Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Hey Bort, there's a show coming up in December, if I buy two tickets would you be interested in going as well?

I don't see why not, who's playing?


[dramatic orchestra sting]

What??  Are you fucking kidding me?  Do you really want to support that... that SCAM ARTIST?

What do you mean?

Well, since you're a noob I'll fill you in.  That Batushka album you like, Litourgiya, wasn't written by that same Batushka that's on tour.

Oh really?  That's weird.  So they won't be playing any of those songs?

Well, I'm sure they will.

So... wait what exactly is the problem?  I love that album and I want to see those songs performed live.  I don't understand how it's not the same band if they have the same name and are going to play those old songs.  It's barely a few years old, did every member get replaced already?

Well, no, not exactly.  See, what happened is that one man, Krzsysztof Drabikowski, wrote Litourgiya.  Batushka was his band.  He hired a drummer and vocalist to fill out the group and the three of them recorded all of the songs he wrote for the album.  That vocalist was named Bartlomiej Krysiuk, who Krzsysztof knew from his time in the band Hermh, when he went by the stage name "Derph".  After Litourgiya wound up being a surprise underground smash hit, Bart went behind Krzsysztof's back and trademarked the band's name and kicked him out of his own band.  I don't remember if he signed the band to Metal Blade before or after or at the same time as when he usurped the band, but the end result is the same.  They're currently fighting this case in the Polish courts right now, and so as a result there are two bands named Batushka right now.  There is the Krzsysztof version that released Panihida a few months ago (which rules), and there is the Bart version that released Hospodi a week or so ago (which sucked).  That second version is the one going on tour right now.

Wow, so basically a session vocalist just straight up stole the band from the hard working creative force behind it?  Man that's unbelievably shitty.

Right?  So that's why you're not going to buy those tickets.

No way, I don't want to support that shit.

That's good, so do you want to help me rebel against the Hospodi band?  I plan on spamming every venue's social media page with this info in hopes of getting the tour dropped.  This man deserves to fail and Metal Blade should take a huge hit for enabling and encouraging this behavior.

Now hold on, I agree that Bart's version should fail on moral grounds, but do we really want to go trying to actively sabotage it?

Yes!  Why the hell wouldn't we?!

Well, mostly because I... don't actually care all that much?

I... just, what?  Jizzy what the hell are you saying?  How could you possibly not care about a thief benefiting from his thievery??

Let me rephrase.  Morally, I hope Bart fails completely in his heist, because that's what this is, a heist.  But frankly, there are so many larger problems within our scene that I think I'd rather take a more active focus on rooting out fascists and white supremacists and rapists and whatnot.  In the grand scheme of things, something like this is just fraud, and I think it's disingenuous to not only equate it with the aforementioned crimes, but to also actively campaign against it while letting these much more pressing and dangerous issues slide off into the shadows.

Putting aside that I think you're blowing the other problems way out of proportion, I think you are being disingenuous by saying that this isn't a big deal.

Really?  Bort, in what way is trademarking a popular band behind somebody's back worse than raping or murdering somebody?

Don't put words in my mouth, Jizzy.  I'm not denying that monsters like that exist in the metal underground, but what I'm saying is that in terms of the scene as a whole, scammers and thieves have a MUCH larger immediate impact on everybody and that's why I think we shouldn't go lightly on them at all.

So we should just let Nazis and murderers off the hook?

That's got to be a record when it comes to invoking Godwin's Law.  No, I didn't say that, and you're veering off course here.  Do me a solid and respect my argument by keeping it on topic, will ya?  My issue with scammers is that of all the crimes that metalheads find themselves most guilty of, scammers do the most material damage to the scene itself.  All of these other things you're bringing up out of nowhere tend to, generally, not affect metal fans themselves.  I am not saying they aren't horrible things, but I am saying that you can affect dozens more people at a time by stealing their money in a widespread scam like what Blake Judd did with Nachtmystium and the Judas Iscariot bootlegs or Bart essentially committing fraud and falsely advertising himself as the "true" version of a popular band he had basically nothing to do with than you can by raping one person or futilely shouting your dumbass genocide fantasies off in the corner.  In terms of pure numbers, theft and fraud is a much bigger problem within the scene.

I think you're off base here.  Materially, sure, you're stealing more money by scamming or committing fraud, but by that same token you're also committing infinitely more rape by raping somebody than you are by selling shitty bootlegs.

That's not really the point.  This has to do with scene integrity.

Do you really think outsiders look down on metal more for some inside-baseball shit about a dude unethically trademarking a band name than they do for the murders and church burnings from the 2nd wave bands out of Norway?

I'm not talking about outsiders here.  People who don't already enjoy or understand metal are always going to find things to freak out about because it's abrasive music made by scary outcasts.  That isn't my argument.  My argument is that this Batushka situation is a flat out betrayal of fans' trust.  Of course I'm going to be emotionally charged about that strung out human bouncy castle hijacking one of the most promising bands of the current era and throwing the guy who made them good in the first place off a metaphorical cliff.

I don't blame you, I feel betrayed too, I almost bought tickets to see that fraud live, but I think I draw the line at your idea of trying to sabotage his endeavor.

Okay but why?  You agree that Bart is a shit person who is taking advantage of a vulnerable guy with legitimate creative talent for his own selfish goals, no?

Of course, but we have an infinite amount of anger to give out, but we have a finite amount of time and energy, and I think dedicating that time and energy into a smear campaign against a crime as comparatively petty as fraud or deceptive business practices is a poor choice of time management.  There are so many more important things you could tackle instead of some asshole stealing a band.

You're doing it again.  You're implicitly bringing up worse crimes as a reason not to care about this one.  Can you make an argument without doing that?

Well... I guess not.  The problem is that you're being myopic here.  Nothing happens in a vacuum, there is context everywhere, and in the context of "metal dudes doing bad shit", scamming fans is so far down on my list of priorities that I practically have to squint to see it.  Let's not act like you've never pirated music, Bort.  You only care about somebody losing money right now because somebody you don't like is gaining it instead.  Or, more worryingly, because you might have lost money this time if you didn't know about this whole situation going on in the first place.  Look inside yourself, do you not see how selfish it is to get nuclear pissed about a band theft simply because you liked the original incarnation while simultaneously making excuses for objectively more harmful and dangerous crimes that metalheads make excuses for on the regular?  You like Emperor don't you?  Don't you see how shitty it is to still listen to the albums Faust drummed on even though he murdered somebody simply for being gay?

Nobody is giving money directly to Faust, but people are indeed giving Bart money for this whole Bartushka fiasco.   

So why is money the prime concern now?

You're not listening.  It's about integrity.  Bart completely betrayed fans of Batushka and he's made a mockery of legal loopholes to maximize his own earnings and clout.  By doing this, he's turning his disgusting nature inwards towards the scene that supported him.  This, to me, is so much worse than something that can easily be shoved off to the periphery.  You can still listen to Vektor without thinking about David DiSanto abusing his wife, you can't listen to Fartushka without knowing deep down in your gut that Hospodi was made with utter contempt towards the very people it's supposed to appeal to in the first place.

Who the fuck said I could easily listen to Vektor without thinking about the horrible shit DiSanto did?  Some people separate art from artist, some people don't, but with you and so many others doing it selectively and focusing your rage most directly on some dumb bullshit scam artist you're doing a disservice to society at large by downplaying much bigger issues and that's fucking irresponsible.

I didn't get into metal because I wanted societal responsibility.  This cynical money grubbing horseshit is fucking antithetical to what metal is even about in the first place.  Thieves and scammers have no place here and do not deserve to be treated with kid gloves simply because "oh at least they're not raping anybody".

I think this is the biggest problem in metal.  Not the scammers, not the fascists, not the murderers or the rapists or the pedos that crop up from time to time like Dave Holland or Dagon, it's people like you who focus so much more white-hot burning rage against the scammers than anybody else.  Check any metal-centric forum on the internet, you'll find dozens of pages long threads on the continuing exploits of Blake Judd or this Fatushka situation, you'll find doxxing threads on trading forums whenever a scammer is discovered, you'll see that Judd's page on MA is amended to include vitriolic diatribes about his scamming activities.  But do you know what you'll also see?  Apologetics for the church burnings and murders from black metal's heyday, people strung up for even daring to point out that Peter Steele wrote some incredibly misogynistic and homophobic songs, people mercilessly mocked and run out of internetical town for saying they will no longer support any artist who had ties to white nationalism uncovered, people bending over backwards to excuse or handwave away accusations of abhorrent shit, hell even for something as mild as saying it was kinda sketchy that Lemmy collected Nazi memorabilia.  The people who see wider societal problems get reamed for pointing them out while the artists responsible for the shitty views in the first place get a free pass because their riffs are good.  And the only artists who ever earn the ire of the entire community are the thieves and scammers.  How can you not see why that is a problem?

Those wider societal problems are not my problem, and it's irresponsible to think I'm even up to the task of changing things.  Judd and Bart affect me, they affect the scene, they affect the escapism that I love.  And I can help change this.  It's a smaller problem, but that means it's a needle I can actually fucking help move for once.

You're uprooting and moving the goalposts so far in between each point that I think you're starting to get washboard abs...

And you're flexing your own moral superiority so hard that I'm starting to notice some real definition in your biceps....



[Bort and Jizzy start making out]


Monday, July 15, 2019

Crypt Sermon - The Ruins of Fading Light

I'll look into the eyes of the Devil

I've said it a hundred times before, but Dark Descent is a very frustrating label for me because they've done a tremendous amount of good for the underground scene and brought many a great band to prominence, but an overwhelming majority of their roster carries a very similar sound (that I semi-pejoratively refer to as "DDRcore") that just bores me.  It's the bands like Lvcifyre, Desolate Shrine, and Father Befouled that get to me, the ones that exemplify the label's signature sound, which can be reductively explained as simply "chaotic death metal".  And hey, I like chaotic death metal, but it seems to be a depressingly common thing with these bands that they load each album down with a million riffs with only a handful of them actually being any good.  The reason I keep tabs on the label and why I was so happy to start getting promos from them is because they don't always stick to that formula, and the general rule I've noticed is that the further from those types of bands they stray, the better each release is.  The stuff they've released from bands like Tyranny, House of Atreus, Craven Idol, and especially the subject of today's review, Crypt Sermon, range from excellent to incredible.  Crypt Sermon in particular really stands out for eschewing death metal entirely and focusing purely on sweeping, epic doom metal.

In hindsight, their debut album, Out of the Garden, was even better than my initially high praise, and I definitely fucked up by snubbing it from my best of the year list in 2015.  Four years later, they're finally returning with a followup, The Ruins of Fading Light, and holy shit I might like this one even more than the debut.

One thing that I think is notable about the band is that the five members have played in a combined six hundred bands throughout their careers, and yet none of them have seemed to ever touch doom metal outside of Crypt Sermon.  Their histories seem to almost exclusively touch on thrash, black, and death metal bands, with various members concurrently and formerly performing in bands like Trenchrot, Horrendous, Daeva, Coffin Dust, Ashencult, Ancient Flame, something that people actually thought to name fuckin' Pizza Face, and seemingly thousands more.  Hell, even the new bassist is the former bassist of fucking Vektor, a band so high speed and relentlessly technical that it's as absurd to think of him joining Crypt Sermon as it is to think of Dominic Lapointe joining Black Sabbath.  Maybe the Philly scene is just super incestuous and there are only twenty guys to choose from when forming any band, I dunno.  But despite all of the furious extremity of their respective backgrounds, almost none of that shines through in Crypt Sermon, and instead they craft sweeping tales in a very traditionalist epic doom sense, effortlessly channeling genre legends like Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus. 

The Ruins of Fading Light is essentially just a continuation of what they were doing on the debut album with very few changes.  This is still absolutely massive doom metal with a devastating bass presence, but where these guys truly excel is in their dedication to crafting instantly memorable hooks.  Every single song is barbed with riffs and vocal melodies that are almost maddeningly infectious, rooting deep in your mind and refusing to let go.  They never bring the tempo above a brisk gallop (though you can argue that "The Last Templar" is close enough to being "fast"), but that sort of lively skippiness is exactly the same thing that made Candlemass so good in their prime, and even then they only go that route a little under half of the time, instead seeming more content to just dig their heels in and crush you with a sledgehammer.  More or less every song conveys the same idea, which you'd think would be boring for an album that runs nearly an hour long, but it's really not.  Even with most tracks averaging around seven minutes long, the songs are kept interesting thanks to some wild guitar soloing, excellent riffs, and catchy vocal lines.

These vocals need to be singled out as well.  While the album as a whole is consistently great and similar to their last outing, I think Brooks Wilson has had the greatest improvement in the intervening four years.  The lead single, "Key of Solomon", has been met with generally positive reception, but if there are any complaints, they've been centered around Wilson's vocals, and I just can't fathom why.  He has always sounded great, and I think he's even better here.  His cleaner vocals are very smooth, and the lower he goes the more he sounds like Rob Lowe, which is always a good thing.  I think what most people aren't jiving with though are his more hoarse vocals, which he utilizes very frequently throughout the album.  Frankly, I think those are even better than his more explicit cleans.  They're still clean, but they feel like the desperate scream of a man at the end of a blade.  When you take into account their frequent lyrical focus on turning away from and abandoning religion (something that they tend to kinda mask with overt Christian themes and song titles, but even the basest cursory examination of their lyrics shows that they invoke this imagery with a kind of perverse blasphemy) it makes them sound even more agonizing (in a positive way).  He sounds like a man who has been lied to his entire life and is expelling all of the slime he's internalized up to this point.  He's awesome, don't be a dork.

Probably my only complaint is that the album is structured oddly, featuring seven full songs (like the debut) but also including three instrumental interludes, two of which are positioned right next to each other on the tracklist.  This doesn't bother me too much though since everything flows together really well, to the point where the doubled up interlude frequently sneaks by as just one to my ears.  I'm struggling to think of what to say in terms of album highlights.  Not because there aren't any, but because they all deserve to be singled out.  "Key of Solomon" is actually the worst song on the album, and that's with the knowledge that "worst" in this sense is still at least on par with the median level of greatness on Out of the Garden, so the one track most of you have heard at this point isn't even close to the best this album has to offer, if you can believe that.  "The Last Templar" hits like a truck and earns its spot as the shortest song by also being the most consistently aggressive, "The Snake Handler" is a twisting epic that also finds a way to have like half of all the best riffs on the album, and the title track is an emotional catharsis steeped in downtrodden hopelessness.  But really, I'd be lying if I said the best track was anything other than "Christ is Dead", which distills every single thing I love about this band (and genre as a whole) into six concise minutes that seem to fly by in under two.  All of the emotion, the grandeur, the pounding riffage, the searing leads, everything is thrown into this one and given the most passionate performance these guys could possibly muster.  The real highlight is the chorus, which has been stuck in my head for weeks now.  Everything I said about Brooks up there was with this chorus in mind.  This is the sound of a man who has finally seen the truth of the world, and equal parts broken and furious, he shouts from the highest steeple, "We are lost and Christ is dead".  If every song was as good as this one, I would seriously put this in the running for album of the god damned decade.

While the rest of the album doesn't quite reach that peak, it does get damn close several times.  There's basically nothing I don't like about The Ruins of Fading Light, and I think this will be in serious contention for Album of the Year as of right now.  2019 is shaping up to be an awesome year, and one of the few in recent memory where death metal hasn't completely dominated my personal favorites.  Cleaner, more traditional styles like the epic doom of Crypt Sermon has been devastating this year.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Unmasked - Behind the Mask

I finished this review an hour ago and can't think of a title

I'm learning to sorta completely gloss over promos that I know will bore me to tears or will just be shitty without being fun to pick on, and so as a result I find myself pretty frequently just skipping over most of the melodeath that gets sent my way.  Something about Unmasked struck me as different though.  I don't know why, aesthetically this is 100% the kind of boring, riffless pedantry that makes me write off a vast majority of the genre as worthless nonsense, but it was the track lengths that caught my eye.  Behind the Mask features only five tracks, but it still runs for a full 40 minutes thanks to four of the tracks breaking the eight minute mark (oddly enough, they sequentially run for 8:10, 8:20, 8:30, and 8:40).  I felt like this quintet from Bonn had to have some interesting ideas if they were able to stretch their compositions for such a lengthy amount of time so consistently.  It's not easy to breach eight minutes when you're just doing the In Flames style of "Iron Maiden with growls" that melodeath so frequently devolves into.

Thirty seconds into the first track, I realized exactly what my mistake was and instantly knew how the rest of the album was going to play out.  If you're gonna take the Gothenburg style and make the songs really long, you need to be exceptionally skilled songwriters.  However, Unmasked doesn't play the Gothenburg style.  Instead, they take most of their influence from the school of Insomnium and Be'lakor, which is way easier to utilize in order to lazily fart out long songs.  I don't know how I didn't see this coming.  I covered Marianas Rest a few months ago and they operate on the exact same conceit so I really only have myself to blame for being caught off guard here. 

The reason Behind the Mask bores me so much is that these guys only really scratch the superficial surface of the style they're playing.  "Gaia" has some okay moments but the atmosphere is incredibly passive and unengaging.  "Home" is the lone average length song but it doesn't achieve that by being faster and more exciting, it's simply shorter and doesn't repeat as much.  There's some bouncing groove and rolling double bass here and there in "Drenched in Blood" and "No Regrets" but each section featuring a new and interesting idea is disappointingly brief and still never does much to break beyond the established tropes of the genre.  Insomnium is so revered not simply because they were pioneers, but because they continually break their own rules and push ideas to extremes.  Their tempos can vary quite a lot, and even though each album is very tonally consistent within itself, the atmosphere is incredibly pervasive and confident.  Unmasked here just kinda plays what's expected of them and waffles around with dry ideas that dozens of bands have beaten them to already.  I swear every section of every track sits within the same 10bpm window, never fully taking a risk and going for a more aggressive Be'lakor-esque section or a fully death/doom Swallow the Sun-esque dirge.  They merely flirt with such ideas here and there, never fully committing to anything, instead sheepishly looking across the bar at these much more interesting and attractive ideas before quickly looking back at their drinks whenever they try to engage.  Even the keyboards have like a total of sixty seconds where they do anything beyond playing swelling chords in the background and actually take the lead and carry a melody.  Why even bother?  It's basically just a backing track that never turns off.

Apart from a few riffs with a decent bouncing groove on the title track and "No Regrets", there's really nothing here that I can recommend.  This is a very unconfident and timid album, and it suffers from this seemingly crippling fear to do anything else with their ideas beyond dipping their toes in them and deciding that the temperature isn't right and retreating back into the pool house.  You can tell there's potential for a decent entry into this melancholic melodeath niche, but Unmasked aren't even close to reaching that point yet.  As of now, they're entirely skippable.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Skelator - Cyber Metal

Trent Dilfer as a metal singer

You probably wouldn't guess it since I'm a fucking nerd who has been reviewing metal albums on the internet for like 12 years and my trademark quirks are finding ways to reference Futurama and Final Fantasy as often as possible, but I'm also a big sports fan.  I've been watching nearly every Bears game every Sunday since 1997 and somewhere in the veritable sea of people during the 2013 Stanley Cup victory rally for the Blackhawks, you can spot me giving the finger to every camera I saw.  One thing that's always kind of baffled me about the sports world is how few players actually seem to be... good at what they do.  It's insane to me that out of the entire country, there's only ever like ten truly great quarterbacks at any given time.  How come nobody can throw as accurately as Tom Brady or score as consistently as Alexander Ovechkin?  Is Marshawn Lynch seriously the only guy who can break a tackle?  There are certain position players that can absolutely make or break a team, and sometimes you can fluke out if the rest of the team is strong enough, but other times it'll be the Achilles Heel that sinks a great season.  You can have a great defense but a shitty quarterback, and sometimes you'll be the 2000 Ravens and sometimes you'll be the 2006 Bears.

This problem persists in metal as well, because I swear it feels like sometimes a band with a great musical section can be completely fucking crippled by a terrible vocalist and it blows me away that they seriously can't find anybody better.  Skelator is the 2006 Bears in this scenario, with the band writing fun, ass kicking heavy metal analogous to the three phase domination led by Urlacher, Briggs, Tillman, Harris, and like ten other superstars, not to mention Hester breaking out as the greatest kick returner in history, but unfortunately they're saddled with Jason Conde-Houston on vocals, who is the Rex Grossman in this scenario, completely handicapping the band/team with fucking terribly thin vocals/a 1.3 QBR.

So yeah that's kinda this gist of it right there.  Cyber Metal is, from a musical standpoint, very good.  It's pretty basic 80s trad metal worship rife with dueling guitar melodies and grand galloping riffs, with drumming that stays fairly basic and almost never breaks out into high speed double bass.  It's very orthodox, "normal" metal but it's very competent and the songs themselves are well written and catchy.  A song like "Seven Scars" is primo throwback metal that I can't help but adore in almost every respect, and the adrenaline and tempo stay very high without ever transforming into power or speed metal.  All eight tracks are well written jams that could be a contender for throwback of the year.

But there's one hell of an elephant in the room here, and that's the vocals.  Just... holy shit they're so bad.  I can only assume the band sticks with this tuneless deadweight because he's an original member, because he sounds like a hybrid of James Rivera with a sinus infection and John Cyriis hiding behind a circus tent and huffing helium for a year.  Is there seriously not one single person on the west coast who can't sing better than this guy?  The album lasts a whopping eight seconds before he first belts out his laughably shrill harpy shriek before spending the next 40 minutes tunelessly wailing all over banging riffs.  This is such a huge bummer because this is seriously top ten on the year in terms of the musical department but he's so bad and so prominent that it's impossible to look past.  I don't care how cool it is that this is a lyrical cheesefest that indulges itself in schlocky anime like Fist of the North Star and features the A+ rhyme of "Laser eyes and napalm thighs" because the vocals are so wretched that I can only assume it's an intentional joke.  I'm actually somewhat familiar with this band already since I somehow wound up with a copy of Agents of Power like seven years ago, and I can say with utmost confidence that Jason has always been exactly this shitty and has zero chance of improvement in the future.  Ya know, I likened him to John Cyriis earlier, and I've always thought he kinda sucked too, but at least Agent Steel managed to bring monster hooks much more reliably than Skelator and his high pitched falsettos at least sounded intentional even if they always felt somewhat off.  I can't stress enough how fucking bad he is, it's criminal.

So yeah, this is a musical success but a vocal failure on a transcendental level.  Usually when I bitch about a trad metal vocalist sucking, it's because they sound bored and have no range.  This guy is special in that he can hit some crazy high notes but he manages to make not a single one of them actually gel with the music.  I can't recommend this in good faith, and if Skelator ever wants to be taken seriously as a viable force in trad metal revival, they absolutely need to cut fucking bait and drop this schmuck.  I don't care if he's the guitarist's brother, he sucks shit and needs to fucking go.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Tryglav - Night of Whispering Souls

Night of Glistening Poles

One thing that kinda bothers me right off the bat about Tryglav here isn't really a problem as much as it's a curiosity.  This is the solo project of one Boris Behara, who handles all of the instruments except the vocals, who are apparently handled on this release by the dude from Black Cult.  And I mean... that's fine, there's nothing wrong with that considering the dude is clearly a talented multi-instrumentalist so there's no need for him to stretch himself thin in an area he's not comfortable with (it's common to see one or two man bands where one guy handles everything except the drums, for example, and hell, Anaal Nathrakh uses this exact setup).  The thing that bugs me about this is... well clearly the main guy is front and center at all times, and he does apparently play live, though when he does he gets four anonymous cronies to don plague doctor getups to round out the band.  But like... what the fuck does he do?  He's never been in a band before, I have no idea what his main instrument is.  If he's not the vocalist then wouldn't that just look weird as hell to have a bunch of masked and robed creatures except for one random guitarist or something?  And if he is the vocalist live, then why not just do it on record?  I know this is all ultimately pointless in the end, but once I had learned that this was the composition of the band, I just couldn't let it go.  Bro let it bake for a little while longer, if you weren't ready to record the vocals, just put it off until you are, nobody is rushing you!

Anyway, that's all periphery shit that doesn't really matter.  What truly matters here is the music itself, and I think Tryglav is very solid.  Across the seven tracks, there is a common thruline of heavy melody, particularly in the vein of Swedish black metal from the second wave like Marduk and Dark Funeral.  Good chunks of the album are very blast-happy and loaded with melodic tremolo lines.  That's probably the simplest way to describe this, meloblack run through a couple of light filters, but that'd be selling it short.  There are a surprising amount of ideas on display for a mere seven tracks from a debut solo artist here.  The opening track, "Under My Skin" is fiery as hell, with a brutal underpinning that likens it more to war metal or a particularly nasty 1349 track than anything else, while "Deadline" throws in some really warm riffs/melodies and more laid back drumming, hearkening back to the sunny Hellenic scene, and then "Creatures of the Night" chucks some straight up hard rock influence to the forefront, creating something that a lot of reviewers are comparing to Lordi but that's because everybody but me is fucking lazy and can't look past lyrical themes.  Those slightly unorthodox tracks are the real reason Night of Whispering Souls stands out to me.  That's not to say the title track or "Werewolf" aren't great emulations of Dissection and Dark Funeral or anything, because they are, but blastastic meloblack is a really easy genre to do so it's refreshing to hear somebody take some pointed risks with it.

So it pretty much follows a set formula, with the odd tracks being the more adventurous slow ones with more conventional rock drumming (apart from the opener, which is the most brutal track by a long shot) and the even tracks being the more traditional meloblack affairs, so you'd think it'd be uneven and flip-floppy, but really it just keeps the album from getting dull since each new track is going to throw a new idea at you.  The best of each world is probably "Werewolf" and "Deadline", for my money, but really every song here is at the very least good.  Though there aren't any highlights that completely blow my socks off, I do find myself returning to this fairly often, so it's doing something right.


Friday, July 5, 2019

No One Knows What the Dead Think - No One Knows What the Dead Think


I've got a confession: I love grind but pretty much never want to listen to it.  I'm not sure why, I think I'm just rarely in the mood for such laser focused hyperviolence all the time.  I've got some pet bands, y'all know how much I love Rotten Sound and Wormrot for example, but it's just not my usual stomping ground.  And so, because of that, I've never actually listened to Discordance Axis or Grindlink before.  I know they're big deals, but I just stuck with Insect Warfare for a long time and didn't bother to venture beyond that.  So the new self titled release from No One Knows What the Dead Think caught me by total surprise.  I brought this up to some friends and they were all like "Oh yeah I've been waiting for this, it's really cool to see Chang and Marton working together again" and I just had no idea who the fuck these dudes were.

But yeah, assuming you're more in the know than I am, after Discordance Axis broke up in 2001, Rob Marton basically disappeared from music entirely while Jon Chang and terminal fill-in Steve Procopio formed Grindlink, who went to have a lot of success in their own right.  But now, eighteen years later, Marton and Chang have hooked up again and have apparently delivered what is essentially the fourth DA album with No One Knows What the Dead Think.  And frankly?  This fucking smashes.  Like usual, this is only ten tracks and runs less than 19 minutes, so it's just a short blast of intensity but god damn is it intense.  I don't know how they sounded in the past, but right now this is just god damned insane.  Musically it's very spastic, with riffs that jump around the fretboard like a spinning rubik's cube, and drumming that keeps time like a nuclear bomb keeps its shell intact.  Kyosuke Nakano is another name I don't recognize since I never kept up with grind as much as I should've, but if his drumming here is indicative of what he accomplished with Cohol, then that's just another monster I need to check out (though according to MA they played black metal so I can only assume it's of the Deathspell Omega variety).  He's all over the damn kit, rarely playing a steady beat and almost always spazzing out into quadruple time blasts at every opportunity and playing tumbling fills every six nanoseconds.  The musical section of the band sounds like its completely coming apart at the seams and I absolutely adore it.

But really, Jon Chang is the highlight here, because his vocals sound like he's just getting stabbed over and over again.  He has a really dry and extremely high pitched shriek that punches through the mix to strongly that your speakers might as well grow arms and bitchslap you.  The whole thing sounds like total fucking chaos at all times anyway, but his hellish banshee wails just push it over the edge and sends the whole experience careening down a mountainside in a cartoonish fight cloud.  Every time the band seems like they're going to rein it in and deliver less manic segment like the chugging riff at the end of "Dagger Before Me" or the simple eighth notes that open "Rakuyo" he'll be sure to signal his entrance with a piercing shriek and before you know it the music sounds like an avalanche again.  That's pretty much the whole album in a nutshell, whenever one of the three guys slows down the other two start losing their shit even harder.  Check out the sustained chords in "Cinder" where Marton plays some whole notes while the drums start blasting even faster and the vocals start flying off the rails.  It's complete sustained mania that stays wild even when it chills out. 

Bottom line, this is one of the biggest surprises of the promo experiment for me, because this is a total fucking knockout.  It's sort of the same reason I like Gotsu Totsu Kotsu so much, even though they're obviously different different bands.  This is pure maximalism, even from a three piece that doesn't feature a bassist.  Every single second is loaded with more activity than any second can logically provide and so the songs all just kinda mindfuck the space-time contiuum and transfer that physics-defying beating to your eardrums.  I can dig a subtle and emotional album, but that's not what I want from grind.  No One Knows What the Dead Think is exactly what I want from grind, and that's pure chaotic noise and excessive bloody violence.  I don't care if it's barely 15 minutes long, this is a genuine candidate for album of the year.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Necronomidol - VOIDHYMN

Well the cover art is incredible

Well... this is a weird one.  Necronomidol is one of the many groups inspired by the meteoric success of Babymetal, blending the idol culture of J-pop with heavy metal in some form.  Babymetal took the easy route and blended it with already poppy forms of melodeath and such, but Necronomidol take a much more avant-garde approach to the idea.  The actual songwriting was handled by three different people, two dudes who are apparently fairly well known in the extreme weird subcircles of the Japanese underground, and... Dan Terminus?  Yeah, the really loud synthwave guy with the super colorful album covers like Automated Refrains.  So yeah, this is going to be a weird one.

And honestly, the biggest flaw here is that it isn't weird enough.  Taking a traditional five-member J-pop girl group and throwing them in a hellish void of strange extremity seems like it should be a home run based on novelty alone, but VOIDHYMN (actually their third album, which is strange because when researching the band I discovered that they're apparently a Big Fucking Deal in the idol scene but I'd never heard of them prior to this promo spawning in my inbox like a fucking SCP) only goes full out with it a few times.  I think part of the problem is simply that I'm the wrong audience for this, because as a general rule I don't really care for aesthetics and performance outside of recorded material, and considering the genre this spawned from, that's where most of the effort goes.  Their elaborate outfits, stage shows, music videos, and inherent celebrity status in their home country is where most of their appeal lies, and none of that shit matters to me.  I'm a stupid headbanger, I like big dumb riffs, I don't care how subversive it is for these five sex symbols to dress in bondage and sing about cosmic horror.  Unless you're GWAR or something I'm really just not gonna care.

So with that in mind, the music is depressingly average for the idea.  On paper, this should've been straight fuckin' wacky, but in reality it's just kind of meandering and all the best songs are the least weird ones.  "Dawnslayer" and "Strange Aeons" are just straight ahead animu metal that would be right at home as stage music for BlazBlue, and those songs rule.  "Dawnslayer" in particular rips the opening melody from Dragonforce's "Fury of the Storm" and it's so brazen and fun that I don't even care.  Power metal is clearly the subgenre that the whole conceit of mixing metal with idol culture that fits the most naturally, so it's no surprise that those two songs stand out as among the most well written.  The more overtly poppy tracks like "Kadath" and "Skulls in the Stars" are also a perfect fit, with the latter of which being literally the only time throughout all ten tracks that I can differentiate the different voices of the five different singers.  Generally they just sound like one girl harmonizing with herself, so it's disappointing that they don't do more with the variety presented to them, but this seems to be a common trope in the genre so I'll just write it off as a cliche they're kinda bound to.

The problem arises with the weird songs themselves just being kinda bland.  It's really obvious which songs Dan Terminus worked on, because "In Black" and "Innsmouth" throw the thumping synthwave influence to the forefront, but they wind up being the most boring tracks on the album because they're not even as extreme as his solo work.  The Wrath of Code is total sensory overload, "Innsmouth" is just a dark, vaguely poppy song with heavy synths.  "Samhain" takes a weirdly ska approach with the jaunty upstrokes taking the brunt of the song's impact.  The only two songs that really take the idea of "avant-garde black metal J-girl idolpop" to its logical extreme are "Thanatogenesis" and "Psychopomp".  The latter takes the creepy staccato vocals from "In Black" and puts them over churning mid-paced black metal riffs and then switches it for dark acoustic stuff every once and a while and just grinds on for way too long.  "Thanatogenesis" on the other hand is everything I wanted this album to be.  This is the one time they fully took advantage of the idea, because this is weird and chaotic with regards to the music itself.  The riffs are nasty and venomous and the drumming is a cacophonous avalanche of blast beats and off-time jazzy fills, and it's all happening underneath these very soothing vocals that fly over the top, completely disconnected from what's going on with the music.  This is fucking awesome.  This discordant, Deathspell Omega style dissonant chaos laying the foundation for incongruently saccharine sweetness from an offputtingly innocent voice is exactly the kind of thing that VOIDHYMN needs more of.  It sounds like a sweet apparition gently guiding you into a swirling maelstrom of hellfire and cosmic unspeakableness and I love it.  If every song was as good as "Thanatogenesis" this would be an easy top five contender on the year, I'm dead serious.

But unfortunately, every song isn't as good.  Most of the weird songs are just dull and unexciting while the more normal poppy and/or shreddy power metal songs are very solid.  There's only one track that truly breaks the mold and that's basically the glorious fluke that should've been the basis for the entire album.  Overall, I do like this, but I wish it was bolder in its experimentation, because there's a lot of potential left on the table here.  This starts off promising and just gets less and less weird as it goes on, eventually ending on a few decent poppy J-rock tracks that all but leave the uncomfortable darkness behind.  Maybe the lyrics keep things creepy and unsettling, but I have no way of knowing since the only Japanese I can speak is in the form of Gargoyle album titles.

And I need to reiterate how fucking awesome the cover art is.  I want a giant flag with that art covering an entire wall in my bedroom.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Crush the Altar - Abhorrent Oblation

Solid, if nothing new

Well, now that my big projects are done, I suppose it's time I get back to what I've dedicated this year to doing so far: reviewing the neverending deluge of promos.  My first choice to jump back in was a band that wound up having multiple sexual assault allegations against the guitarist (enough for the label to drop them), so I figured fuck that I'm not gonna give that guy any press.  Then when researching my second choice I found out that motherfucker is in that band too.  So uhh... hey rapey guy?  Go away.

So fuck it, third choice, we're heading to the Garden State to revel in some decidedly rapeless brutality.  Crush the Altar's debut demo, Abhorrent Oblation, doesn't bring a whole lot of new ideas to the table, but they make up for their lack of creativity with some simplistic barbarity that's as effective as it is rancorous.  All three tracks here are reminiscent of early Pestilence, taking thrash riffs to their logical extreme and firmly planting one foot in the realm of death metal.  This blend of high speed thrash mania and mid-paced crushing morbidity is nothing new, but it's refreshing to hear somebody not try to outsmart the classics every once in a while.  Sometimes you've just gotta pay homage to the masters that came before you and pay tithe at the altar (before crushing it).  I've said before that originality isn't a necessity, and this is more evidence as to what I mean.  There are smatterings of Consuming Impulse, Altars of Madness, and Leprosy all over the place, and the adrenaline is kept consistently high.  There's also a really menacing mid-paced section halfway through "Demonizing the Ancient Lore" that I think was supposed to be super morbid and devastating but honestly just sounds like the bridge of "Master of Puppets" tuned down two steps, so that's kinda funny. 

Honestly there just isn't much to say here.  I always struggle with writing for short demos and this is no exception, but if you like any of the bands I've namedropped then you're sure to find something to like here.  This isn't going to set the world on fire, but these three guys definitely have talent and know what they're doing when it comes to evil death/thrash.  So if nothing else, I'll keep my eye on 'em in the future to see if they ever truly forge their own identity, because they're very good as an unoriginal utilitarian extreme metal band as it is.


Monday, July 1, 2019

TOP 50 ALBUMS OF THE 90s: Part V

Well here we are, the end of the road once again.  This has been a fun ride without a doubt, and I hope you all enjoyed it as well.  Just like with the 2000s version I did a few years back, there will be a featurette at the end here where I round up some honorable mentions that didn't make the list since a handful of bands dominated it so hard (but as you know, I'm staunchly against "one album per band" rules because it's not my fault that Running Wild was so damn good for so long), and there'll also be a sample packet with a links to one or two songs per album so you can give anything you're interested in a listen.  But before then, we've got ten more to get through!


10: Gamma Ray - Land of the Free (1995)
I've said before that this album is actually kinda uneven with three absolutely gargantuan standouts that threaten to eclipse the entire album, but like with all of Gamma Ray's classic era, it really doesn't matter all that much because the less good songs are still great, and the great songs are unbelievably good.  Land of the Free is undeniably their peak in my eyes, and it heralded Kai Hansen's return to vocals in one of the most stunning ways imaginable.  The dude founded two of the most important power metal bands of all time, he's the real fucking deal and he's on top of his game here without a doubt.  Those "lesser" tracks would still be the best songs on most power metal albums, and I can't see a timeline where I don't think the speed metal supremacy of "Salvation's Calling" or the pounding mid-paced epic of "Abyss of the Void" doesn't completely blow me away.  "Time to Break Free" is kind of a misplaced Helloween track but it's super catchy and shows how excellent of a songwriter Kai was in his prime.  But... I mean of course, there are three monsters here that became the most enduring classics for a reason.  The title track is quintessential power metal, with a rousing chorus that sets my soul on fire every time, "Man on a Mission" is quintessential speed metal, with a rousing chorus that sets my soul on fire every time, and "Rebellion in Dreamland" is quintessential everything.  "Rebellion in Dreamland" was honestly a pretty bold choice to open the album considering it's the longest track by a considerable margin, and apart from the wild soloing section near the end it never picks up above mid-paced, and I'd even argue it's pretty slow most of the time.  For a high energy power metal band?  That takes cojones, but Kai and the guys were clearly confident in how fucking strong of a song it is, because it takes command from the opening minute and enraptures you in a tale of revolution that sets the stage for the entire experience to come.  Land of the Free on the whole is actually Gamma Ray's most diverse album, and a lot of these ideas are much more focused on tight melody than high speed theatrics like they're so good at doing, but every idea they have hits bullseye so it just becomes a consistent collection of stunners from many different approaches.  "What we need right now is a miracle on earth..."

9: Children of Bodom - Hatebreeder (1999)
Fuck yes early Bodom was incredible.  It can be easy to forget sometimes since they quickly became a Hot Topic mallrat mainstay and were publicized to obscene degrees, but man their first few albums were all incredible.  At this point in time the whole subsect of melodeath that focused on keyboards and insane shredding wasn't really a thing yet, and once it exploded it was so inescapably tied to these guys that to this day many of those bands (Norther is the most obvious) are known as "Bodom clones".  Hatebreeder is melodeath in a sense, sure, but this was really the apex of their "neoclassical power metal with blast beats and harsh vocals" phase, and as a result this is one of the most unhinged and reckless metal albums ever written.  Laiho definitely has a great ear for melody that he keeps sharp at all times, but man every single track on this one is just balls to the wall fucking insanity.  This is very anarchic, with guitar solos taking the place of where a lesser band would put a simple melody, guitar solos under the verses, guitar solos in the intros, and guitar solos during the guitar solos that are so fucking insane that they put solos on top of solos and then make them duel with keyboard solos.  I imagine that at some point during recording, the producer popped in to say "Hey Alexi, instead of so many guitar solos, why don't you try riffing for a few minutes" and he just broke his guitar over his knee and shouted "I'M LITERALLY MAKING UP THE LYRICS AS I RECORD DO YOU THINK I'VE THOUGHT ABOUT ANYTHING OTHER THAN GUITAR SOLOS?? THE ONLY THINGS IN THE WORLD I CARE ABOUT ARE BOOZE AND SOLOS AND I'M ALL OUT OF BOOZE" before pulling another guitar out of his pant leg and then recording "Towards Dead End" on the spot.  For those around when Metalocalypse was on TV, Skwisgaar Skwigelf was based on Laiho and it's barely a parody.   The name of the game here is "unrestrained", because at no point does the band dial it back for a more atmospheric section or a tempo below 2000bpm, it's all full speed speed speed all the time with two solos going at all times.  Ever once in a while I realize I haven't listened to Bodom in a while and wonder if I've grown out of them, but one listen to Hatebreeder and suddenly I'm 15 years old again and this is the best fucking thing I've ever heard in my life.  Obviously I think every song here is great, with special mentions going to the title track, "Warheart", and "Towards Dead End", but I'd be lying if I said the best song was anything other than "Downfall".  To this day, despite hitting mainstream success with tracks like "Sixpounder", "Hate Me", and "Are You Dead Yet?", they still close out every show with "Downfall".  The closest I've ever felt to being a superhero was when my buddy and I drove up to see Bodom at The Rave in Milwaukee back in 2006, and during the final climactic guitar solo of "Downfall", I slowly strode out into the middle of the circle pit, planted my feet in a power stance, threw my head back and air guitared the fuck out of it while a hundred people ran circles around me.  In the 13 years since then I've gotten fuckin' married and it still wasn't as cool as that moment.

8: Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten (1991)
Come on, obviously this is the best Suffocation album, who is going to argue that?  Pierced from Wherenow?  Obviously Suffocation's golden era was untouchable and during the 90s there wasn't one single death metal band that even came close to surpassing them, since both other albums have been on this list and I alluded in the intro that both EPs would've ranked as well if I had allowed them.  Their level of quality was no fuckin' joke, and Effigy of the Forgotten remains as their crowning achievement.  I said before that Breeding and Pierced were pure, thrashless death metal with a really unusual songwriting approach, but oddly enough that's not really true with Effigy.  This is a much more straightforward album in comparison, and the leftover thrash influence is undeniable on tracks like "Seeds of the Suffering", "Jesus Wept", and especially "Reincrimation".  I didn't mention it before, but this album also features the original drummer, Mike Smith, who is allegedly one of the most toxic and disagreeable people in the entire scene, but his frantic, twisted style was a huge part of the band's sound early on and every future drummer, no matter how talented they were on their own, was always struggling to emulate and fill Mike's shoes.  I don't think I've ever heard hammer blasts as powerful as they are here, and his unfollowable patterns and arcane fills are instantly recognizable, and it's a huge fucking rarity for a drummer to have that much personality if you ask me.  Frank Mullen is also at his best here, spewing out the most monstrous and devastating vocals of his career.  Rumor has it that he "cheated" to achieve this sound by cupping the mic, but fuck man I don't give a shit if he doesn't actually sound like a fire-spitting hellbeast when he's ordering coffee in the morning, I care that he sounds like one on record, and he does here more than anywhere else.  It's worth mentioning that this is one of the most influential albums in metal history, being pretty much directly responsible for the eventual proliferation of technical and brutal death metal and slam.  Yeah I'm giving slam to Suffocation.  I don't care what you have to say about Disgorge or Devourment, I'll maintain until the day I die that the entire genre is based around how fucking awesome the breakdown is at 2:52 in "Liege of Inveracity".  The entire genre of slam spawned from that one riff, don't fucking @ me.  People sometimes like to talk about how Suffocation introduced brutal breakdowns due to the influence of NYHC, but I think it's more likely that they boys were just experimenting with how they could turn riffs into murder weapons and wound up writing "Infecting the Crypts" on accident as a result.  Every single song is a classic, with the aforementioned "Infecting the Crypts" kicking so much ass that it's actually illegal to play it within a half mile of any government building.  I'd go so far as to say that it's my favorite death metal song of all time.  That opening is just fucking iconic and the bass break with the sample of a grave being dug is just the coolest god damned break in any song ever. I don't even want to move on to the next album, I just want to listen to Effigy forever and ever.

7: Blind Guardian - Tales from the Twilight World (1990)
As much as I enjoy Blind Guardian's later, more involved and symphonic work, I don't even need to think on it for more than a nanosecond to tell you that their speed metal era was better in every way.  Literally the only thing that wasn't as good back then was Hansi's voice, and even then he was one of the best singers in the scene even before he started the Choir of a Thousand Identical Hansis.  He was always a bard first and foremost, but the venom he had in his voice added so much character to these epic tales of high fantasy.  I see Tales here often shuffled near the bottom because it supposedly ends on a whimper compared to the monstrously strong opening streak of songs, but anybody who believes that is a numpty.  "The Last Candle" is one of their all time greats, opening with that iconic mantra of "GAH-DYIN GAH-DYIN GAH-DYIN OF THE BLIND" from two albums prior sets the stage for a definitive statement of speed metal insanity, and the rest of the song lives up to it with aplomb, ending with a classic out-chant.  Even the two short interlude style songs ("Weird Dreams" and "Altair 4") are among the band's best, never slowing down or kicking down the intensity for a second.  But really, the true strength of the album really is that opening string of classics.  From "Traveler in Time" to "Lost in the Twilight Hall", the album just delivers anthem after anthem, never stopping fuck around with mid tempo nonsense outside of one of their all time great classic ballads, "Lord of the Rings".  The fact that this album seems to have been mostly phased out of live sets is a huge shame, though I do understand why.  It's by far the most intense album they've ever penned, with more vigor and fury than they've ever mustered before or since.  "Traveler in Time" and "Goodbye My Friend" are woefully forgotten monsterpieces of fiery speed, and "Welcome to Dying" seemed to hold out the longest in terms of setlist mainstays and that's a great thing because it's an amazing song.  "Lost in the Twilight Hall" marks the second appearance of Kai Hansen (after "Valhalla" on Follow the Blind), and his comparatively shrill screech is a perfect foil for the full voiced masculinity of Hansi Kursch.  The song also features one of their best choruses, which even at this early stage in their career has always been their strength.  The balance between hooks and aggression is tilted a little further towards the latter end still, but it's all coming together nicely, hinting at the direction they'd eventually take ever so subtly.  "Lord of the Rings" would have easily stood as their defining singalong ballad if not for the obvious one on the followup album, but it acts here as a nice breather before barreling headfirst into the frantic insanity of "Goodbye My Friend".  There's really nothing bad I can say about this album, even the forgotten final three songs are amazing and would have stood as easy highlights on any other speed metal album from 1990.  Yes, I copied the bulk of this entry from my Ladder Match series.  I don't care, I can only write about the same album so many times.  Eat me.

6: Cryptopsy - None So Vile (1996)
As much as I obviously love Suffocation, and though I clearly see them as the most dominant death metal band in history, I don't actually think they released the best death metal album of all time, or even of the 90s.  That title actually goes to one of their successors, the French Canadian gore freaks, Cryptopsy.  Both of their first two albums are very good, but None So Vile is on an entirely different level.  There is almost nothing in metal history as sick and deranged as this.  Every moment is pure chaos, with Flo Mournier proving why he was frequently cited as the most impressive drummer in the genre for years with his manic odd-time fills and relentless speed and precision.  Not one second goes by that doesn't sound like violent convulsions, swarms of screaming locusts, an avalanche, crumbling ruins, atomic bombs, and everything in between.  It's so much all at once, it's total sensory overload and results in utter and complete destruction.  And at the same time, this is the exact opposite of everything I just said, because these hooks are unreal.  I genuinely don't think I've ever heard a catchier death metal album than this.  Tracks like "Graves of the Fathers", "Orgiastic Disembowelment", and especially "Phobophile" have some of the catchiest god damned riffs I've ever heard.  It's almost criminal how wild and frenetic every song is while also maintaining such a filthily thick groove.  It's the kind of thing that shouldn't really work together as well as it does, but this is a masterclass in crafting memorable, hummable guitar riffs while simultaneously bludgeoning you from every direction with more off-beat cymbal fills than any jazz drummer could dream of throwing at you.  Subverted expectations are the order of the day.  "Slit Your Guts" opens with a tremolo line that indicated the song is going to be a blast fest, and when the rest of the band kicks in it manages to deliver exactly that while also continuing that gnarly groove, only to throw you off with more drum fills than humanly necessary before leading into a discordant and ugly bass break populated with twangy plunks and pops.  It should sound like a directionless mess but it's constructed in such a way that it winds up being super uber infectious and refuses to leave your head for days at a time.  And oh fuck I haven't even talked about Lord Worm yet.  Worm follows the path of Chris Barnes in that his lyrics plumb the dankest depths of depravity, but he carves his own path by performing his vocals in such a way that it sounds like he has no tongue at all.  These lyrics are almost completely unfollowable and consist entirely of manic grunts and terrifying shrieks.  Jon Levasseur's riffs are the glue that holds the chaos together, but Flo's unpredictable drumming, Langolis's plonky bass, and Worm's psychotic howling do everything in their power to pull it apart at the seams.  Complete chaos in harmony and as a result it's the greatest death metal album of all time.  I'll go to bat for that.

5: Blind Guardian - Somewhere Far Beyond (1992)
I know, I know.  At this point I'm starting to feel bad about how the more traditional and less extreme genres were so completely dominated by three bands.  Between them all, Running Wild, Gamma Ray, and Blind Guardian actually have a whopping ten albums here, a full 20% of the list.  I looked over the final list over and over again hoping to see if I could cut something to make it less stacked but I really couldn't in good faith.  The truth is simply that the 90s were something of a deadball era for this style.  It's a general rule of thumb that almost every metal band that was good in the 80s got shitty in the 90s, and trad metal probably got hit the hardest, with even the mighty Iron Maiden falling flat and ending their legendary seven album streak right when the decade turned.  Power metal was also kind of in shambles since all the great USPM albums happened in the previous decade and Europower didn't truly recover until the 2000s.  Helloween immediately shat the bed, Hammerfall always sucked, I never really cared for Stratovarius, Iron Savior probably could've landed there if I'd've been familiar with anything before Condition Red prior to like two years ago, I've honestly never even listened to Angra, and Edguy, Rhapsody, Sonata Arctica, and a few others all released their best work after the turn of the millennium.  So with all of that said, here we go again, with Blind Guardian again, and this time with the best album of their career.  Somewhere Far Beyond is well documented to be one of the rare "best of both worlds" type of transition albums, though it really worked out in Blind Guardian's favor by having two transitional works so their evolution was incredibly smooth.  As a result, this one is more in line with the raucous speed metal of their first three albums, but the melody has been amped up to ludicrous degrees.  You could've heard individual riffs from "Quest for Tanelorn" or "Somewhere Far Beyond" on Battalions of Fear or something, but they'd never tackle songs with a scope as grand and ambitious as those on those first albums.  The title track is one of the most underrated songs of their career, and a tiny accent like the bells chiming during the chorus still send shivers down my spine.  The title for Most Underrated BG Song could also well go to "Ashes to Ashes", an absolute behemoth of riffery that Hansi has stated he never plans to perform live since he wrote it when his father died.  And of course, I'd be failing at my job if I didn't remind you that Blind Guardian is the only power metal band on the planet that doesn't suck at ballads and "The Bard's Song" is the greatest singalong ballad in metal history.  Hansi doesn't even really bother singing it live since the whole crowd does it for him every time without fail.  I don't even know how else to describe it at this point, I've done it so many times over the years and if you still haven't listened to it then fuck you.

4: W.A.S.P. - The Crimson Idol (1992)
Remember how like twelve sentences ago I said that trad metal almost uniformly sucked once the 90s happened?  Well there was one titanic caveat there, and that's that it's only true if you ignore W.A.S.P., because Blackie rolled into the 90s with one of the best metal albums everThe Crimson Idol is an excellent example of an album that doesn't jump out at you as much as it pulls you in, because this album is loaded with ballads (one of them even gets dangerously close to breaking the nine minute mark!), and the repeating motifs that appear throughout the album add a lot of depth to the storytelling.  On the surface, you could just say this is a regular old trad metal album with a darker tint, but I think that'd be missing the point.  This is a very emotionally draining album, dealing with issues of parental neglect and drowning your problems with drugs and alcohol, and the fact that the album starts off so explosive and exciting and slowly winds down throughout the course of the runtime, eventually ending on two ballads and a half ballad climax really hammers home just how despondent and hopeless the main character is by the end of it.  W.A.S.P. was really underrated in the grand scheme of things, being sorta shuffled off into the heap of glam bands in the mid 80s when really they were always ten times heavier than Poison and mostly standing out to the layman for their notoriously sleazy imagery.  But those in the know knew better, they were one of the most consistently solid metal bands of the 80s and knew how to craft a banging hook, and the guitar team of Blackie Lawless and Chris Holmes had such an ear for melody and talent when it came to memorable soloing that their separation would surely signal doom for the band.  Luckily, that's not what happened here, since Holmes was gone by this time and Blackie became the dictator we always knew he could be, but he wielded his iron fist with such efficiency that he managed to write a self indulgent rock opera after a decade of writing about nothing but masturbating and still made it one of the greatest albums ever.  This is dark and depressing but simultaneously raunchy and fun.  It's a delicate balancing act that Blackie had mastered at this point and I'm eternally thankful for it.

3: Strapping Young Lad - City (1997)
This might be a controversial one, but really there are few albums even remotely as important to me as City, the album so brutally self destructive that it briefly killed the band entirely.  Devin Townsend is a lot of things, and I can understand why people find him to be unbearable, but one thing I think nobody can deny is that he is an incredibly honest person, and it comes through in his songwriting.  I tend to prefer his heavier stuff (hence why you're seeing Strapping Young Lad here instead of any of his more proggy solo work), and in this heavier side of his music he explores all of the dread and ugliness inside himself.  Most obviously, the emotion that shines the brightest is anger, because he spits out vulgarity and profanity on the level of one of Rob Zombie's shittier movies, and really that just makes this feel all the more genuine to me.  Sometimes the only way to truly vent what your feeling is to just scream FUUUUCK! as loud as possible and try not to pass out.  Musically this is very much a continuation of Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing, which is sometimes overlooked since that album has been so thoroughly forgotten over the years, but there are a lot of running themes from there that resurface on City.  The "Devy in the corner" bits from "AAA" originally appeared on "S.Y.L." and the breathless diatribe of vitriol that are the verses in "Oh My Fucking God" are basically identical to the verses of "Happy Camper", but everything feels much tighter and more focused on the sophomore here.  So while it's not quite as unhinged, it feels so much more effective since the debut was more Devin lashing out at his frustrations with the music industry and life in general, whereas I've always felt that City was much more introspective and self loathing.  There's a lot of anger here, a lot of fury, but it's all directed inwards.  Even tracks where he lashes out at people making his life hell like are followed up with a track like "Detox", which includes a self aware verse where he realizes that his life sucks so much because he hates and blames himself for it and what really pisses him off more than anything is the fact that everybody can see it and he's unable to hide it.  As somebody who does suffer from (more than one!) depressive disorder, it's an extremely uncomfortable yet cathartic listen to hear somebody infinitely more talented and successful than you go through the exact same problems right down to the details.  I've always said that I'd know I was finally past my problems with my temper and my depression when I could no longer relate to this album, when I could hear the rage and self loathing of "Home Nucleonics" and not feel the memories of high school, but it's been well over a decade since high school and I still identify with this album just as much as I always have.  It's a part of me, and I don't think that'll ever go away.  This glitchy and spastic approach to... well, not quite death metal, not quite the mega heavy and chaotic nu metal that Slipknot would eventually make popular, not quite grind despite the frequent blasts and noisy punky non-riffs, not quite thrash despite how destructive that opening riff of "Underneath the Waves" is... this approach to just sheer audial rage and frustration will never not make sense to me.  And I think the strongest and moist poignant moment on the album is how after all of the high speed fury, it ends on a total whimper.  After everything, the last two tracks are a Cop Shoot Cop cover and "Spirituality", which is just six and a half downtrodden minutes of despair, swinging at shadows, completely drained of energy.  The album basically has no ending, just like how every day of dealing with this mental whirlwind ends with a non-ending.  Just pure exhaustion as you lay down to sleep, cursed to replay this nightmare every fucking day.

2: Judas Priest - Painkiller (1990) 
This album was a complete revelation for me.  At the time I first heard it (like 2004ish I wanna say), I hadn't really explored much beyond the most obvious and famous of the metal world.  So obviously, I was familiar with Judas Priest, but I had no idea they could've ever sounded like this.  To me, they were the 80s arena metal band with "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" and "Breaking the Law".  Both of those are great songs, but they're not fucking "Painkiller".  Yeah yeah I know there were hints of this on Ram it Down and Defenders of the Faith (which is their best 80s album, fight me), but man you were never going to hear "Freewheel Burning" on the local classic rock station.  This was introduced to me the most cliche way ever, the cool older kid in high school casually namedropping it while defending "Revolution" as a good song, which had only just started playing on the radio at the time.  The name stuck out to me.  I dunno, Painkiller is just a damn cool word to name your metal album after.  So I sought it out, and the opening drum solo floored me in a way that maybe two other albums ever have before or since.  I still think that this contains Halford's most unbelievable vocal performance, and considering how incredible he was in the 15 year runup to this album, that's saying something.  The entire band pushed themselves to their limits here, with every song blasting along at ludicrous speeds for a group of dudes in their 40s, but Halford stands out amongst them all.  Those insane wailing high notes he could always hit with such ease became almost the focal point here, belting out scorching shrieks with alarming regularity.  The rest of the band doesn't slouch either, with Tipton and Downing ripping out some of the most impressive soloing sections of all time, and new drummer Scott Travis being sixteen echelons over Dave Holland in terms of skill.  But it really just comes down to every song here being a fucking barnburner.  Everything here cooks, it's all fast and huge and it all feels like some gargantuan apocalyptic celebration.  I've said it before, but this isn't Priest's best album necessarily.  The trilogy of S albums in the 70s carried a wealth of musical depth and complexity that Painkiller could never dream to reach.  Priest nailed some of their most impressive songwriting almost right away and then just got dumber and dumber as time went on.  But with the chips on the table, I'm choosing Painkiller every single time without a moment's hesitation.  I don't care if this isn't as smart or sophisticated, I don't give a shit that this is all double bass and big stupid speed metal riffs, I love big stupid speed metal riffs.  I'd so much rather party with a bunch of cavemen who just discovered beer than stuffy theoretical physicists and philosophers.  Get that shit away from me.  "Victim of Changes" is a great song?  Yeah sure, but does it kick as much fucking ass as "Leather Rebel"??  Oh yeah I could concede that "Beyond the Realms of Death" or "Dreamer Deceiver" are incredibly well written and sophisticated songs but as soon as I'm done talking I'm gonna blast "Nightcrawler" or "Hell Patrol".  Painkiller is where I want to be at all times, I want to exist in a universe where hoity toity oldnoobs don't poo-pooh great stuff just because it doesn't wear a monocle.  You don't get to love Conan the Barbarian and then look down your nose at Painkiller, and you should promptly fuck yourself and reevaluate yourself if you do.

 1: Megadeth - Rust in Peace (1990) 

Like... god damn where do I even start with Rust in Peace?  This album is a notorious frenemy of mine because I obviously love it completely to pieces and I want nothing more than to just shout about how great it is all the time, but whenever I try to review it I either look at a blank page for an hour and give up or I remember that it has like twelve perfect scores on MA already and there's nothing more I could add.  Really I just want to link the Onion article titled Humanity Still Producing New Art As Though Megadeth’s ‘Rust In Peace’ Doesn’t Already Exist and just leave it at that.  But here I am, basically forced to, and I'm both stoked and terrified to do so.  This is an intimidating album, without a single wasted second, and yes that includes "Dawn Patrol", often seen as a dumb filler interlude but it rides on such a thick bass groove that I never even cared.  Every single song is a knockout from start to finish, a feat that Megadeth hadn't accomplished before or since.  Their first three albums all had some great highlights but were startlingly uneven, and they were clearly trying to break out of the shadow of Metallica at the time, who outpaced them in almost every capacity in the 80s.  But Rust in Peace is where that all finally changed.  The one thing Dave Mustaine was always better at when it came to the Metallica v Megadeth feud was simply being angrier and more violent.  This is where he finally assembled the perfect lineup around him, with he and longtime bassist David Ellefson being joined by Marty Friedman and Nick Menza, who both had the perfect marriage of skill and emotion on their respective instruments.  Menza is great and all, but Friedman is the real final piece of the puzzle that unlocked their full potential.  He and Mustaine play off of each other amazingly well, and every single dueling solo is out of this world.  This really is a guitar player's metal album.  It's not enough that these are some of the best riffs they ever put to tape, they just had to go and write like sixteen of the all time best soloing sections as well.  What more can even be said about the leads in "Holy Wars", "Hangar 18" or especially "Tornado of Souls"?  And then there's the massively underrated "Five Magics" and the sheer nut-thrashing intensity of "Take No Prisoners" and the speed metal fire of "Poison was the Cure", et cetera.  I could namedrop every song as an all time thrash classic and I wouldn't even be wrong.  It's just sublime.  Every riff is either top tier thrashing madness or impossibly groovy, every lead is face melting, even Ellefson gets a brief moment in the spotlight with his one second of tapping bass lunacy in "Take No Prisoners".  Nothing sucks, everything is great, this album is one of the few metal albums I can safely call a masterpiece with no outside qualifiers.  The context doesn't matter because this is truly timeless.  This is not only the best album of the 90s, but also seriously in the conversation for the best thrash album of all time and the best metal album of all time, overall, regardless of genre.  It's perfect, and The Onion nailed it.  There was no need to keep producing art after September 24th, 1990.

And there we have it!  BH's Top Albums of 1990-1999.  WHEW!  This was another mammoth undertaking of mine, and I made the extremely poor decision to start it at the same time as the BM poll over on the Metal Archives and at the end of the month when work always starts to pick up with my real job.  So unfortunately, I couldn't maintain a rigid schedule and didn't get it all out before June ended, but I got it done and I'm proud of it!  I hope you all enjoyed it as well.



Just like last time, I ranked far more than 50 albums when formulating this list, and just like last time we had a lot of repeats.  Darkthrone and Type O Negative both had two entries, Gargoyle, Blind Guardian, Suffocation, and Gamma Ray all had three, and Running Wild had a whopping four.  That means that if I had limited myself to one album per band, there would have been thirteen different albums here!  And so with that in mind, the honorable mentions, the 13 albums that would've made it had I implemented that rule in the first place.  In no particular order:
Obtained Enslavement - Witchcraft (1998): This is probably the best maximalist symphonic black metal album ever released (at least until somehow Cradle of Filth got their shit together and released Hammer of the Witches a few years ago).  It's big and large and huge and just sounds magnificent.  It's aesthetically kinda tricky since it looks like any random raw BM release on the surface, but I promise it's so much more than that.  It's the Emperor album that everybody thinks Emperor wrote.

Grave Digger - The Reaper (1993): This was kind of a notable exception since Grave Digger was also incredibly consistent in the 90s, but at the end of the day I just didn't think any of their albums were better than Running Wild and such.  It's a shame though, because this is a speed metal monster that definitely deserves to be remembered as one of their best.  I always thought this was what they truly excelled at, as good as their darker and more epic albums down the road were.

Blasphemy - Fallen Angel of Doom (1990): This is pretty much the album that started war metal and that's all you need to know.  It's a vicious black/death assault that was way ahead of its time and absolutely kicks ass to this day.

Exhorder - Slaughter in the Vatican (1990): One of the most brutal thrash albums of all time.  I know there's a longstanding rumor that Pantera stole their sound from Exhorder, but considering that their transition to groove metal sounds absolutely fuck-nothing like this total assault on the senses tells me that it's one of the dumbest conspiracy theories in metal history.

Pantera - Far Beyond Driven (1994): Speaking of which, I also fucking love Pantera.  Part of it is simply nostalgia since I grew up with them, but most of it is simply that they absolutely fucking rule and there is no groove metal song as punishing as "Strength Beyond Strength".  

Immortal - At the Heart of Winter (1999): Immortal was always very good, and I like Pure Holocaust and Blizzard Beasts plenty, but they really hit their zenith when they branched out of the 2nd wave cliches and just started repurposing Iron Maiden songs in a black metal context.  It's true!  Listen to "Solarfall" here and then listen to "Where Eagles Dare" and you'd be amazed how blatant it is.  Turns out Kai Hansen isn't the only guy who can flat out steal riffs and songs and still make them sound amazing.

Thergothon - Stream from the Heavens (1994):  I don't really care for gloomy doom/death like the Peaceville Three all that much, but I do have a huge soft spot for funeral doom, so any band that crosses over that line is one I'm almost always willing to give a shot and one I'm almost always going to love.  Thergothon was arguably the first to make that jump, and they were one of the best at it.  This is minimalist death/doom played at a glacial pace and it's just incredibly well done.

Krisiun - Black Force Domain (1995): Yeah Krisiun has a habit of writing the same album over and over again and never being as good as the one before it, but their debut was something truly unique amongst their catalogue.  This is just primitive, sloppy, Furious Blasting Death with no frills or technicality.  It's just raw and brutal and I love it more than anything else in their discography.

Sepultura - Arise (1991): Sepultura was a top tier thrash band in the 80s, and everybody knows how terrible they got in the 90s when they eventually switched over to nu metal and then lost their iconic frontman in Max Cavalera.  But the Brazilian thrash legends had one more left in the tank when the decade switched, and Arise is a stellar and brutal thrash album loaded with classics.

Runemagick - Enter the Realm of Death (1999): I'm afraid to admit this, but this actually didn't make the cut purely because I forgot about it.  Runemagick were extremely prolific masters of doom/death in the sense that they played full on raucous and nasty death metal with heaps of doom riffs instead of being gloomy synth laden non-riffs with growls, and their debut may generally be seen as the best of their early era, but for my money they really came into their own on the sophomore here.

Demilich - Nespithe (1993): I know I said that I tend to not favor the Finndeath scene all that much, but I'm not stupid, I know how great this album is.  Demilich is probably most notable for having an incalculable influence on a time delay, because this awkward weirdo-death sound didn't really catch on until almost 20 years later, but now every hotshot young death metal band nowadays can easily cite Nespithe as a huge influence.  

Ulver - Nattens Madrigal (1997): This is an unlistenable masterpiece and I don't care how raw and trebly it is.  During their black metal phase, Ulver were untouchable.

Necrophagist - Onset of Putrefaction (1999): Just like Runemagick, this would've been an easy rank if I had even remembered it during the planning phase, so really I just fuckin' sucked here.  The only reason I didn't was simply because this album was so fucking ahead of its time that I tend to forget it even came out in the 90s.  Necrophagist essentially made tech death as we know it today a thing along with Deeds of Flesh and Origin, but none of them really nailed the hooks as well as Necrophagist did.


This section is for those of you why may have been interested in an album you haven't heard before, as I'll provide a link to two songs per album so you can get an idea of what it is I like so much about them!

Iniquity - Five Across the Eyes:  "Inhale the Ghost", "Pyres of Atonement"
Nocturnus - The Key:  "Lake of Fire", "BC/AD"
Skyclad - Prince of the Poverty Line:  "Civil War Dance", "A Dog in the Manger"
Motorhead - Overnight Sensation:  "Them Not Me", "Crazy Like a Fox"
Demolition Hammer - Epidemic of Violence:  "Pyroclastic Annihilation", "Envenomed"
Type O Negative - World Coming Down:  "Everyone I Love is Dead", "Pyretta Blaze"
Running Wild - Pile of Skulls:  "Jennings' Revenge", "Treasure Island"
Napalm Death - Harmony Corruption:  "Suffer the Children", "Unfit Earth"
Sodom - Better Off Dead:  "An Eye for an Eye", "Stalinorgel"
Gamma Ray - Power Plant:  "Gardens of the Sinner", "Armageddon"

Burzum - Hvis lyset tar oss:  "Det som engang var", "Tomhet"
Artillery - By Inheritance:  "Bombfood", "Back in the Trash"
Gargoyle - Tenron:  "Ame Ni Mo Makezu", "Gekka Ranshou"
Overkill - Horrorscope:  "Coma", "Horrorscope"
Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky:  "Kathaarian Life Code", "In the Shadow of the Horns"
Suffocation - Pierced from Within:  "Pierced from Within", "Brood of Hatred"
Bathory - Hammerheart:  "Shores in Flames", "One Rode to Asa Bay"

Darkthrone - Under a Funeral Moon:  "Under a Funeral Moon", "To Walk the Infernal Fields"
Entombed - Left Hand Path:  "Left Hand Path", "Bitter Loss"
Suffocation - Breeding the Spawn:  "Epitaph of the Credulous", "Anomalistic Offerings"
Blind Guardian - Imaginations from the Other Side:  "Born in a Mourning Hall", "Script for My Requiem"
Running Wild - Black Hand Inn:  "Powder and Iron", "Black Hand Inn"
Gamma Ray - Somewhere Out in Space:  "Valley of the Kings", "Beyond the Black Hole" (I'm so sorry for the image used, Gamma Ray is surprisingly hard to find on Youtube...)
Gargoyle - Furebumi:  "Halleluyah", "Ruten no Yo Nite"
Bolt Thrower - ...for Victory:  "Graven Image", "Remembrance"
Solitude Aeturnus - Beyond the Crimson Horizon:  "Seeds of the Desolate", "It Came Upon One Night"

Infester - To the Depths, in Degredation:  "Chamber of Reunion", "Epicurean Entrails"
Dismember - Like an Everflowing Stream:  "Override of the Overture", "Skin Her Alive"
Type O Negative - Bloody Kisses:  "Black no. 1", "Blood and Fire"
Death - Symbolic:  "Symbolic", "Crystal Mountain"
Cannibal Corpse - Tomb of the Mutilated:  "Hammer Smashed Face", "Necropedophile"
Running Wild - Masquerade:  "Soleil Royal", "Black Soul"
Vader - De Profundis:  "Silent Empire", "Reborn in Flames"
Motorhead - Bastards:  "Born to Raise Hell", "Burner"
Running Wild - Blazon Stone:  "White Masque", "Little Big Horn"

Gamma Ray - Land of the Free:  "Man on a Mission", "Rebellion in Dreamland"
Children of Bodom - Hatebreeder:  "Warheart", "Downfall"
Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten:  "Infecting the Crypts", "Liege of Inveracity"
Blind Guardian - Tales from the Twilight World:  "Traveler in Time", "Lost in the Twilight Hall"
Cryptopsy - None So Vile:  "Phobophile", "Graves of the Fathers"
Blind Guardian - Somewhere Far Beyond:  "The Bard's Song", "Somewhere Far Beyond"
Strapping Young Lad - City:  "Detox""Oh My Fucking God" 
Judas Priest - Painkiller:  "Painkiller""Metal Meltdown" 
Megadeth - Rust in Peace:  "Take No Prisoners", "Tornado of Souls"

That's everything!  I hope you all enjoyed this little project of mine.  I certainly had fun with it.  Now's the time to let the debate rage and, hell, if you're so inclined, make your own top 50 and see how much fun it is.  Thank you all for joining me!