To quote Burgess’ Alex: “One thing I could never stand is to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blerp, blerp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, whatever his age might be, but more especially when he was real old like this one was.”
I am old. I can remember when no one I knew or heard or read used the term “heavy metal” to describe any music at all. I remember the article I read where it was first discussed, using examples such as “Whole Lotta Love” and the live version of Priest’s “Green Manalishi” to guide you to what the term might mean. I remember first hearing “Wrathchild” on the radio one lonely night and thinking “That shit is heavy metal.”
I remember Iron Maiden selling out arenas all over the US and parents falling about themselves worrying that their children were being exposed to “that 666 band!”
I remember hearing the song “Ride the Lightning” and how the bass/drum drop made me spurt.
I remember seeing Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer in one show, as the wind whipped the fog and the lights made it fire.
I remember hearing Streetcleaner and losing my shit completely because this was what I hoped music would sound like, and now it did.
I remember I remember I remember.
Because I am old.
I review new metal records by new and established metal bands for a website. This year I got to hear SubRosa. I got to hear Hammers of Misfortune. I got to hear Anaal Nathrakh do a classic Iron Maiden cover… I remember when that song was so cutting edge you had to wear welders gloves just to put the record on. I got to hear Inter Arma. CB Murdok. Seputus. And I got to hear “old” favorites like Mithras, Meshuggah, Wormed, Vektor and Gorguts. You know, those established acts that I first heard when I was only almost old.
I can’t help but wonder what you, dear reader, think about that. Some old fart reviewing your music when I should be howling away at the filthy songs of my fathers. Do you hate it? Is it odd? Are we all old and just don’t know that our music is dying?
As to the last, no. Our music is somehow thriving. We are, all of us, somehow keeping this ridiculous extreme bastard child of rock and roll alive and teeming. The years of gravy may be in the past, and the modern best may have to take time off their paying jobs to tour and promote their records. The distros may cling to any outlet or technique they can glean to get the shit out there. But if the number of records metal bands release in a given year is any indication, and I can’t think of any better indicator, metal is aliver than it has ever been.
I am old, and I am horribly busy, but I am also dedicated to this music because I have loved it since I could. I have played it, lusted for it, promoted it, criticized it, been disappointed by it and been enslaved by it. And I am old enough to know how precious this stuff is, and how precious you are for being a part of it.
Thank you for reading my reviews this year, and all the reviews on this site. Thank you for loving the music I love enough to keep these sites going. Thank you for being metalheads and making an old man feel like he still gets it. Like maybe, just maybe Alex wouldn’t give me the boot.
And thanks to all the bands, and teams around the bands, that somehow keep the scenes thriving in an age of streaming and youtubing and keeping your day jobs and whatever else. We are a fucking family, fistfights and all, and we always will be. Hails, cheers, up the Irons, metal up your ass and everything in between!
Now, here is what I think about 2016. Please note I have not been able to hear a significant portion of the music released this year, and my list will reflect that. I came in half way through the year, so what ya gonna do? Anyway…
• • • • •
10. HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE – DEAD REVOLUTION
This came to my attention very late, so it did not get a vote in my shared list contribution, but it deserved one. It is that rarest of delights: a cleanly sung, old-schoolish rock/prog/metal record that feels fresh and crucial. To quote myself from a forum post about this album: “In fact, I think “Dead Revolution” is the best song from my adolescence [spent] listening to album-oriented radio stations that was released this year. This is gonna’ make Joe Lynn Turner so jealous!”
• • • • •
9. INSOMNIUM – WINTER’S GATE
Insomnium is one of those bands that were everyone else’s favorite when I first heard them, but I was just not feeling it. All these years later, that they would release a 45 minute song and end up in my ninth spot at year’s end speaks to how powerful I feel this piece of work is. It maintains interest, performances and intensity for the duration. Kind of incredible.
• • • • •
8. MESHUGGAH – THE VIOLENT SLEEP OF REASON
This band is to metal what “The Wire” was to television: consistent, provocative, moving and difficult. Ever since they dedicated themselves to mathematics they have destroyed as few others. And somehow they have managed, once again, to find just enough insane inspiration to match their technicality and ferocity and remain relevant. It can be easy to overlook this feat because they always seem to be around, but it IS a feat.
• • • • •
7. GORGUTS – PLEIADES’ DUST
Colored Sands blew my fucking mind. This E.P. gathered the pieces and blew them further. Another single song record, this one is woven into a tapestry of dark colors, sometimes garish, sometimes subdued, but never tedious or irrelevant. Gorguts continues to push the boundaries of death metal with a panache that makes them more than just great, but unmissable.
• • • • •
6. CB MURDOC – HERE BE DRAGONS
While I did not review this record for this site, it cannot be denied. This is more a worthy successor to Burned By the Sun than a lot of the bands that are more directly inspired by them. CB Murdoc takes a hardcore essence and drives it into the cold northern European tradition of death and blackness, emerging with songs that bring as much anger as fury. Touches of Meshuggah and Hypocrisy are lurking, but the immediacy of the band keeps it in its own company.
• • • • •
5. MITHRAS – ON STRANGE LOOPS
This was our shared Album of the Year for good reason. It is not MY album of the year, but you should not take that as a slight. This is a fantastic, powerful record by any measure, and my personal tastes and preferences be damned. It really makes little sense to rank any of them, but rank them I must. A niche defying album, on the blastier side, taking what it wants and leaving nothing alive, this album vaults Mithras to rarefied air.
• • • • •
4. INTER ARMA – PARADISE GALLOWS
Another band that laughs at niche labels. This record is just so VAST. It does with sound what Tolkien did with languages. Just listen to “An Archer in the Emptiness”, where it goes from doom to death to prog to sludge… it uses the existing metal vocabulary and creates new terms that sound like old tongues. And the production seems to fill entire worlds with sound without washing anything out. A fantistic accomplishment.
• • • • •
3. WORMED – KRIGHSU
Wormed has been a death metal sci-fi monster since their inception. They are the un-natural modern extension of the creepy glory that Demilich first squoze from the darkest, moistest crevices of the genre. But that recipe for gibbering grooves has been titrated with a compound of brutal technical death and distilled into a world beating album. In the past the band flailed a little much, but Krighsu finds the sweet spot and infects it completely. This should terrify everyone.
• • • • •
2. VEKTOR – TERMINAL REDUX
If Wormed found the sweet spot of psychotic technical death, Vektor has found it for blackened technical sci-thrash. So very rarely do musicians of such ability manage to create music that is this compelling, yet full of metal integrity. Nothing is forbidden on this record. And everything works toward the goal of tearing the skin from your back. If you had told me a child-like chorus would work in an epic sci-fi blaster, I would have cut your tongue out with broken Voivod CDs. And yet, there it is, perfectly elevating the moments near the end of “Charging the Void”. Again, this should terrify everyone.
• • • • •
1. SUBROSA – FOR THIS WE FOUGHT THE BATTLE OF AGES
What Wormed brought to tech death, and Vektor brought to black thrash, SubRosa brings to gothic sludge. The sweet spot. Exactly the right amount of discord, beauty and feral animosity; these are love songs to the hated. They are intimate and enormous. They tackle real emotional truths without losing themselves in morose self-flagellation or syrupy chin-chucking. They offer glimmers of hope in dark caverns of despair. And they do it with grace and integrity. Why is this number one? It is, in my heart, interchangeable with the last two as far as must-have records, but while those others should terrify you, this should encourage you. And this year of all years, we could use a little of that.
• • • • •
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
• How can a band get so close to being garbage and remain so gloriously wonderful?
Hemotoxin – Biological Enslavement
• More techy sci-thrash with giant chunks of death to make it oozier.
Seputus – Man Does Not Give
• A terrifying record, creating the aural equivalent of what a sentient cockroach would feel in a world-sized Roach Motel.
Murder Made God – Enslaved
• Massively catchy brutal death for death-heads, of which I am proudly one.
Deceptionist – Initializing Irreversible Process
• Another blaster with a sci-fi story to tell, this on the tech death side of the spectrum.
Xoth, Nails, Asphyx, Blood Incantation, Chtheilist
… ish. Finnish?
Soooo… Here is some other shit I wrote for this srticle that got the hell away from me, and so I had cut it all. Upon learning this some folks on the site requested I publish it, though, so I will. But it won’t add much to the list, so you can stop reading here and be fine.
CHAPTER ONE: Look at me, I’m a WRITER!
In the last couple of years I have been very lucky to have been asked by a couple of great metal sites to do reviews for them. Both sites have staff members that remember my previous reviewing gigs, so it was an honor to be asked. I accepted both invitations – making sure both sites were OK with my writing for the other – for a couple of reasons. The main reason is I just like to write about the music I love. No one is going to care if I write about old music I love, of course, so I kind of have to write about new music, and the new music I care most about is metal.
The other reason is a bit more personal. I spent a lot of my life hiding from what I might be able to do. Falling into things, as opposed taking things head on. I have a lot of reasons for doing that, reasons that range from shit that happened when I was a kid to chemical malfunctions in my brain, but the net result of relying on mere accidental competence for survival is that, slowly, the universe drowns you in mediocrity.
People are always so pleased with competence. So pleased that your children aren’t criminals, that you don’t drink too much, that you have any job at all, that you drive a decent car or live in a decent house. That you stay in the committed relationships you begin. “C’s get degrees.” Competence brings safety in the short term. But the world does not favor competence for long, in my experience. And by trying to get by I never tried to excel. Which means nothing I did was ever excellent.
With a lot of help from counselling and medication, I am dealing with the chemical miscues and past issues that have made me hide behind competence my whole life. And that has left me open to the idea that I need to start doing things on purpose. I need to start WORKING for what I want instead of taking what I can get. And part of what I want is to write well, and to write persuasively. I am minoring in Technical and Professional writing at my university, which is a starting point.
And I am writing reviews for the two sites who asked me to. It is hectic with my school and my day-to-day subbing job, but it has to be done, and I love to do it. I gain a little more excellence every time I open Word. I may never attain true excellence, but I am by-hell shooting for it.
This year I came back to Last Rites – once Metal Review – and remembered just how great a crew the place has. People who read our reviews may not understand how magical these writers are between the posts. The best writing I see here often happens when we are roasting each other in the staff area. Comment sections see it now and then, but mostly they are for people to bitch, make death threats and pretend to be MMA and ex-SEAL and all that. In the staff area, it is like sitting on the stoop, or on the back of an old Impala, or in a basement after a party fizzles. Everyone loves each other and says the most awful things and laughs.
CHAPTER TWO: I am nailed to the hull
When I was very, very young – like 3-5, say – my parents had a Zenith stereo record player. The kind that had speakers which looked like early 60’s art deco sci-fi spaceship engine nacelles, and lit up when turned on in a cool shade of white and green. It had a 5-disc spindle, meaning you could listen to one side of five different albums in one hilarious schizophrenic sitting. My mom would stab LP’s by John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot, Bread and James Taylor onto that thing at around 10 o’clock in the morning while she “cleaned” and whatever.
You have to understand, this was back when you could still pay cash for a decent car, and get a five year loan for a home. Most of you can’t even fathom this, but my dad’s modest job had us in middle class digs. Mom talked on the phone all day and pretended she was a homemaker. It was a different time.
I myself would have to sit through what I considered her miserable taste in music, and I, being a hyperactive little bastard, was not having it. So she would let me choose a record to put on with hers to shut me up. My choices were slim: Abbey Road, Revolver, Cosmos Factory, Through the Past Darkly, The Point, Nilsson Schmilsson, but at least I had a choice. And that was when I started reviewing records.
Four year old’s have a nasty time dilation. Minutes feel like hours; hours, years. Waiting for mom’s four albums to go the fuck away was torture, so when mine came down it HAD TO BE THE RIGHT ONE! I started assessing things. Abbey Road had cool songs like “Come Together”, but also dull ones like “Something”. Cosmos Factory was all four-on-the-floor rock music; fun but one dimensional. Harry Nilsson was funny and had some cool songs, but kept slowing things down and pissing me off. The Stones? Singles, so hit or miss. To wade through it all was training: dissecting records just to keep from feeling THE FUCKING STRESS OF CONSTANT SOFT ROCK BALLADS!
ADHD sucks ass, and calling it hyperactivity didn’t make it suck less ass.
Fast forward to my teen years. My family had gone from typical nuclear middle class to cutting edge welfare shitstorm after my dad left when I was eight. We sold the Zenith. I had an OLD portable record player, sort of a no-frills version of the old Mickey Mouse Club record players. No shit. I found it at my grandmas, and took it home. It sounded like shit, of course, but it had a headphone jack that I could stub into my 50 watt Yamaha bass amp and suddenly I had the loudest mono sound system on my block.
I had a few records. They were everything to me. Honestly, except for my bass, they were all I had that I cared about. I could afford maybe one a year through lawn care or whatever, and I would get one for my birthday, and maybe one for Christmas, depending on how mom’s three fucking jobs were paying that month. As you can imagine, getting the right ones was more important than even getting laid. Which, considering I was a broke-ass ugly zit faced one eyed piece of white trash human garbage, wasn’t going to happen anyway, so I was pretty single minded.
Again, I was forced by circumstance to delineate good records from just OK ones. I had been burned a couple of times by a radio single (KROKUS, SUCK MY DICK). I started to eat up reviews in magazines. I learned to parse the language of a review, to look for writer bias, to eliminate shit-talking protobros and fledgling Artistes. I got very, very good at it. By the time I was in High School I was not only able to find really good metal, but I was able to bury your weak minded reasoning in its own shit if you decided to argue with me about it.
What I am getting at is that I have been a music critic all my life. I don’t get paid for it, but I have been saved by it. And I am passionate about it. I don’t like Jazz, but coming to understand what makes one record objectively superior to another made me respect Jazz immensely. That same understanding leads me to fucking despise modern hair-country (80’s hair metal mixed with shitty 90’s rock, a slide guitar and a singer with a twang and a love for the Jesus) that all the middle-aged posers are into this decade. I can spot a poser. I may or may not like the pose, but fuck if I don’t spot it.
On the internet, reviewing is not about what it was when I was a teen. Then it saved me money, time and disappointment. Now it is more about celebration and direction. Then, a shitty band was a mortal affront, deserving scorn and derision. Now, a shitty band is maybe a work in progress, deserving some directed criticism. Now we all can go to a thousand websites and fucking HEAR THE WHOLE FUCKING RECORD before we buy. Then I had one shot at maybe two copies of Diary of a Madman at the Pegasus in the Newgate Mall in Ogden. I had to be really god damned certain I wanted it.
I am in love with the modern metal world; so in love that I feel even more compelled to help you see the music the way I do, and to see it the way you do. I want to see if what I feel when I listen to SubRosa is ever what YOU feel. Or Mithras. Or Vektor. If not, why not? Do you have a way of hearing these records that I have not considered? Dan Obstkrieg does. And that is how I came to hear Hammers of Misfortune. Zach Duvall does, and so I first heard SubRosa. Michael Wuensch does, and so I first heard Vektor.
Almost no one NEEDS metal album reviews any more. But there are all these sites. No one needs to keep making Metal, in fact – especially now that the gravy train is a couple of decades in the past. But there are all these bands. No one needs to distribute the records. But there are all these companies. This may be the greatest moment in metal history because all these various parts have forged and wrought and honed this scene into one where I have not heard a legitimately shitty metal record in years. And there a fucking lot of bands to hear. You can get so lost in it. But even the forgettable records are decent while I am playing them. Gene Hoglan was right: we are lucky, and I DO get how lucky I am.
CHAPTER THREE: I got angry and died in the middle of writing this bit
I hear it said that I should feel lucky to be getting old. So many never got the chance. OK. So many also never got the chance to have their colon leak into their abdomen, either. So many never got to hide in a dim room peeling the ghost lining from their own brain to try to make the ache stop, either. So many never got to crawl bloody fingered from a life of poverty to a life of middle class comfort and then watch it all fuck itself away, either.
But I am lucky. How I feel about it is irrelevant to anyone but me. Objectively, I am here, I am relatively whole and I am counterintuitively happy. So, like it or not, I am fucking lucky.
Long ago I learned that pain, whether physical or mental, is not relative. Neither is joy. Or love or hate. We are all trapped in ourselves. We are absolutely incapable of feeling anyone else’s pain. Period. When I hurt I hurt alone. Entirely alone. When I love I love alone. I can be in direct physical contact with someone who claims to love me, and I can experience their actions and let that act as proof of their sincerity, but I can’t feel their actual love for me. I can only feel my own.
My getting old is my own. You have no idea. You are not me. Further, you were not there in hospital when I spent a night in insane agony waiting for a diagnosis so i could get any pain medication at all. You weren’t there when I prostrated myself on my floor, begging a god I could not actually believe in to just give me that peace everyone was always going on about. You weren’t there the first time I had to let my little brothers and sister have the last of the bread because that was fucking it for the week. Nor when the dirty fucking bankers collapsed the economy just as I was making a move to start my own architectural drafting business, you were fucking nowhere.
You don’t know me.
I don’t know you. All the shit you have been through? I have no idea. If you tell me it was traumatic when your dad backhanded you off the porch for disrespecting your mom when you were seven, I believe you. Why wouldn’t I? If you say you really believe Jesus died for my sins, I believe you. Why wouldn’t I? If you say you thought your lover meant it when they said it – right up until you found their other lover’s nudes on their phone, I believe you. Why wouldn’t I?
It isn’t trust. It is more akin to scientific observation. And a little dose of “who gives a fuck if you are lying?”
CHAPTER FOUR: Dead now. Sitting in the waiting room. Because I can’t get up.
Thanks again to all of you.