffs" are a popular thing in death metal right now but I promise you there is nothing on this earth more primitive than Spiter's debut here.  This sounds like the end result of lobotomizing every member of Venom.  It is pure, and I can not stress enough precisely how pure I'm talking about here, absolutely fucking pure, unfiltered, raw-dogged violent id shot out of a cock-shaped mausoleum.  Absolute speed, absolute disgust, absolute lack of music theory combined with absolute mastery of what makes metal so fucking endearing despite its advanced age at this point.  You don't need a new idea if you can do the old ideas this much gusto.

9: Wormrot - Hiss  
Say what you will about legends like Napalm Death and Nasum, I don't think there is any grindcore band with quite as much universal appeal as Wormrot.  Can I explain why?  Absolutely not.  I just know that whenever they deign to crawl out of whatever Singaporean insect colony they sleep in and release something new, I hear it and go fucking nuts.  They just... I dunno man.  I'm stretching the words out for this entry because I've always sucked at describing grind and that hasn't changed here.  It's good.  It's great!  It does the grind thing where it's hardcore punk played extraordinarily fast with knuckle-shattering death metal blended in.  I dunno dudes this is why I always secretly hope I don't love any grind albums so much that I corner myself into talking about 'em.  Because I suck at it.

8: A Pale December - Death Panacea  
I've deleted this entry like five times because I'm struggling to find the words to describe why I fell so in love with Death Panacea.  I've said a hundred times that atmoblack is an incredibly hit or miss genre because it's so easy in theory, and yet this is the second one to pop up on this list so far so it must be doing something interesting, right?  I think what does it for me is the absolutely smothering sense of despondent melancholy intertwined with fierce determination to never lose the album's momentum.  The "atmo" half of their genre comes more from the build-and-release structures of post metal than the hypnotic repetition of shoegaze, and I think that may be the X factor that made this such a hit for me.  When you feel like life isn't worth living but you push forwards anyway, the contrasting feelings become something triumphant.

7: Hallas - Isle of Wisdom  
It's funny how many albums on this list were initially approached with the idea that I wanted to hate it.  Oh wow spacey prog rock that for some reason is super popular with metalheads?  Yeah okay snore, I don't give a shit.  But I mean, fuckin', here I am eating crow again.  Due to this just being a genre I know jack nothing about, I'm mostly just filling space here because I don't know why I like it, I just do.  I love the grooves, I love the hooks, I love the dorky synths, I love the harmless vocals, I love how "Earl's Theme" sounds like what the Keep On Truckin' guys are probably actually listening to, I love how silky smooth it is.  I dunno I just love it bunches.

6: Ghost - Impera  
I'm just as surprised as you are.  I came around on Ghost a few years ago but even then that was with the caveat that their best album (Meliora) was merely pretty solid to me.  I didn't expect them to suddenly rock my shit five albums deep but here we are.  Obviously you're not coming to Ghost to hear anything particularly heavy or intense, and I think this is simply their strongest collection of hooks to date and that's the long and short of it.  They are pop metal titans for a reason and tracks like "Spillways", "Griftwood", and "Watcher in the Sky" spell that out better than any collection of words on the internet from some hairy dweeb could ever hope to do.  I like five albums more than this, of course, but this is without a doubt the catchiest release I've heard all year from any genre.

5: Devil Master - Ecstasies of Never Ending Night  
I see this as sort of a sister record to Spiter from a few entries ago.  This is partially because they're both products of the notoriously incestuous Philadelphia metal scene so of course they share some members, but it's mostly because they take the same basic idea (black metal + punk) and come out with very different answers.  Ecstasies... is a very direct album, don't get me wrong, but the directness is much more unpredictable than it is straight-ahead.  One of the most dominant features are the flittery gothic melodies that ebb and flow back into the thrash-flavored riffs in cycles so natural that they feel almost alive.  Combine those with whatever the fuck is in the water in Philly to make everybody so violent regardless of emotion and you end up with something absolutely singular.

4: Blind Guardian - The God Machine  
I'm fully aware that I've placed the last two BG albums on their respective year-end lists and used roundabout reasoning to explain why they sound like the old days despite being obviously "of the time" so to speak.  So feel free to not believe me if you'd like, but The God Machine is 10000% the throwback that I so desperately tried to make the last few albums.  It's indisputable this time, you don't need me waxing poetic about how they're using modern elements to reignite some abstract 90s creativity.  Nah, all you've gotta do is listen to any given track and you'll immediately understand that this album could've been released between Imaginations and Nightfall with no editing at all.  This is a warm blanket in a tempestuous time and maybe it means more to old school fans than new ones, but this one just FEELS like it was made specifically for me.

3: Autonoesis - Moon of Foul Magics  
I almost never put albums I only heard for the first time in December on these lists because it just feels unfair and shortsighted (ya never know if a flash'll fade).  But sometimes you get a late-year rec that was simply tailored to be exactly what you'd been hoping to find all year.  This kind of nebulous "every subgenre at once" approach always struggles to find an identity as a result, and the fact that Autonoesis takes this approach and hones in so sharply on Big Riff Moments is precisely what helps it stand so monumentally above the rest of extreme metal this year.  Those Big Riff Moments are the anchor point that the Kitestring of Imagination is tethered to, allowing the music to float around anywhere it pleases, teasing the clouds and tickling the blackened sun, while never once losing the importance of Big Riff Moments.  And I fucking love Big Riff Moments.

2: Chat Pile - God's Country  
If you're on the internet and interested in heavy/weird music, you've heard this already.  Every hipster on the planet loves this.  Everybody loves how bleak, raw, confrontational, uncomfortable, frantic, scary, and straight fucking furious this album is.  There's nothing I can say that you haven't heard already.  I have no hot takes.  I am, apparently, the metal equivalent to the kino dweeb I described at the start, because I love this album for all of the exact same reasons that Pitchfork and Anthony Fantano and all the rest of the bespectacled "falses" in the world love this album.  "Why" is one of the most devastatingly important songs written in years.  The band apparently tweeted (I dunno I never had a twitter) that their greatest accomplishment this year was forcing critics to namedrop Swans and Korn in the same sentence and yeah sure that works.


1: White Ward - False Light  
With Autonoesis, I mentioned not wanting to put albums up too high on the list if I only just recently heard them for the first time.  A similar thing happened in 2019 with White Ward's sophomore album, Love Exchange Failure.  It happened both in 2019 for the AOTY list and it happened six months later when I did the Top 50 of the decade and got dangerously close to putting it in the top ten despite hearing it for the first time a few months prior at that point.  In the years since, it hasn't faded.  I'm still in awe of that album and I think I must've known at the time that I'd discovered something truly magical that was going to stick with me for years.  I bring that up because False Light was the exact opposite of a surprise for me.  I was waiting with bated breath for this, it was penciled in as a potential contender before I even heard a note of it, all I knew was that White Ward did something that punched me directly in the dopamine twice before and I couldn't wait for it to happen a third time.  I can not even begin to explain how delighted I am to be giving White Ward the extended writeup here because that means that it did, indeed, ultimately land as my favorite album on the year.  Whenever I try recommending this band to people I inevitably have to make them sound like a stupid gimmick by mentioning the prominent full-time saxophone, but I can't stress enough how much it doesn't clutter the space as much as it fills in a space that I never knew was empty before.  You can't really separate the sax from the rest, but if you did anyway, you'd be met with a barrage of shockingly fucking heavy atmoblack (people with better ears than I tell me this is largely tuned to C standard, which is more of a death metal tuning and it shows), with passages of neofolk and goth rock and basically every metal-approved-non-metal influence you can think of and somehow every single second of this maintains either mood or momentum or both.  The esoteric touches are, despite being the most immediately notable things about False Light, mere accoutrements to the main attraction, and the lengthy dirges of "Phoenix", "Leviathan", and the title track are so simultaneously despondent and furious that it nails an emotion that's hard to pin down with words.  I'm so happy that an album I was anticipating didn't let me down for once, and White Ward managed to snag the title and the BH Award for Album of the Year 2022.

And now for something completely the same!

The Antichrist Imperium - Volume III: Satan in His Original Glory: This would be like #7 if I wasn't hearing it for the first time around noon on the 31st.  Learning that this band featured members of Akercocke made immediate sense to me because the push and pull between raucously filthy death metal and disquietingly eerie clean prog sections hasn't sounded this fucking good since the first time I heard Akercocke.

Fer de Lance - The Hyperborean: And this is another that would have landed on the list without a second thought if I had heard it prior to the day before this post gets published.  I guess this is good motivation to be more involved again next year because this sort of EPIC pounding traditional doom metal that sounds mountainously tall is exactly what I had been wanting without even realizing it.  This is how I assumed Grand Magus sounded when they were first described to me, and boy do they live up to my incorrect imagination.

Venator - Echoes from the Gutter: Mirror obviously took the crown for me in the realm of throwback classic metal, but Venator was less than a noselength behind.  Mirror won out for their singular uniqueness, but despite Venator being a much more "normal" 80s metal wannabe, they were far and away the most fun and sincere of the bunch.  "The Seventh Seal" has been stuck in my head all year.

Kostnatění - Oheň hoří tam, kde padl: If I wasn't lazy and trying to finish this post in the 11th hour like the numbskull I am, this would have been the easy #1 entry in the "EPs/Demos of the Year" side feature I considered doing.  Kost's debut was a dissonant and evocative nightmare, and the followup EP, essentially a collection of Turkish folk songs thrown through a giblet-jammed woodchipper, is exactly that but with much more color in the periphery.  The melodies are all so immediate and so wrong somehow that even the more triumphant and proud moments feel like they're being delivered by a chattering skeleton.  I'm not sure if that makes sense but the point is that this record carries a layer of dust on it and I mean that in the best and least clear way possible.

Grenadier - Trumpets Blare in Blazing Glory: I will never, ever, ever stop being pissed off at Arghoslent for creating an incredibly specific style of Mercyful Fate riffs run through death metal intensities that I adore and absolutely believe is worth exploring and expanding on.  Because the band are such obvious, proud, abhorrent pieces of racist shit, nobody wants to touch their sound and anybody who does is immediately met with suspicion.  I just want somebody to do their style without wanting my wife dead, ya know?  So for now, Grenadier is the closest thing I've got until Mi'gauss decides to reunite.

There's usually more here but I ran out of time, whoops!  Enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2022

NEW AMERICAN GOSPEL: Lamb of God - Omens

IX: Me son?

I've spilled a lot of digital ink over the years defending how much I love Cannibal Corpse.  I say "defending" instead of any other verb partially because my ego is unreal and I apparently can't just enjoy one of the most popular metal bands in history without acting like I'm special because of it, but partially because one of the chief complaints against them is something I don't really care about when it comes to them but I do tend to levy at other bands pretty frequently and I don't really have a cogent defense for why Cannibal is an exception for me.  That complaint is, of course, the fact that they just kinda do the same thing with each new album and you always know what you're going to get.  I like evolution, I like new ideas, I like it when bands who have been kicking around for a long while mix things up and keep them fresh, I typically don't like it when bands find a sound that works and then get comfortable and stop evolving.  But that's only sometimes?  I dunno man, I don't care if late era Cannibal or Motorhead or Bad Religion albums sound exactly like their classics, but I do care if other bands do it.  I've been shitting on Krisiun for years because of this, why don't they get a pass while The Black Dahlia Murder does?

Well, the reason I'm pondering this is because Lamb of God just released their ninth album (or tenth or eleventh depending on how you count the Burn the Priest releases), Omens, and they're a band I've both covered extensively and, most importantly, have been hounding pretty relentlessly for refusing to evolve or improve for over a decade now, with Wrath being the last new angle they explored before just knuckling down and releasing slightly different versions of Ashes of the Wake with mostly diminishing returns ever since Resolution.  The difference seems obvious to me at first blush.  Every Cannibal album sounds like "A Cannibal Corpse Album", every Motorhead album sounds like "A Motorhead Album", and every Lamb of God album sounds like Ashes of the Wake.  

But that's not true is it?  Or is it??  I don't know anymore.  The whole reason I'm back typing shit on the internet again is because Omens is both Lamb of God's best album in years and also another completely predictable waste of time simultaneously.  I can't seem to decide for the life of me if this is just the best version of their lazy era or if this is maddeningly safe and not worth your time.  On one hand, tracks like "Gomorrah" and the title track hearken back to the more explosive and high octane form of groove metal they were championing on Sacrament.  On the other hand, tracks like "Ill Designs" and "Ditch" sound like they were written by an AI, without a single trick the band hasn't already pulled out dozens of times already.  On the other other hand, "Denial Mechanism" is quite possibly the best song the band has written in over a decade and that alone puts this above like four other albums in their history.  On the other other other hand, part of the reason "Denial Mechanism" stands out so much is precisely because it doesn't sound like paint-by-numbers Lamb of God and instead takes a gargantuan heap of influence from old school hardcore and thrash metal, put through their distinctly modern mix, making it almost dangerously heavy and unhinged sounding.  

I think what separates the Cruz era from the end of the Adler era (partly because so little else actually changed) is that the band sounds so much more alive on these last two albums than they did on the two previous.  Yeah, you could probably throw all 44 tracks from the last four albums, randomly select ten of them, and wind up with a pretty cohesive hypothetical album without even trying to sort the tracks into an order that makes sense.  They've been pretty plug-and-play from a music perspective for ages now, this isn't a secret.  Basically every track is going to be a relentlessly aggressive mixture of groove metal with twinges of metalcore and occasionally thrash metal here and there, the drums will be far more complex than the guitars, and Randy will punch through with his hardcore tinged roaring.  You've heard "Hourglass" before and now you're gonna hear it some more.  But with that said, I think I could pretty reliably tell you if any given song was from the Cruz era or not simply because the two albums since he joined have so much more energy and life to them.  Omens is, just like the self titled from two years ago, difficult to talk about because the most apt summary is still "Just imagine if Resolution was actually pretty good".  There are some more granular differences of course, they definitely seemed to have rediscover how powerful a well placed breakdown can be in recent years and the Pantera influence only gets stronger with each passing year, but Lamb of God's ninth album really isn't all that different from Lamb of God's third album.  

To loop back to the intro, why is Lamb of God one of the bands that I seem to arbitrarily demand evolution for?  This and the previous album have presented a sort of crisis of faith for me because the entire damn thesis for the retrospective and previous eight reviews was to track their evolution early on and lament how disappointing it was when they abruptly stopped.  Yet despite having all of the exact same issues in the abstract, I've thought the last two albums were, if nothing else, solid, often erring towards just unconditionally "good".  I think what I've come to realize is that music nerds broadly, metal nerds narrowly, and I specifically, tend to get stuck in this mindset that bands need to continually and exponentially evolve and/or improve in perpetuity, otherwise they're resting on their laurels or being lazy or whatever.  Listening through Omens, I find myself asking why I'm suddenly not willing to accept consistent enjoyability?  Sure, this doesn't have an identity as strong or singular as the debut or anything, and even the best songs don't stand out as capital lettered Obviously Iconic tracks like "Laid to Rest" or "Vigil" did back in the glory years (though you can argue that this album does have the strongest hardcore influence since the debut, though it's of a much less chaotic stripe this time around), but man, it's a pretty decently fun listen.  The only true standout track to my ears remains "Denial Mechanism", and I really can't get excited for "Ill Designs" but that still leaves at minimum eight songs that rank as "alright".  Maybe a solidly "alright" album isn't exactly a high recommendation, especially coming from a band as well tenured and divisive in the underground as Lamb of God, but it turns out I'd take an uninteresting but still good album over a fascinating trainwreck most days (I love talking about St. Anger but I never ever ever want to actually listen to it, ya know?).  Lamb of God's problem, as it turns out, wasn't necessarily that they stopped evolving and just stuck to what worked in the past.  No, apparently the issue was that their worst albums are just phoned in and boring as fuck, because Omens is exactly as uninteresting as Resolution but is magnitudes better simply because the energy is through the roof, even if the creativity isn't.


Saturday, January 1, 2022


Reports of my death have been somewhat exaggerated.  I only wrote five reviews all year, the lowest I've ever somehow managed since basically half my life ago.  The reasons why I've been offline are numerous and ultimately irrelevant (basically a nice combo of real life + FFXIV + realizing I've been terminally online since 2004 and desperately needed to remind myself what sunshine looked like), but I'm back in time for the year end list because hell yeah of course I am.  I love lists, I love making them, I love reading them, I love everything about what is essentially journalistic clerical work but this dumb clickbait shit is where I thrive.  2021 was a weird year for the music I listen to because up until the start of the month I had been calling it "The year of the 7/10", because a vast majority of new releases I checked out were good, competent, totally fine, but almost never really magical in any way.  Then when it came time to actually organize this list, I surprised myself by really struggling to narrow it down to only 13 to highlight.  I dunno man, this year just snuck up on me and wound up kicking way more ass than I had realized at the time.

Anyway I know what you're here for, so let's just get to it.  This is!


Rules are the same as always: Full lengths only (one of these entries is disputed on whether it's an EP or LP, but the band goes with the latter so I'm counting it) and that's it.  The list tends to stay metal since that's just where my listening focuses but ya never know.  Fuckin' Foxy won last year so ya gotta stay on your toes.  Let's get on with it:

13: Fimir - Tomb of God
Ya know, for a guy who has always counted doom as one of his least favorite of the major metal subgenres, there really was something about this ultra basic classic doom record from Fimir this year that grabbed me and refused to let go since the day I came across it.  I have no history with four of the five members' previous band, Church of Void, but I had a feeling upon first listen that these guys were scene veterans already.  There's a confidence in Tomb of God that can only come with experience.  "One Eyed Beast" is such an incredible earworm but has massive balls for riding on basically one riff for nine and a half minutes while the vocalist devolves into tuneless moaning by track's end.  The fact that they could pull off such a terrible idea so well speaks to the level of artistry on display here.

12: Yoth Iria - As the Flame Withers
For all my admitted ageism when it comes to metal bands, I find it darkly ironic that the first two entries here are debut albums by "new" bands comprised mostly of scene veterans.  Yoth Iria sports a much healthier lineage, with the two founding members having played on the first two Rotting Christ albums, and even though I never really got into the Greek black metal scene all that much, I know damn well the clout that brings the band.  As the Flame Withers fantastically channels that warm atmosphere of their homeland.  The album art is actually a pretty good metaphor for the sound on display.  It's massive, smooth, dark, and colorful all at the same time.  That may seem like a strange combo for a genre as traditionally icy and inaccessible as black metal but I promise you it kicks ass.

11: Inoculation - Celestial Putridity  
I initially had Archspire bringing up the tail on this list, but as the months rolled on I found myself more and more let down by it.  I think the reason Inoculation find themselves here instead is because this sounds like Archspire if every other note was removed.  The Canadians' signature blend of total sensory overload used to augment some sharp hooks, but they've regressed back to being all sizzle and no steak.  I'm spending half of this entry talking about a different album but that's because Inoculation is such a phenomenal respec of one of the most popular tech death bands in the world.  It turns out that by taking 20 points out of Speed and putting them into Songwriting instead you can wind up with the same basic idea but much better.  Inoculation is modern tech death with a Nocturnus sensibility and that's a surprisingly delicate line to thread.

10: Demiser - Through the Gate Eternal
This is just so god damned stupid and I can't get enough of it.  Through the Gate Eternal is basically just regular old piss-n'-vinegar black/thrash and if you've heard Desaster, Aura Noir, or D666 before then you aren't going to find too many surprises, but what they lack in forward-thinking creativity they make up for in sheer fuckin' testicular fortitude.  This is over the top debauchery that is so on the nose that it rockets past farce and lands squarely on "pure fun".  I mean come on, the members gave themselves names like "Gravepisser", "Phalomancer", and the creme de la creme, "Demiser the Demiser", which also adorns the name of an appropriately silly track.  There's so much energy in a track like "Deathstrike" that I could never not adore this, even if I genuinely can't tell where the sincerity and irony actually end.

9: Hooded Menace - The Tritonous Bell
Hooded Menace is a band I've seen as kinda cursed to always be "quite good" but never managed to break the glass ceiling.  Turns out sixth time is the charm I guess.  I've always appreciated how they approach death/doom the same way as Runemagick, where the "doom" half of the equation comes from honest to god doom metal riffs instead of just slow death metal.  I don't know what they've really done differently here compared to their previous five albums, but they finally got over the hump with this one.  I really think it just boils down to them dialing in the grooves to an almost scientifically lethal degree this time.  They were always there but they were never as fully torqued as "Corpus Asunder" or "Blood Ornaments", the latter of which would almost certainly be my favorite song of the year if it wasn't for an upcoming entry.

8: 1914 - Where Fear and Weapons Meet
I think it speaks to how phenomenal the songwriting normally is with 1914 that they can close this album on an agonizingly long rendition of "The Green Fields of France" (which is thematically appropriate but meh in execution) and still manage to land in the top ten based on the previous 52 minutes.  I've beaten the drum enough when it comes to how much I hate themes of real life war being treated like a Disney movie and 1914 continues to be the poster child of making their music just as grimy and unpleasant as their themes.  This type of deathified black metal is so fucking bleak and nihilistic, it just punches me in the heartstrings every single time.  Where Fear and Weapons Meet is another triumph in their career and I'm glad they're finally starting to build the popularity they so obviously deserve.

7: Eternity's End - Embers of War
Man do you have any idea how awesome it is to hear Iuri Sanson singing on a good album for the first time in like a decade?  I recall their earlier albums being a less catchy old-school Dragonforce, but Embers of War has much more classic metal influence and holy shit is that the secret sauce they needed.  There are so many shades of classic power metal bands and here that it borders on being plagiarism but I don't give a shit because dammit Iron Savior and Running Wild are classic bands for a reason and their signature tropes just fucking work.  Honestly, if every song was as good as "Hounds of Tindalos" then this would be #1 without a second thought.  It is primo early 90s Running Wild put through a shreddier filter and I could listen to it a billion times in a row.  That's the song of the year without a fucking doubt.

6: Green Lung - Black Harvest
The most concise review of this album is three words long: "Ghost but good".  This is stoner doom at its core but there is such a massive injection of 70s rock in here that the comparison is unavoidable (especially since the vocals are equally thin and goofy).  The way "The Harrowing" leads into "Old Gods" is pure Boston and it works exactly as well as the classic rock staple it's obviously ripping off.  Black Harvest proceeds to be a salvo of Sabbathian riffage and Deep Purple organ shredding and it never stops being entertaining.  I'm almost certain this is the first album that could be described as "stoner" to ever land on this list and I don't know if that's because I'm finally warming up to the style or this is seriously head and shoulders above everything else.  Either way it owns.

5: Dream Troll - Realm of the Tormentor
This is actually kind of a weird one since it seems to be debatable whether this is an LP or EP, and long time fans tell me that this is a bit of a step down and the new vocalist isn't as good as their old one.  However, this is the first release of theirs that I've actually heard, so all this tells me is that I have an amazing backlog to explore, because I love every single second of this banger.  There are obviously four albums I like more than this one, but this is without a doubt the catchiest release of 2021.  This is hook after hook after hook and I can't get enough of it.  It should be clear by now that I like throwback metal when it feels like a lost classic instead of a deliberate homage, and this fulfills that criteria easily.  I could time travel to 1984 and put this on record store shelves and nobody would notice that it's from 35 years in the future.

4: Tower - Shock to the System
I only managed to write like five reviews this year, and Tower was one of the few album that motivated me enough to shout about how awesome it is.  Everything I loved about Satan's Hallow is showcased here in exactly as much glory as that tragically short-lived project.  Sporting possibly the most unhinged vocal performance of the year and some of the most ear catching throwback metal I've heard in a long while.  All the youth and fire that made those classic releases so good burns fuckin' hot on Shock to the System.  There's very little I can say that I haven't already said about this stunner, so I'll just reiterate how fucking awesome "Blood Moon" is.  I don't think I've heard a better opening track since Scanner's "Warp 7" way back in 1988.

3: Craven Idol - Forked Tongues
Say it with me now, "Dark Descent is a massively important label but the further away from death metal their releases are, the better they tend to be".  I've been saying this for a long while based on fantastic releases from Crypt Sermon and Tyranny and such, and Craven Idol here brings some of the most scorching black/thrash metal recorded in years to further solidify my belief that DDR should just give death metal a break at this point.  This is, without a doubt, Craven Idol's masterpiece.  All of the intensity, venom, hooks, and razor sharp riffage that made Towards Eschaton and The Shackles of Mammon instant hits for me has been amped up to a nearly unbelievable degree on Forked Tongues.  This is one of the few times that a metal record has not only lived up to, but easily surpassed the hype for me.

2: Spectral Wound - A Diabolic Thirst
I've never really dipped my toes into QCBM beyond a handful of releases, but I've always been aware of the little microscene and have enjoyed most of what I'd heard.  The reason Spectral Wound's homeland was such a surprise to me is because I was absolutely positive this band was either Finnish or French on first blush.  A Diabolic Thirst so exquisitely nails that dripping melodic edge that's so inherent to those scenes.  The entire album is fine-tuned and razor sharp, and brimming with so much caustic malice that it almost physically hurts to listen to.  I often say that I prefer my black metal to be a bit more fiery than icy, but Spectral Wound here is ice fucking cold and never once takes their foot off the gas.  I've singled out a lot of "best songs of the year" so far but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how utterly fucking flawless "Frigid and Spellbound" is.


1: Bewitcher - Cursed Be Thy Kingdom
On first listen way back in April, I thought this was kinda fun and then shelved it without much thought.  As the year went on, I found myself constantly coming back to it.  Over and over and over again I found myself humming quietly at work before realizing the tune coming out of my throat was the chorus of "Electric Phantoms".  Like an oil spill this just kept creeping back into my bloodstream and before I knew it, Cursed Be Thy Kingdom was my most listened to album on the year by a pretty wide margin.  This niche of blackened speed/heavy metal or whatever it's called nowadays (I've been calling it "Motorbastard" for a while) is consistently pretty good but rarely breaks above that for me.  I like Midnight and Hellripper as much as any self respecting metalhead, but Bewitcher's third album here just blows the entire fucking scene out of the water as far as I'm concerned.  I pegged Dream Troll as the catchiest release of the year but this is only behind by like a damn molecule.  All of the raucous filth and debauchery that made Venom so amazing in the early 80s is on display here and arguably even surpasses those early classics.  Yes, I'm willing to go that far for anybody who could write modern gems like "Satanic Magick Attack" or "Valley of the Ravens".  It's pretty weird for how much I crow about how too many metalheads are stuck on old sounds and refuse to truly explore the new bands that are genuinely innovating the style we all love for me to have three of my top five here sound like they could've been written nearly 40 years ago, but in the case of Bewitcher it has less to do with them doing anything new and more to do with them doing everything better.  Almost every album on this list was an instant hit for me, and historically like 70% of albums I put on these lists that immediately wowed me wind up fading from my memory after a few years, but Cursed Be Thy Kingdom was a slow burn that grew on me more and more as the year went on until I was fully in its clutches by year's end, and historically that bodes much better for how well this album is going to age along with me.  The entire top three here was really tough for me to suss out, but ultimately my gut (and my heart) tells me the only true winner of the BH Award for Album of the Year 2021 could only be Bewitcher.

And now for something completely the same!


Stormkeep - Tales of Othertime:  Honestly this is good enough to be like #8 or so, but I first heard it on the day I started writing this post.  Maybe I'm being overly cautious and I'll regret not putting it on the list proper if it winds up holding up and becoming a modern favorite of mine, but due to a quirk of timing I just flat out don't feel comfortable putting it on the list.  Phenomenal meloblack with some cool dungeon synth passages that I'd recommend any fan of classic Emperor or Dissection to check out, I just wish I would've heard it before December 26th.

Kanonenfieber - Menschenmühle: This is basically the exact same album as 1914's representative on the list and I'm being completely honest when I say that's the main reason I chose to exclude it.  It's weird that both bands aim for this exact same microniche and wind up executing identical ideas in almost identical ways and logically I should be annoyed by that (and I am to an extent), but Kanonenfieber is very good on their own and this album could've wound up ranking in an alternate universe where 1914 didn't put out a slightly better album that I chose to listen to more often.

Ningen-Isu - Kuraku: In a year with more doom-adjacent bands on my list than ever before, Ningen Isu still tragically misses the list proper despite putting out a great album for basically the tenth time in a row because they are pathologically incapable of releasing an album that isn't excruciatingly long.

Noctambulist - The Barren Form: This actually fought with Inoculation and Inferi as my favorite overly technical death metal album of the year, and I like how it's much grimier and more chaotic than the album that wound up making the list, but it's held back by having way too many lengthy passages of near silence on every damn track.  If they had mitigated (but retained) that effect then the final list would look different.

Kyning - Ān: I've heard literally nobody else talk about this excellent doom record this year, and I want to highlight it for two reasons.  1) The vocalist sometimes devolves into this odd fry-whine that sounds exactly like the dude from The Vines, and 2) Despite "only" being 55 minutes long, it still feels like cutting a track or two would've done this album a world of good.  At times I really feel like we're re-entering the CD era and bands are just cramming as much content as possible into every release when almost everything I heard this year would've been better with ten minutes shaved off.  Kyning is simply a great example of what I mean when I say that sort of thing.

Eye of Purgatory - The Lighthouse: This album had no chance of making the final ranking and I'd probably rate it a 7/10 or so, I just want to highlight it because I am utterly astounded that I stumbled across a Rogga project that isn't belligerently mediocre.  


Archspire - Bleed the Future: I touched on it in the Inoculation entry, but Archspire really let me down this year.  I noted at the time that The Lucid Collective could technically be classified as pornography since it was the type of thing you'd completely lose interest in once you finished masturbating, but Relentless Mutation just utterly trounced every expectation I could've possibly had for any modern tech death album in 2017 and to this day I still regret snubbing it on that year end list.  In 2017 they put out a modern masterpiece that stands against and even at times surpasses the undisputed classics of their genre, and in 2021 they seemed to revert right back to making porn.  I dunno, maybe their viral fame has shifted their priorities too much and now Dean is too busy focusing on memes and streaming to focus on writing a song as good as "Involuntary Doppelganger" again, but the end result here is that Archspire went from being kings that proved a dying genre still had some life left in it to just reminding me why I stopped listening to tech death so much in the first place.  What a bummer.

Cannibal Corpse - Violence Unimagined: This album isn't actually bad really, but I do think it signals a future that I'm really not interested in for the band.  Obviously, Pat is out of the band after his mental break a few years ago, and to the surprise of nobody he wound up replaced by Erik Rutan, who is a perfect fit based on chemistry alone.  The problem I have is that Erik's writing is just far less interesting than Pat's, despite being a perfectly capable guitarist.  Pat's songs had a more manic and technical edge that nobody really brings to the band anymore, so now their fifteenth album here is one of the very few where I really have no counter to the "it all sounds the same" criticism they normally get.  It's not a bad album, but they've homogenized their sound even more and I think it's time to admit they'll never be truly great again.

Running Wild - Blood on Blood: Normally, since it hasn't been the early 90s for nearly thirty years now, I wouldn't have any expectations to dash in the first place when it comes to Running Wild.  But I do admit, there was a part of me that was genuinely excited to hear this after Rapid Foray was so surprisingly decent.  Neither I nor any other self respecting metalhead was expecting them to crank out another Death or Glory or Pile of Skulls after 40+ years, but after surprising everybody last time, Rolf put on his best songwriting cap and instead cranked out the most boring and inconsequential album in Running Wild history, which is no small feat considering that history contains shit like Resilient.  Guess it was a fluke after all.

Grave Miasma - Abyss of Wrathful Deities: I only managed like five or six reviews all year as it is, one of them was for Grave Miasma, and at the end of the year I still forgot that I had even listened to this in the first place.  Just very, very, very dull for a band that carries a ton of clout.

Chainsword - Blightmarch: At this point I'm just convinced that whatever intangible chemistry that made Bolt Thrower work so well is completely impossible to recapture, because every single band I've listened to that has tried to replicate their formula has wound up being mind-drainingly uninteresting and Chainsword is no exception.

Enforced - Kill Grid:  This was hyped as the undisputed thrash king of the year and the worthy successor to Power Trip's throne after Riley Gale's untimely death.  It wound up being the okayest album of the year.

Iron Maiden - Senjutsu: Is it really a disappointment if I knew it was going to be the same album they've been rewriting since 2000 with the exact same problems they've had since 2000 with the seventh-power diminished returns since 2000?  I get that Maiden is one of the most legendary bands in the genre but fuckin' hell metal media has really been keeping their heads above water by desperately clinging onto bloated, waterlogged corpses like this one.  They need to move the fuck on and cut the dinosaur show already.  In no universe can I comprehend somebody listening to this shambling shadow of an album and thinking "Yo this fuckin SLAPS" while eagerly voting it as AOTY.  Guys, it is completely okay to revere the classics while admitting that the band hasn't truly been great in decades.

And that's all for 2021!  I've been trying to temper how much I personify years in recent months because it's very frustrating how instead of class consciousness we all get mad at abstract shit like years instead of lighting our bosses on fire, but regardless I hope this last cycle was good for you.  There's a blizzard heading towards my hometown right now so I'm gonna just hole up for the next few days and catch y'all on the flipside.  I promise I'll write more in 2022.  Toodles!