Thursday, January 31, 2019

NON METAL MONTH 2019: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Henry's Dream

A bloody halo like a think bubble

I know I said at the start of this month that part of the reason I was doing it was to shine a spotlight on stuff that's not nearly as universally metal-approved (because almost no metalheads only listen to metal, but they all do seem to listen to the same non-metal artists), but there are some areas where I'm just as cliche as the rest of them.  I'm a thrash fan who thinks Reign in Blood is untouchable, I think Rust in Peace is one of the closest things to a perfect album you'll ever find, I think Iron Maiden's first seven albums are the stuff of legends, and, like all metalloids, I fucking love Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

One thing most fans seem to agree on is that Cave has had an astoundingly consistent career, from the debut up to whatever is the most recent at the time, the man has somehow never released a dud.  I agree in a sense.  I don't love every album, but I do recognize that he's never really had an obvious misstep.  Each and every album is distinctly Cave, no matter what kind of mood or approach the group is taking.  My personal "golden age" for the group spans from Tender Prey to The Boatman's Call, and my favorite album overall shifts semi-regularly between this six album stretch, but the usual (and current) champion is what we're going to be talking about today.

Henry's Dream is one of the definitive Cave albums to me, and I realize now that I haven't even mentioned offhand what genre this all takes place in.  Frankly, I'm not sure I could accurately describe it.  Everywhere I look tends to just lump the group into "post-punk", but considering I'm only really familiar with that family tree via the more gothy stuff like Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus, that doesn't seem entirely correct.  I feel like "post punk" works if you don't take it too literally, kinda like how post rock has fuck all in common with rock music besides the instruments they play.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is post punk in the sense that it exists in some alternate timeline where punk definitively died out and music as a whole just spun off in a super weird direction.  No three-chord riffs, no d-beats, no tuneless yelling, not even a distorted guitar, none of the things you'd usually think to associate with punk rock.  It's at this point that I realize I'm trying to show why post punk isn't punk rock as if there's anybody reading this who doesn't already know the difference, and actually anybody reading this is probably a Cave fan who wants to see how badly I fuck it up, so uhh.... hey guys.

Anyway, the point is that Henry's Dream was heavily inspired by Nick's time in the slums of Brazil, and it shows.  He was inspired by the beggars and buskers he'd find along the dusty alleyways, and as a result the album sounds very... well I'll just let the man himself explain it.  As he said in a Rolling Stone interview:

"They'd get their acoustic guitars with one or two strings and bang away and make a racket that had no sense whatsoever. It was very violent and seemed to come straight out of the heart. Very unmusical."

That sums up a good 60% of the album right there.  Tracks like "I Had a Dream, Joe", "Jack the Ripper", "John Finn's Wife", and especially "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" sound exactly like that.  There's a very unmusical style of melody going on here, and it's all very violent and cacophonous, but at the same time it all comes together in such a way that implies there was no other way these songs could've ever possibly sounded.  Cave's narrative style of lyrical storytelling is a big reason why.  His intoxicatingly smooth baritone carries the listener through these tales of lust, death, and faith in a way that sounds comforting and soothing despite the din of steel clangs and crashes surrounding you.  Everything he says sounds just so fucking cool, he could read me my grocery list and I'd be entranced.  He's a veritable Dracula Elvis, forever sauntering through a smokey cabaret, permanently smouldering cigarette nestled between his fingers, clutching the microphone tenderly while he looks everybody in the eyes at the same time and regales them all with dark tales across the emotional spectrum.  From the tender "Loom of the Land" to the raucous "John Finn's Wife", Cave always has a way to make the words leap out of the song.  I've mentioned a hundred times that, as a metal guy, I don't really care about lyrics all that much, but Cave has a gift for colorful language that's both bizarre and forceful and makes it very easy to recall almost entire tracks' worth of lyric sheets after one half-listen.  Even lines that haven't particularly aged well after 1992 like "I woke so drunk and full of rage that I could hardly speak / A fag in a whalebone corset draping his dick across my cheek" just work perfectly. Is that coming from a place of deep seated homophobia?  Who knows!  He's so good at getting into character and telling you weird stories of wet lipped women with greasy fists and women with legs like scissors and butcher's knives that the latent misogyny of like 80% of his female characters being succubi or deceivers doesn't set off any alarm bells.  He's an odd, mysterious traveler out of time who has seen a lot of shit and he's here to tell you all about it over a carton of Marlboro Reds and soundtrack of twisted, broken steel guitars.

I've sat here with this document open and mostly blank for the better part of a week trying to put into words exactly what kind of weird thing Henry's Dream truly is, and I just... can't really.  I'm letting myself down a bit because this is the one album I got to during Non Metal Month that I truly do adore and here I am completely failing to explain why or even what it is in the first place.  It's weird, melancholic violence and horniness filtered through discordant consonance and venomous crooning.  Maybe I could've chosen a different album, one like The Good Son which focuses more on tender piano ballads and gives guitarist Blixa Bargeld more of a shining role with his sonorous voice on "The Weeping Song" or Let Love In which is a bit easier on the ears and has some of his most well known tracks like "Loverman" and "Red Right Hand".  But no, I wanted Henry's Dream because it's my favorite, and I realize that I bit off more than I can chew and probably crapped out one of the worst reviews I've penned in ages.  In a way it's kind of fitting.  It's simultaneously bone-chilling and heartwarming when it flops between inspiring spirituality of "Loom of the Land" or "Christina the Astonishing" and the noisy, crash-bang lullabies from hell like "Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" and "Jack the Ripper" and it just kinda short-circuits my brain and leaves me with a smile behind dead eyes.  Just... I dunno, start on the first track and see if it pulls you in.  If it doesn't, I can't fault you.  Not everybody can appreciate the madness of an undead punk dandy.


Friday, January 25, 2019

NON METAL MONTH 2019: Kesha - Rainbow

I can't think of a single Rainbow pun

You can blame my wife for this one.  I had precisely zero interest in Kesha whatsoever when she debuted, and that's pretty much where she stayed for me, just a footnote in the back of my mind; the dumb pop star with confusingly terrible lyrics about hooking up with Mick Jagger lookalikes and asking where dicks are located.  I've got no beef with pop music on principle (I've mentioned before how great Madonna was at her peak), but Kesha wasn't my bag, and if I didn't marry somebody who kept up with Top 40 stuff I never would have known a damn thing about her career.

But here I am now, deep in Non-Metal Month, tackling the most recent Kesha album, and I've got some words to say about it.  It's probably mandatory that you know the backstory of what happened behind the scenes leading up to this album in order for it to really make any sense, so bear with me while I give a quick rundown of a sensitive subject.  Basically Kesha's contract stated that she was tied to a producer who went by Dr. Luke, and she had to work with him for all of her releases (she was signed to his label, Kemosabe, which is owned by Sony).  He was the man behind the knobs, so to speak.  Basically, the short version is that Dr. Luke spent years and years abusing the shit out of her mentally, emotionally, and physically.  She finally snapped and entered a lengthy court case to get out of her contract and produced a veritable Magna Carta of grievances, from shaming her about her weight to straight up rape allegations.  I'm inclined to take her side of the story since I can't imagine anybody would put their career on hold right at the peak of it just to manufacture lies about a dude who helped her reach such success.  Occam's Razor tells me the dude really is just a massive piece of shit and she was willing to take the risk of sabotaging her career to get the fuck away from him.  Of course, because we live in Hellworld, she was basically told to shut up and quit complaining at every turn of the legal proceedings and eventually was left with no real choice but to bite her lip and go back into the studio (though thankfully she was allowed to work with different producers this time, which ultimately was her goal, despite the legal losses).  Enter Rainbow in 2017.

So with that ominous dark cloud over her life, an album with imagery as bright and optimistic as a rainbow seems kind of odd, but it quickly comes together.  The album opens with "Bastards", which is a quiet acoustic song all about holding your head high when people are trying to bring you down.  "Bring you down" seems like a really quaint way of describing "yelling at you for being upset about being raped" but hey, she can only go so far I assume.  It's not a particularly memorable song on its own, but lyrically you can really feel where she's coming from.  There's a feeling of malaise over the whole thing, like she's trying her absolute best to be strong in the face of unrelenting floods of horseshit but it's really hard to do that when half of the country thinks you're being a spoiled brat because you came forward with rape allegations after the statute of limitations passed so tough shit.  It's a spot I can't even imagine myself being in, so it's pretty courageous to open her new album, in the midst of all this fuckery, with a very bare and underproduced song featuring basically nothing except a guitar and her voice.  It's striking, and I like it, even if the song itself is nothing to write home about.

But the second track, "Let 'em Talk", is where she brings the house down.  This is where the Rainbow comes in.  After a few chords from guests The Eagles of Death Metal (who, frankly, I've never liked, but they work really well here), she just breaks loose and starts sounding like somebody who is having fun for the first time in years.  "Let 'em Talk" is upbeat pop rock in one of the most grin-inducingly infectious strands imaginable.  It's a very fun song, and she lets loose in a way that feels cathartic even for me, a listener of of things that celebrate nihilistic apocalypticism with regularity.  This is what it sounds like when somebody truly moves on from overwhelming toxicity and breathes fresh air again.  The negativity is in the past, and now we're finally free to be ourselves again, and fuck everybody from back then who wants to see us fail, we're not going to.  Don't let those losers take your magic, baby.  Honestly, this is one of my favorite songs of all of 2017, it's just an incredibly fun romp, and an ode to living your life the way you want to without anybody chaining you down.  The following "Woman" is in the same vein, being almost insultingly catchy and featuring some gloriously funky horns helping the song maintain an excellent bouncy groove.  This is the kind of pop I like a lot.  I, like most metal fans, got into Lady Gaga around the Fame Monster era, but unlike most metalheads it wasn't because I thought she was some deep and subversive ubergenius upending music as we know it.  I just like big dumb hooks, and Lady Gaga was a fucking master at big dumb hooks (mostly because she spent a lot of time ripping off Madonna, and if you can remember a few paragraphs ago, I fuckin' love Madonna).  Kesha here shows me that she can also kick total ass at big dumb hooks, and "Let 'em Talk" and "Woman" is a one-two punch that showcases this natural talent of hers with aplomb.  The album hits a downbeat afterwards with "Hymn", but it works well enough, giving a vibe akin to getting baked and cruising a desert road while you contemplate what the universe is.  It's still very much a "live life your own way" type song despite lacking the upbeat skippiness of the previous two bangers.

Most readers of mine should know that I hate track-by-track style reviews, so it should be kinda weird that I'm taking that approach here.  Really, I'm doing it because I needed to lead you in to the album's fifth track and lead single, "Praying".  "Praying" is both the clear highlight of the album and simultaneously the biggest problem.  Really, this is one fuckin' powerful song.  All of the frustration and bitterness of the legal battle is on display here, but at the same time it's really subdued, just bubbling under the surface while she delivers a message of forgiveness.  However, it's forgiveness with a caveat.  She hopes Luke is doing okay, and by "doing okay" she hopes he's burning alive.  The line about "I hope your soul is changing" sounds rather innocuous at first, but when you think about it medium-hard you realize she's saying that she hopes he becomes a completely different person because that's truly the only way he can ever atone.  Once again, "catharsis" seems to be a theme of the album, and "Praying" showcases it as well.  This is an emotional release, a deep seated purging of negativity akin to a fucking cleansing fire.  The release at the end of the bridge where she just belts out a piercing falsetto is spine tingling in how powerful it is.  Honestly it's a pretty hard song to listen to considering all that went down prior to writing, it's a very open and honest piano ballad with a surging choir, and when it's all over you feel almost winded.  Like holy shit how did I make it through that? I always differentiate between "favorites" and "bests", and "Let 'em Talk" may be my favorite song on Rainbow, but "Praying" is undoubtedly the best one.

The problem is that... well shit now what?  "Praying" is very clearly the emotional climax of the album, it's the unquestionable peak.  The problem is that there's like nine tracks left but nowhere to go.  The rest of the album is almost entirely filler and it's pretty blatant about it.  I can commend Kesha for the wide variety of styles on display, from country ("Hunt You Down" and a cover of "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You", featuring Dolly Parton herself), more upbeat pop rock ("Boogie Feet"), and the weird creepy vibe of "Boots", but almost everything else is a frankly weak ballad.  Everything was going to sound weak with the monumental shadow of "Praying" looming over them all, but even the best ones in a vacuum are just kinda eh.  "Learn to Let Go" is probably the best of the post-"Praying" tracks but it still doesn't really do much to excite me.  And I can't even fathom why a goofy little joke song like "Godzilla" wound up on here when the rest of the album is so personal and liberating.  I don't have much to say about the rest of these songs because they're just kinda symptomatic of pop music in general.  Frontload the album with all the best songs and then pad out the runtime with obvious leftovers.  I hate to compare it to this since this album is also bloated with filler but Lady Gaga's Born this Way got it right by putting "Edge of Glory" at the end.  That's the obvious climax of that album and it places it exactly where it needs to be instead of slapping it in the traditional lead single slot and leaving the rest of the album to act as a 30 minute denouement.

So yeah, overall Rainbow has a lot of potential but it's seriously flawed.  There's an incredible five track EP in here with the first five tracks but the rest of it just feels like B-Sides thrown in to round out the runtime.  However, I do still like it overall based on the strength of those openings tracks.  Everything I ever hoped Kesha to be is on display in those tracks, ever since I learned that trashy crap like "Tik Tok" was supplanted with much better (though more traditional) pop songs like "Die Young".  I knew she had tracks like "Let 'em Talk" and "Praying" in her, and I'm glad to see them come to fruition. 


Sunday, January 13, 2019

NON METAL MONTH 2019: The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Moar like Infinite BADness amirite lmao

I'm gonna admit something straight away, and that's that I knew practically fuck all nothing about Smashing Pumpkins prior to like last week or so.  I decided that I wanted to cover alternative rock in some fashion during this month, and this was a band that stuck out as one of those hugely inescapable ones from my youth.  You young'uns who weren't around before the internet may not remember how hard it was to randomly stumble upon new music back pre-internet.  You had to put in some serious legwork to find cool shit back in the day.  I was just a kid in the 90s, so it's not like I was involved in the underground tape trading scene, nor could I really loiter around cool record stores.  As such, all I really had to expand my horizons were the radio, MTV, and my mom's collection of metal CDs from the 80s.  So for this reason, I have something of a soft spot for bands that were big in those former two avenues that had some semblance of a rock edge to them (thanks to my maternal diet of Metallica, Anthrax, and Pantera, I always preferred heavy music), so heavy hitters like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and such were big for me.  Pumpkins here, always seemed like something of an enigma in that scene, not just because of their geographical displacement (they're from Chicago as opposed to Seattle) but also because my memory of them was also so much wimpier than their contemporaries in the scene they found themselves lumped into.  I figured hey, I'll give them a shot and explore a band I don't really know anything about as opposed to something I've been intimately familiar with for most of my life.

I picked Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness to review almost entirely because the album cover was familiar to me and because I used to hang out almost exclusively with guitar nerds in the mid 2000s, and they all seemed to love this album regardless of what their preferred genre was.

Little did I know, I was making a terrible fucking mistake.

For example, did you know this album is two hours long??  I certainly fucking didn't!  I didn't know shit about this band!  One of the very few songs of theirs I know is "Today" and I was stunned to learn it wasn't even on this album!  It's got like thirty fucking songs on it, and if you're a fool like me who just looked it up on Spotify instead of digging around local garage sales to find it, you'll also learn the remastered deluxe edition has ninety-fucking-two songs on it and runs nearly six fucking hours.  Six hours!  I did the math, in that span of time I could drive to Green Bay, shit on Lambeau Field, and drive back home.  I could slow cook a five pound roast!  I could 100% speedrun Mega Man X like eleven times!  I could disappoint 270.76 women!  Fuckin' hell, Billy Corgan, did you not self-edit at all when writing this album?

After several failed attempts to sit through this behemoth, I finally managed it and discovered that no, he didn't.  The gargantuan length for an album in this style is bad enough, but the true crime is that it's an overambitious disaster.  Corgan described the album at the time as "The Wall for Gen X", and while that may be true in the sense that pompous navel-gazing dweebs give the album far more credit than it deserves, it couldn't be further from the mark in terms of songwriting.  Roger Waters and David Gilmour may be certified fart sniffers but they can write some engaging tunes, and The Wall has plenty of classic songs that I don't mind listening to.  It runs through many moods and motifs, and overall at least feels like something that was done on purpose.  Infinite Sadness here feels like a distended jam session that was accidentally released as a double LP and only runs through precisely two moods: frustrated hormonal adolescent tantrums and turgid sentimentalist wangst.

When I first drafted this review in my head, I had like six paragraphs worth of complaining ready directed solely towards Billy Corgan's voice.  I wanted to talk about how I legitimately started laughing during the chorus of "Tonight, Tonight" or how his nasal wimpiness made even the more aggressive sections sound like they were being screamed over by a feeble dork, but it's not really necessary.  No, I can sum it all up in one sentence.  "He sounds like a kazoo."  There you go, that's his entire vocal style.  He sounds like a plastic toy that Weird Al frequently utilizes as a joke.  Fuck this guy and fuck his stupid voice.  I remember everybody in the 90s sounding really nasally but I'm starting to wonder if it's just a matter of this dingus tainting my memory, because holy fuck is he irritating.

Musically, like I said, this bloated whoopee cushion is prone to some devastating tonal whiplash.  Apparently the only two things the band knows how to do are heavy, noisy rock anthems and waify, wiggly-necked shoegazing dreampop.  The latter category seems to take up the most time, with two smash singles being ubiquitous Q101 staples ("Tonight, Tonight" and "1979"), while the former category had two other big hits that were inescapable at the time ("Zero" and, possibly their most enduring track, "Bullet with Butterfly Wings"), but if you take those four singles away you're left almost exclusively with half hearted filler regardless of which mood they're aiming for.  I don't remember how "In the Arms of Sleep", "Beautiful", "Cupid de Locke" "An Ode to No One", "Here Is No Why", or pretty much anything else even goes.  It's just a blur of distortion and flittery jangles that leave no lasting impression whatsoever.

There are few hidden standouts here, and most of the other memorable moments are memorable more for their embarrassing cringiness.  Just check out that fucking endlessly repeating "Love is suuuuwiiiciiiiide" part on "Bodies".  As a fan of metal, a genre where lyrics really don't matter, I tend to just kind of tune out the actual words for most things I listen to and just focus on the hooks, but man his whiny bullshit is inescapable here.  There's so much woe-is-me self righteous horseshit here and it gave me secondhand embarrassment.  It made me recoil in horror at the shit I used to say and whine about when I was 15.  You know the dumb saga of Sheldon Noodlespine and Annabelle Gobelcocque that I weave into Arsis reviews?  Yeah that's pretty much the exact same thing here.  You want to know how bad it truly is?  Just listening to all of the "aw shucks my life is just the worst" crap coming from a millionaire rockstar reminded me of how hard I thought I had it as a middle class white kid in a burgeoning boomtown simply because whoever I was crushing on that particular school year (rightly) thought I was a gross weirdo, and that in turn reminded me that oh fuck I used to say shit like this on my Xanga page back in 2005.  The lyrics on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were so bad that they reminded me that fucking Xanga existed.  I just went back and deleted that shit without reading it.  You'll never find it.  Thank god.

There's really no need for this to be as long as it is, especially considering there doesn't seem to be any thematic intention beyond simple grandiosity.  It would've been really easy (nay, logical) to put all of the rock songs on one disc and the dreampop on the other, but god forbid there's anything approaching tonal consistency here!  Instead it just kinda jumps around everywhere.  The album opens with soft piano intro before segueing into the soft "Tonight, Tonight", which I suspect is supposed to be this grand overture prefacing the journey the album is supposed to take us on, but really it just sounds like a weak muzak with an orchestra shoehorned in.  This wispy nonsense gives way to "Jellybelly", which is an aggressive and surprisingly heavy song with a lot of adrenaline despite the human-oboe hybrid that is Billy Corgan's voice.  That sort of flip flopping sequence of events happens constantly throughout Infinite Sadness, and it happens without any sort of predictable cadence.  Maybe you'll get three light ballads in a row before a rock song, or maybe you'll get the exact opposite, maybe the song will be nine minutes long despite nothing at all happening in it, who knows!

I'm being kinda mean though, because it's not like this is the worst album ever or anything.  There are things I like about it, though I don't think they're the things the band wants to be remembered for.  Maybe it's predictable coming from a metal fan, but it's the odd heavy moment here that tends to stick out, and I think that's because Corgan and Co. really do just seem to be better at crafting noisy rock songs than pleasant dreampop, despite that arguably being their bread and butter considering the biggest hit from this album is "1979".  Nah, for real, "Jellybelly" isn't a bad song at all, it's a fun, go-ahead rock song with some real drive behind it.  "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans" is way too fucking long at 9+ minutes, but that riff that comes in at 2:12 sounds like it just crashes through a wall.  One thing that I noticed while reading up on the band is that Smashing Pumpkins were apparently unique in the scene for A) Disavowing any sort of punk rock lineage that contemporaries like Nirvana and Pearl Jam embraced, while B) being open metal fans in an era when metal was the least cool shit in the world.  Corgan didn't give a fuck about The Clash, but he adored Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, and it shows at times.  This is most exemplified in "X.Y.U." and "Tales of a Scorched Earth".  The former is probably the darkest and heaviest song on the album, a 7 minute monolith of Sabbath-cum-Nirvana stomping darkness, complete with demented and distorted screaming that gives way to a devastating accelerando.  Then there's "Tales of a Scorched Earth" which, honestly, is an obvious filler track, but it stands out for being the most aggressively metallic song on display.  I mean really, that opening riff is one note away from being the riff between the bridge and final chorus on Pantera's "Strength Beyond Strength".  Surely I'm not the first person to notice that, right?  Really, it's so obvious, Corgan even called Dimebag Darrel his favorite contemporary guitarist, this has to be intentional.

But really, there's only one song here that I can ever see myself listening to again, and that's their other biggest hit outside of "1979" and "Today".  Yeah that's right, the terminally embarrassing "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" is a genuinely phenomenal song.  The chorus is iconic, but at the same time there's no doubt that "DESPIIIITE ALL MY RAGE I'M STIIIIILL JUST A RAT IN A CAGE" is just the "CRAAAAAAWLING IIIIIIIN MY SKIIIIIN" for people born five to ten years before me.  I don't even care if it's the Unofficial Impotent Angst Anthem, it works.  I don't know if that whiny voice I hate so much works so much here specifically because it sounds like such a futile rebellion in the first place, but I don't mind it at all this time.  It's probably just because that main hook is fucking incredible.  Not one second of this song is wasted, it's a tightly crafted and hyper focused shot of teenage frustration that explodes excellently.  I don't know why they could never replicate the brilliance of this song, I seriously put it right next to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" when it comes to the 90s rock canon.

As for the light songs, they all sound like nothing.  "1979" stands out for being "that one song with the whirring whale song noise that was all over the radio in 1995" and for at least having a pulse.  "We Only Come Out at Night" is also at least somewhat memorable for endlessly looping refrain and the fact that it sounds like everybody is playing really tiny instruments, but the rest of it is purely filler.  Yes, even "Tonight, Tonight" is a filler song, admit it.  This isn't me being an idiot headbanger, this is me appreciating music of all stripes with the caveat of "as long as something actually happens", which is the album's chief offense.  The crushing length is a problem for sure, but the fact that it's so empty is the biggest reason the length is so killer.  If it was loaded with songs like "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" and "X.Y.U." it would at least have some momentum.  But it's not.  It's loaded with go-nowhere bullshit like "Thirty-Three" and "Love".

There's a decent album in here somewhere, but it's just so bloated with dead air that it takes serious legwork to uncover.  I'm not kidding when I say you could cut out twenty songs and wind up with a decent final product.  If they had focused on the rock songs and only kept two or three of the airy dreampop songs they could have used them as welcome breaks or pleasant interludes, but instead they engorge the album to unreasonable lengths with them and sprinkle it with incongruent blasts of a parrot lashing out against his parrot-dad.  I never thought I'd find myself doing a Bastard Cut for a Smashing Pumpkins album of all fucking things, but here we are.  Try cutting out almost all of the go-nowhere ballads save a few for the sake of variety and switching some stuff around and see how much better the album is this way.  I propose:

Bullet with Butterfly Wings
An Ode to No One
Here Is No Why
Tales of a Scorched Earth
Where Boys Fear to Tread

By cutting out... well, almost the whole album, you get a much more cohesive experience.  Axe all the bullshit theatrics, this never needed to be a double album, we didn't need the pretentious string section in the dull and irritating "Tonight, Tonight" or the self-congratulatory fart-sniffery of "Farewell and Goodnight", we just needed some straight ahead hooks and memorable earworms.  "Jellybelly" actually works very well as an opener, and it's a good idea to frontload mainstream-oriented albums like this with all the best songs at the beginning to catch casual listeners' attention, so the lone great track, "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" goes in the second spot.  "Ode to No One", while filler, keeps the pace consistent before delivering a one-two punch of hit singles with the loud "Zero" and the flittery ballad of "1979".  "Here Is No Why" and "Tales of a Scorched Earth" are pretty much only here to pad the tracklist up to ten, but they're the ones I picked because neither of them are agonizingly long and both at least have some sort of bite to them, while "Stumbleine" is just the only other soft song that's at least moderately okay, likely because it's so short, while the final two tracks act as a buildup before an explosion of monumental venom.  There's no fixing how fucking boring most of these songs are, and the fact that of the album's two moods, the angry side is only marginally less dull than the almost uniformly emotional weepiness of the dreamy light songs leaves us with slim pickings for the rest of the album.  Even after cutting out eighteen tracks to make a 10 track single disc, we're still floundering with only three or four truly good songs.  Fuckin' yikes.

I get that this album is incredibly influential and went on to sell more copies than I can ever dream of sneezing at, but the fact of the matter is that it's an incredibly self-important disaster with tons of ambition but very few actual ideas.  Listening to this, you really get the sense that the band thought they were wearing way bigger britches than they actually were, because all of this dead serious grandeur just comes off so fucking hollow and full of itself, especially when the mask slips to show how petty and whiny the lyrics that drive all of the songs are.  Is anybody here familiar with the third Oasis album?  See, that one was also torturously long, bloated with long, repetitive songs written by a pair of egomaniacs on a fuckload of cocaine who thought they were gonna be the next Beatles because they wrote a ten minute song with three key changes in the out-chorus.  Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is kinda similar in the sense that it was primarily written by only one egomaniac in a band hopped up on enough drugs to take out a fucking Titan, trying to write their own version of The Wall or The White Album by virtue of cramming in over two dozen tracks of self-important crying without any editing or self awareness.  The difference is that the general listening public saw right through Oasis's bullshit and laughed them into irrelevance, while Smashing Pumpkins was whisked away on a cloud of endless praise.  I don't get it.  Maybe it's me, but I just don't get it.  This is a distended mess of nothing-songs and I hate almost all of it barring a couple songs.


PS - There's really nowhere to put this, but in doing research on this album and the band itself, I came across endless praise for Jimmy Chamberlain's drumming.  I've just gotta ask... why?  He's not bad or anything, but he seems perfectly serviceable and not particularly special in any way.  He just sounds like any regular ass rock drummer to me.  Somebody please explain this to me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

NON METAL MONTH 2019: The Offspring - Splinter

A Haole with heart

I don't know if I'm going to make this a yearly thing or not, but honestly I get real burned out around December nowadays.  I think it's because I've started running the AOTY poll over at the Metal Archives, and I find myself listening to metric fuckloads of metal for huge stretches of time while I sample most things that get voted for just out of curiosity.  The last few years this sort of reinvigorated me by discovering tons of great new shit, but this year?  I dunno man, I just need a break from metal for a bit I think.  I want to keep writing right now, and I'm pledging to pick up my production a bit, so I'm gonna christen January to be NON-METAL MONTH 2019.

I decided to kick this off with The Offspring, in particular their 2003 album, Splinter, for a couple reasons.  1) I want to illustrate how much of a fucking false I am since most of my non-metal listening is comprised of flagrantly not-metalhead-approved nonsense.  You won't find me listening to tons of prog rock or dungeon synth or goth rock/post-punk or synthwave or anything like that.  Nah, I'm more into poppy shit like this.  2) I chose Splinter specifically because The Offspring is one of my all time favorite bands, a band I've been in love with ever since I was a preschooler who first heard Smash waaaaaay back in 1994, and Splinter may not be their best album by any stretch, but I feel like it's the one that most wholly encapsulates their full career. 

The Offspring has always been an incredibly frustrating band for me to like for one really obvious problem, and that's that their most well known songs are almost uniformly the worst shit they ever wrote.  Their Greatest Hits album has like two good songs on it, almost every single they release is guaranteed to be the worst song on whichever album it comes from.  It's true!  Casual fans of the band or people who hate them because they've picked up shit via osmosis probably associate them with total fucking garbage tunes because that's somehow what sells the best.  There are exceptions of course, Smash is good the whole way through (though "Self Esteem" is the least good song on display, don't fucking @ me) and Ixnay on the Hombre was kind of a weird fluke where the smash single, "Gone Away", is actually really great, and the other lesser known singles/videos like "I Choose", "Cool to Hate", and the other best-known track from that one, "All I Want" are all fantastic.  On the whole though?  They all suck.  Americana is terrible for this, containing pukefest pop songs like "She's Got Issues", "Why Don't You Get a Job?", and, most egregiously, "Pretty Fly for a White Guy".  "The Kids Aren't Alright" is the fluke good one, but the rest of the album contains loads of high speed bangers like "Staring at the Sun", "Walla Walla", "No Brakes", "The End of the Line", the title track, and (I swear I'm not making this up) an 8+ minute stoner rock jam in "Pay the Man". 

It's those other songs that make The Offspring so damn fun for me, and it's the same with every album, from the raw and messy self titled debut all the way up to the mega glossy shit in the new millennium, every album is made up of at least 60% hybrid of Fat Wreck styled skate punk and straight up Bad Religion ripoffs.  And they're good at them!  Very good!  They may be the quintessential pop punk band behind Green Day but they constantly showcase legit punk rock talent that they love burying between stupid pop songs. 

And that all leads me back to Splinter, because I think this one has the most stark contrast between their two styles.  It has the highest peaks of legit punk songs and the lowest valleys of terrible radio pop/rock.  For examples of the bad stuff, look no further than (of course) the lead single, "Hit That".  This one is just... oof.  That disco beat, that stupid synth line, the dumbass attempt at socially conscious lyrics in front of the most outwardly sonically goofy song they'd written to that point, just almost nothing works here.  The chorus hook isn't bad, but it's pretty incessant in how it drills in your head and just winds up being annoying.  "When You're In Prison" is just a joke song at the end of the album, an ode to teh funnay act of prison rape, but it comes off as pretty tone deaf and didn't age particularly well.  "Race Against Myself" is also just boring as fuck, proving for the nth time that The Offspring is just not all that good at more self-serious ballady tracks.  The less said about "The Worst Hangover Ever", the better.  Their attempts at ska have proven to be fun when it's quick upstrokes and skank beats like "What Happened to You" but this dumbass white boy reggae with infinity too many steel drums sucked on "Why Don't You Get a Job?" and it sucks here too when they subbed them for trumpets.

Well that's an awful lot of bad songs, why do I say this is a good album overall then?  Mostly because the rest of the album contains some of the best tracks they ever wrote.  As soon as the verse hits in "The Noose", they exemplify that other side of their identity that I love so much.  This is a high speed punk track that would've been right at home on any given Pennywise or NOFX album in the 90s.  This continues for pretty much every track I haven't already mentioned.  "Long Way Home" is basically a lost Bad Religion track circa No Control, the one-two punch of "Never Gonna Find Me" and "Lightning Rod" is one of the most surprisingly emotional and introspective suites they ever penned, backed by high speed aggressive punk rock like they're so good at doing despite their fondness of mainstream acceptance, and "Da Hui" is just a straight up 80s definition hardcore song, essentially just being The Offspring's interpretation of Black Flag.  Even the remaining radio friendly songs are good, with "Cant Get My Head Around You" being a textbook example of a great radio rock song with some fantastic hooks, and hell I even like the objectively stupid "Spare Me the Details".  There's no reason a dumb breezy margaritas-on-the-yacht song about getting cheated on should be so fun, but dammit I've listened to it a hundred times over the years and I'm sure I'll listen to it a hundred more.  Just like "Hit That", the song is centered entirely around the poppy hooks, but fuck it man it works somehow on this one.

So overall, Splinter is definitely a very dated album with some questionable lyrical choices and some of the worst songs the band would pen until the fucking anti-memetic SCP that is "Bumpin' in My Trunk" a decade later, but it also contains some of their most aggressive melodic hardcore tracks since their mostly forgotten debut from the 80s.  It's not their best album by any stretch of the imagination, but I'd argue it's the most definitive Offspring album purely for showing them at their best and worst, and how every album is worth a spin for fans of this style despite the warts inherent to their angle of attack.  The dumb throwaways like "The Worst Hangover Ever" and "When You're in Prison" can die in a fire but the heavier and meaner tracks like "Da Hui" and "Lightning Rod" are among the best the band ever penned.

This month isn't going to appeal to most of my readers, but if you want to understand how I tick, I'd recommend the aforementioned two tracks and "Long Way Home" to see why this band has been such a mainstay in my listening cycle for decades at this point.  And if you hate them, well then I'm sorry you hate fun, it must be a brutally miserable existence you lead.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019


What's up, bitches?  The curtains on 2018 have drawn closed and the new year is once again upon us.  As we all nurse our national hangover, it's time to endure the ninth(!!) Bastard-style reflection on the previous 365 days.  While there are some notable downsides like my ever increasing frustration with trying to stay fed in this kaleidoscopic capitalist hellscape that is America, Gargoyle breaking up, and the overall state of heavy metal across the board being one of the less immediately impressive years of the current decade, there were some major highlights to keep my spirits afloat this year as well.  I moved to a new city where I don't get to experience a murder on my doorstep every six months, I married my best friend and snuck a reference to Final Fantasy VII in my wedding vows that she still hasn't caught, and, most importantly to you internet strangers, the best albums released this year are among the best I've heard in a decade solid.  Yes, the overall quality may have dipped a bit from last year but the top three or five-ish albums of 2018 for me rival the heights of the vaunted phallic juggernauts of 2012 and 2015 in my eyes.  This has been a fun one because the gems I've salvaged from the bramble of zero-effort atmoblack that flooded my radar this year have been spectacular, and now it's time for my annual tradition of yelling them at you!  I'd tell you that the only rule is full length LPs only, but you already knew that.  Let's get to work!

The Top 13 Albums of 2018

13: Ripped to Shreds - Mai-Zang 
My love of explosive death metal and my fascination with Chinese history finally intersected in 2018 with Ripped to Shreds's debut.  The record is positively bursting at the seams with Swedeath influence (the very album title is an obtuse roundabout reference to Entombed), and while the Chinese themes don't manifest through dorky folk instruments or anything, they do add a huge amount to the album's character (though we definitely need tracks about the Nian devouring terrified peasants or Zhou Xin's ridiculous wine lake and Burning Cannon Punishment in the future).  Andrew Lee occasionally pops into a discord server I'm on, and when I realized who he was I asked him why his project had such a generic name when the music so obviously had a unique theme.  His answer was "Because I just fucking love Terrorizer."  Me too, buddy.

12: Skeletal Remains - Devouring Mortality
This is practically the sole representative in the ever prevalent niche of "death metal that wishes it was 1992" with no further creativity.  This style generally bores me to tears but Skeletal Remains manages to rise above the veritable conga line of cliches with sheer energy.  This hits all the same beats as Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, and any other classic American death metal band from the early 90s that you can think of, but the showmanship of performance and tightness of songcraft make the deja vu a pleasant experience.  The only real thing holding this back is "Ripperology", which is far and away the most boring track on the album, sounding like a straight b-side from Spiritual Healing, and for some reason it was chosen as the opener.  Get past the plodding mid paced opener and you'll be greeted with some bone shattering death metal.

11: Deicide - Overtures of Blasphemy
My first thought when this was announced was "leave it to Deicide to waste such a great cover art", but by some Christmas miracle they transcended the swamp they've been mired in as of late and delivered what is easily their best album since The Stench of Redemption.  I'm pretty much over classic bands releasing mediocre slop and watching it get heaped in praise just for not sucking (see Judas Priest this year or Overkill for the last four albums or so), but I gotta be a hypocrite and hand it to Deicide, because they fucking nailed it this time.  This is the hungriest and most focused and intense they've sounded in years.  Skeletal Remains up there was great because it sounds like a lost 1992 record.  Deicide here is great because they were there in 1992 and by some black magic wizardry managed to regain that 1992 form.

10: Tomb Mold - Manor of Infinite Forms
Damn son, back at it again with the nasty death metal.  This one is just fuckin' slimy sounding and I love it.  It takes a few cues from Autopsy in that regard, and the occasional slow riff crushes so hard with such alarming effectiveness that I almost brace myself when I know they're coming.  For most of the year, the only track I found myself coming back to was the title track since none of the rest nailed a riff quite as hard as that one nails that main groovy riff, but the gravitational pull of this album is god damned celestial because I just kept coming back and liking it more and more each time.  This is a consistent plateau of gross and filthy death metal and I recommend it to everybody, even your grandma.

9: Chapel of Disease - ...and as We Have Seen the Storm... 
As much as I loathe the obnoxiously long sentence fragment of a title, ...and as We Have Seen the Storm, We have Embraced the Eye is an absolutely fucking stellar release in pretty much every other sense of the word.  I recall hearing both of Chapel of Disease's previous albums, but I recall them being decent death metal with no distinguishing features.  That's why Long Title is such a surprise, because the only lingering death metal features nowadays are the (comparatively) rare double bass sections and the still-harsh and throaty vocals.  Everything else is pure 70s psychedelic/prog rock atmosphere with a fuzzy edge of macabre extremity, morphing into some kind of difficult-to-define "atmospheric psychedeath/extreme prog rock" monster.  This is exactly what I was promised with Horrendous's breakout Ecdysis four years ago.

8: Harakiri for the Sky - Arson
I know I made a crack up there about how atmoblack was everywhere this year and how it was pretty uniformly "meh", but Harakiri for the Sky was a huge exception to that rule.  My beef with the style has always been that it's saturated with mediocre bands because it's really easy to think of two whole melodies per song and then stretch it out for 12 minutes.  You can get a massive breadth of material stored up for years' worth of releases when that's all the effort it takes.  HFTS doesn't do that, because this is loaded with interesting moments.  There are so many excellent melodies, so many neat things being done with the percussion, so many exquisite swells and releases.  It can be fairly typical in its structuring but Arson defies the stigma and delivers a home run by being fast and slow at the same time somehow.

7: Mary's Blood - Revenant
Finally we're gonna break away from all the darkness to indulge in something consonant and upbeat... kinda?  I've ignored Mary's Blood for years because I never realized the band was the Misery Index to Destrose's Dying Fetus.  Yeah the split happened before the Destrose album I'm familiar with but the similarity is definitely there.  You hear "all girl J-metal" and assume saccharine giggliness but that's not what you got with Destrose and it's the same deal with Mary's Blood.  It's about as rough as you can legally get with the style, which means it's still very clean and polished, but there's a hell of a lot more grit in songs like "World's End" or "R.I.P." than most of their contemporaries.  It occasionally flips to some dirty rock n roll type stuff as well, and overall it's just best summed up as a fun romp.  Don't be afraid of yourself.

6: Wombripper - From the Depths of Flesh
GOD DAMN FUCK OUCH BRUTAL TOO HEAVY TOO MEAN OW OOF MY BONES.  Really though I wish I could go more into detail on this but it's hard to do considering it's main quality is simply how fucking manic and vicious it is.  From the Depths of Flesh pulls zero punches and just goes for the throat for its duration.  It's truly overwhelming at times; a veritable deluge of riffs and whirlwind drumming that creates this morbid cacophony that I just can't stay away from.  I don't listen to a whole lot of things that could be described as "raw", but this here is Raw like Monday Night.  Just sitting down comfortably and listening to this at a reasonable volume is still likely to give you a fucking concussion.

5: Lik - Carnage
I know The Crown released a solid comeback this year with Cobra Speed Venom, but for my money, the true throwback to that halcyon early aughties boom of hook laden death/thrash came from relative newcomers, Lik.  Carnage takes the Scandinavian buzzsaw tone that we all know and love and just owns it so hard that the fact that the album is a walking cliche doesn't really matter.  This also reminds me a lot of Deathchain's heyday.  Lik sounds like the logical continuation of what was happening there, and I couldn't be happier about it.  Basically, if you've been following me for any amount of time, you know that two of my most favorite musical qualities are speed and hooks, and Carnage delivers both in spades.  This was formulated in a lab to appeal specifically to me.

4: Thaurorod - Coast of Gold
Ahhh, here it is, the dorky flower metal album that always wiggles its way into my year-end list.  Thaurorod should initially be a huge turnoff for me since they're listed around the net as "progressive power metal" from Finland, which signifies dull-ass chugprog or waify Nightwish-lite type stuff, so imagine my surprise when "Power" kicked the album off with a kick in the nuts so swift that I'm still coughing up pubes.  The "progressive" part of their genre really only comes from the fact that they have keys and sometimes use a time sig more complex than 4/4, but when you lay it all bare, this is speedy and beefy power metal of the early Sonata Arctica variety.  Coast of Gold is an exercise in leaning on cliches and reminding the listeners why they're so overused in the first place. (It's because tons of double bass and major melodies rule).

3: 1914 - The Blind Leading the Blind
I love riffs.  I love hooks.  I love melodies.  I love brutality.  1914 has all of those things, for sure, but that's not why The Blind Leading the Blind is such an enrapturing album.  No, what puts this album so high up on my list is pure, suffocating, helpless, miserable, deathly atmosphere.  I don't have enough space here to go into as much detail as this album deserves, so I just implore you to listen to it.  The album is obviously a concept album about The Great War, there are samples of propaganda and war songs all over the place, the lyrics are as stark and brutal as the trenches themselves, "The Hundred Days Offensive" is one of the most depressingly dark songs I've heard in years, and it was released on the centennial anniversary of the armistice. Forgive me... forgive me....

2: Gotsu Totsu Kotsu - The Final Stand
And now for something way more fun!  GTK is another one of those bands that was created specifically to please me.  This is the third time in the last four albums that they've ranked in my Top Two, so you should know why they kick so much ass by now.  The Final Stand continues the band's stylistic tradition of playing death metal that sounds less like a crypt and more like a carnival fire, with dazzling flashes of slap bass and guitar solos that sound like backflips coupled with riffs that sound like tommy guns that fire chainsaws for bullets.  I don't know what else I can say about these guys, this is exactly the kind of obnoxious, maximalist brutality coupled with lip-flapping speed that I can't get enough of.  I already reviewed it with a score of 99%.  In any other year this would have easily been the album of the year.

But not this year.


1: Visigoth - Conqueror's Oath
I didn't have time to review this like I had planned before this post went live, but I knew all the way back in February that this was going to contend for the top spot.  And with every listen, from eleven months ago up to today, Conqueror's Oath has gotten better.  I don't know if it's worthwhile for me to pontificate on what makes a "perfect" metal album, because obviously everybody is going to have different criteria.  But for me, this is it.  There is not one single second of this album that isn't pure fucking gold.  There is not one misplaced note, not one booming baritone misused, not one solo that doesn't rip my face from my skullfront, every single aspect about the album falls into place perfectly and there is no possible way I can think to improve it.  Three years ago, The Revenant King took the metal landscape by storm and delivered one of the most muscular and awe inspiring slices of trad metal that the scene has witnessed since the end of the 80s.  It was bold, brash, and daring, even brandishing the cojones necessary to plop a Manilla Road cover smack in the middle of the album and effortlessly upstage the vaunted veterans, unveiling the uncomfortable truth that I was right all along that the 'Road could have been as good as everybody says they are if Shelton could actually fucking sing.  Jake's voice packed so much oomph and gusto that I felt my chest hair thicken the first time I heard him.  And even with an order as tall as topping the mountain that was the debut, Conqueror's Oath blew it away like it was fuckin' Krakatoa.  Everything that was great about the debut is greater here, and it's done with the added benefit of a veritable cornucopia of new ideas.  Visigoth didn't rest on their laurels here, only reusing the template that carried the previous album on a handful of songs and filling out the rest of the tracklist with epic odes and furious barnburners.  The sheer speed of "Outlive Them All", the massive chorus of "Warrior Queen", the pounding march of "Steel and Silver", the entirety of "Traitor's Gate", I'm getting chills without even listening to the album as I write this.  If nothing else, they deserve a trophy for making motherfucking Utah sound like the most exciting place on earth with "Salt City".  I love this so much.  Yes, this will be a perfect 100% whenever I get around to reviewing it.  It is a bona fide future classic, one of the few pure slices of unabashed retro glory executed exactly as well as their peers from 1984.  The middling response to this album at my home base of MA has been the crime of the century.  Visigoth easily takes the BH Award for Album of the Year 2018, and likely the preemptive Album of the Decade as well.  This is how you do it.  MY WORDS ARE A SWORD OF CLEANSING FLAME.

And now for something completely the same!


Frozen Crown - The Fallen King:  My love for power metal narrowly avoided yet another shoutout on the main list, because Frozen Crown's debut album is a total stunner with more hooks than dad's tackle box and enough speed to finally take down Keith Richards.  I fell instantly in love with this album and the fact that Ripped to Shreds just barely nudged it out to make the list speaks more about how tight the race was at the bottom end of the list than any perceived lack of quality on Frozen Crown's part.  The Honorable Mentions section is going to be stacked this year, there were like four or five albums I was crushed to snub.

Bosse-de-Nage - Further Still:  You won't generally find me dipping my toes into hipstery Pitchfork-approved semi-black-metal-cum-post-hardcore bands, but Bosse-de-Nage is a pretty big exception.   It definitely helps that Harry Cantwell has done an amazing job distancing himself from the most disappointing Slough Feg albums he played on and has been proving himself to be one of the most enrapturing and exciting drummers in metal today through this band and the gloriously filthy Succumb.

Antiverse - Under the Regolith:  Thrash is an artistic dead end but we all know that.  99% of "death/thrash" acts nowadays are just fast riffs with no staying power and even less hooks but we all know that.  Antiverse disagrees with these universal truths and set out to prove it on this monster.  "Black Waves of Sorcery" alone sent me through a time portal back to 2008 when I was still starry eyed over Skeletonwitch and was just being introduced to the majesty of Witchaven.  The rest of the album is exactly that good as well.  Don't sleep on it.

Deadbird - III: The Forest Within the Tree:  Deadbird made history this year.  Not just for releasing a fantastic record after a decade-long silence, but also for being the first stoner/doom album I've ever liked enough upon release to actually consider putting in my year-end list!

Xenoblight - Procreation: I feel like I read somewhere that these guys won some sort of "new metal band" award this year?  Like the Wacken battle of the bands or something?  I'm too lazy/drunk/hungover/busy masturbating to actually look it up, but that wouldn't surprise me in any way.  Maybe I'm just getting confused since Torture Squad won that award a long while ago and Xenoblight sounds like what Torture Squad would sound like if they had raspier vocals and got really into the techy style of thrash that Vektor has helped make cool in recent years.

Tribulation - Down Below:  I didn't listen to these guys back when they were gaining accolades with regular old death metal, but ever since they were picked up by Century Media they've taken a turn for the wildly creative and started playing a very bassy post-punk-gothic-metal thing and it's honestly just a fuckin' hoot.  Dark and catchy and I love it.


Skeletonwitch - Devouring Radiant Light:  I've gone on at length about this one already, but really it's hard to sum up how much of a bummer it was to lose one of the last remaining vestiges of the past vanguard of fresh thrash metal that sliced through the boom of rethrash in the mid aughties.  Skeletonwitch used to be in a league entirely their own, taking influences from across the vast entanglement of disparate sounds that make up the grander umbrella of "heavy metal" and crafted some of the most devastatingly catchy and intense thrash metal the world had seen since the genre's heyday 30+ years ago.  Here?  They just sound like any regular-ass USBM band that focuses on atmosphere above everything else.  There are bits and pieces that fit their old aesthetic ("The Lumious Sky" is a monstrous song) but for the most part some bullshit cosmic pact happened that saw the world trade one of the most exciting and fun bands left in the scene and replaced them with a dime-a-dozen meloblack band and for that it's Disappointment of the Year with absolutely no contest.

Judas Priest - Firepower:  I'm really stretching the definition of "disappointment" with this one, because I fully expected to not like this album very much based on the fact that the last decent Priest album is so many decades old at this point, but I'll admit that I fed into the hype a bit with this one.  This was supposed to be their true comeback, their second Painkiller, the much needed shot in the arm after the dismally boring Redeemer of Souls.  And well, it's definitely more muscular and propulsive than the last twenty years of their career, that's for sure, but it rings hollow.  Halford turning in a performance that defies his advanced age can't save the songs from sounding like bland rehashes of their glory years.  Priest sounds like their own cover band right now, and that's just sad.

Akitsa - Credo:  Again, this one is less of a disappointment because it's a band I like that released a clunker or something.  Nah, this one is disappointing because this album was generating a lot of hype and I just had to hear this future classic of QCBM taking the scene by storm.  Yeah... that's my fault for falling for hype (something I really do try to avoid), but Forteresse this is not.  All I really took away from this album was mid-paced screeching with nowhere near the expansive atmosphere or fiery passion that I was promised.

Ghost - Prequelle:  I only recently warmed up to Ghost, it took many years but eventually the pleasant poppiness wore away my greasy exterior and I learned to appreciate the band for what they were (which is basically a pop rock band with a goofy vocalist).  And right when I got around to thinking they were alright, they went and released a stunningly boring album with all of three worthwhile fun arena rock songs and what felt like six hundred lameass ballads.  Pass. 

Hoth - Astral Necromancy:  The band behind one of the most exuberant and inspired releases of 2014 finally comes back to follow up that monolith and released a relative bunny fart of a really pedestrian album that I've probably listened to twelve times and I still can't remember how any songs go.

I Dunno Man - I Wasn't Disappointed Much This Year:  Yeah honestly, 2018 was overall a pretty solid year.  And while there were plenty of albums I just flat out didn't like all that much, there weren't too many of them I was expecting to like beforehand and found myself let down by as a result.  Sure, I didn't like the new Amorphis album that everybody likes so much, but I've always thought Amorphis was boring saccharine bullshit.  The new Sleep album was merely "fine" and that should be a disappointment considering their pedigree, but I expected it to sound like a band that had laid dormant for 15 years and came back with an unadventurous throwback and that's exactly what it was.  The new Powerwolf album was lame but they're such a wildly inconsistent band that I've learned to go in with no expectations so I can't really be let down.  I really had to wrack my brain to think of the five up there and even then Skeletonwitch was the only truly brutal disappointment.  Maybe my musical dowsing rod is getting better and I'm learning to avoid disappointments before they happen, or maybe this year was just good to me.  I dunno, you be the judge.

HOWEVER!  I did come across one album that was so otherworldly awful, so unfathomably abysmal, so intensely, gut wrenchingly, grotesquely shitty that I have to bring back an old feature to highlight it.


Ministry - AmeriKKKant  
Just, jesus fucking christ, what the hell.  As sure as I am that I would give Visigoth a 100% score this year, I'm doubly sure that Ministry would get a 0% this year.  It would literally be amazing if I was joking right now, but AmeriKKKant is without a doubt the worst thing I've heard in years.  Even above Machine Head's cringe-festival of a slam poetry music video, even above some of the garage-level bullshit I've found on the rare occasions I open the promos sent to me, even above the last choking death rattle of your only child, Ministry's new album transcends every known plane of audial misery and reaches some kind of hitherto undiscovered shit-nirvana.  You'd think this would be an easy home run, a weak slider directly over the plate for the outspokenly left-wing Al Jourgensen, who routinely produces his best music when conservative nimrods are in office as President of the United States.  He was pitched a fuckin' meatball with Donald Trump, the most openly repugnant discarded burrito wrapper to ever gain sentience, and somehow he managed to miss his swing so hard that his arms dislodged from his shoulders and flew into the stands and decapitated a child.  The album starts with a droning intro comprised entirely of soundbites of Trump slowed down to the point of shaking frustration.  Where is the fucking cleverness here?  Where is the biting satire or the juvenile name calling that made Rio Grande Blood so immensely entertaining?  There is a fucking world of difference between making George W. Bush call himself an asshole and simply slowing down a four word sentence to the point where it takes like 45 fucking seconds to finish.  What follows is two 8+ minute one-riff slogs with so many repetitive samples that it feels like that famous scene in A Clockwork Orange where Caligula's eyes are pried open and forced to watch violent porn for days at a time.  This is musical Chinese water torture, I swear to christ if I hear Charlie Chaplin say "We must all unITE!" one more time I'm going to rip my own fucking head off.  I tried counting how many times that sample was repeated but I stopped when I realized my nose started bleeding.  I genuinely wouldn't be surprised if it was more than sixty.  I wasn't even kidding about saying each song had only one riff either, I fucking counted.  "Twilight Zone" is eight minutes and three seconds long, and I swear on my mother's grave that six minutes of that is an outro.  There is an attempt to inject some actual fucking adrenaline on "We're Tired of It" but it's just so little so late, and it means nothing when it's under three minutes of speed before we get another 6+ minutes of riffless blopping at a snail's pace.  I haven't even touched on the few lyrics that are actually here, including laureate-worthy stings like "Antifa's the shit!"  This album is fucking cursed.  Mike Scaccia's untimely death was tragic, obviously.  The guy had a right arm like a sewing machine and his riffing prowess made every band better by an unquantifiable magnitude, so his presence is definitely missed here, but even he couldn't save this fucking trainwreck.  Nothing could save this album.  AmeriKKKant couldn't be saved even if it was in a game of Final Fantasy and the whole game took place inside a save point and the only command in battle was "save" and the game was called Final Fantasy: Save Point. FUCK!

Okay, so excepting That Which Will Never Be Spoken of Again, I had a blast with music in 2018 and discovered some of the most awe inspiring metal I've heard in years.  We live in Hellworld right now and there's a decent chance that humanity with be nothing more than a smouldering crater within the next few years, but at the very least, some great shit came out this year.  I hope you all had a magnificent New Years celebration.  You are all wonderful, beautiful people, and so I hope you'll join me in raising a glass to 2019, where hopefully music can continue to trend upwards in the face of authoritarian doomsday.  Thank you all for joining me, and I'll see y'all this time next year!