Thursday, April 26, 2018

QUICK "HIT": Electric Wizard - Dopethrone


Hello children!  It's time once again for my new annual review, THE 4/21 SPECIAL!  For those who weren't around last year or are too perpetually stoned to remember, the basic gist is that I, as a metal fan who does not smoke, gathers up some friends of mine who do smoke but do not listen to metal, and force them at knifepoint to listen to a seminal stoner metal album to see if the genre works for people who only have half of the requisite qualifications for liking it (see: they dig ganj but don't get nearly as hard as I do when they hear a really fucking good riff dammit).  It turns out this is incredibly fucking hard for me because I didn't realize how much of a one-dimensional stereotype I was until it came time to list out the amount of friends I had who weren't metal fans and came up with like, I dunno, fuckin' two?  But, for the second year in a row now, I've somehow managed to round up three unfortunate souls to join me this year.  I'll give my short review first, as per the template I apparently use, but first you should know why Dopethrone was the chosen album.

Last year was easy, there's no stoner metal album more quintessentially "stoner" than Dopesmoker.  Sleep is the band for me, it was an incredibly easy choice.  But when it came time to do it again, I found myself struggling a bit.  I wanted it to be a first impression for myself as well, but I didn't want it to be some woefully obscure thing with ten bandcamp downloads or something because then nobody would care enough to read this.  So I decided on five random classics that I sorta knew but had never listened to in full, since this isn't my usual genre for casual listening (not nearly enough disembowelments and/or mystical dragonfaeries for me).  I started a group chat with the three participants (Returning champion Patt Mike from last year's edition, plus two new women, one I'll call NuBiz, since the original Biz Luckingham has since decided to run off and go join the circus, and one more I'll call Boo Boo Kitty Fuck, because I'm a child), and announced that this year was going to be player's choice.  I posted five album covers and told them to just pick whichever one they wanted.  The choices where: Kyuss's Welcome to Sky Valley, YOB's Atma, Goatsnake's Flower of Disease, Ufomammut's Godlike Snake, and of course, Electric Wizard's Dopethrone.

The conversation went as follows, paraphrased:

BH: "Alright guys, here are the five albums to choose from.  Debate amongst yourselves and let me know which one seems like it might be the most interesting."

Patt: "Okay obviously I have to choose the one with fucking Satan smoking a bong"

BBKF: "¯\_(ツ)_/¯"

NuBiz: "I'll take Kyuss I guess"

BH: "You all get the same one so too bad you're outvoted"

And so, with that highly scientific process out of the way, let's take a brief gander at my thoughts on Dopethrone, quite possibly one of the most iconic metal albums I've just never bothered to listen to.

The first thing I'm struck by is how absolutely fucking gargantuan the guitar tone is.  I first played this in my car and I was genuinely afraid that my lugnuts would rattle off the tires.  I realize tone worship is a thing in these circles and I'm sure that this album's sound has been surpassed a few hundred times over in the eighteen years since its release (I am at least aware of something like Conan), but since I spend so much time outside of this sound it's still pretty striking to me.  Every note is drowned in this unrelenting wall of bassy fuzz, it's a beautiful distorted mess and it calls to mind the kind of stuff Sabbath might have created if more modern recording techniques had existed in the 70s.  I've seen an interview with Geezer Butler where he attributed a lot of their early success and identity with Rodger Bain's production, since he was so laid back in the studio he didn't care that they were all playing way too loud and distorting the bass to death.  It seems like stoner metal as a whole must've just taken that lesson and run to the most logical extreme they could with it, because even during this album's quiet moments it feels like it could loosen the plaster off the walls.  Jus Osborn's vocals are a cool feature as well, since they're just a completely haggard monotone yell buried somewhere off in the distance beneath the molasses-thick riffage.  That's really the album's strong suit, because my understanding of stoner metal as "super fuzzed out Sabbath riffs" is reinforced pretty clearly here, and dammit I don't care because Sabbath was really fucking good at riffs.  This sounds like Master of Reality but twice as dirty and three times as loud, with extra moments of extreme minimalism resulting in an agonizing drone that overtakes a few of the songs.  Personally though, those segments are nice for what they are, but the band is clearly at their best when they're cranking out bluesy-swingy-groovy-doom riffs with a menacing gait like on "Funeralopolis" or the title track.  It all ties together pretty well with the disparate ideas though, as the thruline of the album seems to be some vision of unremitting misanthropy and sheer hatred.  Don't let the psychedelic font of the logo fool you, Dopethrone is all about misery and death and hatred and Satan and nuclear hellfire.  The escapist odyssey of Dopesmoker from last year is nowhere to be found here, replaced entirely with a bleak aggression.  The world is awful and Electric Wizard fucking hates everything about this awful world, and that includes you, the listener.  Ultimately, I can't fault much about this album, because it clearly accomplishes what it sets out to do with aplomb, the problem is just that, like last year, it's really hard for me to focus on.  The ambient dirge of the last two movements of "Weird Tales" is fucking brutal and hard to get through, and "I, the Witchfinder" is absolutely agonizing in its extreme repetition, basically grooving on one riff for eleven solid minutes.  I do really like "Funeralopolis", "We Hate You", the first half of "Weird Tales", and the title track, but really admitting that makes me feel like a scrub, because those are generally some of the more active and mobile songs on the record, not nearly as sluggish as "I, the Witchfinder" or something.  Perhaps this is where my sobriety comes into play, because I like the parts where it riffs, the rest of it I can take or leave.

So that's my mini-review.  Now, unlike last year, I had a bit of a rare opportunity since all of the participants are also friends of Patt (instead of being scattered across three separate groups of friends), so the plan for the day was do all meet up at his apartment, have the stoners do their thing, and then jam the album while I sorta watched their reactions and took mental notes whenever they had something to say about it.  I didn't expect a serious listening party or anything, but I thought this might be more fun than just sitting on my ass playing BlazBlue while I waited for them to text me back.

So instead of separate sections, here's a rundown of my 4/20.

The day prior, I asked NuBiz if she'd be able to join the other two and I, and she politely declined, saying she wouldn't be able to, but she'd still be happy to listen to the album and report back to me.  As I was walking to Patt's place, I thought to text her and remind her just in case I had a repeat of last year where everybody forgot to listen to the album I picked.  She responds with "Ehhh, I might not be able to after all.  I don't know yet but it might be a good idea to have a backup."

Well fuck.

Okay so now what?  Doing this with just two seems silly, I want to hit that magic three.  I arrive at Patt's place with BBKF and am informed that Patt's boyfriend will be joining us later.  Alright sweet, I still got my three!  But wait!  Patt still lives at home, and said boyfriend recently got in a row with his mother and got kicked out (they were previously living together there), so he tells me it might be a good idea to just smoke up there, and then walk back to my apartment so things aren't too tense.  Ay dios mio, alrighty, that's not so bad.  New plan is now to let the goofs rip a few at Patt's, then walk the block or so away back to my own apartment where I can crank Electric Wizard at proper volume, so they can fully experience the proper bone rattlage.

Upon arriving, Patt leads us into his bedroom, which apparently BBKF is well familiar with thanks to being friends with him forever, but was a totally new experience for me.  Every square inch of wall was covered with movie posters, spread from all over the spectrum, from great films like Alien, to awful ones like The Bye Bye Man, to, for some thematically baffling but nonetheless pleasant reason, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  In the corner there is a wooden cabinet painted white and bloodstained.  He opens it with a meathook.  It is full of slasher flicks of all stripes, once again spanning the gamut of quality to the early classics of Friday the 13th and Halloween, to the awful celluloid abortions that are... well, still Friday the 13th and Halloween, just the modern reinterpretations.  BBKF parks herself on the bed and Patt asks her what she wants to smoke out of.  See, BBKF has smoked like, I dunno, once or twice in the last four or five years?  So she's long out of practice and isn't familiar with his collection of wares anymore.  So the next several minutes are spent with Patt playing Vanna White with his various assorted collection of bongs.  I know stoners have this thing where they name their bongs and/or pipes, but he didn't reveal any names, so I'm going to just make them up.  Highlights include a five foot long purple PVC pipe that I named "Barney's Love Bone", some weird seven-tube concoction he found at a garage sale that the person selling claimed "I don't know I think it's my son's science fair project" that I named "Highence Fair", and one shaped like a massive black dildo that you hit out of the urethra that I named "Your Real Dad".  Ultimately, BBKF chose a pink and purple striped affair that I named "Chanandler".

The two park themselves in their respective seats and I grab a chair and start to observe.  Patt takes a smaller, clear thing that looks like a beaker and hits it.  He no-sells whatever reaction he might have had, I can only assume that nothing fazes him anymore.  The only reason I'm telling this part of the story is for BBKF, who, like I mentioned, hasn't done a whole lot of smoking for several years.  She takes Chanandler and the little, I don't know what it's called, the piece or something?  I didn't know until yesterday that you can just take a little thing with some bud in it and plug it into any bong you choose, that's how fuckin' square I am.  I'm 27 years old.  Anyway, she takes the little golf-tee-looking-thing-with-dro-in-it and takes a big rip on Chanandler.  She then proceeds to hack up a lung for the next year.  She then immediately turns into what I assume Matthew Lillard is like on any given Tuesday, with her eyes fluctuating between barely open no matter how hard she tries to giant spheres she uses to gawk at things while hiding behind a pillow.  She eats a Cosmic Brownie snack that nobody saw her grab.  She holds it with two hands and nibbles on it like a gerbil.  She tells me then that "every cough is like another hit, so really I did like thirty hits so I'm good".  Patt proceeds to take roughly a million more and his demeanor doesn't change one iota, BBKF is a giggling mess after one.  Clearly I'm looking at Wayne Gretzky trying to play pond hockey with Verne Troyer here.

Two Cosmic Brownies later, they decide they're sufficiently high and ready to head back to my place.  It is now that I realize that Patt's boyfriend (who I shall henceforth refer to as "Ruffles") won't actually be there for a few more hours, long after they've passed their peak and listened to the album at hand.  Fuck fuck fuck I'm still not going to get my three.  I scramble, I try to think of somebody, anybody I can hit up and say "Hey, I know you're stoned right now so just load up this album and listen to it really quickly", and the only person that comes into my mind is a girl I'll call Moon Moon, because yes, she is just the human version of that meme.  I text her and send her a link and ask if she can listen.  She says "Yeah sure".  She texts back five minutes later and says "It's great".  You didn't listen to it Moon Moon god dammit you can't fool me.

Patt, BBKF, and myself all walk back to my apartment, where I promptly load up Dopethrone, excited to finally see the album working its magic in real time.  The two plop down on my couch and prepare themselves for some dark fuckin' doomy haze worship.  "Vinum Sabbathi" starts up and the two of them sit there, stonefaced, no reaction whatsoever.  I try to make idle conversation to keep them engaged in some way or another, mostly out of fear that they're immediately hating the noise currently blaring out of my speakers.  Patt says almost right away "I can sorta dig this, it sounds like some dudes just lighting up in the garage and jamming insanely loudly."  BBKF makes a noise that I think means she agrees, but it's hard to tell because she's too busy holding onto a potato chip with two hands and munching on it.  I didn't see her grab a bag of chips.

During "Funeralopolis", Patt draws on his obvious area of expertise and says "You know, I can see this working in a movie.  Like, as the soundtrack to murder.  Like that weird time in the early 2000s when every slasher movie crammed metal songs into them for seemingly no reason."  BBKF sets down a granola bar that I didn't see her grab and announced "Yeah, this could actually totally work in The Groundskeeper!"

Some of you may be movie buffs and have no idea what The Groundskeeper is, and that's okay, because it's not real.  Patt's forte is obviously in film as opposed to music, and like all lovers of art, he aspires to create his own.  The Groundskeeper is his love letter to the slasher flicks of yore, a film that he scripted but to my knowledge has never been able to film.  I know very little about it, I guess it's heavily inspired by Friday the 13th and tells the story of a bullied kid who dies and... resurrects as a hulking murder-person and... gets a job?  He's a groundskeeper somewhere, and I can only hope the obvious joke that his name is Willie.  Teens invade the grounds he keeps to be drunk/stoned/horny and he murders them all in creative ways, real meat-and-potatoes stuff.  All I really, truly know about this hypothetical film is that my fiance (who is also longtime friends with Patt and actually how I met him in the first place) was cast to play a lesbian, specifically because she "won't stop wearing fucking Birkenstocks".  I hope this film comes to fruition, because the only way I could possibly love her more is if I got to watch her bang a chick and then die.

The "Altar of Melektaus" movement of "Weird Tales" starts to draw to a close, and Patt proclaims that he likes how it's moved from riffs to this droning funeral dirge.  It runs the gamut of many moods, all of which work in at least some sort of way with being massively stoned.  BBKF again agrees, though much less enthusiastically.  She is eating fistfuls of trail mix.  I didn't see her grab my bag of trail mix.

We get to maybe halfway through "Barbarian" when BBKF says "Oh wow!"  I think she's going to comment on the music proactively for a change instead of piggybacking off of Patt, whose mental faculties appear to be functioning beyond "find food and eat it with two hands", but instead she says "These mango slices are expired!"  I didn't even know I fucking had mango slices in the apartment.  Where is she getting all this food?

Another minute passes by and she looks at me with a sad, longing expression, and says "Hey BH, can I be honest with you?"  Curious as to this sudden change in mood, I say of course.  She looks towards the floor, saddened, almost afraid, and says "I'm done listening to this..."  Hey man, that's fine, y'all only needed to last as long as you want to.  I look to Patt and he shrugs, saying maybe he'll listen to it later on his own time and give me another writeup like last year, but he's not really feeling it all that much either.  That's when I hear a mousey voice off to the side.  "...also can you order a pizza?"

Well it looks like that's it!  Guess it's time to pack up and let those two hit the road, Ruffles hadn't even showed up yet, but clearly Dopethrone wasn't hitting the same vibe with these guys as Dopesmoker did last year. That's fine, it's definitely more abrasive and I can see how non-metalheads won't groove with it quite as seemlessly as the Californian nug-men from before.

Now, again you may be wondering why the "4/21" Special has been postponed almost a full week.  The truth of the matter is that all of that rambling above was initially supposed to only be the first half of this review.  You see, after they decided to stop penetrating their eardrums with Electric Wizard, my two stoned compadres didn't leave to go home.  Instead, they got the bright idea that "Holy shit guys we should watch The Craft right now!"  I've never seen The Craft, but I've always known those two loved it, so I figured hey, why not.  The second half of this post was supposed to be a review of The Craft.

The problem is that I'm terrible at reviewing movies.  I tried, I really did.  I started and erased this section like six god damned times trying to perfect it, and I just can't even get it to be passable.  I'm not satisfied with my ability to describe anything that isn't purely musical, so fuck it, I'm not going to postpone this any longer.  There will be no review of The Craft further than these next few sentences:  It's not a bad movie, I thought it was "very much fine".  Skeet Ulrich is named fucking "Skeet".  It's about four misfits who start a coven and gain magical witch powers after a real life witch joins the original trio.  There are some striking visuals here and there (particularly during the ritual on the beach) but the plot itself is kinda thin and most of the characters aren't developed in any way beyond Sarah and Nancy.  Skeet Ulrich is still named fucking "Skeet".  All of these teenagers are in their twenties, and Breckin Meyer shows up a few times and I just want to give him a wedgie.  Neve Campbell is supposed to be hideously deformed but all of her scars are hidden by loose clothing and the parts of her you can see are still Neve Campbell so I mean come on who wouldn't want Neve Campbell in her physical prime?  Robin Tunney just got done filming Empire Records, a movie she shaved her head for, so she's very obviously wearing a wig throughout this and once it was pointed out to me I couldn't un-see it for the life of me.  Who the fuck chooses to be named "Skeet" god dammit.  Vicky Valencourt is probably a legitimate insane person so she killed it as Nancy at the very least.  The part where she kills Skeet is pretty hilarious.  That previous sentence has spoilers in it by the way.  Anyway she kills him by magically pushing him out of a window but before she does it she just starts screeching "HE'S SORRY? OH GOD HE'S SORRY HE'S SORRY HE'S SORRY" while she stares directly into the camera and shakes her head back and forth like a nutjob and I just have to imagine being on set while she's doing this and I couldn't stop laughing internally.  Imagine being the poor intern flicking the lights on and off or the cameraman trolleying back and forth while she's doing this.  It's hilarious to me.  At one point Sarah walks through a room and the words GUSTAV KILMT are just randomly written on the wall and that's the laziest fucking reference I've ever seen.  "Hey Cletus, do you think we should put up a Klimt painting right here?"  "Nah Jethro, just write his name on the wall.  Same diff."  Nobody gets naked.  SKEET 

So anyway now we're done!  Thank you all for playing along, thank you to all my participants for being good sports about listening to obnoxious metal.  I'll do this again next year like always and hopefully I won't kneecap myself by telling myself I'll also review a movie at the same time because man I'm really bad at it. Thanks again!  Legalize Drugs and Murder!


Monday, April 2, 2018

Off With Their Heads - In Desolation/Home


I feel like I need to tackle this as a twofer, which is kinda silly considering there's really nothing linking these albums apart from a general theme.  It's not part of a continuing narrative or concept or anything; Off With Their Heads doesn't play a style that's even remotely conducive to such a thing in the first place.  But for me, their second and third albums, 2010's In Desolation and 2013's Home are inextricably linked in my mind.  I can't hear one without the other, I can't talk about one without also reaching towards the other, they're two sides of the same coin, two representations of the same idea, with enough variation between the two to work both as separate entities and companions to one another. 

I've touched on my own depression a handful of times within the context of my reviewing career (Tyranny's Tides of Awakening, Insomnium's Since the Day It All Came Down, and most notably Strapping Young Lad's City) and, fair warning, this is going to be another entry in that loose series I've been weaving over the years, and once again it's barely going to be about the music itself.  Off With Their Heads has an incredible knack of cutting right through the bullshit and punching me directly in my soul, and even when I'm in a good place mentally I find myself drawn to these albums as some sort of sombre reminder of how bad shit can be.

I'll touch briefly on the music itself, because I obviously like it.  This isn't metal at all, so it's a bit of a break from what I usually write about.  It's really simple sub-three-minute four chord punk rock in the vein of The Ramones and some other more obvious bands I'll probably completely misappropriate since my usual brands of punk are the much faster and more technical skate punk/melodic hardcore styles.  They seem to be frequently tied to Banner Pilot and Dillinger Four, I dunno, maybe they share some members or something, admittedly I've never looked it up.  OWTH exist in a vacuum to me, their influences and connections are irrelevant to me, they're a safe place of sorts where the rest of the musical world doesn't exist.  They're generally mid/uptempo and abrasive punk rock with a melodic edge and a penchant for great hooks, that's all I know and that's all I care about.  This is why I usually talk about metal, because that's a style I've been so deeply embroiled in for my whole life that I can pick out every tiny nuance and describe it with obtuse metaphors to keep from repeating myself.  Here?  Nope, it's loud punk and I like it, I don't know anything else, fuck off.

There's one thing I can highlight though, and that's Ryan Young, the vocalist/guitarist that acts as the nucleus of the entire band.  The main thing that attracted me to the band in the first place (apart from the excellent hooks) was his voice.  Fucking hell man, he sounds like he's been smoking a pack a day since he was a toddler and yet he maintains a soulful melodicism to his extreme rattle.  He has the kind of voice that comes from years of sadness and self abuse, the kind of guy who gargles razorblades and washes it down with Everclear and Ambien.  I can't get enough of it, everything he says is tinged with this sorrowful frustration, like he's pouring his heart out with every line but also doing everything he can to keep himself from completely falling apart. 

Don't wanna feel like this, anxious and angry and hopeless and upset all the time 

Anyway, the real core of what brings me here, writing this dual review in the first place, is the lyrical themes that tie together all of OTWH's releases.  Young has always been very open about his myriad mental illnesses, and it's reflected in his writing, and it's why I connect with his material so much.  Nearly every song is in some way reflective of his depression and anxiety, constantly crying out for help as he slowly self destructs and loses his sense of identity.  He has a goofy side that comes out outside of his music itself (see their music videos to see one of the most brutally depressing and emotional songs written in the last decade coupled with visuals of him getting pied in the face over and over again), but trust me when I say it's all the real deal.  The band had to drop off a tour with The Flatliners a few years ago after he suffered a nervous breakdown on the road, he's since started Anxious and Angry, a podcast that regularly discusses mental illness (also a webstore/small label(?)), the guy's got fuckin' issues, and it resonates with people who've been there.

Starting off with In Desolation, you'd be forgiven for thinking this is going to take a bit of an optimistic look at things, since the opening tracks sorta veer that way.  "Drive" is about running away from your problems, true, but as somebody who used to clear his mind by just driving aimlessly at night, it immediately speaks to a part of me that understands the cathartic release of just taking off in a random direction for a few hours.  "Their Own Medicine" follows, being another uptempo rocker, with lyrics that basically say "Everybody who fucked with you in the past can be dealt with today by knocking them the fuck out", it sounds like the album is going to be something of a primer for dealing with your problems.

Then the rest of the album happens.

I hate every second of the god damned day / gimme anything you got I don't care, it's all the same 

Starting from "Trying to Breathe", the album just slowly descends further and further down a hole as Young starts to lose hope and basically fall back on his old mantra of "I don't want to be like this but I fucking hate myself so I'm just going to do a shitload of drugs until I die".  "Trying to Breathe" basically sounds like a play by play rundown of having a particularly brutal anxiety attack, pleading to make it through unscathed but also just sort of accepting that this might be the end.  Everything from here on out reads like a cry for help or a screed of hatred directed squarely inwards.  From deep seated familial issues and frustration with inheriting his crippling depression in "Old Man", to the stress of life driving him to medicating himself into as perpetual of a sleep as he can manage in "All I Can Do", to idle thoughts making everything worse in "Spare Time", each passing song is just another uncomfortably relatable bodyblow to anybody who has felt helpless and trapped in their own mind.

One thing that I always mention about depression is that it's not as romanticized as it is in popular media, with the weepy days of grey overtaking life.  There are a variety of moods you experience, just like any human being, it's just that the bad ones tend to take precedence.  City covers this better than pretty much any album ever written, but there's another common theme that pops up throughout In Desolation, and that's that there's somebody that Young clearly cares about more than anything.  There are shades of it all over the place, but it's addressed more specifically in "I Need You", "I Just Want You to Know" and most obviously "My Episodes", where he expresses endless thanks to some unnamed person for keeping him as grounded as he possibly can be.  It's actually kind of heartbreaking when put in the context of everything else he says throughout the album, because as much as this person does for him, he's still a hopeless wreck who seems to constantly flirt with just giving up on life entirely.  And god damn if I don't understand that personally.  I'm in a good place right now, I have a wonderful fiance who makes every second of life worth living, but you can't ever make the bad shit go away entirely.  I have bad days/weeks all the time, I can't even begin to count the amount of times I've wanted to just fucking bail on everything and drive until I hit a coastline and then dive the fuck in.  This shit is hard, it never goes away, no matter how good your life is at any given moment, it could always come back when you least expect it.  I keep it inside most of the time, I try to be as strong as I can, but it's not easy, and it's extremely draining.

I think that's why the final track, "Clear the Air" has so quickly rocketed up the rankings of what I'd consider to be my all time favorite songs.  It so clearly captures my greatest fear, pouring my heart out, laying everything bare for the world to see, and in doing so scaring away the only person who keeps me sane.  The track plays out like a confession, with Young spilling his guts in a way that's so personal and understandable, and it builds from a quiet acoustic song and ultimately climaxes in an explosion of of emotion.  Every single line is something I've said to myself at some point, something I've practiced and ultimately pussed out of admitting to anybody, every admission of irrationality and broken plea for help has played out in my head as some hypothetical conversation with my loved ones verbatim.  When the song finally explodes, you can feel every ounce of desperation, frustration, hopelessness, sadness, and confusion in his voice when he finally switches from his calming clean voice that he seemingly struggles to maintain to his trademark rattle as he screams "God DAMMIT I'M FALLING APART".  It should be cathartic, but instead is desperate.  "Don't leave yet / I haven't gotten to the part that explains it all", it sounds like it was all in vain for him.  Instead of finally making everything make sense, this person who does so much for him just... can't take it anymore and leaves.  Holy shit that's terrifying to me, I can't imagine being in a situation like that, it's one I'm always afraid of experiencing myself.  Even though I know damn well that my special someone will stay by my side, because we've been through so much shit in terms of dealing with our own personal demons and have only come out the other side closer than we were before, I'm always waiting for that other shoe to drop.  "Clear the Air" is the narration of my nightmare scenario, and yet it's become one of my favorite songs of all time for the same reason I love The Catcher in the Rye so much.  I see a lot of myself in Holden Caulfield, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture.  I see a lot of myself in Ryan Young, and it's a really fucking dark reflection.

I thought I'd get older and it'd go away / but it only gets worse and causes more pain 

Three years later, after that emotional tour de force, the band returned and delivered their third album, Home, and... fuck it's so much more bleak.  For as much as In Desolation was content to wallow in its own self pity, there was always a sense of a light being at the end of the tunnel.  There were songs about being saved by a loved one scattered throughout, even if it ended on the brutal down note that is "Clear the Air".  That's not present anywhere on Home.  No, Home is just an endless dirge of misery camouflaged somewhat by the uptempo and catchy punk rock.  Pay attention to the lyrics even medium-hard and you'll see almost immediately that Young's mental state hasn't improved in the slightest, if anything it's only deteriorated.  His voice even sounds more broken, being a bit deeper on the whole and much more throaty and gurgly, his rattle is more extreme than it's ever been.  He sounds like a weathered man compared to his barely younger self from only one album ago.  The fact that the only song that's even marginally optimistic this time around is "Focus On Your Own Family", which acts as a sort of "Don't worry, we've got your backs" to the LGBT community, tells me that he's dealt with some shit between albums. 

There are two themes that seem to recur most often throughout the duration of this one, and one is the concept of "home" and what it means to Ryan, which could be viewed through the lens of a punk rocker always on the road with no permanent place to lay down for the night, but personally I view it through the lens I view all OWTH with, that being depression.  On my worst days, I can find myself laying down in my own bed, in my own bedroom, with my only thought being "I want to go home".  That's been an experience I've dealt with my whole life, from being an angsty teenager with then-undiagnosed dysthymic disorder to being a grown-ass adult living in his own apartment with the woman he proposed to.  I think that's because "home" is, to me, and I suspect to Ryan as well, a place where none of this shit matters.  A safe space where you can finally be happy.  Depressive thoughts and ideation is like a haunting, a demon that you can never truly escape.  It will always find you, no matter how far you run or how happy you are, it will always catch you.  It will always find where you are and it will snatch you in its clutches and refuse to let go until your brain stubbornly acquiesces and produces the proper chemical to eradicate it for a time.  I can be "home", and still want to go "home", because "home" is a place where I've finally eluded that haunting for good.  Everything that makes me happy is here, but I'm only "home" like 60% of the time.  I never know when I'm going to want to cut ties and run to some elusive nowhere that finally acts as the "home" I've always dreamed of.  The sad reality is that "home" may not be a physical space, and as long as I have this stupid abnormal depression-brain I will never truly be there.

The other recurring theme is that of repeating the past, usually in the form of self destructive habits.  This one I can't relate to quite as strongly on a personal level, since despite my storied history of bad decisions, I've always managed to avoid any sort of drug dependency or addiction to self harm, which is what most of these references seem to allude to, but it's hard not to place yourself in Young's shoes here.  There are countless references to things being so much worse than last time, or being unable to keep from bad habits, or thinking you'll finally get it right this time only to be disappointed, and each time he sounds more broken than the last.  Young is not only struggling to find his "home", he's struggling to even keep himself alive and coherent enough to truly care about finding it.  Like always, there are moments of clarity where it seems possible, like for example "Come Find Me", but more often than not he finds himself wallowing and lost, like "Stolen Away" and "Shirts". 

It's not the same as it was last time / It's so much worse, it's something that drives me out of my mind 

Like I mentioned, In Desolation is so brutal because he recounts all of his demons in painstaking detail despite having an outlet of hope right next to him, but it's also a stark contrast to the band's earlier work as well as this one.  Their previous releases (particularly the EP Hospitals and debut LP From the Bottom, as well as the ten quadrillion splits they appeared on around 2007) were all equally as hopeless and despondent as Home, featuring cheerful ditties like "Die Tonight" and "Fuck This, I'm Out", which also helps keep the theme of returning to past pits, most especially thanks to the track "Janie", which originally appeared on one of their millions of 7" splits six or seven years prior. 

I haven't outright said it yet, but once we hit their biggest hit song here, "Nightlife", it's impossible to avoid any longer.  Part of the reason that these lyrics hit so close to home is because there is precisely zero pretension involved.  Absolutely nothing is dressed up in flowery metaphor, it is all just blunt, brutalist realism spelled out in plain language.  You could argue that something like that just constitutes bad lyricism, but really it's just Young cutting through all the bullshit and getting straight to the point.  These lyrics may not be clever, but they're no less powerful.  "Nightlife" is probably the best example of this besides the monumental "Clear the Air" from the previous album.  The song is already potentially the tightest two and a half minutes in modern punk, but the plain nature of the lyrics just cut straight to my fucking core.  It's another plea for help, presented like an admission yet again, like most of their songs, and even though there's an implicit admission of "I can't stop drugging myself to death" here, I still know I've said and felt every last syllable of what he's laid out here.  It's just... I dunno, fucking simple and relatable.  It hits a wide target and cuts deep.  "I wear it all on my sleeve and everyone sees no matter how hard I try / I've never felt worse in my whole life".  It closes on him just repeating over and over and over again that he feels like this every night, and it rips me apart because fuck so do I.  No matter how happy I am, I'll never shake that defeatist misery.  I'm good now, I know I am, but there's that niggling little fuck in the dark recesses of my brain that just wants to get up and abandon everything.  I've never buckled, and I don't think I ever will, but at least once per night I'll have to subconsciously tell myself to shut the fuck up and allow me to be happy. 

I know I'm sick, and I'm not right / I'm so fucking tired of living this life 

One of the few musical points I can accurately point out is that Home finds itself just as sonically downtrodden as the lyrics at times.  Yeah there are some uptempo hook generators here in "Seek Advice Elsewhere" and "Start Walking", but there's also a lot more downbeat and mellow, and dare I say, minimalist, tracks here as well.  "Don't Make Me Go" is an out-and-out ballad, "Always Alone" and "Come Find Me" are much slower interpretations of regular old punk songs, and "Stolen Away" takes it as far as it can feasibly go, being a very slow song consisting entirely of minimalist percussion and slow palm mutes.  If sped up to 2.5x speed it might sound like a normal song, but here's it's just a sad confession on quaaludes, and really fits the despondent lyrics as well as any punk song ever could.  It's kind of interesting in it's execution, but I do admit that it saps the momentum of the album a bit.  So if we're going to stay on the surface and look at this purely as an album to listen to as opposed to an expose on the depths of depression, Home is weaker than In Desolation on this front.  It's no less tight, but it's there.

No plans for children, no plans for growing old 

At the end of the day, I lied a little bit when I said I listened to Off With Their Heads as a reminder for how bad it can be some 3200 words ago.  Really, that's not true.  I listen to City as a litmus test to see how I'm doing and to remind myself of high school, I listen to The Crimson Idol and Since the Day It All Came Down just as a soundtrack to mope, but I listen to In Desolation and Home because it reminds me that I'm not alone.  There are other people out there who feel the same way I do, and they're still chugging along.  Ryan Young is a disturbed individual who clearly struggles to get by every day, but he still runs a successful band/label/podcast and is able to share his story in a way that most people can only dream of.  He fights his demons, and sometimes he loses, and that's okay.  It's okay to fail sometimes, it's okay to show your weaknesses and spill your guts.  Life is unfair, but it's worth living.  People are there for you, I'm here for you, I've gone through this shit too and I don't want anybody else to suffer through this shit with nobody to reach out to like I did for so long.  I think this is why Chester Bennington was so revered and why his suicide hit his fans so hard.  He spoke to them the same way Ryan Young speaks to me, and if Young ever loses his fight the same way Bennington did, I'll probably react the same way Linkin Park fans reacted.  The point is that Off With Their Heads manages to speak to a terminally depressed person like me in a way that acknowledges the problem, and while they offer absolutely no respite or ways to finally escaping it, they let me know that I'm not crazy, I'm not broken, I'm not a faulty human being.  I'm merely that, a human being.  And so are you, and so are all of us.  We can get through any of this shit, but it's okay to delve deep into why we're so fucked up and be honest with ourselves.

I love all of you, stay strong, nothing is unbeatable.

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