Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Execration: Morbid Dimensions (2014)

No Zombies

Execration is the act of condemning something, declaring it evil. But more importantly, it's an obscure word that sounds vaguely evil even if you didn't know that, and the cover art to the Norwegian band's Morbid Dimensions looks like something from an underground black metal band--the kind that has too much creativity to be contained in only the colors black and white. So we can figure out a couple of things from that alone.

But surprisingly, this turns out to be a death metal album. Raw and evil-sounding death metal, to be precise. But just as unorthodox as the colorful album art--lacking any zombies or graveyards--would suggest.

Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (1869-1876)


The other day I mentioned Wagner in a review of a Septicflesh album. There's good reason for that. As observed in the documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Richard Wagner was metal a century before metal existed. So it occurred to me that it was essentially a crime that I had never listened to The Ring Cycle, a.k.a. Der Ring des Nibelungen, and I sought to rectify that situation.

I had tried to listen to Wagner before, Tristan und Isolde, specifically, and I wasn't impressed. But after doing my homework, I discovered a couple of things. One, you really need to get a good recording to appreciate it. I had bought a bargain bin copy of that opera, so I missed the mark there. Two, you need to listen to it at very high volume. Once again, I missed that the first go-around. So I did even more homework, and found the Daniel Barenboim-directed version of the entire cycle and turned the volume way, way up.

In a word, it's sublime.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blood & Banjos: Blood & Banjos (2014)


If there’s one reviewer out there who is inclined to like a metal band with banjos, it’s probably me. I’ve written extensively on metal and Americana, I loved that Taak song with the banjo solo, and I adore Panopticon’s Kentucky. So it made sense for Blood & Banjos to contact me.

I was warned that they are a bluegrass band first, with some metal parts, and that’s an accurate assessment. Their self-titled debut begins sounding not unlike Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, and then it turns metal. This checks the right boxes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Septicflesh: Titan (2014)


It’s been said that Blue Öyster Cult put the first unnecessary umlaut in a band name “because of the Wagnerian aspect of Metal.” You probably already know how ridiculously bombastic Wagner made his operas, including the use of a giant cello that required two people to play—because it wasn’t heavy enough yet. Drama on top of drama made songs like “Ride of the Valkyries” so compelling, and though his compositions had their subtleties you don’t exactly need a critical ear to catch the main drift of any part of the Ring Cycle.

Although the Greek band Septicflesh doesn’t have any umlauts in their name, none could embody that Wagnerian aspect better. Titan has been out for a little while now, but if you missed it earlier this year then that’s an oversight you can correct now.

Abigail: Intercourse & Lust (1996)

Tentacle Rape by Chthonic Venom Worshipers

As I was listening to Abigail's Intercourse & Lust, I had no idea it was 18 years old. Speed metal is evergreen. This is true to the purest ethos of the backpatch-on-jean-jacket set.

This reissue has new cover art, from the band's native Japan. Believe it or not, I looked up the Wikipedia page for tentacle porn a while back and found that this is a print by Hokusai (of dorm poster of a wave fame) and an early example of tentacle porn. I bet you thought that didn't exist until the 1990's, but here's indisputable proof that Japan is weirder than you ever imagined. But it's weird in more than just the way the popular culture depicts. And thus, it is home to some of the most badass of metal, straightforward yet twisted to an extreme.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dark Americana Briefs, Volume 18

Ladies' Night

Feist: Metals (2011)
4 out of 5 stars

Feist is a Canadian who stretches my preconceived notions about what "pop" means. There are no big dance hits here: Metals is full of simmering tunes that are sometimes vulnerable, sometimes angry, and always beautiful. While she touches on R&B, I've included this record here for the many Americana and blues touches. She's not afraid to make it heavy for a brief moment or two, either. Feist wouldn't be out of place sharing a stage with Sarah McLachlan or Chelsea Wolfe; a midpoint.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Slipknot and Korn at the Century Link Center

November 6, 2014

After seeing Amon Amarth on Tuesday, seeing Slipknot and Korn was a very different experience. I went with a friend whom I would not describe as a metalhead, which made it a lot more enjoyable for me. But aside from that, the show had some issues.

First of all, the Century Link Center is a completely different venue. The beer selection was a crime against humanity. Literally the best thing they had was Shock Top wheat, and that was $8, which is of course ridiculous. And the wait in line to get any alcohol was asinine. Other than that, I can't really fault the venue--getting in was easy without an especially horrible security process, and seating was fine--but it's a lot less enjoyable to be in a place of that size than a smaller club.

The other fans there were exactly what I expected. Nearly everyone there was my age, which meant they got into Slipknot and Korn most likely when they were in high school in the 90's. (Also, a few of them brought their kids.) Which is fine, but it is telling when a band's appeal is so limited to a certain group of people who got into it at the right time. On top of that, I saw only two Slayer shirts, two Black Label Society shirts, two or three Metallica shirts, and a whole lot of Slipknot shirts. Although on the surface I might be of those people, those people don't really share my taste in music.

Well, anyway, none of that was surprising. On to the music.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Amon Amarth at the Bourbon Theatre

November 4, 2014

For the first time ever, Amon Amarth rode into Lincoln, Nebraska, and I was witness.

It was at the Bourbon Theatre, where I've been a couple of times before. They of course had to use the larger stage and room. The house was packed--even more draw than Opeth, apparently, although that might have something to do with the supporting acts. Of the crowd, I didn't see anything distinctive. They ran the gamut of what I would consider "typical" metalheads, with shirts ranging from Darkthrone to Obituary to Motörhead to Veil of Maya. Longhairs mixed with normal-looking dudes and, of course, an old lady who didn't seem to belong and a guy with bizarre hair and face piercings whose parents didn't love him.

Skeletonwitch was up first. Apparently their vocalist was unavailable due to personal issues. So they played a 30-minute instrumental set. While they're still a killer band, the songs leave much to be desired without vocal accompaniment. I'm sure they could have torn the place down with someone rasp/screaming the chorus of "Beyond the Permafrost," but it didn't happen that way and people didn't get terribly excited. We were appreciative, and they gracious, but it just didn't feel right.

Then came Sabaton. I'd never actually heard this band before, but apparently a lot of people were actually there to see them. It was, let's say, an interesting experience. They wore matching camo pants and had clearly worked out some choreography among them, which seems pretty damn un-metal to me. But the vocalist was charmingly self-effacing, and compared his band to the Village People. He also had a lot of energy and knew how to throw his mic around and catch it, and had an undeniable stage presence. He got half the crowd singing his lines. But when it comes right down to it, the music was fun but not that great. It was somewhere between Dream Evil and Turisas. And even though half their melody came from synths, there wasn't a keyboard player in sight. They played somewhere north of 45 minutes, and it was fun but too goofy for my taste.

Finally, there was Amon Amarth. They were everything I expected: Loud as hell, and bringing the riffs. Johan Hegg had an imposing presence (and Viking-appropriate girth) and also knew how to get the crowd involved. They played a solid 90+ minute set list that drew at least from Versus the World to the present.* What else can I say about them, really? It was exactly what I expected, and exactly as great as I expected, and I would highly recommend seeing them.

*However, I don't know the earlier material and there was a song I wasn't sure I recognized).

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Slipknot: .5: The Gray Chapter (2014)

Slipknot, Ver .5

So by now I’ve revisited every studio album by Slipknot, a band who shaped my musical preferences long-term—and honestly had a big part in prepping me to be an extreme metal fan. What I’ve learned is that they released a handful of pretty good records with hard rock parts, some metal parts, extreme percussion, angry shout-along choruses and catchy sung melodies. They also released one very good record (Iowa) that was, on balance, a metal album. This revisiting of their catalog hasn’t really done anything to alter my current perception of the band.

Now, a look at .5: The Gray Chapter. This is the band’s first album in six years. It’s also the first since the death of bassist Paul Gray, who was largely credited as instrumental in bringing extreme metal influence to the band. So I expected to hear something different. Happily, I didn’t.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

YOB: Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)


I’ve always kind of felt that YOB is a bit overrated. No, let me rephrase that: I used to think YOB was overrated.

Despite Mike Scheidt’s crappy folk album leaving me cold, I already enjoyed both his growled and sung vocals (especially with Vhöl). Yet YOB’s work has always given me the sense that it was just, pretty good. Not great. Clearing the Path to Ascend has fully convinced me. It’s four epic-length tracks totaling over an hour of massive volume and crushing heaviness tempered with a broad emotional range . And it’s just, really good. Great.