Friday, January 1, 2021

BH AWARDS 2020 AND MISCELLANEOUS NONSENSE

Hey guys, you know what time it is!  I've been doing this for too long now, as this is the 11th AOTY list I've posted to this blog (and they started as "unofficial" forum posts on a long-dead board back in 2005 or so so really I've been doing this for half my life now) and I just want to say thank you all for sticking with me as long as y'all have.  I put zero effort into promoting myself either here or at MA (where I started writing and where most of you know me from) so the fact that I have people willing to listen to whatever bullshit I have to say warms my cockles.  Thank you all.  I know it'd be the obvious cliche to talk about how much 2020 sucked as a year, but I'm only going to mention it in passing to explain that due to how awful the year was, I actually spent way less time listening to music at work (where I tend to do it) and instead focused mostly on podcasts and audiobooks for most of the year.  As a result, sometime around mid November I had realized I only heard like seven or eight albums that I even liked, so most of the last six weeks has seen me blitzing to check out everything I missed and get my list ready.  As a result, this is probably my least solid AOTY list in a long time, based purely on the fact that many albums haven't had time to grow on me and many of the ones that had a strong first impression didn't have time to fall off if they were going to.  So when 2030 rolls around and the next Album of the Decade list goes up, you can expect a lot of these to not return.  Sorry I dropped the ball for y'all this year, but I'm only human.  Either way, it's time for!
 
THE TOP 13 ALBUMS OF 2020

Y'all know the rule: full lengths only.  I dropped the "metal only" requirement years ago but the list tends to stay 100% metal anyway just by virtue of my listening habits.  Anyway lets get on with it!



13: Gaerea - Limbo
  
I briefly rememberGaerea being promising a few years ago with Unsettling Whispers in 2018.  That debut took black metal and mixed it with the nasty heaviness of sludge, and while it's initially kind of disappointing that they've become much more "normal" BM on Limbo, it's pretty quickly washed away simply by the virtue of how much better the songs themselves are this time around.  This is a very caustic and overwhelming album with an incongruent atmosphere of catharsis.  Every track here feels like taking the wakizashi to your gut and letting your demons spill out on the floor.  I'm hearing a lot of similarities to Mgla here but with a lot less malice involved.  It tends to hit the same mood over and over for the entire runtime but this is a case where that works marvelously because it's overwhelming in a good, artistic way.

12: Orbit Culture - Nija
  
I can't explain this album for the life of me.  On one hand it kinda sucks.  It feels much longer than it is, it focuses very heavily on groove elements in conjunction with melodeath, perfectly playing one of the least exciting and most entry-level styles of metal on the surface, the production is very punchy but is so mechanized and inhuman that it lacks any real sense of danger, et cetera.  On the other hand, I can't stop fucking listening to it and have come back to it like a dozen times since the summer so it must be doing something right.  Nija sounds like what I thought Fear Factory sounded like based on description alone, or alternatively like Scar Symmetry if they had more going for them besides a great vocalist.  Any album with tracks as devastating as "At the Front" or "Open Eye" is going to be a hit with me, full stop.

11: Jordablod - The Cabinet of Numinous Song
  
While it didn't rank at the time, I really enjoyed Jordablod's debut, Upon My Cremation Pyre.  It took the discordant, DSO styled-jangleblack and played it with both feet firmly planted on the ground, with much less incomprehensible experimentation and ultimately sounded like one of the few albums in the niche created by humans.  The Cabinet of Numinous Song completely throws that out the window and spends the lion's share of the runtime experimenting with noisy ambient soundscapes.  It's by no means an "ambient" or "noise" album, but both of those influences are definitely here, intertwined beautifully with both chaotic and downbeat dissonant black metal straight from the void. "The Two Wings of Becoming" is great black metal, while the title track is mostly noise accompanied by a guitar that sounds like a screaming baby.

10: Vader - Solitude in Madness
  
I so badly want Vader to stop appearing on these lists so I can stick to my ageist bullshit about classic bands needing to move on so new blood can keep the genre alive and exciting, but fuck man, Vader just can't physically stop themselves from kicking ass.  This is more Tibi et Igni than The Empire, basically meaning that this is full steam ahead from the word go and stays consistently wicked.  You'd think that after 30+ years they'd've slowed down at least a little bit, but no.  Vader sounds just as hungry and vicious as they did in 1995 and that's unbelievable to me.  Piotr is in his mid 50s how the fuck is he still this fast and angry?  To still routinely pump out songs as wild and nasty as "Shock and Awe" is nearly criminal.  As long as Vader lives, classic death metal will never truly die.

9: High Spirits - Hard to Stop
  
And now for the total opposite, my hometown heroes strike once again with yet another totally underappreciated delight of classic metal.  I've once heard High Spirits described as "as light as you can get while still being undeniably metal", and while that's less true in a post-Tanith/Wytch Hazel world, they still reign supreme to me in this niche of "light metal" or whatever you want to call it.  Their sound is so uplifting, unthreatening, and easy to listen to that they manage to strike a crossover into basically every other fandom within metal, and somehow they still haven't broken out as one of the "big names" in the scene.  Hard to Stop is something that both a bearded extreme metal freak like myself and my dad who liked AC/DC in the 70s can rock out to together, and dammit isn't metal supposed to be all about bringing people together?
 
8: Vengeful Spectre - Vengeful Spectre
 
I am eternally thankful for Pest Productions for all the work they do signal boosting Chinese bands.  I've always had a fascination with bands from there since it's weird to see the most populous country so wildly underrepresented in the world of metal.  It's thanks to them I've been able to hear great bands like Black Kirin, Holyarrow, Skeletal Augury, and now, Vengeful Spectre.  These guys have a flavor of Chinese folk in here thanks to the cool howly/whistly instruments, but the real appeal to me is how suffocatingly dense this record is.  You could just flippantly describe this self titled as "just" meloblack, but the fact that every song has like two hundred riffs in them and the intensity stays so high, even during the slow parts, is out of this world.  "Rainy Night Carnage" and "Wailing Wrath" are legitimately two of my favorite songs on the year.

7: Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin kynsi
  
Oranssi Pazuzu is one of the bigger names in black metal right now and for whatever reason I just never really gave them the time of day until this year.  Most people I've talked to have pegged this as their least good album but really that just tells me that I have one hell of an incredible backlog to sift through.  Mestarin kynsi scratches the exact same itch for me that Sigh scratched in their weird middle era.  The occasional blasts of intensity that cut through the downbeat electronics and psychedelic soundscapes is exactly what I've been missing out of one of my old favorites since In Somniphobia.  Sigh likely isn't the best point of comparison, but the muted trip hop elements can't help but bring them to the fore of my mind, and OP is fucking great at replicating that feeling I've been missing.  Maybe this is more for me than y'all, but I adore this.

6: Sweven - The Eternal Resonance
  
I couldn't get into Horrendous's Ecdysis when it dropped several years ago, so as a result I ignored every band that got compared to it, which is why I missed out on Morbus Chron when they were a thing.  Now that they're "back" as Sweven, I'm really starting to think that this whole psychedelic death metal thing was actually right up my alley all along (see also my 2018 list where Chapel of Disease landed a spot).  There's something about this vaguely extreme prog metal with low distortion, haunting melodies, and rollicking 70s rock grooves that I just can't get enough of right now, and The Eternal Resonance delivers that in spades.  I think I lack the language to explain exactly why this touches me so perfectly, but tracks like "By Virtue of a Promise" and "Mycelia" just tickle an erogenous zone I didn't even know I had.

5: Cult of Lilith - Mara
  
Iceland has become a surprising hotspot for metal in recent years, mostly thanks to the jangleblack scene (though I'm convinced most of those bands are decent at best and tend to get subconscious extra credit simply for being from Mystikal Volcano Island), but here we are finally giving the tiny nation some recognition and it turns out to be for incredibly precise, pristinely produced death metal.  Mara reminds me of a less technical version of early Fleshgod Apocalypse with odd Devin Townsend style vocals barging in every once in a while, and it's such a strange experience that I just can't kill it.  The first time I heard the quick two seconds of clean vocals in "Cosmic Maelstrom" I knew I was in for some weird shit that really shouldn't work but god dammit it works for me and this is probably the metal album I've spent the most time with this year.

4: Anaal Nathrakh - Endarkenment
  
Speaking of extreme metal with random operatic cleans!  Anaal Nathrakh is losing their shine for a lot of people it seems, as they've been sticking with the same style more or less exclusively for like six or seven albums in a row now, but god damn it works for me.  I know damn well they're gonna do that thing where they build up and then stop dead silent for half a beat before exploding with a blast beat and YAAAAAAAH scream.  I don't care, that shit gets me hyped every fucking time.  Despite me loving their style, they've been pretty hit or miss since Constellation but I can't deny that Endarkenment is definitely one of the good ones.  This is exactly as violent and unhinged as I like AN to sound, and the fact that Hunt's clean vocals keep getting worse over the years only makes the clean vocals sound more desperate and apocalyptic.  I love it.

3: Persuader - Necromancy
  
I've probably made it clear already, but Persuader's second and third albums are two of my all time favorites and their frustratingly slow release schedule since then has been a heavy pain on my heart.  The Fiction Maze had one or two incredible songs but was kind of underwhelming, so imagine my shock when Necromancy finally dropped six years later and wound up being nothing but absolute heaters and the true successor to When Eden Burns.  This is everything I want out of a Persuader album, blisteringly heavy power metal with anthemic choruses that consist of three hooks at once.  I've said for a long while that they picked up where Blind Guardian left off when they abandoned the rough speed metal of their early sound, and Necromancy continues to prove that.  "Scars" alone should illustrate why this is peak BH metal.
 
2: Protest the Hero - Palimpsest
 
The real surprise on this list is that Persuader is actually my metal album of the year.  It's true!  The final two are, for the first time in LOTB history, not metal albums!  That's not to say metal was weak this year, it's just that Protest the Hero somehow kept their streak alive and released another stunner.  Somehow each new album is their new best album, and every time I'm initially disappointed before slowly realizing every track is brilliant.  Rody irreparably damaged his vocal chords on the Fortress Anniversary tour, and as such the music had to change to accomodate his new voice and lack of ability to scream as much, and god fuck did they nail it.  This more overtly melodic style with added synths is life affirming.  "Little Snakes", "The Migrant Mother", and especially "All Hands" only further their legacy as one of the all time greats. 
 
 
AND THE WINNER IS...
 

1: Foxy Shazam - Burn
 
I mentioned before that my actual #1 album of the last decade wasn't actually Sigh and they took the prize entirely because I made the big list metal exclusive.  My actual favorite album of the 2010s was Foxy Shazam's self titled album, and their dissolution in 2014 was pretty much my musical 9/11.  Basically no other band on the planet has ever really managed to replicate Queen's classic 70s sound, but Foxy fuckin' did it back then.  Burn, their first since their surprise reformation early this year, on the other hand, is a stylistic whirlwind with a serious tonal consistency problem and a lot of bizarre experimentation that fans have seemed to largely balk at.  However, I think anybody familiar with them outside of their two most famous albums (the self titled and The Church of Rock and Roll) should be aware that they've never been afraid to experiment and have always been fearless in playing with expectations.  Burn is such an incomprehensible mess of weird ideas that all come together beautifully that even though it only came out a few weeks ago, it was basically the only album all year that I heard and immediately said "YES!  THIS IS IT!"  I think what makes this work so much for me is that this is the first one to find a way to accurately portray how much of a cocaine nightmare their legendary live performances are.  They are notoriously high energy and theatrical, despite the total lack of actual props or massive stages.  They perform like a group of ravenous madmen from the 70s on the budget of a coffeehouse indie band, pure punk energy with the sound of old school arena glam.  I saw them in 2014 on the Gonzo tour, and near the end of the show, Eric Nally took a pack of cigarettes from a fan in the crowd, lit four of them at once, ate them, and then sat cross legged on the floor and sang the chorus of "Dragula" a capella.  I've seen live footage of Sky White playing keyboards while crowdsurfing while Nally does a color guard routine with the mic stand using only his feet.  Even during their soulful ballads they act like a bunch of space cases that took a shitload of drugs that turned their brains into Jack Nicholson's face.  Burn is the first album that matches that kaleidoscopic apocalypse they invoke onstage.  The new bassist is a dude who wears a mask and calls himself Trigger Warning, there are two tracks that consist of nothing but swelling ambient strings and Nally and new drummer Teddy Aitkins singing Kevin Hart jokes with heavy autotune, "Dreamer" is a wonderful power ballad that starts off like something off Kesha's Rainbow and ends invoking Queen's more climactic moments, at one point the title track throws in a random death metal roar in the background before playing the breakdown from "Raining Blood" on the trumpet, "Suffering" is the most straight ahead driving rock song on the album and gets like one word away from referencing a Sublime song for the sake of a pun, "S.Y.A.A.F." contains the line "erection of the holy wood" before a jaw harp starts boinging away, there's just... a whole lot going on.  I'm probably making this sound like some r/iamveryrandom shit, and maybe it is, I dunno, but for me it perfectly showcases the steadfast defiance against stupid things like "rules" that Foxy has always proudly stood for.  This is everything I ever wanted out of a Foxy album, every single track is a banger, even the bizarre cloud rap ones, and at the end of the day, this album is like seeing an old friend for the first time in years and immediately reverting to all of your old inside jokes and catching up as though you haven't missed a day.  This is the exact sepia-toned warm-and-fuzzy that I think we all needed to close out the screaming rollercoaster ride down Fuck Everything Avenue that was 2020.  Likely the most controversial winner of the BH Award for Album of the Year we've had yet, but if I look in my heart and ask what my favorite album that came out in 2020 was, the answer is Burn.  Hands down.


And now for something completely the same!
 
 
 HONORABLE MENTIONS
 
Expander - Neuropunk Boostergang:  I love it when a band completely bucks the accepted aesthetics of their chosen genre, and Expander does that phenomenally with their Dan Terminus style album covers giving way to meaty thrash instead of busy synthwave, and even then it's not the hypertechnical excess that you'd expect from sci-fi themed thrash like Vektor or Watchtower, instead beefing up their sound with a ton of crusty grime and landing somewhere closer to Power Trip or Black Breath.  Neuropunk Boostergang makes this sonic mismatch work even better than the debut, simply being both tighter and more epic in scope.  The term "metalpunk" is often used with these guys but I need to stress that it's less the Motorbastard style and instead strikes a much more literal definition of crossover that sees them throwing in big heaps of noisy hardcore, and it rules.

Nyktophobia - What Lasts Forever: It's been nearly fifteen years since the last truly great Amon Amarth album, and I think a lot of fans like me have been yearning for a return to their more driving and pummeling early sound.  Nyktophobia finally delivers the spiritual sequel to The Crusher that I've been wanting for decades.

Temperance - Viridian: On the whole, I could take or leave most of the bands from this 3rd wave of power metal that has been mixing the classic genre with arena rock hooks and danceable beats.  Y'all know how I feel about Sabaton, Battle Beast and Dynazty have been steadily getting worse and worse, et cetera.  Temperance finally made the jump to this style with this album and it was a beacon of genuinely stupid fun in a sea of albums that are offensively stupid and unfun.

Atramentus - Stygian:  There's usually one funeral doom representative on these lists, either in the main thing or in the dooblydoo down here, and here it is for 2020.  Any band Phil Tougas shows up in is going to get some positive press by default, but the difference between him and other known mega-prolific guys in metal is that most of the albums he touches are really good, and Stygian is no different.

Stalker - Black Majik Terror:  Most throwback speed metal fans this year seemed to gravitate towards Solicitor or Traveler, but man Stalker is the exact kind of brainless energy that I just lap up.  It's unabashedly corny and I love that about it.
 
 
DISAPPOINTMENTS
 
Dynazty - The Dark Delight:  Maybe this is my fault for simply wanting this album to be something that it never tried to be, but god damn do I miss when Dynazty was cranking out chest beating arena anthems on speed.  Firesign may have signaled the shift to this 3rd wave style but it still had some great songs like the title track and "Follow Me".  The Dark Delight has absolutely nothing.  I don't fault the band for simply changing their style to better suit where they are as songwriters, but it's a damn shame that we traded the band that wrote monsters like Renatus and Titanic Mass in order to get a second rate Amaranthe knockoff.  It's not the worst album of the year or anything, but it definitely has the least amount of good in it.

Enslaved - Utgard:  I never really talk about them, but I like Enslaved a good amount.  It took me a while to warm up to their new direction since I'm just not much of a prog fan, but Below the Lights and Axioma Ethica Odini are both great albums, and I don't have too many bad things to say about In Times either despite not thinking it's particularly phenomenal.  Utgard on the other hand feels like pure autopilot.  All of that creativity I like so much seems to have finally dried up, because this is just bland as hell from a band that usually does much better.

Sodom - Genesis XIX:  This one barely qualifies since I think Sodom hasn't been truly good in a decade at this point, but I had several people I trust insist that this is a worthy addition to their discography and proof that they still have some left in the tank.  Yeah sorry, I still don't hear it.  They haven't had a new idea in eons and Angelripper is really showing his age.

Seven Spires - Emerald Seas:  This wasn't even a bad album really, just much less exciting than Solveig and I'm kinda bummed that Adrienne Cowan is following the Jorn Lande path of being an incredible vocalist constantly stuck in kinda underwhelming bands.  She needs to front something with some fuckin' power behind it, please, her voice is begging for that energy.

Wytch Hazel - III: Pentecost:  Again, not even a bad album necessarily!  This is just an example of an album that had a lot of hype behind it that just didn't connect with me.  This "soft metal" niche is pretty cool and all but it just doesn't hit me like the more aggressive styles do and I was really hoping this one would change my mind.

Uhhhh - Ehhhh?:  Every year I talk about how I plan on getting rid of the disappointments section because I get disappointed less and less each year, and that's how I feel again.  I only kept it in this year because I didn't listen to enough demos to do that section again and nothing sucked nearly as much as the Aftermath and Ministry albums from the previous years so I felt no need to highlight anything as the worst.  Yes I know I gave Imperial Triumphant a 0% review this year but it wasn't necessarily a disappointment and unlike the aforementioned albums I don't think it was an artistic failure.  I get the appeal, I just hate it.  And now I'm dragging this out because I have nothing else to say and I feel like this was a very short post this year, and George Soros pays me by the word so I've gotta stretch this shit like goatse.  Screw Flanders.


And that's it for 2020!  I always end on a note of hoping you all had a great year but let's be real here, unless you're a hermit crab you probably had an awful year.  To everybody who made it, I'm proud of you and I'm glad you're here.  If you're about to be evicted around the time you read this then you would be morally correct to beat your landlord to death.  To everybody who didn't make it, I'm sorry the people in power failed you and I hope we can make the world better in your memory.  To everybody who voted for Mitch McConnell, promptly fuck yourself with a railroad spike.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Aerith - For the Fallen

Can you hear the planet crying out in pain?
 

I know singles are frowned upon for the Diamhea Challenge, but I'm determined to stick with this theme and this is the last band I can find any music from and this particular single seems to be the only release actually based on FF if we're going by lyrics alone.  Aerith is notable for being the side project of Ken Bedene, the drummer for Aborted, handling drums and guitar, with his dad Frankie on bass and some rando on vocals.  "For the Fallen" is a nice enough melodeath tune obviously based on FFVII, but that's about all the musical description I can bear to muster for this.  It's a very simple, stock template melodeath song based mostly on Clayman era In Flames and that's about as far as the creativity goes.  It's a far cry from the pugilistic death metal of Aborted and I'd've never known this was Bedene's brainchild if I wasn't told outright.  All told it's one of those releases that covers well-trodden ground pretty thoroughly, but it's well done enough that any fan of the style will enjoy it.  The vocals sound like if Anders Friden didn't suck, the harmonized leads never stop but never really get dull either, the solo is flashy and exciting, and the song itself is structured very basically but does its job well enough.  So this isn't something I'd really recommend seeking out but if you like 90s In Flames/Dark Tranquillity then I don't see why you wouldn't like this either.  For me personally though, I wish this stretched its legs a little more and tried to do something a little more creative as opposed to just doing something that's already been done better by hundreds of bands decades earlier.


RATING: 59%

Starforger - Meteorfall

It's morphing time!
 
Third time's the charm, because now we've finally hit a band that is both unquestionably based on Final Fantasy lore and doesn't suck!  This is the nerd-paradise I was hoping I'd come across when I started this project, with five of the six tracks being unquestionably based on FF without being covers (you'd be amazed how few FF "inspired" bands I was able to find that weren't just endless covers of battle themes straight from the games).  This EP starts off with the one-two punch of "Hellfire" and "Diamond Dust", obviously based on staple summons Ifrit and Shiva, and then leads into "Five Hundred Years Later" based on the ambiguous epilogue to VII, followed by "Rose of May" telling the story of IX's Beatrix (the only acceptable waifu, fight me you weeb-pedo freaks), and climaxing with "The Sword Collector", based on The Absolute Boy Gilgamesh, his V incarnation specifically.  The sixth track seems to be unrelated, but was tacked on to the 2020 rerelease so hypernerds like me can safely avoid talking about it.

But enough expository banter!  Starforger's actual sound is closer to Wintersun than anybody else, replete with loads of twinkly keyboards and speedy guitar acrobatics.  I've said many times before that Wintersun's main downfall is simply that the brains behind the band can't rein himself in and just make great, focused songs with any regularity, so despite my vocal distaste for the band I do frequently seek out bands that sound like them, and Starforger does that very well.  Hell "The Sword Collector" cribs so heavily from Wintersun's "Battle Against Time" that it borders on plagiarism, but the overall package is a fuckload more consistent than anything the Finns have ever managed to put out.  
 
That actually winds up being the achilles heel of Meteorfall.  It's extremely consistent but this comes at the expense of every song sounding basically the same.  All six of them are fairly lengthy blasts of aggression that rarely slow down, full of catchy melodies, prominent synths, blast beats, and deep growls.  It's a great example of this particular power-metal-heavy subniche of melodeath but once you've heard the first song you've heard them all, as they all follow more or less the exact same template with the only real difference between them being their length.  The keys seem to be the real star of the show, with what I can only assume is a nod to "J-E-N-O-V-A" opening "Hellfire" and an absolutely sublime chorus melody in "Five Hundred Years Later", and just generally being the most interesting part of any given song.  The rest of the instrumentals are no slouch, don't get me wrong, but they clearly play second fiddle to the high-flying twinkliness that overpowers the album.  Despite how samey Meteorfall is on the whole, I can't deny that I had a lot of fun with it.  Starforger is without a doubt the best FF themed metal band that actually plays originals that I've come across on this journey, but I'd be lying to you if I said it was fantastic.  It's just a damn solid Wintersun knockoff but I can jive with that.


RATING: 78%

Atma Weapon - Through Seas of Gray

Don't forget to wait until the final ten seconds to save Shadow!
 
Continuing with the Final Fantasy theme, we switch from Ultima Weapon (based on the FFX iteration: aka the shitty one) to Atma Weapon (based (at least by the translation) from the FFVI version: aka the best one), and I find it funny that the band named after the chump you can one-shot without much fuss is mega heavy slamming brutal death metal, while the band named after the super intimidating "pure strength given form" is wimpy prog metal.  But hey, them's the shakes and I doubt either band gives as much of a shit about FF lore as I do.  Atma Weapon sure as shit don't since I'm fairly sure none of their songs are actually based on the games, rendering this stupid theme-week even more pointless than it already was.
 
I gave all three releases from the North Carolina-based quartet a listen, and while I think their debut, Dark Tower is unquestionably the "best" one in the sense that it has the most depth and complexity to it, I found myself actually gravitating towards their 2018 EP, Through Seas of GrayDark Tower is very winding and intricate, with excellent melodic complexity taking the listener on an epic journey, but at the end of the day it felt like very paint-by-numbers prog metal and I just couldn't bring myself to care.  Through Seas of Gray on the other hand, is drop-dead simple and barely metal, but I find it much more engaging and more interesting to talk about.  These are five tracks that are more or less just standard rock with a few metalisms thrown in like a chugging riff in "Last Days of Hope" or a nice guitar solo that introduces "Fair Weather", but these streamlined songs let the frankly stellar vocals shine.  Mick Armstrong's voice is very much suited to this aggressive rock style, and he complements this style much more than the Dream Theater-y debut.  He has this rattly inflection that I fucking adore and wish more vocalists had.  I've never really been able to describe it beyond "rattly", but it's that style you can find in bands as disparate as Iron Savior, Clutch, and Off With Their Heads, and I can't get enough of it.

The overall mood is very dark and morose, and when overtly melodic metal bands aim for this I tend to get bored pretty quickly, but keeping the metal quotient fairly low here works to the EP's advantage.  Something like the title track has a chorus that is just straight up Nickelback, (I swear to god it's nearly identical to "Someday" or "If Today was Your Last Day") which will turn most people off with good reason, but here I think it works as a very relatable hook that grounds the rest of the song.  This is very heavily emotional sadguy stuff, but I dunno, it works for me in a way that most alternative rock simply doesn't.  Maybe it's the fact that they used to be a metal band, maybe it's me being an insufferable FF nerd being nice to a band with a cool name, maybe it's just the fact that this style is something of a blind spot for me and I'm actually more of a fan than I realize, hell maybe tons of prog metal actually sounds like this and I've just never noticed because I'm usually drenched in extremity, but whatever the reason I can't bring myself to say this sucks despite how simple and radio-friendly it is.  This sort of emotional verse-chorus rock with big fuckin' chords and simple patterns likely isn't for the type of people who will inevitably read this review, but I think it works.


RATING: 78%

Monday, November 30, 2020

Ultima Weapon - Spira

Go away
 
For this winter edition of the Diamhea Challenge, I am only going to be reviewing bands and albums that reference Final Fantasy in some way.  Why?  Because it's a stupid thing to do and I love doing stupid things.

So we're gonna start today with Ultima Weapon, one of Jared Moran's ten gazillion shitty half-hearted projects.  If you're unfamiliar with the guy, Moran is one of those special types of metalloids who has several dozen one-man-bands that all sound more or less the same, releasing new material under rotating names at an alarmingly high clip.  Sometimes they're a bit more grindy, sometimes they're a bit doomier, but I've stumbled across like eight of his projects over the years and each one reads the same.  It's lo-fi death metal with songs that sound like they were finished in a half hour and there's really nothing more you can say about them because that's all they are.  His output is functionally identical to Bob Macabre or Rogga Johansson if he didn't have any friends.

I walked into this with the intention of making stupid FF-nerd jokes about like "'Ronso Rage' sure is a fitting name since the main riff is a total copy of 'Liege of Inveracity' by Suffocation" and "This is probably such a weak release because they based it on the FFX version of Ultima Weapon, which is the shittiest one in the franchise", but once I realized this was a Moran band my mindframe completely shifted because who the fuck cares?  He's less a Weapon and more of a Mimic, because I thought I had blundered into a potential gem since it's so rare to hear metal based on videogames that aren't just straight up covers, but then I opened the chest and fuck it's the same shitty scratchy BDM he always pumps out.  It's a short eleven minute blast of mid-paced kinda-slammy death metal with no lasting impact shat out by a guy who has done this exact thing literally dozens of times.  There's only one sentence of musical description in this review because that's all it's worth and if you listen to it yourself you'll agree.

For good BDM that is super tangentially related to FF just stick to Jenovavirus.


RATING: X%

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Imperial Trimphant - Alphaville

Oh god I'm getting old
 
Imperial Triumphant is one of those hot new properties that has taken the music snob world by storm, and it's easy to see why.  This is utterly whacked out, high concept avant garde madness.  Their aesthetic is not only incredible and unique (a type of art deco/retrofuturist pastiche with an undercurrent of decay seeping through every jagged angle) but it perfectly complements their overarching theme of high society elites being not-so-secretly baby eating monsters.  This discordant juxtaposition between the callous sociopathy of the upper class and the mud-caked destitution of the lower class is flawlessly executed in the way the music itself works as well, with dissonant jangleblack, amelodic walking basslines, and utterly chaotic percussion clashing against big band brass, barbershop quartets, and tribal hand drums.  The entire experience is fractured and disorienting in a way that feels entirely intentional.  It's rare you get a metal album so unafraid to step outside the boundaries of what metal is "supposed" to be (something I wish more bands explored) and to hear a concept so seamlessly intertwined with the music itself.  You don't need to read anything that spells it out for you to understand it, the industrial clangs and high-falutin' phoniness of the glitzy elements are so square-peg-round-hole against the cyclonic whirlwind of the dominant metal sections that it's obvious on its own.

The problem with all of this is that it sucks.  It's... it's so, so unbearable to listen to, holy shit.

In Robin D. G. Kelley's biography of Thelonious Monk, he tells a story wherein he is desperately trying to replicate Monk's unique style of jazz piano, complete with weird off-time clunks and blangs (he wasn't nicknamed "Melodious Thunk" without reason) and no matter how hard he tried he simply couldn't get the sound right.  It became clear to him why when he had a dream where he was struggling during practice before Monk himself approached him and said "You're making the wrong mistakes."

That quote never left my mind throughout the entirety of Alphaville.  Imperial Triumphant is so clearly doing everything in their power to create a disorienting soundscape of jazzy avant garde black metal and despite doing seemingly everything correctly, making all the fucked up noises in all the spots you might expect, it still sounds like they're screwing up in all the wrong places and wind up creating a discordant nightmare that physically hurts to listen to despite their intention being executed perfectly.  The climax of "City Swine" sounds exactly like what I'd expect metalheads who completely misunderstood Monk to sound like; a hellish whirlwind of amelodic piano smashes against seemingly free time blast beats an atonal bass runs.  It conceptually showcases why the planet-sized thumb of class inequality absolutely sucks to live under when you're not on top, but in doing so they wind up creating music that... well, absolutely sucks.  Monk is also the originator of the famous quote about jazz being just as much about the notes you aren't playing as the notes that you are, and Imperial Triumphant apparently threw this piece of advice straight the fuck out the window because they play every single note in existence at every second.  The value of silence seems to be approached during more introspective moments like the bass and snare outro of "Atomic Age" that leads into the solo piano intro of "Transmission to Mercury" but it comes at the tail end of eight excruciating minutes of indecipherable nonsense.  The off-puttingly weird quiet moments actually work pretty well, all told, but they're bookended by unlistenable bullshit.  "Transmission to Mercury" is one of the standouts purely because that smooth intro goes on for so long and gives the most welcome reprieve from the eyeball-spinning cacophony that populates the rest of the record.

I gave extremely high marks last year to White Ward's sophomore album, Love Exchange Failure, particularly because I thought the smooth saxophone melodies didn't add a new dimension to atmoblack as much as it filled a space that I didn't realize was empty before.  Alphaville does the exact opposite thing by cluttering every space with so many 2smart4u elephant noises, rattling clangs, and screeches that it makes me beg for sweet release the longer it goes on.  Each new track introduces a new sonic element that intentionally clashes against what the band was doing ten seconds before, which in itself was already a cacophonous mess.  It's the musical equivalent to letting a six year old choose toppings for a sundae.  The title track is basically the only piece on the whole album where it manages to go a solid five minutes or so where the concept is executed in a way that doesn't sound like a kid fucking around in Guitar Pro, and that's with the caveat that once those five minutes are up it goes right back into sounding like a shootout in a music store.

Maybe all of this sounds great to you, and that's fine.  This is certainly tailor made to appeal to flannel-clad /mu/people, bearded pipesmoking hipsters, and hygiene-deficient avant garde unmusic fans to jerk themselves off around while normies like me grimace and stick my fingers in my ears, and there's nothing inherently wrong with being those things (but please, take a shower).  But something like Liturgy breaks all of metal's rules while creating something that resonates emotionally, blending incoherent, pretentious philosophical sophistry with music that punches you directly in the heart and forces you to reassess what black metal is even supposed to be.  Imperial Triumphant breaks all of metal's rules while creating something that sounds like flailing children who have no fucking idea what they're doing.  Alphaville is the high budget version of "terrible on purpose" and I didn't enjoy one single second of this disaster.  Maybe I'm missing the point or it simply isn't for me, but that doesn't prevent me from hearing a discordant hellsong like "Excelsior" and considering picking up smoking again just so I can die slightly sooner.


RATING: 0%

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Stalker - Black Majik Terror

Playing skittles with the heads of the French Aristocracy
 
This year has been weird for everybody.  I'm not gonna pontificate on all the havoc wrought by covid and such because I'm sure you've all experienced your own unique hardships, but for the purposes of a music review blog, I found a pretty big shift in my listening habits.  That whole Relitigating High School series wasn't just a shelved idea that I resuscitated to cure writer's block, it's also just where my music listening habits were for most of the year, seeking comfort and security in a past that I know already happened and didn't kill me.  As a result, near the end of the year as I do my yearly scramble to listen to everything that might be worth considering for my year end list, I've found myself shifting away from the more grand meta way I've been looking at metal.  Less brainpower spent on "Does this philosophically clash with the presentation?  Is this doing anything truly new?  How does the context of the wider scene affect this album's impact?" and much more spent on adolescent surface-level stuff like "Do these riffs fucking rule?"  And that's what leads me to today's subject, New Zealand's Stalker (there's an umlaut in the name but my stupid english keyboard doesn't have a button for that so you'll have to deal).

Black Majik Terror is the band's sophomore album, but their debut completely slipped past me despite being my exact jam purely because 2017 was jam packed with raucous throwback speed metal and they just slipped through the cracks.  In a much less crowded year, Stalker has managed to jump out of the darkness and punch me in the face with a force akin to a coked out Butterbean.  Taking a more surface level approach to music lately has helped Black Majik Terror spring to the forefront of my listening cycles because this is some of the dumbest shit I've ever heard.  There isn't one single heady idea, no new interesting or creative twists on an old formula, nothing of the sort.  This is tried and true speed metal with obscene tempos, ludicrous soloing, and endless tuneless yelping but it's played with so much fucking gusto that I can't fault it one bit.  This is the Zapp Brannigan of speed metal - all CHA with zero INT.  Apart from the brief moments of respite in "Holocene's End" and "The Cross", this is forty unbroken minutes of straight ahead downhill pummeling.  It's actually kind of hard to talk about because that's really all there is to say.  Tracks like "Intruder" and "Of Steel and Fire" are loaded with so many riffs and screaming leads that there isn't any way to really dissect them without disorienting yourself.  

This frantic lack of restraint calls to mind OG heavyweights like Agent Steel and Razor, and if you don't like Razor then when the fuck are you doing here?  The very nature of playing throwback speed metal gives them a pretty limited pool of influence to draw from, but I'd say they stack up against (and surpass) most of their contemporaries drinking the same juice like Ranger or Vulture.  I'd say they're most similar to Evil Invaders simply because they both ape Razor so hard, but in reality, the correct answer is Seax.  The big difference between the Kiwis and the Massholes is that charismatic intangible I mentioned earlier.  Both bands aim for pure speed above all else and include vocals that aim for raucous squawking and incoherently bizarre falsetto wailing, but Seax never really felt confident in doing so, instead just kinda imitating John Cyriis while being self conscious of how ridiculous it sounds, whereas Stalker's Dave King just strides out on stage with his cock fully out and makes eye contact with you while pointing directly at it while making noises somewhere between a deer mating call and Massacration.  It's so rad, I fucking love it.  It's the same reason I love Scanner's Hypertrace so much.  This kind of vocal approach lives and dies on the vocalist's ability to sell it.  In objective terms it sounds like ridiculous wailing, but in context and presentation it sounds like unhinged primal fury, and Stalker absolutely sells it.  I would trade my wedding ring for the vocal stems just so I can blast them out of my front window all day.

So yeah, Black Majik Terror is just pure speed and wailing and that's all there is to say about it, but conveniently that's all I want out of this style.  This is the exact opposite of "thinking man's metal" and I'm fuckin' here for it.


RATING: 88%

Saturday, October 31, 2020

LADDER MATCH: Propagandhi vs. Type O Negative

It's time once again for one of my patented Semi-Whenever-I-Get-Time Ladder Match! Wherein I will take two completely unrelated bands and rank their discographies against one another to see who winds up being the better one, much to the disappointment of all onlookers.

The rules are simple: I rank the albums of the two bands against each other and assign points down the line.  So for example, if there are 15 albums for each band, the best record of the bunch will get 30 points, the next will get 29, after that will get 28, and so on down to 1.  The winner will obviously be determined by whoever has more points, so in this arbitrary system it's better to have a more consistent career on the whole.  Say Band A has the five best albums and also the bottom ten, they'll end with 195 points, while the band that sweeps spots six thru twenty will end with 270.  And also, since I like to make shit contradictory and complicated, if the bands do not have an equal number of records, the band with more albums will have their middlemost album excluded from ranking, because if I do a list with Morbid Angel, you bet your ass I'll want Illud Divinum Insanus to count for the same reason I'd want Altars of Madness to count.  You don't get to sweep your mistakes under the rug here on Ladder Match.  This is how I balance consistency with spikes in quality, deal with it, chumps.

Our matchup today (in patented "zero effort Microsoft Paint Abomination" fashion) is:
 

It's October, which means it's the perfect time to highlight the quintessential Spooky Metal Band, Type O Negative.  While they were the impetus for this particular feature, I didn't want to give them an easy win, so I'm stacking them up against one of my most listened-to artists over the last year or so, the Canadian Anarchist Punklords, Propagandhi.   I do my best to make the opponents totally different from one another, but as always, there are going to be some tenuous similarities.  Here we have two bands that started as some version of punk (hardcore for the former, skatershit for the latter) before evolving into something much more unique and defining their signature sound.  But other than that, we have two very different legends in the ring this time.  TON basically dominated the "gothic metal" subniche in a way that sounds almost nothing like what the term came to mean with the proliferation of Within Temptation and bands of that ilk, instead of having some gorgeous woman coo over lameass non-riffs, TON took an ugly eight foot tall dude and had him deeply croon over a very literal mixture of heavy metal and Fields of the Nephilim style goth rock.  Propagandhi on the other hand started off with Fat Wreck style melodic punk that was so iconic and influential that NOFX themselves basically changed their entire sound to rip them off, before molding into a much more angry and metal-infused band of aggressive activists.  They're both undisputed monarchs in their spheres and today I'm gonna reanimate Peter Steele's corpse so they can throw down in a Ladder Match. 
 
 
14: Type O Negative - The Origin of the Feces
 
I'm sorry, I love both of these bands but something had to come in last place, and this seemed like the easiest candidate.  I do think this is a necessary component of Type O's canon, but at the same time it's without a doubt the most easily skippable.  Type O has always had a black sense of humor, and this is without a doubt their funniest release, but it's still kind of a throwaway joke in the grand scope of things.  The story goes that their record contract at the time stipulated that they needed to record a live album, so for their second album here they decided to basically just perform the first album again (with different song titles) in addition to a few covers and then dubbed in a bunch of fake crowd noises to simulate an antagonistic crowd.  I think that's hysterical.  Truly a middle finger to the moneymen above them and it's great to hear no cheers at all and all of the between-song banter being Steele telling the crowd to fuck off (the crowd chanting "FUCK! YOU! FUCK! YOU!" during the quiet part of "I Know You're Fucking Someone Else" is pure poetry) is wonderful.  My problem is that, beyond the truly transformative covers of Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath, this consists entirely of tracks that you can hear better versions of on Slow, Deep, and Hard, and for that reason it's the only album out of either discography that I think you can totally pass up without missing much.
PROPAGANDHI 0 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 1
 
13: Propagandhi - How to Clean Everything
Like I mentioned up top, Propagandhi's 1993 debut, How to Clean Everything, was such an instantly influential blast of melodic punk aggression that even NOFX, one of the biggest bands in the genre and essentially the owner of Fat Wreck Chords itself, shifted their sound to more closely emulate it.  It's one of the most influential punk albums of the 90s, but... man I just don't like it all that much!  I think it's so underwhelming that I actually didn't bother listening to the rest of Propagandhi's superior catalog for years simply because I figured it'd be more of this.  The reason I don't cover punk all that often despite listening to so much of it is because I simply haven't spent literally my entire life ensconced in the scene like I have with metal, so I just lack the language to analyze it as well, and I find myself struggling here for that exact reason.  Like, it's fast and melodic and does the stuttery riff that every skate punk band in the universe does at minimum twice per song and says "fuck" a lot, but beyond that what can I really say about it?  I know it predates Punk in Drublic but it's really just that sound.  Chris Hannah's voice at this point was really nasally and bratty in a way that he would drop entirely in an album or two, and it works for the snotty attitude of the album itself, but it's really one of the weaker aspects of the album.  Some of the elements that would go on to define the band's later albums are here to an extent (the band's caustic and sharply left-wing lyrics are the obvious thing) but the actual sound of this album is just so far removed from what I'd later love that I struggle to enjoy it on its own merits.  Maybe that's unfair, but as it stands this is basically emblematic of all the things that made 90's punk so great, but the application of context makes it both better and worse.  In the context of where the scene was at the time, this was incredible example of it, but in the context of the band's entire career, this was a very un-Propagandhi record that just so happened to kick off an incredible uber-Propagandhi career.  If there's anything about it that's better than their later work, it's that I appreciate how much fun they obviously had with this one.  There's a lot more comedy and youthful brashness in tunes like "Ska Sucks" and "This Might Be Satire" than they'd ever do in the future, and even the more serious tunes like "Anti-Manifesto" have some classic fun bits like the quick interjection of "By the way, I stole this riff" before a quick one second long shred.  But regardless, this is without a doubt my least listened-to album of their career, with only "Anti-Manifesto" and "Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddamn Ass, You Sonofabitch" remaining in my listening cycle whenever I go on a binge. 
PROPAGANDHI 2 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 1

12: Type O Negative - October Rust
  
If there's any controversial entry in this feature, it's gonna be ranking October Rust so near the bottom.  I get it, this is one of their most beloved albums, released at the peak of their popularity in the 90s, complete with like six of their most iconic tunes, but I dunno man I've never jived with this one all that much.  That's not to say it's bad, neither band in this feature has a true stinker, but the mood they were evoking on this one just doesn't connect with me like some of their other albums do.  I get why it's so beloved, there's no denying that this album is fucking lush.  It has a gorgeous sound that's very floaty and romantic and it complements their lighter compositions this time around incredibly well.  In terms of actually achieving what they were going for, October Rust knocks it out of the fucking park.  Hell I'd even say they're very good at it and there's no denying the amount of classic tracks here.  But frankly, objective critique is impossible when it comes to art and even though I think all of these components work wonderfully in tandem with one another, it just doesn't resonate with me.  I think "Be My Druidess", "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend", "Wolf Moon", and "Red Water" are all fantastic songs, but even though the other classics like "Green Man", "In Praise of Bacchus", "Haunted", and especially "Love You to Death" are fundamentally similar, I skip them nearly every time I put the album on.  I think that's actually my problem with the album as a whole, the mood is very static and it more or less hits the same note over and over again as it goes.  It's a good note, but I know they're capable of so much more, and the fact that TON was notoriously bad at trimming the fat means that we're treated to basically 75 minutes of the same mood and it isn't overwhelming enough to really work.  I don't care that this is one of their least heavy albums, the songs I like a lot aren't necessarily the heaviest ones on display, and you'll see later on that some of their best songs were their least metallic, but over an hour of lethargic romantic textures exhausts me in a bad way.  If nothing else, this sports one of Steele's absolute best vocal performances.  He was on top of his game in 96 and his deep baritone croon is at it's peak here. 
PROPAGANDHI 2 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 4

11: Propagandhi - Potemkin City Limits
Propagandhi's style shift was complete by this point in history, to the point that if you weren't familiar with them you'd never guess this was the same band that wrote How to Clean Everything, and that's not a bad thing.  Their unique style of heady punk rock blended with the perfect amount of thrash metal to create an instantly identifiable sound was perfected already, and this is simply the least great of their great albums.  Fundamentally this is pretty similar to the preceding album, but its main fault is that it's simply not as memorable as their other albums.  I tend to refer to this album as "The one with 'A Speculative Fiction' and a bunch of other songs" and I've never been able to break away from that mindset.  "A Speculative Fiction" is one of the best songs they ever wrote, perfectly exemplifying their aggressive punk that gets sidetracked with acoustic diversions and occasional thrash riffs, loaded with memorable moments (YOUR STUPID FUCKING LASER PUCKS WERE JUST THE START) with the dead-eyed seriousness that they'd carry throughout their career.  The problem is that nothing else even comes close to the brilliance of "A Speculative Fiction".  "Fixed Frequencies", "Fedallah's Hearse", and "Die Jugend Marschiert" keep the momentum going as best as they can, but ultimately this one just doesn't live up to the standard they set for themselves.  Oddly enough this actually has a lot of similarities to October Rust when looked at in the context of both bands' careers.  They're both the least good of their classic eras and second least good overall, they're both the fourth album out of seven and the second after their signature sound was solidified, they're both the lightest and most melodic of the bunch, and they both feature the best vocals.  I adore Hannah's deeper register that he took on at the turn of the century and I love Todd Kowalski's super gruff secondary vocals that started once he joined after the first two albums, and neither of them have ever truly deteriorated but I'd say they're most impressive on Potemkin City Limits.  Overall though, I think I can sum this up best by pointing out that the title track is on a different album and that kinda speaks to how much more important their other albums are when compared to this one.
PROPAGANDHI 6 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 4
 
10: Propagandhi - Less Talk, More Rock
 
I want to make clear that from this point forward, every album from both bands fucking rule.  So I feel kinda bad putting Less Talk, More Rock on the low end of the list considering how much I love it, but that's the way the chips fall.  The snotty vocals and abrasive lyrics are back from the debut, and while all of their music is explicitly anarchist and unavoidably political, I think this is their most directly political album, likely a reaction to how much people didn't get it when they first hit the scene.  It's called Less Talk, More Rock because people would complain about them proselytizing and going into detail about what their songs were about onstage.  The lyrics are more blunt than before since they were frustrated with people ignoring the message and just jamming to the tunes (the title track explicitly details how Hannah received anal sex and loved it and says everybody dancing to the song without listening to what he's saying is a pathetic nimrod who is now gay by the transitive property).  Hell look at the border of the album art.  They put "ANIMAL-FRIENDLY - ANTI-FASCIST - GAY-POSITIVE - PRO-FEMINIST" on the cover four fucking times so absolutely nobody could miss the point anymore.  I get it that some people don't like bands being preachy even when they agree with them completely, but Propagandhi's unabashed hard-left message is one of my favorite things about them and they'd be exponentially worse if they didn't feel these things as hard and shout them as furiously as they do.   "The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist" would be a dumb throwaway joke song if it wasn't a vehicle for lyrics as vitriolic as they are (KILL THEM ALL AND LET A NORSE GOD SORT 'EM OUT).  These songs get more and more relevant with each passing year and this one stands as probably the most timeless of everything they've done.  This is still pure early/mid 90s punk (apart from "Rido De San Atlanta, Manitoba", which is a blast of pure old school hardcore) so they hadn't landed on their signature sound yet, but out of their more "normal punk" duology, this is the clearly superior album to me.  It's more unique and direct than How to Clean Everything and really set the wheels in motion for what was to come down the line.  I don't use the term "skatershit" as a pejorative, because I'm a huge sucker for the Fat Wreck sound, but I think that Propagandhi's skatershit era is great in the realm of skatershit but pales in comparison to almost everything else they'd do in the future, and the fact that Less Talk, More Rock is a bit more aggressive and experimental than the debut is precisely what makes it the superior album.
PROPAGANDHI 11 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 4

9: Type O Negative - Life is Killing Me
  
I'm sorry, but I think there's no way to talk about Life is Killing Me without spoiling a bit of what makes a later entry so great.  World Coming Down is one of the most bleak and depressing albums ever written, with every single second sounding like your last moments as you die shitting yourself in a crack house.  I suspect that Life is Killing Me was a deliberate attempt to do the exact opposite, because while WCD fully embraced the gothic/doom metal side of their sound, LIKM is all about their more fun and lighthearted poppy side.  For that reason it's often seen as the worst TON album, but I don't agree.  All of their best songs are the slow and gloomy ones throughout their career (for the most part) but they're equally good at just rocking out and having a good time.  "I Like Goils", as problematic as it is from a lyrical standpoint, is without a doubt one of my favorite tunes in their entire oeuvre.  Tracks like that and "I Don't Wanna Be Me" are just a barrel of fucking fun and I don't think there's a universe that exists where they don't appeal to the fun drunk in me.  And even then, calling this "their pop album" kinda misses a huge amount of the tracks on display, because "Anasthesia" and "The Dream is Dead", potentially the two best songs on the album, are basically just truncated versions of their classic gloomy goth sound anyway.  "Less Than Zero" absolutely would not have been out of place on Bloody Kisses.  My chief complaint that applies to every Type O album, even the ones I adore wholeheartedly, is that they're all way too fucking long, and even though this is the second longest album of their career, the songs themselves err on the shorter side and even the long ones feel shorter than they are.  They captured a very specific lightning in a bottle that they'd always hinted at being able to capture but never really went for before.   Like, obviously the shortened radio edit of "Black no.1" isn't as good as the 11 minute version, but if that song was specifically written to be around 5 or 6 minutes, it would've worked fantastically and that's really what Life is Killing Me showcases.  They have the ability to condense these songs into tighter packages and it turns out they're really fucking good at it.  The entire B side is quality and everything on display is fantastic.  Hell even their short punk cover of "Angry Inch" kicks ass and usually the best part of their covers is how they'd totally transform songs into lengthy dirges.  I would never call this their best album, but it's definitely the most underrated.
PROPAGANDHI 11 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 10

8: Type O Negative - Slow, Deep, and Hard
  
Let it never be said that I'm some fun-policing wokescold who doesn't think "problematic faves" are acceptable.  Slow, Deep, and Hard is a deeply misogynistic record on the whole (to say nothing of the frankly abhorrent racism in "Der Untermensch") but fuckin' hell man it's really god damned good.  They hid behind the veneer of "it might be parody, it might not be, wink wink nudge nudge" thanks to Steele's time in Carnivore, and before people on the internet started caring about gross shit in pop culture (like me, for example) the excuse for this stuff was that they were holdovers from that band's edgy shtick.  And man, that was believable because there's a lot of leftover hardcore and crossover thrash metal in this record.  TON became known for their exemplary goth/doom metal but even when they were kicking the speed up and belting out some absurd aggression they still fuckin' smoked.  "Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infedility" (sometimes "shortened" to the alternate title from The Origin of the Feces, "I Know You're Fucking Someone Else") kind of wraps everything TON would ever do into one package.  It's quite lengthy at nearly 13 minutes, but it more than justifies its runtime by running through several different themes and moods, from frustrated hardcore punk to to their more signature gloomy doom, and the climactic chorus is so fucking catchy that it should be illegal.  I haven't really talked about Josh Silver's keyboard work up to this point, but it's arguably the integral component to their sound, on par with the super fuzzy, bassy guitar tone and Steele's sensual baritone.  It works so well here, on their most harsh and unrefined album, that it almost beggars belief.  Like yeah, obviously it's an irreplaceable element that absolutely makes October Rust but I think it's even more impressive that he managed to be so prominent and so good on an album where he is by no means the focus.  This is kind of similar to Life is Killing Me in the sense that I tend to think of it in terms of its best song and sort of forget about the rest, but every time I revisit it I'm reminded how much I love "Xero Tolerance", "Prelude to Agony", and "Gravitational Constant" as well.  Every TON album is long, but I think this one does the best job of justifying its length due to how rough and experimental it was compared to the rest of their career.  There really wasn't anything like this in 1991, and there isn't anything else like this throughout the band's career.  It was a glorious one-off that saw the band spilling their guts on the studio floor and it amounted to off-kilter genius.
PROPAGANDHI 11 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 17

7: Propagandhi - Failed States
  
Whenever a metal fan says they're interested in checking out some punk music, I actually point to Propagandhi as the best entry point for a metalhead as opposed to way more obvious bands that more clearly blur the line between the two styles like DRI or Suicidal Tendencies or whatever.  In my eyes, if you want to get into a new style of music, it's kind of pointless to cater to the tastes you already have instead of taking the genre on its own merits.  Propagandhi is my go-to because they're a punk band with a punk ethos that play punk music by punk rules, but constantly throw little metal-isms all over the place.  Failed States is a great example of that tendency, because I'd argue this is their heaviest, darkest, and most difficult album almost entirely because of Chris's lifelong love of thrash seeping through the hardest (seriously, he has a few official playlists on Spotify ostensibly highlighting his favorite songs and like 95% of them are classic 80s thrash metal).  Songs like "Status Update" and the title track here are fucking barnbuners, and something like "Rattan Cane" is actually full on dissonant in its spastic chaos, with Kowalski's gruff, amelodic voice absolutely battering the shit out of you.  I haven't really talked about Jord's drumming up to this point but he's a monster behind the kit here more than arguably anywhere.  There aren't a whole lot of legitimate "storytellers" in punk rock, but Propagandhi excels at this and the more experimental nature of Failed States really helps this element of their sound shine.  All of their lyrics read more like longform poetry than cut up stanzas, and this is true of every album but it works fucking beautifully with tracks as sprawling as "Lotus Gait" and "Note to Self".  That latter one is so fucking out there that it's actually reminiscent of Tool of all bands in certain parts.  While this isn't their best album, I do think it's the most "Propagandhi" album out of all Propagandhi albums.  They leaned pretty wholeheartedly into their metal influences to create a melodic hardcore album unlike any other, and even within their own heavy as hell discography they amped the heaviness up to extreme levels with this one.  Without a doubt, Failed States is their most experimental and daring album.  They took a ton of risks with the extreme variance in song lengths ("Status Update" barely cracks sixty seconds while "Note to Self" is a full six minutes) and the off-kilter angle they approached everything.  They had their style pretty solidly pegged down with the previous three albums and then took a huge dose of Protest the Hero with this one and shoved it all through an aggressive punk filter and landed on total brilliance.  And it's only their fourth best album somehow.  (Initially I had this ranked a spot lower, but upon relisten I was reminded how fucking incredible the closing duo of "Lotus Gait" and "Duplicate Keys Icaro" was and had no choice but to leapfrog Slow, Deep, and Hard.  If TON ends up losing by a point, blame those two songs.)
PROPAGANDHI 19 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 17
 
6: Propagandhi - Victory Lap
 
Their most recent record as of this writing, Victory Lap copped some shit when it was released in 2017 for basically being just Failed States a second time, but honestly that criticism seems wildly off base to me.  It has some superficial similarities for sure (tracks like "Comply/Resist" and "In Flagrante Delicto" get crazy heavy), but the overall color of the album is totally different.  It almost feels optimistic in a way, which is actually a pretty new direction for a band of anarchists hell bent on exposing the shady underbelly of the world.  I think this is mostly due to the abundance of quiet parts this time around.  I haven't really mentioned it yet, but one of the reasons Propagandhi is so unique in the realm of melodic hardcore is their fearlessness in how frequently they'll shift the tempo down, and Victory Lap is probably the most reckless in how suddenly it'll shift from soft introspection to chaotic intensity.  "Lower Order", for example, starts off with what it basically thrash mosh riff before abruptly shifting to clean guitar and bouncy pop melodies as Hannah details his road to veganism thanks to a forced hunting trip as a kid and his growing hatred with people who treat sentient animals like a stupid joke.  "Tartuffle" sounds like a fun, almost Motorhead-esque tune until you realize the acerbic lyrics are pointed squarely at the punk scene itself (something they've railed against in the past) for treating their music like some performative self flagellation before fucking off to live their lives without internalizing the message at all, which like, damn dude just call me out by name next time.  There's a feeling of hopeless resignation to more current events this time around, with some direct allusions to Trump and the NDP, and I think that less general and more timely approach is something that might make this album less poignant in the future, but in this current moment, it strikes me as one of their absolute best.  Maybe it's not the intent, but the feeling I get from this is that the world is definitely, irreversibly fucked and the best we can do it just keep trying to live our lives and change it for the better as best we can.  So while this is by no means their most venomous album, it's the one that I feel most strongly about on a visceral level most of the time.
PROPAGANDHI 28 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 17

5: Type O Negative - World Coming Down
  
As I hinted in the Life is Killing Me entry, World Coming Down is without a doubt the bleakest album in TON's discography.  Their signature brand of black humor is basically entirely washed away in a haze of drug-addled misery.  It's a collection of agonizingly slow, nearly unlistenable drudging dirges that only give you enough breathing room to let out a sob and imagine your own death in horrific detail.  The actual compositions on display are less important to me than the thematic cloak surrounding them.  I've talked about this album in other features before, and I want to draw attention once again to Noktorn's review from 2007, which is, as far as I'm concerned, the definitive analysis of this album and TON's career as a whole.  Forgive me for the cop-out of quoting an entire paragraph and basically letting Temporally Displaced Noktorn write this entry for me, but I'll never describe the feeling this album gives me better than he did thirteen years ago.  "One of my central complaints about metal's illustrations of depression and sadness is that they're much too idealistic and teenaged in tone. Most metal bands have clearly never experienced genuine depression, as it's not the gothic romance they portray it to be. The atonal moments of Type O Negative capture the truth of it: depression is much more an abstract, featureless misery than it is something beautiful. The riffs flawlessly express this: amorphous, languishing collections of lethargic, dissonant notes, with just a fragment of minor key melody to give a trace of emotion to it And that's all there really should be, as that's all there is during periods of depression: a trace of emotion, more a memory of what it's like to feel than any feeling itself. But the more incredible thing they're able to do is in the openly melodic segments, with their bittersweet beauty that fits the New York goth style and allows us all to look into it. This beauty isn't a celebration of a depression, but a celebration of beauty in ugly places. It's the beauty in natural disasters, in inevitability, and most importantly, in the fact that you, yes, you, will not be remembered after you're gone. Type O Negative celebrates our insignificance, how non-existent the footprint each one of us leaves on our world will be. This is the musical equivalent of standing on the edge of the river at night and looking longingly at the city before you, surrounded by people, and yet the loneliest person in the world. That is beauty."  If that doesn't help World Coming Down make sense to you, then frankly, I wish my history of mental health more closely mirrored yours.
PROPAGANDHI 28 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 27
 
4: Propagandhi - Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes
 
I wasn't a fan of Propagandhi in 2001 when this was released, mostly because at that time I refused to listen to anything that could be described as "punk", but god damn I can only imagine how much of a complete game changer this was for fans at the time.  Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes is one of those rare albums that seems to be unambiguously recognized as a major band's magnum opus while simultaneously not going on to be super influential.  Still to this day, Propagandhi is in a league of their own and TETA stands as one of the only albums that sounds like it does.  I said Failed States is their heaviest album, but without a fucking doubt TETA is the most venomous.  Absolutely zero punches are pulled with this one, from the scathing takedown of the punk scene in album highlight "Back to the Motor League" to the straight up animal-activist-terrorism-fantasy of "Purina Hall of Fame", to the feminist tirade in "Ladies Nite in Loserville", to the vicious condemnation of everybody who ignored the genocide in East Timor in "Mate Ka Moris Ukun Rasik An", it just never stops.  The entire experience is like standing under a waterfall of flaming bile for a half hour, delivered with some of the most simultaneously smart and chaotic hardcore this side of Converge.  It's like Less Talk, More Rock somehow still didn't manage to properly convey what the band was all about and so they threw every little bit of humor and fun out the window and instead just pummeled listeners over the head over and over and over again until everybody who stubbornly resisted the message finally fucked off forever.  The CD contains an entire multimedia section detailing CIA war crimes, there's no subtlety here at all.  I've mentioned bassist Todd Kowalski a few times throughout this feature, but this album heralded his entrance after John Sampson left to form The Weakerthans and god damn is it immediately obvious.  Any poppy element of the band is now completely gone and Todd's razor sharp bark punctuates the fastest and meanest songs on the record like "Fuck the Border", "Bullshit Politicians", and "Ordinary People do Fucked-Up Things When Fucked-Up Things Become Ordinary".  TETA feels like it's constantly flying off the rails while coming apart at the seams.  Nothing is restrained, nothing is held back, it's just one of the most insane god damned records in the genre.  Even "Purina Hall of Fame", the longest and most complex track on display, can't help itself with that climactic guitar solo sounding like Chris is completely losing control and taking the Kerry King approach, completely throwing out the entire concept of musicality and just raking his fingers to the bone, blood spraying everywhere while ten billion notes in no particular order just fly through the speakers and directly into your heart.  There's really no place to put this, but that first heavy riff on "Purina Hall of Fame" is so fucking good that even Protest the Hero couldn't help but jack it for "Skies".  "Better lives have been lived in the margins, locked in prisons, and lost to the gallows than have ever been enshrined in palaces".
PROPAGANDHI 39 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 27

3: Type O Negative - Bloody Kisses
  
If anybody reading this hasn't heard Type O Negative before for some reason, Bloody Kisses is without a doubt the first album you should check out.  Not only is it their mainstream breakthrough and one of their best in general, it's also arguably their most diverse album.  BK is a 73 minute smorgasbord of basically every single style they'd touched before and will touch in the future, and because of that it acts as the perfect primer for everything the band is about.  You've got the old school punk blasts in "Kill All the White People" and "We Hate Everyone", you've got their goth rock groove in "Blood and Fire" and "Set Me on Fire", and most importantly you've got their signature goth/doom gloomfests in the title track, "Too Late: Frozen", "Christian Woman", and of course their most well known song, "Black no.1".  That last track is in serious danger of being one of my favorite songs ever, across any genre.  It's one of the most perfectly written tunes ever and I'll never not love it.  The lyrics being a pointed skewering of goth girls wound up being deliciously ironic considering it's eventual goth anthem status.  It's named after a hair dye, Josh plays the Addam's Family theme at one point, the line "Loving you was like loving the dead" is not a darkly romantic couplet but rather a joke about how you're terrible at sex, it's a brilliantly sardonic sendup of what would prove to be a key demographic, and I love that sort of deliberate self sabotage failceeding into massive success.  I've mentioned several times that most TON albums are too long, despite their consistently high quality, and while that's true here as much as anywhere, this is still the most digestible of the lot.  I think this is because the three albums after this all more or less stick to one mood whereas Bloody Kisses tries a whole bunch of different shit.  They took a lot of risks on this one, and it paid off by launching the band into genuine superstardom in the 90s.  There really was nobody else like them at the time and to this day there still kinda isn't.  I've gotta cut this entry relatively short for reasons you'll see in a few words.
PROPAGANDHI 39 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 39

2: Type O Negative - Dead Again
  
I was dreading this part of the list purely because I knew there was a very good chance I'd place Bloody Kisses and Dead Again right next to each other, and that makes them a bitch to write about because I love them both for basically the exact same reasons.  Dead Again became the band's swansong, released a few years before Steele's death, and honestly I don't think I could've ever asked for a more fitting capstone on their career.  If Bloody Kisses showcased all of the styles they were capable of, and the following three albums explored three of those different sounds to their fullest extent, Dead Again was the coda that reached back and acted as a "greatest hits" of all of them.  This is probably their strangest album because it's so many contradictions simultaneously.  It's their most diverse album while also being a throwback, it's the longest album despite having the fewest tracks and containing a multitude of uncharacteristically fast songs, it has the most uplifting and optimistic sound of them all while the subjects remain as dark and miserable as usual, it's a whole lot of everything and I love all of it.  It's lyrically pretty confusing to me, because I've never really delved all that deeply into the band members' personal lives, but it seems like Peter had found religion at some point before writing this album, which might have something to do with why this album sounds oddly hopeful in many parts, but it does result in some weird anti-abortion shit punctuating the first verses in "These Three Things".  That track ends up being the lone less-than-phenomenal moment on the album, though it's no fault of the lyrics, it's simply way too long and manages to be one of the few tracks in the band's oeuvre to fail to justify its length (I complain about their albums being too long but it's usually because they have too many tracks, not because the tracks themselves are too long).  The other nine tracks though?  Absolute knockout after knockout.  Even their best albums fell prey to their tendency to throw in pointless interludes or joke tracks, but not this one.  As great as TON's discography is, Dead Again is the only one I can confidently say is all killer and no filler.  Apart from "These Three Things", there isn't one single thing I dislike about any tracks.  Each one has a different angle of attack and all of them are phenomenal.  I love how gorgeous "September Sun" is, I love the hardcore/crossover throwback moments in "Tripping a Blind Man" and "Some Stupid Tomorrow", I love the incredibly deep vocals and march cadence in "She Burned Me Down", I love the pure Sabbath riffing in "An Ode to Locksmiths", I love how the title track manages to be one of their fastest songs without actually sounding particularly angry, I love how oppressive and suffocating "The Profit of Doom" is, and god damn whatever "Halloween in Heaven" is is just fucking magical.  The whole thing is Sabbath-cum-Bauhaus-cum-cumshot and there isn't a single thing I'd change about it.  Dead Again may be an unorthodox choice, but it is without a doubt my favorite Type O Negative album and one of the greatest tragedies in music history is that Steele passed away before he was able to further expand upon it.  "We ain't going home, we've got nowhere to go..."
PROPAGANDHI 39 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 52

1: Propagandhi - Supporting Caste
 
Placing Supporting Caste at the top of the heap when discussing Propagandhi isn't really a hot take, but I do want to rewind a bit back to me placing Potemkin City Limits near the bottom.  That's the album that usually fights with the surrounding albums for the top spot with most fans it seems.  I mentioned the title track was on a different album and I felt that was fitting, and that's where this brick joke pays off, because "Potemkin City Limits", the track, not the album, is featured on Supporting Caste, and if Potemkin City Limits, the album, not the track, was fully realized and every song was as good as "A Speculative Fiction", it would've been Supporting Caste.  This is their apex, and while the subsequent albums have been great, I don't think anything they do in the future has a reasonable chance of surpassing this monument.  Everything they had been doing up to this point has just been so finely tuned and honed to perfection that there really isn't anything worth tweaking at this point.  This was it, the absolute best version of Propagandhi to ever exist.  I see the term "progressive thrash" thrown around a lot when people talk about the heavy sound they've championed since the turn of the millennium, but I think that's usually kind of off base and simply the result of punks not really having the language or intimate knowledge of metal to fully explain what it is they're doing, but not this time.  Supporting Caste is the closest they ever came to truly being some form of whacked out left-field progressive thrash metal band without ever abandoning that melodic hardcore base.  You can hear it plainly in tracks like "Night Letters", "Tertium Non Datur", and especially "Incalculable Effects".  The A side in general tends to be the heavier side by a long shot, because even the though the two best songs on the album ("Dear Coach's Corner" and "Humane Meat") spend most of their time playing to their lighter and cleaner side, they feature the two heaviest moments on the album in the intro and bridge respectively.  I mentioned before that Propagandhi's fearlessness in leaning into their acoustic sections and twinkly melodies is something that really helps them stand out, and the contrast between their heavy and light parts are their most stark here, and it works wonderfully.  They were never the type of band to write in a straight line anyway, but this is the twistiest and most chaotic of them all.  The poetic style of the lyrics works incredibly well with the way they write songs, seemingly jamming on riffs in odd orders and fitting the pieces in after the fact, but they do it all in such a way that you never doubt for one second that it wasn't intentional.  I want to highlight "Dear Coach's Corner" as well for admittedly personal reasons y'all likely don't care about.  I reference sports just as often as I reference videogames and Achewood in my writing, but in truth I haven't watched a sporting event in years at this point, and "Dear Coach's Corner" reaches directly into my heart to pull out the exact reasons why.  It's such a heartfelt plea for sanity as we've watched this silly kid's game we all love turn into an expensive military recruitment commercial, and we've been robbed of the ability to even watch some dudes slap wads of rubber around a sheet of ice without being complicit in empire, and that's so fucking heartbreaking.  Propagandhi sees the world for what it is, but they desperately, hopelessly wish that it wasn't this way, and they express this pain via some of the smartest punk ever written.  I've mentioned before that my favorite band of all time is Bad Religion, but Bad Religion is what plays during the Democratic Party Convention while Propagandhi is what plays during the insurrection outside.  The Hard Times put it best with their review: "We Listened to Half a Propagandhi Album and Came to While Setting a Wells Fargo on Fire"
PROPAGANDHI 53 - TYPE O NEGATIVE 52
 
 
AND SO!  With the tight score of 53-52 we have a winner for the third Ladder Match, and they are...

 
Propagandhi!  I know I said that it being October was the whole reason I wanted to do one of these featuring Type O Negative, but my insistence on keeping the two bands as different as possible meant that the decidedly unspooky band I chose wound up just edging them out.  I'm being honest when I say that I don't tally up the point totals before I start writing (I scrapped a Metallica vs Suffocation matchup halfway through writing when I realized Suffo was gonna win by like forty points), and I also only make a rough outline of the final ordering and tweak it as I write and listen, it's not uncommon for albums to jump or fall from their initial position during the course of writing.  Both of those things bit me this time, because I knew the top two were going to be Dead Again and Supporting Caste but I wasn't sure which order I'd put them in, and once I got to Bloody Kisses and realized the score was going to be tied at that point with one album each to remain, I audibly groaned because now that final ordering of the last two albums was going to be the most important placement.  I joked that if Propagandhi won by a point you'd have to blame the last two tracks on Failed States, but in actuality you'll have to blame "These Three Things" for being too long because that was literally the deciding factor for me when it came to giving it #2 instead of #1.  Really tough break for the Drab Four but they lost to some stiff competition.

Anyway, thank you all for reading!  The spooktacular special wound up shafting the gothlords but life isn't fair and you'd think goths would've caught on to that by now.

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: While searching for pics to use for the awful matchup pics, I came to the conclusion that holy shit please buy Propagandhi's albums so Chris can afford a new Final Conflict shirt)