Stand back, because I’m about to drop an idea bomb that you’ll never believe: Some albums are really good, but some albums really suck. Like, really, really, really suck.
I know it’s hard to fathom, but it’s totally true. Every year has its share of disasters, of course. Sometimes you get total turds like the absolutely unlistenable “Loutallica” disaster of Lulu; Morbid Angel’s baffling shift towards electro-death on Ilud Divinum Insanus; or Queensryche’s nearly legacy-destroying Operation Mindcrime II. More often, you just get less interesting bombs, like the bland mediocrity of Slayer’s recycled Repentless or Megadeth’s embarrassing Super Collider.
Although 2016 hasn’t had any soul-destroying, all-consuming high profile failures like Lulu (has it?), it’s certainly had enough stumbles. For example: Anthrax’s lackluster For All Kings; Metallica’s deceptively good previews from the mostly dull Hardwired; Gojira’s mixed-bag Magma… Here at Last Rites, we know our time in front of your eyes is limited, so whenever possible, we prefer to promote the good above merely trashing the terrible. But of course, that rosy-eyed view of the world isn’t entirely accurate, so we thought we’d take (the American) Thanksgiving as a chance to do what Americans do on Thanksgiving: share some turkeys.
So sit down, relax, and whatever you do, don’t listen to these.
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DREAM THEATER – THE ASTONISHING
After the artistic peaks of Scenes from a Memory and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Dream Theater hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire. Okay, most of Train of Thought was pretty great, and the first post-Portnoy effort, 2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events, thrilled fans by returning to the stylings of genre watershed Images and Words. But beyond that? A pretty notable slump from prog metal’s biggest name.
Enter The Astonishing, a huge concept record and obvious attempt to recapture the glory of Scenes. But in truth it’s just a massively bloated (over two hours!) record centered around some dystopian story that John Petrucci wrote with all of the subtlety of someone that heard a third-hand retelling of The Hunger Games. (Characters named Princess Faythe and Lord Nafaryus almost make me miss Portnoy as lyricist. Almost.)
Despite being impeccably produced and performed (vocalist James Labrie sounds particularly great), the album is an unmitigated disaster. The “story” is almost constantly hamfisted, while the music repeats the same overture/big metal passage/sensitive introspection construction over and over. That not one of these arcs even approaches the quality of such constructs on Scenes or Six Degrees is inconsequential by the end, as getting through The Astonishing even once is a chore beyond chores. This thing makes Nostradamus seem like a work of modesty.
Oh, and they performed the whole stinking thing live. Of course they did.
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JIM BREUER – SONGS FROM THE GARAGE
The American nation clamors for many things. Fortunately, none of those things are a “metal” album from comedian Jim Breuer. Despite the silence, Mr. Breuer took it upon himself to make an album that no one had requested. In fact, he got serious funding behind it. Metal Blade tossed fat stacks at the album even making a very nice looking video for “Thrash.”
In the end, Jim Breuer got to play rock star. He got to “sing” over AC/DC-inspired riffs and he got to headbang while looking high as a kite. So if you’ve ever wanted to see what Jim Breuer does in his basement on a Wednesday night after dinner but before his nightly video game marathon, Songs From The Garage is for you. If you’re a regular human being that really just wants to watch Half Baked over and over again, you can easily skip this album, pretend it was never made, and pretend that all is well and balanced in the world of metal.
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OBITUARY – TEN THOUSAND WAYS TO DIE
Are you kidding me?! Look at that album cover!
That’s not the worst of it, folks. This bloated turkey is a fix up compilation of live tracks with two new studio tracks tacked on at the front as an appetizer. Or as the stuffing. Maybe the sweet potatoes. Who knows? Seriously, why did Relapse Records release this? The two new tracks are throwaways at best, although “Loathe” lumbers across at over six minutes in length and does feature some of John Tardy’s deepest vocals yet. But, honestly, do we really need a new live album from Obituary? Didn’t Dead do the trick twenty years ago or whenever the Hell it was? Ten Thousand Ways To Die isn’t even really a live album as the live tracks were all recorded at different times! If you can’t even capture the experience of an Obituary concert in full, why bother? Hell, I’m surprised that this turkey wasn’t released on K-Tel Records. Excuse me while I unbutton my trousers from gas build up.
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KETZER – STARLESS
Back when I was around 13 years old, a good pal and I spent one of those great summers together doing all the gloriously dumb things a couple of kids that age can get into without landing themselves in juvie. We shot bottle rockets at each other on the playground, listened to AC/DC and Scorpions tapes, ghost-rode our bikes down huge hills, etcetera in perpetuity. Then, on the first day of high school, this same pal-o-mine showed up to the joint suddenly and completely transformed. His hair was gelled and piled to the ceiling, he had pleats in his pants, his shoes were pointy and churchy, and he wore an elegant looking shirt unbuttoned just far enough to reveal a couple flashy gold necklaces. Change is necessary and healthy for all living creatures, but sometimes its conclusion arrives from misguided angles, leaving all interested parties completely baffled.
From around 2005 to 2012, Ketzer palled around with the Devil while surrounded by all the gloriously fun things a blackened thrash band can get into while under the roof of Iron Bonehead. The riffs were sharp and cruel, the overall pace was fast enough to run alongside a cheetah (FROM HELL), and everyone had a great time howling at the moon. Then, on January 29th, 2016, this same pal-o-ours showed up to the joint suddenly and completely transformed. Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey” dominated the rhythms, brittle riffs enfeebled its heart, and all the gothy goodness that Tribulation and In Solitude hitched to their wagon (to great success) basically had the wheels fall off within the first four minutes of the gloomily disappointing Starless. But hey, at least there’s a song nestled in the middle that’s ready to help anyone struggling with counting to ten. Change is necessary and healthy for all living creatures, but sometimes its conclusion arrives from misguided angles, leaving all interested parties completely baffled.
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OPERATION MINDCRIME – RESURRECTION
Once, Tate toured with Dickinson and Halford, a dream team of metal gods. Now, he’s “taking on the world” with Blaze Bayley and Ripper Owens… No offense to those two, as they both have their talents, but they’re forever in the shadow of those gods they tried (and failed) to replace. For all its highbrow aspirations, therein lies all that anyone needs to know about an album that proves itself to be yet another half-baked Tate-r.
Oh, and if you thought it couldn’t get much worse, he also plays saxophone…