Friday, December 4, 2020

Aerith - For the Fallen

Can you hear the planet crying out in pain?

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


Starforger - Meteorfall

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

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


Atma Weapon - Through Seas of Gray

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

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


Monday, November 30, 2020

Ultima Weapon - Spira

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Imperial Trimphant - Alphaville

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 21, 2020

Stalker - Black Majik Terror

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

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

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

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


Saturday, October 31, 2020

LADDER MATCH: Propagandhi vs. Type O Negative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 5, 2020


I knew which album I was going to end this series with way back when I got the idea to do it.  Job for a Cowboy isn't strictly metalcore, per se, but they provide a nice narrative conclusion to the whole thing in my eyes.  When nu metal died out, metalcore became the predominant heavy genre in the mainstream, and after few fruitful years at the top, it was eventually supplanted by deathcore.  I don't consider JFAC to have invented the style or anything, I'm sure there were plenty of lesser known bands to blend those heavy breakdowns with more traditional death metal and add pig squeals on top before them (I tend to think of them more as one prong in the trident along with Whitechapel and As Blood Runs Black when it comes to bringing the genre to the forefront, but even then I'm sure somebody can make a convincing argument otherwise), but this was the first I had heard.  It was the first that tons of people had heard, frankly.  JFAC is the first band I can remember that truly hit it big off the back of Myspace popularity, the first band to utterly blow the minds of kids who were into heavy music but weren't interested in old shit from the 90s, the first to speed past mere "aggression" and land headfirst into utter "brutality".  Us jaded internet folks understood that death metal had been a thing for like fifteen years at this point, but after spending the last few weeks completely immersed in early 2000s New England metalcore, I get it now.  Killswitch Engage and All That Remains sound like shuddering pissbabies in the shadow of "Entombment of a Machine".  If I hadn't had a cool mom and access to the internet and had instead followed the natural trajectory of Pantera > nu metal > metalcore, Doom would have wrecked my fucking brain too.
Looking back from the perspective of the wizened old know-it-all that I am today, I can pretty safely say that Doom is actually a fairly normal death metal EP for the most part.  Take away the bree bree vocals and the breakdowns and this is fairly standard technical death metal, with ripping tremolo riffs and punishing blastbeats aplenty.  It jumps around very often, never riding on a static section for more than a few seconds.  The drums are constantly spazzing out in a dozen different directions, the riffs twist and slither all over the place, quickly snapping into place on a dime and constantly throwing power punches at you with little regard for a logical flow.  It's chaotic and nasty, and the band's eventual progression into standard DM is much less surprising now that I'm revisiting this fifteen years later.

However, if this were regular death metal, it would have neither set the metalcore world on fire nor would it have drawn the ire of so many traditionalists.  No, it earned the reputation it has because of those different elements, and their inclusion did indeed meaningfully change it into something beyond simple death metal.  I'm not gonna pretend Autopsy didn't exist but let's be real, JFAC didn't include massive slamming breakdowns because of any traditional influence.  In essence, what made Doom what it was was that it was musicked in a way that bent much closer to hardcore/metalcore than death metal.  You don't listen to Cannibal Corpse the same way you listen to deathcore.  Instead of taking in entire songs as a whole, with different riffs and motifs working in tandem with one another, you listened to relatively disconnected blasts of intensity as the song built and built and built until it finally burst with a massive, devastating breakdown.  This is what Doom did spectacularly well, and if this had never gotten the grassroots success that it did then heavy music as a whole probably would've looked a hell of a lot different for a solid ten years.

Unfortunately, this is far from a perfect release.  Hell it'd be a stretch to even call it "great".  What Doom has going for it are two fantastic songs packaged along with three totally inconsequential snoozers.  "Entombment of a Machine" is the iconic deathcore song, and it's earned that reputation.  It's a four minute long cavalcade of chaotic blasting sprinkled in between gargantuan heaps of big stupid mosh riffs and big stupid breakdowns.  It's a big stupid song and it turns out that JFAC's strength at this point in their career is just being big and stupid.  This kind of knuckle dragging simplicity is beautiful in its primitiveness and the EP's greatest crime is that every song isn't like this.  "Knee Deep" stands out as the other great one, and frankly it could've logically been written by a different band considering how much more normal it is.  That one sports an opening riff that could've been written by fucking Deicide, and it absolutely rules.  Like I said before, if the vocals were different nobody would've bat an eye at this song, because that's really the only thing nontraditional about it.

The other three songs?  Eh, they're all fine but that's about it.  Opening with "Entombment of a Machine" was a brilliant choice because it instantly smacked you in the face with a sound that was genuinely new to most people and was the strongest song anyway, but it also carries the unfortunate burden of setting expectations way too high for the rest of the album.  "The Rising Tide" has like three separate moments where the band drops out and you know when they come back they're gonna fuckin' slam their hearts out but they just... don't.  They come crashing back in with more or less run-of-the-mill death metal with some heavier chugs interspersed in from time to time.  This happens time and time again, and it wouldn't really be a problem if these other tracks were as good as "Knee Deep" but they just aren't despite being fundamentally similar.  I remember their first full length, Genesis being a shock to me at the time because there was nothing deathcore about it and it was just straight ahead death metal with no twists, but going back to check out this debut EP 15 years later reveals that they had pretty much telegraphed that they'd be totally pedestrian without those breakdowns and pig squeals and that already took up the lion's share of what they were doing.  "Entombment" was so ubiquitous and so iconic that I think we all collectively tricked ourselves into thinking the entirety of Doom sounded like that, because it categorically does not.  And that's not to say that it's only good because of the deathcore cliches necessarily, because they'd go on to prove with Ruination that they fucking smoked when they shifted to a more tech death style, but it's probably not a coincidence that The Big Stupid is where all of the most memorable parts of this album can be found.  I bet you don't remember a single note of "Relinquished" but you all know that ridiculous screech in the intro to "Entombment" whether you want to or not.

Doom didn't kill the more melodic side of metalcore by any stretch, tons of iconic albums in that style came out after this (All That Remains had their biggest hit a full year after this came out and the hands down best As I Lay Dying album was released two years later), but I do see it as the signal flare.  It wasn't the nail in the coffin, but it was the writing on the wall, the changing of the tides, anybody paying attention to this scene knew that things were going to change for the heavier, and Doom is what opened their eyes to the possibilities.  Job themselves more or less stepped aside and let Suicide Silence or whoever lead the charge but I'd say it's pretty uncontroversial to say they got the ball rolling here.  At the time, I hated this for what it represented: a total bastardization of a style of music that I loved, taking my beloved death metal and ruining it with dumbass 60bpm breakdowns and bree bree vocals, but nowadays I appreciate it more for what it is than for what it isn't, and even then it's mostly pretty average on the whole.  And after listening to that New England style for a few weeks solid, I totally understand what made this such a smash hit at the time.  This must've been what it felt like to hear loads of late 80s Anthrax and Exodus for years before stumbling into Altars of Madness.  


Saturday, October 3, 2020

RELITIGATING HIGH SCHOOL Vol VI: Avenged Sevenfold - Waking the Fallen

They still ripped off Chaly though
Well we're nearing the end of this series.  My initial plan was to do ten reviews because that seemed like a nice round number and there are more than enough albums to relisten to from this era of my life, but over time I wound up shaving it down to seven for a couple reasons.  I was gonna touch on The Fall of Ideals by All That Remains because it would pull double duty and allow me to rewrite an old review, but really I'd just be repeating the Killswitch review so it wouldn't be interesting.  I was gonna tackle a Chimaira album but honestly all three of the ones I listened to just bored me to tears and I only managed to get through a full listen once and that was purely because I had it on in the background while I zoned out and played Dynasty Warriors.  And lastly I cut out Bullet For My Valentine because other than pointing out how much the clean vocals sounded like Green Day I just didn't have anything interesting to say about it.  This isn't exactly relevant to the review, but this is gonna be a LOTB exclusive since Avenged Sevenfold isn't listed on MA so I wanted to take this opportunity to meander a bit and give a look behind the curtain in case any readers thought I left out some obvious candidates.  For the curious, my opinions on the three albums I cut are "lame", "bad", and "meh", in order.

On topic, I have a bit of a confession to make, I'm not entirely unfamiliar with A7X here, because I've long been a defender of their third record, City of Evil.  Even when I first heard it, back when the band was persona non grata for metal fans, I thought it was a weird flukey home run where every dumb element of their sound just worked.  It was fun, it was fast, it was catchy, it was and is a brilliantly well written slice of modern hard rock/metal that stood head and shoulders above the shitty metalcore they started with and the overblown Guns n' Roses imitation they'd go on to milk to death.  But the dirty little secret here is that I had never actually known any of their other albums beyond like two songs across seven albums or whatever.  They just weren't worth listening to, who the fuck cares about a group of dorks who dress like Good Charlotte, give themselves dumb names like "Zacky", and rip off Overkill's mascot?

The extremely obvious revelation I'm leading to is that holy shit Avenged Sevenfold is genuinely good and I think I'm just an unironic fan now.  Despite always kinda-secretly liking City of Evil this was genuinely the band I had the lowest expectations for based on my memory.  But man I'd be lying if I said I hadn't gone back to listen to Waking the Fallen more than a few times since the original relisten, not because I needed to take notes or anything, but just because I wanted to hear it again.

The thing that stands out the most is something that I remember hating the most as a kid, funnily enough.  M. "Night" Shyadowlan easily, and I mean fucking easily stands out as the best vocalist of all the bands I've covered in this series.  Back when I was 14 I remember hearing a song or two and thinking he was super whiny and then switching the music to Angel Witch without a shred of irony.  Hearing so many lame, weak, dry, or tuneless vocalists in a row really makes his skill incredibly fucking obvious and I have no idea why I hated him at the time.  His cleans have a lot of grit to them and he carries a tune extremely well, even showcasing a surprising range on "I Won't See You Tonight part 1".  His harsh vocals, while dropped entirely after this album, are very good as well.  They're extremely venomous and sound like they're coming straight from the gut despite being on the higher end of the register.  I focused on vocals so much throughout this series because it seemed like nobody could get the harsh/clean combo right and they so frequently took center stage, but Avenged Fucking Sevenfold of all god damned bands winds up being literally the only one to nail it and my jaw is still on the floor.

Even the instrumental side excels in a way that most of the other bands couldn't.  They are by no means the most aggressive or heaviest band in the genre (their drift away from metalcore to a more hard rock and (apparently) progressive metal direction over the years isn't really surprising) but these guys are incredibly fucking tight songwriters.  Despite the length of these songs, they have the girth to make it worthwhile.  The typical metalcore breakdown of open string chugs in perfect time with a rapid fire bass drum shows up plenty of times here, with "Unholy Confessions" sporting probably the most basic one to ever exist, but they hit surprisingly hard whenever they show up and more often than not the band will just subvert them by slamming down a meaty groove that smacks more of Pantera than anybody else instead.  Waking the Fallen runs through a lot of different moods, from caustic bursts like "Unholy Confessions" and "Eternal Rest" to melodic anthems like "Chapter Four" to mournful ballads like "I Won't See You Tonight".  That last one actually hammers the Pantera comparison home even further, since it's technically a two-parter, with the first part being a slow ballad and the second part being a shotgun blast of aggression.  There's absolutely no way that wasn't intentionally modeled off "Suicide Note", right?  Am I crazy?  Regardless, the album ebbs and flows between all of these different approaches and for the first time in a half dozen reviews a band actually manages to be good at all of them.  I seriously can't get over how much I like "Chapter Four".  Seriously, I'd be willing to consider that as my favorite song in the entire genre.  There is barely a wasted second on that one and every stupid element of it hits bullseye, and I'm saying that with full acknowledgment of the completely pointless section that repeats a ten note chug pattern eight times in a row.  It (and the rest of the album, frankly) is so basic that it should just be corny schlock, but there is so much sincerity here that I can't help but adore it.  That chorus is just fucking sublime with that incredible vocal hook coupled with the sliding octaves on the guitar in the background.  In comparison to their peers, Avenged Sevenfold doesn't have a single new or novel idea in their collective head but they played their fucking hearts out and torqued the lugnuts so damned tight that they wound up writing a dozen songs that effortlessly steamrolled everybody else trying to make metalcore accessible.  

I do have one complaint though, and it should be obvious to anybody familiar with both this album and my reviews in general: it's way too fucking long.  No metal album should get this close to the 70 minute mark unless every single song is a standout on its own, and Waking the Fallen is not immune to this criticism.  There are a lot of different ideas here but they're all pretty well worn and the album works best as a unit despite a few standout tracks.  So as a result it really does start to blur together after the first handful of tracks, which isn't the biggest problem since I think this works pretty well as a unit but it's a problem nonetheless.  The good news is that none of the tracks themselves feel too long, which is shocking considering the shortest one (barring the intro) is still only a few seconds shy of five minutes, and three of them breach the seven minute mark (with the first part of "I Won't See You Tonight" stretching out to nine), so the arduous runtime isn't really the end of the world since I was entertained the whole time at the very least.

Really, I didn't see this coming, but Waking the Fallen is genuinely the best of the bunch here.  My lifelong love of Pantera helps me appreciate the stomping groove metal parts, my lifelong love of Guns n' Roses helps me appreciate the overblown epic parts where Synyster "Bill" Gates goes fucking feral on his fretboard (though they wouldn't fully lean into this until later), and my lifelong... well indifference to melodeath helps me appreciate the heavy parts simply because they're so much better than the legions of mediocre trend chasers that defined this era of music.  The word I keep coming back to in my head that I've been trying not to overuse is "tight".  Waking the Fallen is simply a remarkably well written album in a style that was absolutely saturated with mediocre chumps pumping out first draft songs and cashing in, delivered with enough sincerity to turn the corny simplicity into something truly endearing.  All this really needed was a bit of a fat trim and maybe dropping one or two songs entirely and this would genuinely be a classic, and I'm not kidding.

I wouldn't have bothered with this series if I wound up thinking everything still sucked just as much as I thought it did when I was a teenager, but really, the fact that Trivium and Avenged Sevenfold, the two bands I vocally hated the most, wound up being the ones that surprised me the most and churned out some genuinely great albums (Heafy's awful vocals are literally the only thing dragging Ascendancy's score down, remember) is seriously not at all what I expected.  I figured it'd be Killswitch, honestly, since I've been a fan of As I Lay Dying ever since 2007, but the world is really fucking weird and here we are.  Avenged Sevenfold is Good Actually.  Feel free to hold that against me forever if you wish, I'm not backing down, I genuinely adore this album.

(Pre-Publication Edit: Since writing this I've started listening to their other albums.  The self titled is actually worse than bad, it's exactly as awful as I remembered their metalcore era being when I was a kid, oddly enough.  Nightmare was much better, it was super corny but very City of Evil if it had a huge shot of the Black Album in it, though there were way too many shitty ballads that dragged it down a ton.  Still gotta check the rest but that's three albums I'll stand up for now so yeah I guess I'm just a fan after all, whoda thunk)