Thursday, December 03, 2015

400 Pound Deadlift

I'm just finishing up my second 5/3/1 cycle tonight. My biggest achievement is the 400 pound deadlift I pulled a few minutes ago.

Apologize for the lack of posts lately--sick kids, holidays, etc. I'll share more metal soon.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Vhöl: Deeper Than the Sky (2015)

Vhöl is turning out to be--as their debut might suggest--more than just a supergroup. It's a worthy, unique band in its own right. As I described them before, they're sort of an American Darkthrone, combining black metal with old-school heavy metal, crust, and thrash.

The formula from the first album is intact, but this time around the song lengths are more varied. The title track here is a mesmerizing 12 minute piece, but most of the other tracks tend toward more conservative lengths. But more importantly, the thing that sets Deeper Than the Sky apart from its predecessor is pure riffage. The riffs here are simply unimpeachable, incredibly memorable, and they will make you bang your head.

Again, I must mention Mike Scheidt's vocals. I'm not a long-time YOB fan--I've come to appreciate them more--but here is where his high-pitched, old-school metal voice really shines. This was his calling all along.

This one is definitely worth your time and money.

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, November 13, 2015

First 5/3/1 Cycle Complete

I've completed my first cycle on the 5/3/1 weight training program, and I've accomplished some things:

- On bench press, I did 200 for 6 reps, and 190 for 11.
- On overhead press, I increased my max from 150 to 160.
- On deadlift, I increased my max from 375 with straps to 390 without. I had always been training it with straps before, but Wendler's right--you shouldn't do that. I've focused a lot on grip strength as well.
- I've learned more about programming accessory lifts.

I attempted a new bench press max, but I was using my bench with the leg extension/curl attachment, which sits higher off the ground. I was trying to dig my feet into it, and all I did was cause pain in my hamstrings trying to brace myself. I'm going to start using my other bench for bench press and get myself in a proper position next time around.

My squat is on a different rep and progression schedule for now, to make up for a lifetime of not squatting deep enough. I'm going at it twice every week, with a 5 pound increase each time. It's at 155 right now, and the plan is to get it to 250 on January 18. After that, I'll go back to once a week on squat, but continue increasing it by 5 pounds every week until I stall out, at which point I'll put it on the 5/3/1 schedule as well.

Unfortunately, my attempts to build mass have had little impact. About three months ago I weighed 170. Ever since my lifting during my junior year of college, I have weighed somewhere between 160 and 170. I managed to build myself up to 180 as of a month ago, but despite eating like a ravenous beast I may have lost a pound or two in the month since. For a month I've been adding Slim-Fast shakes in the afternoon, which worked for me in college. Over the past week I've taken to downing shakes of peanut butter, milk, chocolate, banana, and oatmeal, but that hasn't done the trick yet. Today I added a hardboiled egg to the blender, and I'm looking for other ways (short of adding olive oil to the shake) to pack in more calories. I'll keep you posted on that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Author & Punisher: Melk En Honing (2015)

In case you don’t remember, Author & Punisher is the one-man band of Tristan Shone. Well, one-man in the same way that a BattleMech pilot is a one-man army. He creates his noise with a bunch of homemade, manually-controlled, analog machines, like something out of a steampunk/industrial world

The spectacle must be fantastic to watch. But in the past, I’ve been a little underwhelmed by the recorded output. Melk En Honing is getting a little closer. Throbbing rhythms like an obscene factory floor, pounding percussive forces, and a rising or falling buzz: These things define Author & Punisher, and should redefine the meaning of “industrial metal.” And it’s quite dynamic, loud, quiet, fast, slow, all of these things are used in good measures. But it feels more expertly planned than brilliantly written.

Ultimately, the songwriting still isn’t there. Shone is obviously a fantastic hobbyist engineer. But I don’t think he’s going to truly make a great album unless he collaborates with someone else.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 23, 2015

Funerary / Ooze: Split (2015)

The split album from Funerary and Ooze showcases two bands that are extremely raw, and whose names suit their respective genres, but otherwise have little in common.

Funerary contribute two tracks of funeral doom with touches of death and black metal. Raspy vocals, slow riffs, and a bit of feedback. They sound quite a lot like Thou, but (possibly due to production) not quite as heavy. Still, they produce enough atmosphere.

Ooze, on the other hand, veer more toward sludge metal--the more rough-around-the-edges, hardcore, and mostly mid-paced side of sludge instead of the doomy side. Think Crowbar, only with less polish.

It's an enjoyable listen, and smart to put the slower side up front. Ooze's riffs are catchier, but their sound is a little less satisfying than their counterparts. All in all, not bad work. And killer cover art.

The Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Beginning the Wendler 5/3/1

It's been a long time since I posted about my workout routine, and a lot has happened since then. I kept with my old routine for quite a while, with small gains. Then, I started working from home. I thought I could work out, a set here and there, during my work day, and it would benefit both my work and my life in a way that didn't detract from my lifting. Well, it led to laziness. I slid, not a lot, but enough.

Thankfully, a neighbor invited me to start working out with him last February. I got renewed dedication out of it. I started educating myself. That education led me to a difference of opinion, and I'm working out on my own again as of last month. But I'm taking it more seriously than ever.

My brother-in-law custom-built me a weight rack, and it is some serious hardware. He loaded up just under 1000 pounds on the safety rails, and it was fine.

This week, I'm embarking on the Wendler 5/3/1 routine. Specifically, a variant I found in one of his books, which I believe is called the SVR variant. It blends the 5/3/1's usual emphasis on the main lifts with extra AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets and extra one-rep-max attempts. I started this week on a deload, because I gave blood last week and just to get used to the routine. I'm very excited about this scientific, hard-working, no-bullshit approach to lifting.

And, just so I have a record of my starting point, here are my pre-Wendler maxes, all made recently:
Bench: 250 pounds
Military Press: 150 pounds
Deadlift: 375 pounds
Squat: -- (I thought my max was 365, but I saw a video of it and it was a joke. I wasn't even close to parallel. I'm currently on a separate plan to perfect my squat, specifically, and I'm starting very light.)

I'll keep you updated.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Grime: Circle of Molesters (2015)

I’ve reviewed Grime before, and every time I hear them I just have a hard time imagining this disgusting band coming from a picturesque part of Italy.

They’re still awesome, but I think they’ve taken a bit of a stylistic turn. Before, more of a sludge metal band. Now I’d call them sludge/death. That is absolutely a good thing. No-nonsense, mid-paced or slow death that’s filthy enough they don’t need to bury it under any reverb. The riffs chug, march, stomp, lurch, pound, rumble, and occasionally screech, as required. The low-end is powerful, the high-end unnerving, and it’s completed by desperate, raspy, screaming vocals.

In one sentence: It’ sort of like Autopsy crossed with Indian (minus the noise parts). You need to hear it.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Sword: High Country (2015)

Summary Judgment

The Sword were a lot better when they were a rocking sludge metal band. Now they're just a rock band, barely even a hard rock band, playing 70's and 80's inspired rock that's just sort of boring.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Mastery: VALIS (2015)

The promo spiel for Mastery’s VALIS called it the most extreme record the Flenser has ever released. That’s saying something.

This is some intense, weird, dissonant black metal featuring two long compositions, a shorter one, and two interludes. I’ve spent a lot of time listening, trying to unravel its secrets, to no avail. But I’ve enjoyed it along the way. There are some strangely compelling riffs, but remembering them is nearly impossible amid the apparent chaos. Just when you think you’ve got something to latch onto, it’s pulled away by the constant tide of insanity.

This is definitely one for the Deathspell Omega fans out there.

The only sense I feel I can intuit from it is this: I think Mastery took some inspiration from electronic music. I’m not sure why I think that. Maybe it’s the interludes, maybe it’s something else.

And maybe my rating doesn’t do it justice. Perhaps, after 100 listens, everything would fall into place and its brilliance would be revealed. Or maybe it’s just a fascinating exercise in controlled chaos. In either case, you should listen.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Ahab: The Boats of the Glen Carrig (2015)

As I’ve mentioned before, Ahab are proven masters of funeral doom. They began with two albums of crushing funereal death/doom. On The Giant they went with a more melodic approach with emphasis on loud/quiet dynamics. The Boats of the Glen Carrig continues that approach. And, of course, the nautical theme of their entire catalog.

I always find it difficult to write about funeral doom with the proper balance between comprehensiveness and conciseness, so I will err toward the latter. Soft, vaguely aquatic melodies and clean singing provide breathing space between crushing lurch-and-stumble doom riffs and death growls. Genuinely memorable melodies and leads make the tunes easily distinguishable from each other, with the last three tunes standing out as even better than the first two. Especially note the leads on “The Weedmen.” The compositions are long, but deservedly so.

It’s powerful, dynamic, and interesting throughout. It probably won’t draw in funeral doom doubters, but devotees will want to pick this one up.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 05, 2015

He Lives On in Our Hearts

I was listening to "Holy Diver" and standing next to a dry erase board. The result was inevitable.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Christian Mistress: To Your Death (2015)

Christian Mistress released a fantastic slab of heavy metal with Possession not too long ago. But looking back, it was a cover song—the titular track—that was clearly the best on the album. Regardless of the fact it was a little-known song before the cover, that’s still a red flag. I wondered how good their follow-up could be.

The answer is, it’s still rockin’. Husky female vocals over old-school heavy metal is a formula that’s tough to beat. It’s also a formula that needs no additional explanation, so I won’t waste your time with that.

It sounds good. It’s got hooks and energy. But without the incredible cover tune of the first album, and no serious song-of-the-year contenders, it’s not nearly on the level of Possession. But To Your Death is still worth a listen.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss (2015)

As far as I was concerned, Chelsea Wolfe came out of nowhere with Pain Is Beauty, and immediately she had a hardcore fan. So when Abyss was first brought to my attention, I made my purchase within 30 seconds.

My two big things on this blog are, obviously, metal, and also dark Americana. I occasionally cover some gothic, folk, shoegaze, or dark electronic stuff. Wolfe inhabits a space that draws on all three of those things, in a manner that’s as unique and compelling as Wovenhand’s take on post-punk/post-rock/shoegaze/country/folk. Another connection between Wolfe and Wovenhand? Against all probability, she followed up a brilliant, career-defining album with an even better album.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Horrendous: Anareta (2015)

So, last I checked, Horrendous was a fantastic death metal band with a style based in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean circa 1992. I had read about their last album and how far they progressed, but I never got around to checking it out. I should have, because this Anareta sounds like a completely different band.

The vocals are a blend of Chuck Schuldiner and Martin Van Drunen, which is to say, they’re awesome. But that’s where the predictability ends. Horrendous is now a progressive death metal band with a style all their own. Sure, there are Opethian solos (“Ozymandias”) and melodies (“Siderea”). They might occasionally sound a little like Cynic circa Traced in Air (“Siderea”), or later Death (“Polaris”). But they’re much more than that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

GosT: Behemoth (2015)

There’s been some buzz about GosT. The only reason seems to be it’s not a metal album, but has the cover of a metal album and song titles that should be on a metal album. There’s nothing about it especially that should appeal to metalheads, except I suppose a few of the beats are heavy.

It’s some flavor of electronica. I think some of it’s dubstep? But then I’m severely underqualified to make such an evaluation. I don’t know electronica. To me it sounds like vampire rave music, or a mix of heavy electronica and just a dash of John Carpenter soundtrack music.

It was fun to listen to, for something different. But it’s not going to make my year-end list by any means.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Myrkur: M (2015)

Relapse isn’t typically known for releasing atmospheric/folk black metal, so the debut full-length from Myrkur certainly caught me off guard. It’s the project of one woman, whose background is in indie pop, so of course hipster alarm bells will go off. And go off they have: The Metal Archives ratings for this record are abysmal.

But fuck that, because I like this. If you’re looking for consistency and black metal credibility, look elsewhere. But if you are the type who will occasionally pick up an indie pop record, and non-judgmentally welcome outsiders to the metal fold, M is worth a listen.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Warhorse: As Heaven Turns To Ash (2001)

The last two releases of the defunct Warhorse were reissued earlier this year by Southern Lord. This review will be confined to the band’s sole LP, As Heaven Turns To Ash. (The reissue also includes the final EP, I Am Dying.)

This is so heavy it nears a 1.0 on the Electric Wizard scale. Huge, lumbering riffs steadily pound the listener. Raspy, semi-growled vocals don’t add a whole lot, but they serve well enough to add the human element and keep you engaged. Only occasionally do they add a little speed for good measure, while acoustic guitar/piano/bongo interludes break up the hour-long album and keep it from suffering the slightest bit of drag. The mood is just, heavy, man. It’s not depressive or upbeat, it’s just—“Hey, listen to this because it sounds awesome.” And the music stands well enough that it doesn’t need anything like that.

The highlight of the record is “Every Flower dies No Matter the Thorns (Wither).” Not all the titles are quite such a mouthful, but a tune like this warrants an extensive name. It’s an incredible, steady descent, sort of a gritty reboot of Sabbath’s “Into the Void,” featuring a section focusing on bass and drum with underwater-sounding clean guitar as a reprieve.

The only question for me is, how did I not know about this band before? This is incredible.

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 28, 2015


So I started making some of my own memes, and thought I might as well start posting some here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Blasphemy: Fallen Angel of Doom (1990)

Say you run across some backwoods boys slitting the throat of an animal at just the right moment to create the proper bucking motion. You might get out of there alive, but only if you hand them a third-generation tape of Slayer's Hell Awaits. Those boys would go on to create something like Blasphemy.

Fallen Angel of Doom is a perfect blend of mindless, bestial aggression, primitive instrumental work, and an instinctive sense of musicality. I'd swear none of these guys have had a music lesson in their lives, but the songs are great anyway. Many of them are just unrelenting aggression with well-timed cymbal crashes or lobotomized Slayer solos as accent. But the best tunes also have breakdowns, and the rhythmic sense of them is unfuckwithable. Your head will be banged by the likes of "Darkness Prevails."

The production is murky, and a little uneven. But other than the over-loud intro and outro synths, I wouldn’t change a thing on this magical bit of backwoods Canadian chemistry. It's no wonder Nuclear War Now is reissuing it.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 21, 2015

Doomed: Wrath Monolith (2015)

We’re All Doomed

Normally by this point in the year I’ve given out two or three perfect scores. This is the first for 2015.

In metal, the riff is king. The German death/doom monolith Doomed have a fucking lock on riffs. Massive lurch-and-stumble rhythms all around here. And their sound is just perfect. I’m reminded of a mix of Evoken and Doom:VS, with a pinch of Triptykon. It’s a brutal, pummeling death metal sound in a shambling march, with never-ending dynamics and obviously distinct, memorable songs. Sometimes, also, more melodic elements and squealing pinch harmonics reminiscent of My Dying Bride.

I’ll highlight two songs to illustrate the point. “The Triumph – Spit” may be the best tune on here. It begins with a fantastic stuttering riff and a compelling clean-ish lead, but eventually they charge ahead with a full-on death metal assault. “Looking Back,” on the other hand, has morose melodies worthy of Pallbearer, and partially foregoes the death growls in favor of clean vocals (and they’re no slouches there, either).

But that’s not the full extent of the variety. Every song on here is worthwhile, the pacing is excellent, and the production is exquisite. Get on this.

Doomed were complete unknowns to me before. And now they’ve dropped the gauntlet. So far, this is the best album of the year.

The Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Career Advice

I just got an e-mail from a student at a top-tier law school* wanting some advice for
a young man covered in tattoos who never wants to say to a character and fitness committee that he enjoyed, say, Craft’s Fuck the Universe? Should I wear my Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses shirt to law school, and when? And how do I steer myself to a job that doesn’t make me want to retch?
Most of this will apply to any metalhead who wants to enter a professional career, but I'm going to focus on lawyers.

So, first of all, your musical taste is not going to come up unless you bring it up. Nobody asks that question, and only music snobs care. (And yes, all metalheads are music snobs.)

Tattoos, on the other hand, might be a problem. Thankfully you'll be wearing a jacket any time it matters. If that doesn't cover up your tattoos, I can't help you. I'm sure there are places and specialty areas where it won't matter, but I'm not knowledgeable about what those might be.

As far as your clothing choices in law school, I think you have to get a sense for the culture of your school. If most people are wearing T-shirts, then wear whatever T-shirt you want. It won't matter, at least not unless you're wearing something particularly offensive. Law school is interesting in that you won't be able to simply remain silent in class. You will be called upon to speak, and your intelligence and thoughtfulness will be what informs your cohorts' opinions of you. Certainly more than the shirt you're wearing.

In your professional life--which starts for real after your first year of law school, for most--your work and your attitude are going to speak for you. If you have the right attitude and put out solid work, then people will like you. Don't start blasting Destruktor on your first day, though. Get comfortable in the office first, and then, if you think it's OK, and people already have a sense of you, you can play music in your office. At a reasonable volume of course. And if someone comes in to talk, have the decency to turn it off so you can listen to them without distraction. If someone hears your music, but they already like you, they'll find it curious or weirdly charming.

Now, on to what I think is the most difficult question: How to get into a job that you don't hate. Oscar Wilde famously said, "The study of law is sublime, and its practice vulgar." I found that to be true in most cases. There is probably a positive correlation between vulgarity and pay, too. The more ambitious you are, I suspect, the more disgusting your ultimate career is likely to be. As for me, I landed in a small firm in a relatively small town (Lincoln), so it wasn't terrible by any means. But the private practice of law is always going to involve two things: counsel and salesmanship. The counseling part was fine. I often enjoyed it. But ultimately I found any kind of salesmanship to be too distasteful for me. And that's why I landed in government.

If I said any more on the topic, I'd only be speculating. I believe you can get a feel for the culture of an office through an interview. But any place where they demand top-tier law school students and work everyone 80 hours per week is going to be a soulless hellpit. If you want to make six figures out the gate, that's what you're looking at. If you want to love your job, find some area that's meaningful to you and try to work in that field.

There is one piece of advice I can give that I know for certain is good: Don't let law school or your career take over your entire life. My law school cohorts told me, after our first year, that I had the right idea. I made time every day to read for pleasure. You need to keep a hobby and make personal time every single day. Firstly, because it's just not worth it if you can't. And secondly, because you really don't need to work that hard to succeed in law school. You're probably more intimidated than you need to be. You got in, and that means you're smart. You can handle it. Maybe not if your goal is to be in the top ten percent, but if that's your goal, you're asking the wrong person.

I hope this helps.

*Incidentally, in looking at school rankings so I could remove the name of the school, I realized that based on LSAT scores, I likely could have gone to a top ten law school. Oh, well. I prefer where I am in life now.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Destruktor: Opprobrium (2015)

One of the best parts of Ride the Lightning is that part in “Fight Fire With Fire,” where Hetfield warns, “Soon to fill our lungs the hot winds of death . . . .” Destruktor play a similar riff on “Eradication.”

That’s the level of speed and aggression these Australian black/death metal tyrants keep up for nearly an entire full-length album. It’s got a whole lot of blastbeats and violent riffs. Which anyone can do, given enough stamina. But I bring up classic Metallica because there’s a similar hell-bent musicality to the riffs on Opprobrium that was more common a generation ago than it is today.

Destruktor write actual songs. It’s not just blastbeats and a constant stream of guitar chords. They slow down, ever so slightly, the dynamic tension giving the sense of someone pulling a baseball bat back to get a little more room to swing it at your head. And like I said, the riffs are musical.

Out of all the ugliest Hells Headbangers stuff so far this year, this may be the one you need the most.

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Coffins: Craving to Eternal Slumber (2015 EP)

Regular guest reviewer joanismylover is right:
Coffins doesn't seem to do anything particularly special - it's just death metal. They aren't ground-breaking - others drop-tuned before they did. They aren't the most talented on the block - technical this is not. They are just heavy as fuck.
And what else is there to say, really?


The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars

. . .

. . .

. . .

What, are you still fucking here? You haven't preordered Craving to Eternal Slumber yet? The fuck is wrong with you? This is purest death metal. Heavy, sometimes slow and sometimes mid-paced, with fantastic riffs and the perfect distillation of the death metal sound. And, as joanismylover observed, it's fun. They don't create some depressive atmosphere or make you feel like you're in a tomb. They just make you want to snap your neck. Or someone else's.

Necks will be snapped. You should be taking part in that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Die Choking: Die Choking and II (2014)

Die Choking is a fucking great name for a band. It's short, brutal, and imperative. Not just Someone Should Maybe Die of Asphyxiation At Some Point, but Die Choking. That means you, and it means now.

A more fitting moniker there never was.

Die Choking and II are the band's first two EPs, both released last year and both clocking in around six minutes. They are manically fast, with song lengths only occasionally 90 seconds long. There are enough riffs in either EP to easily fill a twenty-minute record, but the jackhammer delivery is a much more exciting way to experience it.

The tunes combine grind, hardcore, crust, and death metal and even though they fly by at dizzying speed you can still groove to them--sometimes. When they're not beating the back of your skull with a commercial-grade cheese grater, anyway. And they do slow it down a little, in places, but it's not like they ever get genuinely slow. It's more like fast, faster, and balls-in-a-lawnmower.

The Verdict:
Die Choking: 4 out of 5 stars
II: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This bodes well for their upcoming full-length III, due October 22. You can already hear it now, though.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Skepticism: Ordeal (2015)

Updated 7/27 with music clip

Skepticism was one of the first funeral doom bands, and they’re still going strong. If you don’t have the patience for it, move on. But if you’re into it, you’ll definitely want to check out Ordeal.

I think most people instinctively believe it takes a lot of skill to play fast, but not to play slow. I think that’s dead wrong. If you’re playing fast, you don’t need to keep a consistent tempo to sound good. Just listen to early Venom. But playing slow—funeral doom slow—takes an enormous measure of restraint and patience, and a steady heartbeat. As if to punctuate just how skilled they are, Skepticism opted to record their fifth full-length album live in front of an audience. For 78 incredible minutes, they maintain the pace and the mood. Point taken: These Finns are amazing.

So, fifth album—about that: Twenty-four years active with a remarkably consistent lineup, and only five albums. That’s the result of brutally high standards. (Check the ratings on their Metal Archives page if you don’t believe me.) Those standards have not let up in the slightest here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Steve Von Till: A Life Unto Itself (2015)

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about any dark Americana music. But a new Steve Von Till isn’t something I could just ignore, is it?

The record again finds our man in the pattern of playing a few acoustic guitar chords, singing a line, playing a chord, singing a line, and playing a few more chords. He doesn’t really play and sing at the same time, which is a perfectly acceptable way to approach this kind of music. However, sticking to that pattern the whole record, and playing everything at the same pace for a full 45 minutes, might bother some listeners.

Thankfully, other dynamic elements are here to save it from becoming too monotonous. Beautifully morose fiddle and percussion weave into “A Language of Blood,” while elsewhere you can hear synths, piano, and even a few heavy, distorted guitar riffs.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Perversor: Anticosmocrator (2015)

Perversor is a Chilean band who play bestial black metal. It’s brutal, ugly, and uncompromising. I must be a sucker for this kind of stuff, because it seems I never hear one that I don’t like—but then again, I mostly listen to the ones that come out on Hells Headbangers, and if any label knows their shit, it’s them.

I couldn’t tell you what sets them apart from similar acts, but I can tell you Anticosmocrator is good. The thing that stands out to me is their use of tempo shifts to prevent the music from becoming an undifferentiated mass. Sort of like the lurch-and-stumble of doom, but it’s more of a stutter-and-attack in this case.

It’s not for the faint of heart. So enjoy.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Goatsnake: Black Age Blues (2015)

Hey, Yeah

For the uninitiated, Goatsnake are minor legends of doom metal. If you need to know their philosophy, the liner notes to one of their records list all their gear (only the best) alongside Black Sabbath riffs. In other words, they are unapologetically old-school.

Well, it’s been eleven years since they’ve released any new material, and even though Metal Archives says they’ve been active for all the years since 2004, I think that’s an overstatement. Playing a show here and there isn’t “active” in the same sense that you and I would use the word. In a sense, this is a long-awaited reunion.

And how does it sound? This is not the depressing doom I usually gravitate toward. Instead, it's practically upbeat, and catchy, with a Southern flair (despite their geographic origin). The wonderful "Coffee & Whiskey" sums things up nicely, the chorus, "Coffee whiskey, 'til the cows are coming home" and the riffs practically drawling under energetic solos. Even the pounding "Graves," with that ill-boding title and "Steal the light from the sun" doesn't trip my dark mood; it puts a smile on my face and involuntarily bangs my head for me.

Clean, manly vocals over catchy doom metal riffs. That’s all you need. But nice added touches lie in the harmonica of “Elevated Man,” the Hendrix-esque “Hey, yeah” emphasis points on “Jimi’s Gone,” and gospel-inspired female backing vocals (appropriately by a group called Dem Preacher's Daughters).

Don't miss this one.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Bonus Feature! I drew a goatsnake:

Marginal: Chaos and Anarchy (2015)

More Violence, Please.

In which joanismylover demands a higher fee

I like surprises. Good surprises. I do not like to be surprised with a last minute filing or an unexpected witness at trial. But I do like to be surprised when I check the docket to find another related case that the plaintiff's attorney has not told me about. I like to be surprised that opposing counsel has the gumption - the balls - to lie to a judge with a straight face and claim then he deserves to be compensated at $838 in part based on that lie. That was surprising and gave me a great opening to shove it down his throat. In a nice way, of course.

Marginal surprised me here like the above-referenced wannabe high-rolling liar of an attorney. In a good way. This release is being physically released in Portugal and the metal folks there are in for a treat. Grind and punk crust meld here in a 23 minute death crust package that "stops the bullshit" and eradicates from the world bands like Powerwolf. (No, I won't let it go). Short and to the point is this record and all of the songs. Listen to the first three songs (about 5 minutes) and if you are not feeling the urge to throw yourself into the nearest person, move on. But if you are slamming and banging your lawyerly head to the "sign of the times" then consider yourself admitted to the bar. The bar of death crust.

All of the tracks are are awesome, bar none. But the highlights are definitely "Stop the Bullshit", "Eradicate the World" and "More Violence". Not much else to be said here, except that if I could command an hourly fee of $838 - and I could bill for every time I thought - "I should be writing more reviews - I'll do Marginal next" - and if I was good at math* - I'd estimate that FMA owes me about $765,436.00. Is anyone really surprised?

4 out of 5 stars.


*I'm not.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

King Diamond and Slayer at Stir Cove, July 7, 2015

I don't know why I debated with myself over going to this one, because, King Diamond. If you've read this page at all over the years, you know I'm a Kind Diamond fanboy and I have been for a very long time. OK, I do know: I didn't exactly want to support the Mayhem Festival, regardless of how great the headliners are.

The show was in Council Bluffs, Iowa (just across the river from Omaha), and, being a smaller venue for the tour, the Victory Records stage was absent from this stop. Not that I would have gone to that anyway, and its absence made the tickets considerably cheaper.

Anyway, giving The Devil Wears Prada a miss, I arrived just before HellYeah's set. There's still evidence online that I was once a Mudvayne fan, and I'm not going to deny that I still enjoy listening to a song or two off L.D. 50, but I was not expecting a lot from these guys. Despite some melodramatic "metal saved my life" hyperbole in his stage banter, they put on a good, high-energy show. Who knew? I mean, the music wasn't good, but they knew how to perform.

Then, over at the King Diamond merch table, I met this crazy motherfucker who's at least one tooth short and clearly has unimpeachable taste in music. I picked up a KD patch, and was found by the elusive Metallattorney there with his awesome wife. (She was there reading A Game of Thrones, and apparently threatening to drag him to see Foreigner soon.) After catching up with my law school cohort, I got in as close as I could to the stage to wait for the King.

Their set was awesome. Instrumentally, every one of them was at the top of his game, and the drums hammered hard and loud. Listening on record you can get caught up in the guitar riffs and vocal melodies, and you might miss how punishing the percussion actually is. Live, you can't miss that. King himself I had trouble hearing at first, but soon he was at the top of his game, too. In fact, his vocals were chilling, and only a few times toward the end did he start flagging in some of his lower-high-range. Very impressive, especially considering his age.

Some of the song choices were a little odd. I definitely would not consider "The Family Ghost" to be one of his better tunes, not even one of the best on that album, but they played it. and they didn't play "Abigail" or anything from The Puppet Master either. The highlight for me was the Mercyful Fate tunes, especially "Evil." I lost my shit for that one, singing along to every word, and I dare say a whole lot of other people there lost their shit, too.

The stage show was pretty fun. He brought up "Grandma" (in a rubber mask) and "Miriam" was there, too, "Abigail" showing as a preggo belly under her dress. King's grimace was there in full force, but I was a little surprised at the minimal stage banter. Given the average age of the band, I wouldn't call it surprising to see how slowly they moved around, but I still felt like they were capable of pouring more energy into the show than they did. Which isn't to say they didn't sound perfect, because they did. But, you know, it wasn't exactly like watching Converge.

After King left the stage, I discussed the crowd with Metallattorney and his wife. We spotted a dude in a Hellhammer shirt, a few Obituary shirts, and the ones you'd expect (Slayer, Metallica, Slipknot) plus a few oddities (Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers, oddly enough). The crowd included at least one 3-year-old with a mohawk (and a mom in a Sixx A.M. shirt) and a lot of 50+ dudes, along with every age in between.

I needed something to drink, so I passed up the $8 domestic swill and grabbed a free Rockstar energy drink. I was able to take about four swallows before throwing it out. Not that the taste is horrible, but when you're not 14 anymore you can't drink that sugar crap. Then it was time for Slayer.

Now, ostensibly King Diamond and Slayer were co-headliners, but that's just the way it is on paper. In reality, Slayer plays last and they have pyrotechnics and a much bigger light show.

Tom Araya looked awesome with a full beard, and Kerry King looked exactly like he always has. And they played perfectly, running through a bunch of late-catalog favorites to begin with. But once again, I was a little disappointed at how they didn't seem very animated. Kerry was banging his head just like you'd think, but for the most part, it seemed like someone bolted their feet to the floor. Tom could have gone to the casino and been replaced by a statue and a recording, for all I know. Almost zero stage banter, too. (Man, these guys need to go see an Opeth show. Or maybe they've just found over the years that they're not charming enough to pull it off?)

Still, it was an amazing spectacle, and it sounded fantastic. There was a sizable pit, but outside the pit I was disappointed in my fellow fans. When they finally played the classics, I found myself pretty much alone in shouting along to "South of Heaven" and the big finale ("Angel of Death," of course). Most of the time when I go to a show, I have plenty of opportunities to take a picture of hundreds of people raising the horns and going nuts, but as you can see, that didn't happen. Most of the people there were merely spectators, and I've got to say, as a metalhead, that's unacceptable.

All in all, I'm very happy I went. The very next day, King went on for a full show without his makeup for the first time in over 30 years of performing, due to an eye infection, but I got to see the real deal. And who knows, I might never get another chance within a reasonable driving distance.

Oh, and one last thing to you dumbasses who think it's a good idea to smoke pot at a show: I hope it was worth being escorted out. Keep that shit to yourself next time.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The 7th Day of July, 2015

I'm going on a King Diamond marathon today. You should, too, because it's the 7th day of Julyyyyyyy!

I'll also be seeing the King today, and Slayer. I'm going to try to show up late enough to miss almost everything else at the Mayhem fest.

Now, Grandma is calling, so I've gotta go.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Graveyard Shifters: High Heels and Broken Bones (2015)

Remember that feeling of pure joy that you felt the first time you heard Kvelertak? Graveyard Shifters give me that same kind of feeling.

The songwriting is infectious, and their enthusiasm for the music comes through in the performance. It sounds great, and it's almost impossible not to love.

I mean, how can you not love an album with a song called "Beerserker"?

Like Kvelertak, they play high-energy, irreverent metalpunk. Gang vocals and guitar solos coexisting in the same space, and hooks, hooks, hooks. Finland's Graveyard Shifters are a little different: There's no kitchen sink philosophy going on here, so there's no black metal and Southern rock thrown in. At first, I thought that was a shame. But then I thought better of it, because that's almost impossible to do well. The other major difference is that these beerserkers sing mostly in English, so it's easier to join in and sing along if you want. You will want.

Don't miss this one.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Demon Lung: A Dracula (2015)

When I read the title A Dracula I couldn't help but chuckle. Any time someone refers to vampires as draculas, yeah, that's an old joke by now, but sometimes the best jokes are properly aged. I don't suspect they meant it as a joke here, but it is a joke.

Yes, it's time again for my quarterly female-fronted doom metal review. I don't plan it that way, but that's pretty much the rate that I'm listening to them.

Demon Lung have a great sound. It's raw, fuzzy, heavy, and I'm pretty sure everything is analog. That's the way it should be. Vocalist Shanda Fredrick employs a witchy style that's not terribly unusual, but fits the music well.

A Dracula starts out fantastically. After a silly intro track, "Behold, the Daughter" comes in with a crushing riff that's actually fast, contrasting with the slow vocal melody. The tune eventually slows down, setting the slower pace that prevails through most of the record. The next few cuts are solid, too. "Gypsy Curse" has a catchy vocal hook and nice, driving bridge.

The second half of the album is more of the same, but nothing after that point jumps out at me. It's perfectly listenable and enjoyable, though, so it could well be worth your time.

The Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Aelter: IV: Love Eternal (2015)

Aelter is a side project of Wolvserpent guitarist/vocalist Blake Green, and on paper it seems like something I should really like. It's gothic, atmospheric rock made by someone who knows how to write really long songs that are enjoyable. And it's on Pesanta Urfolk, a label that's always fascinating even if not everything they release is great.

It's minimalistic, the vocals are good, and I can get behind the eerie guitar work. Unfortunately, IV: Love Eternal is a 40-minute plod that trudges along at the same sluggish pace, plodding toward Ploddington, the capital of Plodsylvania. You can barely tell where one song ends and another begins, and they all sound exactly the same.

The Verdict: 1 out of 5 stars

Pale Chalice: Negate the Infinite and Miraculous (2015)

It has been observed many times—including by me—that the term “black metal” has become increasingly vague over the years. Are we talking about atmospheric music? Something epic and woodsy? Artistic and weird? Blistering, cold, boneheaded?

Pale Chalice, though: They embody black metal as it is today. The combine the weird, epic artistry of bands like Agalloch with a blistering, concise approach to songwriting. Their riffs are fast, scary, and cold. But the leads are eerie and a little experimental. Not Negative Plane weird, but still thoroughly 2010’s in intent. And, indeed, many are memorable.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jason W. Walton: Mara (2015)

After seeing Agalloch live last year, they instantly catapulted from being merely a band I like and respect to being one of my five favorite active bands. So of course I wanted to check out the bassist's solo project.

Jason W. Walton's Mara is purportedly about his experience with sleep paralysis, which by all accounts is a horrifying thing. Two short tracks go from one of a muted dread to an overwhelming horror. It captures my idea of sleep paralysis anyway.

It's still dark ambient, though, so it's not something I enjoyed in the same way I usually enjoy music. It was more of a cinematic/sensory experience, interesting as art but not something I'm going to revisit many times in the future.

The Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars

Listen here
Red Orchard Records

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Årabrot: You Bunch of Idiots (2015 EP)

I first heard Årabrot after they generated buzz for their 2011 album Solar Anus. I was flabbergasted—I’m sure that’s the only word for it. I kind of like to be flabbergasted. But unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed. Luckily, I gave them another go with their self-titled record two years later, and it snaked its way under my skin.

The You Bunch of Idiots EP is just what I hoped the Norwegian noise rock luminaries would do. Ballsy, heavy, irreverent punk rock that’s super weird and twice as catchy. Dynamically, it’s all over the map. Synths, heavy guitars, nasally vocals and growls, slow, fast, and wild. Female backing vocals in one spot. Just, great stuff.

Throw out the first track. It’s useless spoken word. But cherish the rest. It’s entertaining and powerful, bizarre and great.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

Listen here

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Silent Wake: Damnatio Memoriae (2015)

I make a big deal about not caring what a band believes, professes, or puts into their lyrics. Nonetheless, I’m still pulling for Christian bands to make solid music, because sometimes I feel pretty lonely as a Christian in the metal world. To that end, I started watching My Silent Wake several years ago, but they fell off my radar for the past few releases.

Their latest effort, Damnatio Memoriae, begins as a refutation of the idea that Christians can’t make good metal. The record begins with a badass riff in the My Dying Bride mold, with simple synth backing and cool leads. The death growls take the forefront, making it echo early MDB. The following track, “Highwire,” shows some new tricks for the English band. An energetic bassline and a black metal riff reminiscent of Dornenreich, in both the rhythmic sense and the blending of open and muted chords. If you’ve ever heard Dornenreich, or you’ve read my opinions on the band, you know this is awesome. “Now It Destroys” follows that triumph with a more death metal-oriented track, reminding me of Hesper Payne, and using plenty of gnarly guitar squeals.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Coal Chamber: Rivals (2015)

Regression and Defense, Or: Nostalgia Is Big Business These Days

I've recently begun lifting weights with my neighbor on a regular basis. The stereotype these days is that dudes listen to Godsmack when they're lifting weights, and that's not far from the truth. You see, he likes a lot of the stuff I was listening to 12 or more years ago. We take turns in control of the music, but I'm conscious of what he wants to hear, so I only occasionally slip in some Amon Amarth or At the Gates. For the most part, it's like I'm listening to my music library as it existed in 2002. Would I rather be listening to Evoken while I lift? Yes, but revisiting Coal Chamber is fun, too.

Dez Fafara is the artist who grew up with me for a time, but he stopped growing a while ago. Now he's reunited with Coal Chamber (and put out the record on Napalm, no less), and it's like they haven't missed a step. You could mix the songs from Rivals together with the ones from Dark Days and you'd have a hard time figuring out which was which.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Psycroptic: Psycroptic (2015)

The last time I checked in with Kids These Days—and by that I mean, budding, young metalheads on the more well-traveled parts of the metal blogosphere—they were really into technical metal. That was a while ago, but it seemed like every other band MetalSucks was going on about was a technical death metal band. I went through a brief phase of this obsession myself in my late 20’s,* but then quickly got fed up with the seemingly endless throng of sound-alikes who could play their instruments like geniuses but weren’t fit to lick Cronos’s figurative songwriting boots. And the sterility of the prevailing sound was too much even for MRSA to thrive.

But there have been a few bright spots in the genre, the tetrad of Tasmanian technicians Psycroptic being one of them. Their sound is raw, genuine. And they write actual songs.** They’ve continued that proud tradition on their self-titled album.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Black Witchery / Revenge: Holocaustic Death March to Humanity's Doom (2015)

Black Witchery is one of the finest bands in metal right now. What they play is furious, uncompromising black/death that can singe your ass hair all the way from their Floridian den, no matter how far away you manage to get. This is what some call bestial black metal, or war metal. As they say, war is not going to win any beauty pageants. and bestiality is something reserved for only a few enthusiasts.

In the thoroughly-titled Holocaustic Death March to Humanity's Doom, Black Witchery laid down three perfect examples of why they are so great. They haven't lost anything with the inclusion of a new guitarist. Their assault is a swift, relentless current of destruction.

The other half of this split is from Canada's Revenge.* I know Canada is the home turf of this style, but that doesn't mean America's evil pope hat is going to be home to the best. Revenge's take on the style is less a current than it is a repeated, graceless pummeling. Not an unfeeling, remorseless force of nature, but a consciously impolite motherfucker who just won't stop hitting you with a maple leaf-inlaid claw hammer. Which is fine, but it simply does not rise to the level of Black Witchery's excellence.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

*"Canada's Revenge" sounds like the diarrhea you get from drinking too much maple syrup.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Coffins: Perpetual Penance (Compilation 2015)

Regurgitated Guts, Japanese Style

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

My father is retired U.S. Air Force. From 1982 to 1985 our family served along side him in Tampa, Florida, at MacDill AFB. I spent the beginning of my "formative years" in the bloody sewage where death metal was just being [re]born. My buddy at Booker T. Washington 7th Grade school was - he claimed - good friends with Nasty Ronnie of Nasty Savage. I probably bumped into Chuck Schuldiner at the Brandon Mall, sneaking in to see Heavy Metal. I'm pretty sure my other buddy was the artist for Cannibal Corpse.* The colossal hole that is Tampa - Morrisound studios and all - is death metal, for all intents and purposes. But then the wretched path** of the USAF took us to Misawa AFB in Aomori Ken, Japan, where we served from 1985 to 1988.

Japan was not then or now known as a death metal hotbed. And yet - get drowned in [this] revelation - the Japanese have an uncanny ability to make inventions of the gaijin*** better. Cows are not native to Japan and yet, the steaks I had in Japan were some of the best I ever tasted. Automobiles were invented here in 'merica. What is the country of origin of your car? Here comes perdition - what is the best neck snapping death metal band for the last ten years? Japan's COFFINS, of course. Next week will see the release of Perpetual Penance, a compilation double CD that drops just about every split, single, flexi this prolific band has done from its inception til the dawn of doomsday. 16 songs, one hour and 37 minutes, 246.4 MB of Coffins. There are three - yes three - versions of "Grotesque Messiah" on this thing. A live version of "Under the Stench." All the axes of vengeance are present on this hellbringer. Do you really need all of this Coffins?

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

False: untitled (2015)

False is serious black metal. This Minneapolis band isn't playing riffs to make you bang your head and lose your shit. You couldn't possibly keep up, anyway. No, they're playing epic hymns to something untoward, something that experiences time and space more fully than we do.

On their 2015 untitled full-length, the pace is almost entirely fast. It's played and produced in such a way that it's difficult to parse the details. I would place them mostly in the same category as Ash Borer, with their long track lengths and uncompromising nature. False have a heavier sound, though. And they use synths provide a subtle backdrop and add plenty of drama--not that they're needed when these tunes are already building tension constantly.

They have a singular vision, and they achieve it at every moment on the record. Thus, there's not much more to say about it except that it's excellent.

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 29, 2015

Metal Briefs: Otaku Edition

I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m a nerd-wannabe, and that includes a minor case of Japanophilia. For better or worse, though, my Japanophilia is not uncritical. Also, you should know that there’s Japan—which can put forth such magnificent, serious music as Corrupted—and then there’s Japan, which apparently has giant robots and synthesizers in everything. I turned my giant anime eye to three metal releases that seem tailor-made for otaku.

Blood Stain Child: Epsilon (2011)
4 out of 5 stars

This may be the least cool thing I've ever rated this highly, but so be it. Blood Stain Child is an unholy blend of mainstream metal with beauty-and-the-beast vocals, a hint of Lacuna Coil, and ten tons of Dance Dance Revolution. Holy shit if it isn't infinitely better than that formula might suggest. I'm not recommending it, exactly, but I am pointing it out and telling you that for some reason, I like this.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sigh: Graveward (2015)

Sigh would most likely be the craziest thing to come out of their own country, if they were from anywhere other than Japan. But as the popular wisdom has it, Japan is home to some crazy pop culture. Now, it’s been my experience that crazy Japanese pop culture stuff is mostly terrible, and occasionally brilliant. Sigh has been mostly brilliant. I mean, their last album was just one example of a brilliant masterpiece. At their worst, they’re just pretty good.

Graveward isn’t one of their best albums. It’s not one of their worst, either. Over the course of their long and storied career, the Japanese masterminds have honed their craft to a level that they’re simply not capable of putting out weak material.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Solefald: World Metal. Kosmopolis Sud (2015)

Why the hell isn’t anyone in America talking about Solefald? Their full-length Norrøn Livskunst was the most criminally underrated album of 2010, and now they’ve got a new full-length, and once again nobody is talking about this brilliant duo.

World Metal. Kosmopolis Sud is unmistakably the work of this avant-garde Viking metal oddity. It’s got catchy riffs, both high-speed black metal style and slower stomps. It’s got growled and sung vocals, with infectious melodies. And then, it’s got everything else thrown in to make it insane.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Dwell: Vermin and Ashes (2015)

I have to confess that I’m more inclined to check out bands from Denmark than bands from anywhere else. (LLTK, for those in the know.) Dwell is one such band who caught my attention for just that reason.

They’re billed as a death/doom band, but I think you’d find it difficult to pick up any death metal in this at all. The vocals might fit that mold, but the rest does not. The first song sounds like a less sophisticated Agalloch, from the slow progression of chords to the clean guitar interlude. It’s followed by a five minute ambient track, which is a hell of a downer way to kick off an album. Don’t worry. It gets better.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Hands of Orlac: Figli Del Crepuscolo (2014)

"You're All the Same, The Lot of You"

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

I had the distinct pleasure on Monday (April 20) to see Electric Wizard in Santa Ana, California. This is a band so steeped in doom and B movie horror films that it feels like they invented the melding of the two. They probably did. Emphasizing their prominence in this doom meets 70s horror genre, Satan's Satyrs opened. If that band's name didn't give it away, their biker metal with EW fuzzed tone did. Horror stoner doom. (Totally unrelated - In the interlude EW has the balls to play both Slayer ("Hell Awaits") and Celtic Frost ("Procreation of the Wicked"). I was head banging at the bar to Celtic Frost before EW took the stage because that riff is sooooo amazing. Talk about confidence). EW tore the house down. Everything you'd expect and want: a bottom end cavalcade of riffs TOO BIG to handle and a montage of all that x-rated 70s eurotrash satanic movie clips in the background. It was awesome. But what of Hands of Orlac?

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Royal Thunder: Crooked Doors (2015)

Remember when Relapse only released metal albums? That was weird, huh?

Crooked Doors is the second album from Georgia hard rockers Royal Thunder. The style hasn’t changed much—bluesy rock and roll with a female vocalist oozing swagger and soul. But I hear a lot less doom influence this time around, and a few more radio-friendly elements (even some 90’s R&B) that are a little surprising. But just like CVI, it’s starts strong right out of the gate.

They bring the hooks with tunes like “Time Machine,” “Floor,” “The Line,” and “Glow.” Mlny Parsonz has a sultry, powerful voice, and she lays it all out there for you, to great effect. No surprises there, honestly. We already knew this was a good band, and they could do this.