Friday, October 27, 2017

LADDER MATCH: Blind Guardian vs. Candlemass

Hi everyone, Ripthony Offtano here with a new feature on Lair of the Bastard.  It's not a secret that once again my production has slowed to a crawl.  Even with me normalizing my short one-paragraph Quick Hit pieces, I just find myself with as much of a lack of motivation as I do a lack of time nowadays, so I'm constantly coming back to the blog every week and staring at a blank document for an hour before declaring "fuck it" and turning around to play NHL18 again.  So, like always, I decided I needed some sort of project to focus on to keep my long standing hobby of music critique fresh for myself.   As the opening sentence alludes, I got this idea while watching one of The Needle Drop's several dozen features, specifically the "Worst to Best" series, where he dissects a popular and long running artist's entire discography and just ranks all of the releases as he sees fit.  Because straight knockoffs are boring, I decided I wanted to spruce it up a bit and decided to fuck my life up by doing two at once and pitting them in a bloodsoaked fight to the death in my new series, LADDER MATCH.  The point of this series is to take two completely unrelated artists with expansive discographies and rank them concurrently against each other, ultimately deciding which of the two  bands has the better discography by weighing hardest hits and the biggest whiffs across their career.

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 Abigail to count if I was doing King Diamond.  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.

So without further ado, let's meet the competitors (via MSPaint)!

So the first matchup is against two weighty institutions of metal, both with huge strings of classics to their name that are consistently rated amongst the best in their respective genres.  I chose them mostly because I already know every album fairly intricately and don't have to do any extra work for my first installment of the series.  Anyway I've spent too much time blabbing so let's get to the point.  The album count stands at 10-11 in favor of Candlemass, so according to my own rankings, Death Magic Doom will be eliminated as the median album.  Anyway LETS GO!

20: Candlemass - Dactylis Glomerata
I think it was probably obvious to most people that the Flodkvist era of Candlemass was gonna find itself near the bottom here.  It's just canon to basically every Candlemass fan that this middle era was their lowest point creatively, and to me was more or less just Leif + cronies, as it's fairly well known that this album was more or less intended to be the second Abstrakt Algebra album (it even features the entire band minus Mats Levin on vocals), and the only reason Candlemass even came to exist again in the mid 90s was because no labels wanted anything to do with the new band and Leif had to just give up and bring Candlemass back for the sake of name recognition alone.  It really shows, because while this album isn't exactly bad, it's notably a few staircases worth of steps down from their classic era.  It's probably unfair to knock the record for this alone, but it's simply not Candlemass.  So many of the classic elements of the band are missing.  Bjorn Flodkvist is a fine singer but one of the defining traits of the band before and after this era was ridiculously over-the-top vocals from magnanimous and larger than life characters.  The album as a whole is just too passive and uninteresting to really stand alongside the thundering megaliths the band had produced previously.  When your most unique feature previously was how unapologetically epic you were with your pomp and composition, a more streamlined and simplistic affair simply isn't going to resonate with fans and that's all there is to it.

19: Blind Guardian - A Twist in the Myth
On paper, all of the elements that made the more overtly symphonic era of Blind Guardian worthwhile are here, just for some reason none of them are put together in such a way that's really all that effective.  Like, Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen's blisteringly trebly harmonized lead guitar tone is here, the choir of 200 identical Hansis hit some of the most impressive notes they've ever reached, the songs are structured creatively and there are undeniably some strong hits here, but nothing really seems to go over the edge here.  To me, this album has always been "The one with 'This Will Never End' and 'Fly' and a bunch of other songs."  Not even the longtime fan favorite "Another Stranger Me" does much of anything for me.  There is more of a focus on guitar here, which I think was a conscious decision thanks to the backlash the previous album received and how stark the differences were between those songs and the extremely popular live album that immediately followed, but the focus is still honed in entirely on the keys and melodies so at the end of the day, A Twist in the Myth is just kind of a confused album that was trying to please everybody at once and failing at both.

18: Candlemass - From the 13th Sun
Pretty much everything I said about Dactylis Glomerata up there applies here too, but From the 13th Sun is a bit more interesting of a record so it's easier to get behind.  There's a droning, spacey atmosphere layered atop the album and on the whole it's much less "riffs that don't go anywhere or mean anything with vocals that are just there" and more "riffs that laser focus on Sabbathisms with vocals that are just there but at least thematically fit much better."  They're less afraid to pick up the pace on this one, which is more in line with the galloping machismo found on the 80s records, but some of the slower and more bleak tracks just overall work much better, most notably "Tot", one of the only songs from the Flodkvist era that I can confidently say stacks up to the rest of their discography.  Tracks like "Elephant Star" also work as a fairly accurate representation of where they were going to go post-2000 in the second reunion era.  So even if it's easily one of their weaker albums, it's infinitely more interesting than the completely pedestrian Dactylis Glomerata.

17: Blind Guardian - At the Edge of Time
When I said that A Twist in the Myth was an album that tried to please everybody, I was being somewhat facetious, because I knew At the Edge of Time was coming up next in their chronology.  While A Twist in the Myth was sort of unfocused and fillery, At the Edge of Time absolutely knew what it was doing.  This was a deliberate throwback to their classic era and it was painfully transparent.  "A Voice in the Dark" is obviously trying to recapture the lighting in a bottle that was "Valhalla" more than 20 years prior, "Tanelorn (Into the Void)" sounds like one of the more aggressive tracks from Imaginations from the Other Side, "Curse My Name" sounds like one of the ballads from that middle era, it's just very clearly an intended retread of ground they'd already covered, which is a shame from a band that spend the previous 25 years or so constantly pushing themselves.  That's not to say an album that is ostensibly just Imaginations part II is going to be bad by default, because the original is a stone cold classic and this album isn't exactly bad itself, but it is a bummer.  That said, it's still not their worst album because there are undeniably some great songs here.  The slow, booming symphonics of "Sacred Worlds" has definitely endeared it to me as the live staple it has since become, "War of the Thrones" is the best ballad they've penned since the 90s, and "Ride into Obsession" is one of their most underrated tracks ever.  Despite the lack of creativity that permeates most of the album, the high points are still high enough to make it a fun listen from time to time, it's just in the lower echelon of their albums as a whole.

16: Blind Guardian - A Night at the Opera
I hated this album so much as a teenager it's almost embarrassing.  I've come around to it somewhat, but it's known as the Thomen Killer for a reason.  This is easily the biggest departure from any previous sound they've ever undertaken, and the heavily symphonic and more or less riffless approach to songwriting is a shame, but if we're being honest with each other, Blind Guardian was never about the riffs, they were always about the melodies, and A Night at the Opera is undeniably loaded with excellent melodies.  The problem is that the songs are mostly completely missing the beefy undertone that this sort of metal needs to truly thrive.  The riffs are buried so far under the leads and vocals that it wouldn't even surprise me if you had told me this was initially intended to be a side project.  The real problem with the album is oddly enough highlighted on the live album that came out the following year, which featured four tracks from this album, none of which I count as "the good ones", but they sound so much better with that full live sound, with meaty guitars underneath them to highlight some of the heaviness that was sorely absent on the studio recording.  Therefore the biggest issue the album has is simply that it's not as cool as it should have been, because the three great songs ("And Then There Was Silence", "Battlefield", and their #1 most underappreciated track, "Precious Jerusalem") work beautifully in the context of the sound the album had, but all the rest are improved a thousandfold with a better sound.

15: Blind Guardian - Nightfall in Middle-Earth
Yeah I know, this is their signature album, their most popular by a long shot, the one that dominates every live set, Nightfall is the Blind Guardian album.  And yet, I just really don't like it all that much.  Where they set out to be ambitious storytellers, they fell flat on their face by utterly failing at reaching anything resembling consistency as a musical endeavor.  Nearly every track is broken up by a pointless 30 second interlude of a creature roaring or a crackling campfire underneath a completely superfluous narration that means nothing.  I know what they were going for, but it makes the album flow like a babbling brook of patio bricks.  The fact that the actual songs themselves almost rigidly adhere to a "metal - ballad - metal - ballad" flip flopping just makes the entire thing hopelessly uneven and difficult to listen to.  And yet somehow, despite the thing being presented and arranged in such an unfathomably stupid way, Nightfall somehow contains like six of their best songs.  "Into the Storm", "Nightfall", "When Sorrow Sang", "The Curse of Feanor", "Time Stands Still", and especially their most popular track (and one of my personal all time favorite metal songs period) "Mirror Mirror" all make this album worth owning despite the drudgery of "Thorn", "Blood Tears", and "Noldor".  The album's biggest flaw is merely that it's just super frustrating, because there's really no way to fix what's presented.  If you take the interludes out, the album is even more obviously uneven thanks to the constant flip flopping in tone, and if you just take the best handful of songs and make a pretend EP out of it, you'll find yourself salivating for a full length interpretation of this style, blissfully unaware of the confounding monstrosity if it were to come to fruition.  Despite this being the album I have listened to in full the least by a gargantuan margin, the good songs are so good that it became a seminal classic for a reason.  I can't dunk on any album with both "Mirror Mirror" and "When Sorrow Sang" too horribly hard, no matter how frustrating the entire experience is.

14: Candlemass - Psalms for the Dead
I'm going to be completely honest with you, as much as I love Candlemass, the entire Rob Lowe era tends to blur together into one big album to me, with Death Magic Doom standing out a bit to me simply because I like some of the songs a bit more (though I recognize I'm in the minority on that one).  So really, Psalms for the Dead is functionally tied with King of the Grey Islands for me, but for the purposes of the Ladder Match, I'm going to put the band's studio swansong a little bit under the debut with Lowe.  For a band that ostensibly invented an entire subgenre of doom metal, this final record here is actually one of the most "regular" doom albums they ever penned.  Songs like the title track and "Waterwitch" are almost agonizingly slow dirges that build a quite macabre atmosphere, and it's a neat change for a band that previously reveled so much in excess.  Some of these downtempo stompers are better than others (I don't care for "Waterwitch" or "Siren Song" too much but "The Killing of the Sun" (which takes the main riff of "Iron Main" just blatantly enough for me to notice but it's just cool enough for me to not care) and especially "The Lights of Thebe" absolutely crush), but they're most definitely the focus this time around.  The grand atmosphere that defined the classic records is mostly absent here, replaced with a more oppressive, skull squeezing heaviness.  It works fairly well, for what it's worth, and it makes the handful of speedy tracks that do appear ("Prophet" and "Time is Black", most notably) hit that much harder.  It's a good album, but it's kind of weird for Candlemass to bow out on an album that only sort of represents their signature sound.

13: Candlemass - King of the Grey Islands
As previously stated, this is more or less a complete tie for me with the previously listed album, but if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose the superior album, I'd go with the 2007 entry into their oeuvre.  King of the Grey Islands, like all of the Lowe records, is a bit more overtly doomy than the Messiah era, but this one stands a bit above the other listed mostly because Lowe sounds much more inspired (he was infamous for his alcoholism and lazy live performances, which hindered him greatly later on and eventually led to his ousting, so this first album catches him while he's still in top form) and because it, on the whole, sounds more like a Solitude Aeturnus/Candlemass mashup.  I know I ragged on the Flodkvist albums for not sounding enough like the Candlemass I had grown to love, but the cross with SA works remarkably well for fairly obvious reasons.  Not only was Robert Lowe the iconic vocalist of the American doom legends, and not only did Solitude Aeturnus play a remarkably similar style to Candlemass in the first place, but Beyond the Crimson Horizon is actually my all time #1 favorite doom metal album ever recorded.  So yeah, obviously anything that reminds me of those first three SA albums is going to be a hit with me, and the slightly more epic and esoteric take on the more straightforward rocking doom that Leif has been writing from the mid 90s up until today works incredibly well with Lowe's husky and grandiose vocals.  There's a deceptive amount of variety on here, with "Clearsight" sounding like it could have been on Tales of Creation with no editing, "Of Stars and Smoke" taking a more mysterious approach, and tracks like "Demonia 6" and "Devil Seed" just going for the throat and cutting like a sacrificial knife.  This is the sound of the undead reigning over a long forgotten castle nestled in a perpetual fog somewhere in the northern seas.  It's got great atmosphere and killer riffs, what more do you really need from a doom album?

12: Candlemass - Candlemass
Finally we start to reach the Messiah albums.  Though this may not be classic-era Candlemass, their 2005 return with the classic lineup was such a huge breath of fresh air for most fans.  The Flodkvist stuff was fine I guess, if uninteresting, but the triumphant return of the wild haired and pudgy madman was exactly the kind of thing the band needed to breathe new life into their fast-stagnating existence.   Getting Bjorkman, Johansson, and Lindh back certainly helped as well, because that classic 80s lineup had a boatload of chemistry that the Abstrakt Algebra goons could never even dream to match, but Messiah brought so much overt theatricality to the band that nobody after him ever came close to matching..  And so here, the band ostensibly picks up where it left off after the famous live album in 1990, and they haven't missed a step.  This is a bit more modernized in some of the straightfoward rocking songs like "Black Dwarf" and "Born in a Tank", but the epic atmosphere is finally back in spades.  If it wasn't for the somewhat dull stretch between "Copernicus" and "Witches", this could easily be a couple spots higher, because everything else is an undisputed winner.  "Black Dwarf" will always hold a special place in my heart for being one of the first Candlemass songs I ever heard in full around the time the album dropped in 2005 (which was twelve fucking years ago holy shit) and for just simply being one of the best straightforward riff monsters they've ever written, and "Spellbreaker" should probably go down as one of their most underappreciated modern tracks.  It's just an all around very good album, with all of the elements that made the trio of late 80s albums so iconic, updated for the heavier modern era.  This is what Candlemass truly sounds like, and it's the first time on this list that we've gotten a true taste of that inimitable swagger they carried underneath sweepingly epic atmosphere.  While relistening to everything a second time after forming the rankings (simply listening to everything necessary is teaching me that this Ladder Match feature is ridiculously fucking time consuming), I realized that this album is actually quite clearly better than Death Magic Doom, and therefore should've been the album to hit the middle of the rankings and been excluded, but I decided not to rewrite it because DMD would have been in this spot anyway so the point totals wouldn't have been different, and frankly I just really don't want to write about all three Lowe albums in a fucking row.  Deal with it.

11: Blind Guardian - Battalions of Fear
Well it took us until the tenth entry to get here, but we're finally starting to sniff the 80s in this countdown.  Blind Guardian's legendary debut is most well remembered for one thing, and that's for giving the world one of the songs most beloved by fans and most reviled by the band, the eternal speed metal classic, "Majesty".  Marcus Siepen mentions in the liner notes on the Century Media reissue that his least favorite memory of this album is even writing "Majesty" in the first place, since the band finds the song to be too amateurish and they routinely get frustrated with crowds at every live show for the past 30 years incessantly chanting for them to play it, despite their dogged insistence to avoid playing it as often as possible.  Marcus is a dingdong, because "Majesty" is a heralded classic for a damn good reason, it's quite possibly the most incredible speed metal song ever written.  There's a lot more to this album than that legendary opener, but it does stand as the clear highlight regardless.  This early era of the band isn't quite as expansive and magniloquent as their symphonic era, but raw and furious German speed metal is one of the greatest short lived subniches in the history of heavy metal and Battalions of Fear showcases why with aplomb.  This is one of the few albums in their discography where the riffs are on equal footing with the melodies (which has always been the band's strong suit), and it only serves to make the album beefier than it logically has any right to be.  The insane speeds found on tracks like "Guardian of the Blind" and "Wizard's Crown" have yet to be matched in the ensuing years.  Right away the band had perfected their brand of hooks and Battalions of Fear meshes them with sheer, uncompromising speed, and that makes it a phenomenal record, if a bit rough and unpolished, and the small number of full length songs helps preempt the band's eternal issue of album bloating that started around 1995.

10: Blind Guardian - Follow the Blind
As great as the debut is, I give the edge to Follow the Blind mostly because it's just that little bit tighter, just that little bit more refined, and just that little bit more hard hitting.  It's only ever so slightly less ferocious than Battalions of Fear but even more melodically sophisticated.  This is the album where they started to really nail their signature sound of bombastic epicness and speedy, razor sharp metal.  They were obviously still firmly on the speed metal side of the equation at this point, but the choir effect in the choruses of classics like "Banish from Sanctuary" and "Valhalla" really telegraph the direction they'd further pursue.  Don't let that statement fool you though, this is still 100% molten fucking metal, loaded to the gills with enough uncompromising riffage to satisfy any wayward Slayer fan to stumble across it.  Despite the aforementioned two songs being the only two tracks from their speed metal era to still reliably make it into any current live set (apart from the occasional track from Tales from the Twilight World or sometimes throwing fans a bone in the form of "Majesty"), pretty much every track is a classic in my eyes.  "Damned for all Time" absolutely smokes, "Beyond the Ice" is an incredible speedfest instrumental, "Hall of the King" makes me headbang myself into a coma without fail, basically everything except for the title track, oddly enough, is amazing.  Even the goofy cover of "Barbara Ann" tacked on at the end works as a fun cooldown after 35 minutes of non stop riffage.  Honestly, it's pretty indicative of how amazing both of these bands are if I have nothing but good things to say about an album and we're only just barely breaking into the top half of the rankings.

9: Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
The six tracks that started it all.  There's a reason you see that cross-impaled-demon-skull thing on all of their merchandise, almost everything about this album became a Big Fucking Deal.  This type of doom was all but unheard of in 1986.  This kept the gloom and misery of most downtrodden metal at the time but slathered it all in massive, destructive riffs and esoteric atmosphere.  Candlemass always had the atmosphere element of metal in a stranglehold during this time, and their debut here is an exemplary example as to why.  This is actually going to be a very short entry because fuck, really what can I say about it?  It's one of the most legendary releases in all of 80s metal for what it signified and every song is a killer.  "Solitude" is one of the band's signature songs for a reason, "Under the Oak" and "A Sorcerer's Pledge" are practically inescapable, and "Crystal Ball" will always hold a special place in my heart not only for having such an impossibly cool main riff, but also for actually being the very first Candlemass song I ever heard (back in the Limewire days of high schol when it was mislabled as "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus").  This heralded the "invention" of epic doom metal, and it's absolutely earned every modicum of notoriety it's carried in the 30+ years since.

8: Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror
It might seem odd to place Guardian's most recent album so high on the list, above even the seminal classics that are the first two albums and their most popular album, but I honestly think this is actually the first time they've truly perfected their more drawn out and epic style that started a whopping twenty years prior, proving that Imaginations from the Other Side wasn't just a fluke.  Whereas the previous four albums were all noticeably flawed in one way or another, Beyond the Red Mirror really just delivers ten remarkably tight and well crafted songs that showcase everything that makes the band so legendary.  I don't know what it was, maybe it was the simple switch to seven string guitars or the departure of Oliver Holzwarth (though unlikely, since he was always shafted as a full member because "Oh maybe Hansi will want to play bass again someday, so you'll just be a guest member for the next fifteen years and get no credit and never get to write any songs"), but everything just came together beautifully on this one.  "The Ninth Wave" and "Grand Parade" effectively rendered their counterparts of "Sacred Worlds" and "Wheel of Time" obsolete, "The Holy Grail" is by far the most aggressive and propulsive song they've written in two decades, with "Twilight of the Gods" really not too far behind, "Ashes of Eternity" sounds like a lost A Twist in the Myth song that was actually super fucking good, it's just a remarkably tight and solid outing for a band of nerds pushing 50.

7: Candlemass - Ancient Dreams
Finally, finally after thirteen entries we reach the legendary triad of Messiah albums from the 80s.  This era is so revered for a damn good reason, this was simply epic doom perfection, that only Solitude Aeturnus matched in the 90s and beyond.  Absolutely nobody else did it as well as the masters did.  The album art is actually a fairly good illustration of what the music brings to the table.  It's very bright and majestic, like an inconceivably gorgeous palace far off in the distance, with a sort of lurking sense of ardor beneath a sheen of optimism.  The themes of death are just as prevalent as they always were during the band's early days (this doesn't feature tracks like "Incarnation of Evil" for no reason), but it's presented with sweeping grace and class that they've honestly never matched, and it's filtered through a lens of creation, building vast temples of white upon a strong foundation of brooding riffage.  If there's an real flaw with this album, it's simply that some of the songs are just too long.  Four tracks breaching the seven minute mark logically shouldn't be a problem for a band that operates with this scope and tempo, and to be fair none of the longer songs are bad, but every single song underneath the bar of seven minutes is better than the ones that surpass it.  The rolling gallop of tracks like "Mirror Mirror" and "The Bells of Acheron" are exciting and evocative, and the more gloomy oppression of "Epistle no. 81" and especially "Darkness in Paradise" just work better with an ever so slightly more concise execution.  Candlemass was always great at injecting some extra vigor into their riffs, and it shows here.  Bonus points go to the excellent Black Sabbath medley included on the CD version, paying homage to their obvious heroes with an excellent mashup of undisputed Ozzysabbath classics "Symptom of the Universe", "Sweet Leaf", "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", "Into the Void", "Electric Funeral", and "Supernaut".

6: Blind Guardian - Imaginations from the Other Side
I've namedropped this album like ten times leading up to this spot, and that hasn't been by accident.  This legendary 1995 album provided the blueprint for all epic power metal bands to follow for decades to come, with nobody, not even the band themselves, ever truly matching the splendor that explodes from this masterpiece of metal supremacy.  That raw, youthful exuberance of the band up to this point has been almost entirely replaced with a class and maturity hitherto unheard of in the genre.  There's a reason so many melodic power metal stalwarts (Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, Rhapsody, etc) either didn't start or didn't hit their stride until after this album.  Yeah yeah I know Helloween is a bigger influence on all of those bands but the point stands that Imaginations was a total game changer.  I joke often that no power metal band should bother trying to write ballads unless they're Blind Guardian, and while their best ballads are coming up later in this list, this album is an excellent example as to why I think that.  "A Past and Future Secret" and "Mordred's Song" are both phenomenal quiet emotional songs (and for bonus trivia, for any wayward rap fans reading this, the latter song was sampled by OuterSpace for the track "Lost Battles", and it works incredibly), and even the lighter quasi-ballad of "Bright Eyes" is stunning.  The title track is a mid paced and evocative masterclass of songwriting, and despite this being the clear start of their more epic style and the last stronghold of their pure riff infused speed metal, there are still a few holdovers that are injected with massive doses of melody and bombast, which huge choirs backing pummeling double bass and fiery excitement.  So yes, "I'm Alive", "Born in a Mourning Hall", and most especially "Script for My Requiem" are among the best songs the band ever wrote.  There's really nothing not to like about this album, and I've yet to meet a power metal fan who didn't damn near worship the ground it walked on.

5: Candlemass - Chapter VI
This is sort of the "lost" Candlemass album, tragically doomed to be the oddity at the end of the classic run and just before the breakup and Abstrakt Algebra fiasco, featuring a much more subdued and soulful vocalist who logically was more well suited to traditional power metal and hard rock styled music than the endlessly entertaining oversinging we had all gotten used to thanks to the inimitable Messiah Marcolin for the past several years leading up to this (he does great in Dark Illusion, Stormwind, and Therion).  Frankly, that's an absolute fucking shame, because Chapter VI is every bit as magical as the Messiah Trilogy in the 80s.  While it may not be as over the top and theatrical as the most well known stuff, it's definitely among the most well written and evocative.  The opener, "The Dying Illusion" is probably the strongest indicator of the heavier motifs they'd employ from 2005 and beyond, but pretty much every song here is a worthy classic.  It's certainly the darkest album they've recorded, which is kind of odd considering the non-stop Sabbathisms of the Flodkvist era and the leftover brightness of the Messiah era, but it's true.  There's a lot of black splendor to be found here on tracks like "Temple of the Dead" and "Black Eyes", and the subtle synths that appear relatively frequently give the album a character unlike any other Candlemass album.  But despite the more grounded effort here and Vikstrom's solid attempt at filling some of the biggest shoes in metal, this is every bit as good as the classic era, and there are two songs that showcase why: "Where the Runes Still Speak" and "The Ebony Throne".  The former is often cited as the lost classic from this album that could have fit anywhere on the more visible albums and the one that makes the best use of Vikstrom's voice, but for my money, "The Ebony Throne" is the true forgotten classic of the band's career.  Worthy of any setlist and featuring one of the best choruses the band would ever pen, do yourself a favor and check out "The Ebony Throne" if you're only familiar with the Messiah and Lowe eras of the band.

4: Candlemass - Tales of Creation
Likely the fastest and most upbeat of all of Candlemass's oeuvre, Tales of Creation stands as the glorious conceptual sendoff to the classic era, rife with classic after classic after classic.  The hints of splendorous creation that ran underneath the excellent Ancient Dreams are hammered over the listener's head in the most hamfisted way here, but fuck I wouldn't change it for the world.  The bright vibrancy is at an all time high, with more melody and more speedy tempos than the band would ever feature before or since, and it's a very exciting and wondrous journey as a result.  Even the dark and heavy doom that the band never failed to feature prominently despite the more colorful approach of the Messiah records is more uplifting and exuberant than ever before.  "Dark Reflections" is another one of the first songs I'd ever heard from the band, and the pulse pounding and muscular gallop of the verse riff still stands as one of the highlights of the band's career.  "Tears" features one of the most hard hitting choruses they'd ever write, "Through the Infinitive Halls of Death" is both a dark and oppressive slab of monstrously heavy doom and an adrenaline filled romp, the closing title track brings back the opening riff from "Prophecies" as a great coda to tie the whole experience together, the rerecording of "Under the Oak" is phenomenally heavy, basically everything about this album is sheer perfection.  I absolutely have to highlight the most out-of-left-field moment of the band's career though, there's no way to overlook it.  "Into the Unfathomed Tower" is a ferocious blast of high speed neoclassical shred/power metal that comes out of absolutely fucking nowhere and completely rips me apart every time.  It's sort of just a fun instrumental throwaway in the middle of the album to help break up all the doom in the grand scheme of things, but I love it so much because it showcases how little of a fuck Candlemass gave about "the rules" at the time.  They were writing the rules, and it didn't matter if they were four full lengths into their run, if they wanted to put in a vibrant and high speed melodic powerhouse of shred, who the fuck was going to stop them?  I'm willing to bet that almost nobody else had the sheer testicular fortitude to take the subgenre most constricted by rules and ethos behind only thrash metal and say "Fuck all of you, we're going to put an Yngwie Malmsteen song in the middle here and none of you pricks can stop us."

3: Blind Guardian - Tales from the Twilight World
Blind Guardian was almost unstoppable in their speed metal era.  I see Tales here often shuffled near the bottom because it supposedly ends on a whimper compared to the monstrously strong opening streak of songs, but anybody who believes that is a numpty.  "The Last Candle" is one of their all time greats, opening with that iconic mantra of "GAH-DYIN GAH-DYIN GAH-DYIN OF THE BLIND" from two albums prior sets the stage for a definitive statement of speed metal insanity, and the rest of the song lives up to it with aplomb, ending with a classic out-chant.  Even the two short interlude style songs ("Weird Dreams" and "Altair 4") are among the band's best, never slowing down or kicking down the intensity for a second.  But really, the true strength of the album really is that opening string of classics.  From "Traveler in Time" to "Lost in the Twilight Hall", the album just delivers anthem after anthem, never stopping fuck around with mid tempo nonsense outside of one of their all time great classic ballads, "Lord of the Rings".  The fact that this album seems to have been mostly phased out of live sets is a huge shame, though I do understand why.  It's by far the most intense album they've ever penned, with more vigor and fury than they've ever mustered before or since.  "Traveler in Time" and "Goodbye My Friend" are woefully forgotten monsterpieces of fiery speed, and "Welcome to Dying" seemed to hold out the longest in terms of setlist mainstays and that's a great thing because it's an amazing song.  "Lost in the Twilight Hall" marks the second appearance of former Helloween and future Gamma Ray frontman, Kai Hansen, and his comparatively shrill screech is a perfect foil for the full voiced masculinity of Hansi Kursch.  The song also features one of their best choruses, which even at this early stage in their career has always been their strength.  The balance between hooks and aggression is tilted a little further towards the latter end still, but it's all coming together nicely, hinting at the direction they'd eventually take ever so subtly.  "Lord of the Rings" would have easily stood as their defining singalong ballad if not for the obvious one coming up on the followup album, but it acts here as a nice breather before barreling headfirst into the frantic insanity of "Goodbye My Friend".  There's really nothing bad I can say about this album, even the forgotten final three songs are amazing and would have stood as easy highlights on any other speed metal album from 1990.  Tales from the Twilight World is so good that it somehow manages to convince its own listeners that it's weaker than it is, and I can't even begin to explain how that even makes sense.  It warps reality itself, that's all there is to it.

2: Candlemass - Nightfall
Did you really think for even one second that any other Candlemass album could've come out on top as their best?  Nightfall stands after 30 years as their magnum opus, and as much as I love Chapter VI and Tales of Creation, they never even stood a chance.  This was the world's introduction to the man himself, Messiah Marcolin, the iconoclastic vocalist that I've mentioned several times but never really expounded upon.  His voice was unlike anything else in metal at the time, taking the theatricality of Johan Langquist and ratcheting every single aspect of it so far past eleven that I stopped counting somewhere within the opening minutes of "The Well of Souls".  His vibrato is absolutely insane, and his command of the human voice is almost unmatched.  Every single time he opens his mouth I find myself just in the palm of his hand, transported off somewhere beyond the ether.  "Magical" is an adjective I find myself using to describe this run of albums in the late 80s, and Messiah is a huge reason why.  He's completely inimitable, and no other vocalist they've featured has ever touched his accomplishments with the band.  Candlemass has always been Leif's band first and foremost, but Messiah was the X-Factor that took them from "excellent" to "undisputed legends".  Even beyond his personal brand of perfection, the songs themselves here are the best they'll ever be.  Like five of the songs here are consistently rated among their best and I can't really dispute any of them.  "At the Gallows End" is a seminal classic, with one of the most simplistic-yet-perfect riffs ever written and a massively anthemic chorus (RIIIiIiIiIING BROoOoOoOTHER RIIiIiIiIiING FORrR MEeEeEeEe), "The Well of Souls" introduces Messiah with some of the most ear splitting high notes he'd ever reach, "Bewitched" is quite possibly THE classic Candlemass song behind "Solitude", there isn't one single negative thing I can say about this album.  Yeah it may lack the uptempo skippiness of Tales of Creation or the guitar mastery of Ancient Dreams, but this was their undisputed peak of songwriting and majesty.  Candlemass could make fucking anything sound incredible in 1987, just look at "Samarithan".  It's just a sweet, wholesome song about a man who takes in a homeless beggar for a night and is thusly rewarded by becoming an angel years later upon his death.  Like, holy fuck no metal song should ever be about something so saccharine, but here's fucking Candlemass churning out an uplifting doom song about exactly that.  This is about as close to a perfect album as you can get, and it's an eternal monument to Candlemass's complete mastery of music in the late 80s.

1: Blind Guardian - Somewhere Far Beyond 
And finally coming in at the top of this heap, one of my Top 10 All Time favorite albums ever, in any genre.  I know it's a bit of a cliche but there are really two types of transitional albums when a band undergoes a major stylistic shift, those being either an awkward mishmash of two disparate styles, or a gorgeous "best of both worlds" affair.  Somewhere Far Beyond obviously sits firmly as the shining example of the latter category.  I think the word I've been looking for to describe all of Blind Guardian's post-1995 work but haven't been able to land on is "ambitious", because this perfect blend of their earlier primal rawness and later polished majesty absolutely sounds like the most ambitious speed metal album ever crafted.  There are smatterings of symphonics scattered around, most notably on the title track and "Theatre of Pain", along with some of their most well written speed metal monsters with "Journey Through the Dark", "Time What Is Time", and "Ashes to Ashes".  The choirs and choruses have never been better than they are here, every single idea they toy with just hits bullseye.  The ballad half of "The Bard's Song" is the most iconic metal ballad of all time, the church bells that punctuate the chorus of the title track send shivers down my spine even to this day, the intro of "Time What Is Time" still wrecks me, "Ashes to Ashes" is probably their best forgotten song, just... god dammit I fell in love with this album well over a decade ago and it still hasn't lost one single bit of it's luster.  I know I just went on a huge rant about how much I love Nightfall and I can say with confidence that I love Somewhere Far Beyond even more, but the problem is that I don't really know what to say about it.  All I can do is point to certain aspects of it and descend into gibbering lunacy about how good it is.  If nothing else, it has one of my all time favorite "special thanks" sections in any metal album outside of some of Morbid Angel's more classic ones, sprinkled with boundless love for Iced Earth and tons of weird little asides ("Soccer rules!", "Game Boy rules!") and a shoutout to Jon Schaffer punctuated with "Poor Raiders fan, the Bucs rule!", which tells me that Super Bowl XXXVIII must have been an incredibly hostile time in the Demons & Wizards camp.

And so!  With a final score of 106 to 104, the winners of the inaugural Ladder Match stand as...

CANDLEMASS!  In total honesty, I didn't tally the points out before I started writing this and just added them up as I went along, so I genuinely didn't know who was going to win until the last couple entries started making it easier to calculate, and I'm actually surprised.  I obviously love the shit out of both bands, but I've always considered Blind Guardian to be one of my all time favorites, consistently hitting about the third spot below only Bad Religion and Running Wild/Gargoyle/whoever I feel like at the time.  I knew it would be close, but I didn't expect Candlemass to actually take the throne.  It was so close that basically any shuffling around of any album would have altered the score in some significant way.  Congrats to Candlemass, you've won a completely meaningless contest run by some dork with far more free time than important shit to do, way to go!

So that's that!  Was I way off base?  Who would you like to see face off next? 

In the meantime, LET'S STOMP!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017



It's come to my attention that there have been some several trillion nimrod fuckholes across the years that have accused me of not being metal.  I know, right??  This is the gravest of injustices that can be leveled at such an unstoppable force of metal supremacy such as myself, so I'm going to take the next thousand words or so to illustrate how little of a fuck I give and also prove once and for all that I AM PURE FUCKING OSMIUM AND YOU ARE ALL LITTLE BABIES THAT I CHEW UP FOR FUN.

Allow me to bullet point every reason you're all fucking idiots.

Lair of the Bastard is a completely valueless hobby.  I don't make a single fucking cent making fun of Wintersun and making Manilla Road fanboys cry.  I've been doing this shit for the better part of a decade when I posted a really terrible review on the Metal Archives for Children of Bodom's Are You Dead Yet?  And ever since then, I've made precisely zero dollars doing this stupid bullshit all by myself.  I am the only full time staffer on Lair of the Bastard, even if that means I don't adequately cover every genre and go months at a whack without any sort of update.  I'm not popular and I utilize a uselessly narrow skillset to amuse myself in hopes that other people might enjoy it as well while also slaving away at a full time job trying to support my diet of red meat and chocolate.  There isn't one single corporate entity on the planet who would even want to sponsor or buy out a blog that's so lazy that it's been running for nearly seven years without ever bothering to make a fucking logo for itself.  Is there anything more metal than losing money on a dumb aggressive hobby in your bedroom?  Yeah I didn't fucking think so.

Lair of the Bastard is bullheaded and stupid.  I'm a dumb motherfucker.  I can properly use words like "obsequies" and "fecundity" but that just means I listen to a lot of Bad Religion.  If you think that the only thing I care about is attention and rageclicks, then why do you think I routinely talk shit about Gorguts and Meshuggah and Overkill and all manner of mega popular metal bands?  Do you think Metal Hammer is banging on my door to get the rights to an article that utilizes the imagery of Iron Maiden chokeslamming Scrappy Doo into a puddle of jizz?  DO YOU THINK THERE IS ONE ADVERTISER ON THE PLANET WHO WANTS TO ASSOCIATE THEMSELVES WITH A DUDE WHO SAYS DIO SUCKED FOR 80% OF HIS CAREER??

Additionally, I've been accused of being both a snotty asshole elitist who only listens to Brenoritvrezorkre and of being an idiotic Nuclear Blast fellating mainstream whore.  Yeah so what, maybe I want to listen to and talk about both popular and underground bands like Metallica and The Black Dahlia Murder?  Did you ever think I could cultivate an audience by talking about something as insane as whatever the fuck I wanted to talk about?  The absolute shittiest way to run a business is to have a fucking identity.  I'm working on a feature that scientifically proves that Protest the Hero is, has been, and always will be better than Gorguts, my own readers hate me and that puts me on the same level of notoriety as motherfucking Burzum and you know it.

And why else would I constantly take low blow potshots at Republican politicians?


I honestly believe that everything I do directly betters an insignificant genre of music that I've built my entire identity around.  And if I sit idly by and don't use my bully pulpit of immense power and influence to remind everybody that I'm right and everybody else is a fucking retard and some shitty band like Winds of Plague thinks it's okay to make a new album because I haven't called them morons in a few years or Emperor has the gall to release some seminal classics decades ago despite their drummer being a homophobic murderer, an entire genre of music will fucking die.  I am your god damned savior.  I speak from a place of a place of self appointed superiority and if Manowar can build an entire career on that then so can INothing is more metal than baselessly claiming moral superiority over 100% of the population of the planet.  Nothing is less poser than dedicating an entire editorial explaining how everybody is a poser except me.

And hey, just to throw it out there again, if I didn't want to be poor, I'd just work for an investment firm or be a corporate lawyer because my knowledge of Enbilulugugal qualifies me to do whatever the fuck I want to do.  I chose to do this because I am just so motherfucking generous.  I EAT BONES AND SHIT GHOSTS, I CUM LIKE A CAMEL SPITS, YOU ARE ALL WORTHLESS AND WEAK AND WITHOUT ME THE ONLY BANDS YOU'D BE ABLE TO LISTEN TO WOULD BE ALPHAVILLE AND SKREWDRIVER.

Lair of the Bastard is offensive to your grandma.  Look, we all know that conservatives are woman hating dingdongs, and the fact that I just said that out loud without dropping an N-bomb makes me a cultural tour de force that should be remembered in the halls of history forever.  Somehow there are a bunch of idiots who think that true rebellion is following jack booted authoritarian types and those people are nimrods but the fact that I openly believe that makes me more of a metallic iconoclast than Varg Vikernes or Tom Araya.  I listen to Napalm Death and Misery Index AND THAT MAKES ME SMARTER THAN ALL OF YOU COWARDS.

The world is awful and the fact that I sit at my computer and spin short fiction about how Donald Trump is a malevolent demi-creature from the Shadow Realm while listening to Dying Fetus basically makes me a Headbanging Malcom X and you should all appreciate how fucking bold I am to agree with a majority of my peers.  Everybody except me is a fucking idiot.  YOU BITCHDICKS AIN'T GOT SHITTITS ON HOW MUCH OF AN ABRASIVE SELF RIGHTEOUS JACKASS I AM AND YOU SHOULD RUN AND FUCKING HIDE FROM THE UNSTOPPABLE TIDE OF UNIRONIC ELITISM THAT FLOODS THE SEWERS EVERY TIME I PISS.

Lair of the Bastard is a forward thinking genius.  I embody the entire idea of progressivism, from the fact that I am a certified race traitor who thinks poor people shouldn't be subjugated as khaffit, to the fact that I think Melechesh is better than Six Feet Under, but that's not what's important.

What's truly important is that I'm a clairvoyant sage.  The landscape of metal has changed since 1970 when we had a whopping two bands to choose from.  I noticed that, I pointed that out, how the fuck can you knuckle-dragging ingrates even compare to me?  I said music streaming services would be a game changer since they offer all the convenience of illegally downloading music with none of the guilt and I was right.  I heard The Browning mix brainless chugga chugga breakdowns with effortless N-TSS N-TSS dance music and claimed they would take a subniche by storm way back in 2010 before they even released anything on a major label and I was right.  I looked at a pattern of 30 years' worth of terrible releases and proclaimed the newest Annihilator album would suck and do you even want to bother guessing how that ended?

Like Nocturnus, Atheist, and Voivod, I embody the will of the enlightened by looking towards the future and disdaining the good ol' days.  Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and nothing is worse that the glut of terrible rethrash bands that resurfaced in the late 2000s to put on a thrasher costume and rip off Exodus and Kreator until the cows came home.  The bands who cropped up in the last decade with the sole intention of ripping off forgotten Finndeath classics while cramming as much mystikal polysyllabic sophistry into their lyrics as possible and dissonant jangledeath doesn't count because I say so but everything else that isn't a completely fresh take on a 47 year old style of music is a worthless void of mediocrity and I am basically fucking Einstein for realizing that.  WHAT COULD BE MORE METAL THAN BUCKING TRENDS BY STRICTLY ADHERING TO THEM?  IS THAT NOT THE MOST SUBVERSIVE POST-POST-POST IRONIC META-STATEMENT ANYBODY COULD EVER MAKE??  I AM AN INTENTIONALLY HOLIER-THAN-THOU PIECE OF SHIT AND THAT PUTS ME AT LEAST TEN LEVELS ABOVE YOU PLEBS.  Myrkur is innovative and Fallujah is the be-all-end-all of forward thinking melodic metal and I will not hear one fact to the contrary.  Gargle my balls.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: LAIR OF THE BASTARD IS NOT A DUNDERHEAD INCAPABLE OF SELF AWARENESS.  Here at Lair of the Bastard, I don't run a fucking bottomfeeding gossip rag.  I don't run poorly thought out bi-annual smear pieces based entirely on hearsay with no word from the accused group to defend themselves.  I don't run articles about how black metal institutions like Inquisition are "probably" Nazis based on a random former Nazi tour bus driver recalling a foggy memory from 20 years ago, a random former Nazi who has been noted for accusing completely innocent bands and/or ones that were unaware that one of their members had since-disavowed Nazi sympathies a decade prior.  I don't find myself completely failing to comprehend how people can change and drop their edgelord childishness when they grow up.  I don't miss the most obvious Sabbath reference since the bridge riff in "I Love the Lamp" on Electric Wizard's new album and scratch my head confused as to why they would reference Sepultura's shitty nu metal album and still unironically claim to be an authority on metal.  I may not endorse every dumb thing GWAR says but I don't clutch my pearls and act shocked when a band that routinely makes jokes about their own founding member's fatal heroin overdose cracks a suicide joke about Chester Bennington in between songs about raping babies and injecting a dinosaur egg with smack in hopes it will murder hippies when it hatches.  I don't help perpetuate the circular firing squad that the internet culture has helped foster by attacking one of the most respected underground metal labels in recent memory because some of their releases are by shitty racist fuckwads.  I don't perpetuate the stereotype that metalheads are both ignorant gobshites AND head-in-anus fart sniffing pompous buttheads.  I don't help expose an actual sexual predator like the dude from Ovid's Withering and then mysteriously delete the article with no explanation even though it's one of the only times one of my "expose" pieces was totally on the money and I actually did some tangible fucking good in the world, prompting rumors that I was paid to keep it hush and doing jack fucking nothing to address said rumors.  I don't take easy shots at Dave Mustaine and Ted Nugent while simultaneously jerking off Machine Head to the point of carpal tunnel simply because I seem to be under the impression that the only prerequisite to assembling guitar notes in such an order that isn't so fucking boring that it accelerates natural death is to simply not be a white supremacist douchebag.  I've never written an impossibly cringey "manifesto" acting like I'm some beacon of truth and justice and a savior for the common dipshit headbanger.

And I'm not incapable of writing an editorial about how I'm objectively superior and smarter and more fucking metal broooo than everybody who doesn't like me without suffocating heaps of self aware irony instead of coming across as a self collapsing vortex of hypocrisy essentially morphing my self righteous verbal diarrhea into a condescending Five Finger Death Punch song.

Fuck everybody.