Everything sucks. You don’t even need details why. You know it’s a struggle to get up in the morning and open Facebook, and yet it’s also impossible to look away. This is not meant to be some humorous intro. We’re all legitimately terrified.
Thanksgiving sucks, at least the getting-together-with-relatives-you-never-see-so-you-can-try-to-bite-your-tongue-while-they-say-how-much-they-admire-Vladimir-Putin part of Thanksgiving. The food and wine and new MST3K episodes parts of Thanksgiving don’t suck, but having those things without having to hear Uncle Fred say how much he liked Joel Osteen’s new book would really be great.
Even movies—distractions that are supposed to help—are stuck in a loop of remakes and franchises. Sure, the MCU is pretty fun and the new Star Wars flicks are mostly good, but no one needed a new Robin Hood movie that looks like a Jason Bourne ripoff and we SURE AS SHIT don’t need a Big Trouble in Little China remake, no matter how much we love The Rock. (No joke, it appears to be happening.)
Okay, not quite everything sucks, but it sure seems that way sometimes. This why we, The Hobby Writers Union of Last Rites, don’t spend a ton of our time listening to bad music just to share it with you guys. Our reviews generally (but definitely not always) veer towards the positive purely because we don’t have a ton of time to spend listening to whatever new shitband is getting shitpublicity these days for shitsaying or shitdoing something shitstupid that has nothing to do with their obvious shitmusic. It’s just better to focus on the positive where it exists.
In the interest of contradicting our generally magnanimous nature, we’d like to catch up on the sucky suckiness that we missed throughout the year in a tradition as old as Grandpa Willis slicing open his finger while carving that overcooked bird. This year we’re (slightly) expanding the field to not just include albums, but any shit that just didn’t fly. Because turkeys can’t fly. There’s a joke in there.
If you find your Thanksgiving dinner under-seasoned, just come right back in here. We’ve got your salt.
HIGH ON FIRE – ELECTRIC MESSIAH
It’s a bit of a cruel irony that in a year which saw the surprise release of a frankly stunning album from Matt Pike’s more relaxing band Sleep, his far more aggressive and high-energy band High on Fire would release another worryingly dull album. In truth, Electric Messiah is far from terrible, but all its best moments feel like dusted-off reprises of earlier heights. Following the bulldozing thrill of album opener “Spewn from the Earth” with the seemingly interminable plod of the 9-plus-minute “Steps of the Ziggurat/House of Enlil” is a momentum-sapping decision from which the album never quite recovers, because after the shot in the arm of the title track, hey, guess what! It’s another – and even longer! – very slow song that takes too much time to go too few places. The sassy trills and loping drums of “God of the Godless” are a second-half highlight, but by the time album closer “Drowning Dog” rolls around, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’ve heard nearly all of this before, and much better. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
THE THREE TREMORS PLEDGEMUSIC CAMPAIGN
Trust me when I reveal the following truth: trying to pick between Therion’s basketball-sized dose of Extra Strength Ambien that was the unbelievably three-houred Beloved Antichrist and somehow figuring out an angle on this Three Tremors PledgeMusic campaign was not an easy task. Clearly, I have elected to go with the latter, because this crusade is…well, pretty much a shitshow from most every angle. Who is this “THEY” that conceivably believes this project “couldn’t be done” and that the album “could never happen?” If THEY actually exist, THEY probably meant for their doubt to be pointed toward the original interpretation that involved Dickinson, Halford and Tate, not three guys who seem completely feasible to put something like this together.
What’s particularly sad is the fact that some of us might actually be convinced to check the record out based purely on Conklin’s presence (seriously, go listen to Jag Panzer and Satan’s Host), but by the time Peck proudly asserts, “This isn’t the album of the year or decade, this is THE ALBUM OF ALL TIME—you gotta get it,” one can’t help but throw everything associated with this Peter Popoff power metal nightmare right into the bin. Sad, sad, sad. Bad, bad, bad. And crikey, the album isn’t even out yet! THEY said it’s the Cornballer of the year, so don’t blame me. [CAPTAIN]
BOOK OF BAD DECISIONS
Clutch has long been one of the most energetic acts in rock, which is why Book of Bad Decisions sounding like the work of a tired and bored band is so upsetting. The tempo is almost universally mid-paced, Tim Sult seems to finally be running out of great riffs, and the (over)production has a modern sheen that can only be called “Black Keysian.” Out are the heftier tones given them by producer Machine on some of their best records; in are plastic guitars and an over-reliance on horns and keys. I’m sure Vance Powell has done great work producing “country” and “blues” records, but he doesn’t get Clutch at all. Even the lyrics seem like rehashes of what what Neil Fallon has done in the past (“How to Shake Hands” manages to rip off both “D.C. Sound Attack” and “Escape from the Prison Planet”). And there’s a song about crab cakes! And it’s boring! Who doesn’t get excited about crab cakes?!
It’s rarely truly terrible, but even promising tunes like the slow-blues “Emily Dickinson” or riff-driven “In Walks Barbarella” have caveats—a ham-fisted bridge in the former, and far too many horns drowning out the riffs in the latter. Oh, and the record is almost an hour long!
Mostly, it’s shocking just how suddenly this decline happened. Earth Rocker was one of their best records just five years ago, and 2015’s Psychic Warfare, while a slight step down, was still quite good. I’ve seen this band live 15 times, so this really hurts to write, but Book of Bad Decisions is the worst Clutch record by a wide margin. [ZACH DUVALL]
ALTAR OF THE VIRGIN WHORE
Turkeys can be prepared for Thanksgiving in a variety of ways. Stuffing in the bird, out of the bird, deep-fried bird, braised, roasted, bacon-wrapped, beer-battered, brined bird, braised bird, smoked bird; the list goes on and on. Every choice made caters to a different set of taste buds. Throughout their career, Profanatica have been delivering a different recipe for each album, adding a new twist to their brand of primitive black/death metal, each catering to different sets of eardrums. From the fuzz-laden Profanatitas de Domonatia and ridiculously bass-heavy Disgusting Blasphemies Against God to the noisy guitar frenzy of Thy Kingdom Come and jar-of-bees-toned masterpiece of 2016’s The Curling Flame Of Blasphemy. In fact, Curling Flame could easily be argued to be their best and most fully realized work, so when news came around of a new EP from Profanatica, Altar Of The Virgin Whore, the levels of excitement and curiosity were at equal highs.
Straight out of the oven, this EP sounds exactly what one might expect from Profanatica in terms of songwriting. The on-the-beat slamming drums, noisy guitar, unholy vocals, slower ritualistic passages—all the elements are there. The production is still soaked in grime and filth. The riff on the title track is pure mid-range tremolo riffing that is undeniably Profanatica. However, there is no real flavor that gives Altar Of The Virgin Whore its own identity in the way the band’s past efforts do, leaving a drier taste on the palate. Hopefully this could be attributed to the slump that so many bands struggle with after releasing some of their best work and that Profanatica aren’t just resting on their laurels and using the EP to push through and move on another full-length with its own blend of auditory spices and dressing. [RYAN TYSINGER]
DEICIDE – OVERTURES OF BLASPHEMY
In some ways, I’m not 100% certain that Overtures Of Blasphemy belongs on this list, for a few reasons:
1. At this point, I’m not sure anyone is really expecting all that much from Deicide. They’ve bounced back and forth between surprisingly strong and forgettably bland for decades now, never recapturing the spark that defined their first two albums, but coming close with 2006’s powerful The Stench Of Redemption.
2. Overtures Of Blasphemy isn’t terrible—in fact, it’s a marked improvement over the previous Deicide effort, the boring In The Minds Of Evil.
But sometimes one bad apple spoils the whole damn bunch. As strong as some of Overtures is – and in places, it’s damned solid vintage death done with a modern sheen, as on “Defying The Sacred” or the blasting “One With Satan” – a large part of it falls into an interchangeable death-by-numbers, solid riffing that never quite takes hold. Kevin Quinlan and new guitarist Mark English rip through tremolo riffs and Steve Asheim plays his heart out. Still, all of those factors are just regular old apples—the spoiling comes in the monotonous vocals of Glen Benton, the Christ-hating purveyor of a thousand blasphemies whose throat-destroying attack helped make Deicide and Legion such truly monumental albums way back in death metal’s infancy. Now eschewing any of the growls and screams that gave his voice such a distinct character, Benton sticks to a low chest grunt, indistinct from hundreds of other growlers that he’s undoubtedly inspired.
At the end of the day, your appreciation for these Overtures depends on your tolerance for generic death metal, and how high your expectations were for a Deicide album in 2018. This one’s not the fowlest flop of the year, but like many Deicide albums before it, it could be a hell of a lot stronger. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
SHINING – ANIMAL
I don’t quite have the words to explain how much I hate this album. Norway’s Shining has rarely pursued the same course for long, but in the past the strength of their execution always ensured that one never doubted their motives. Animal, by contrast, is just a garbage heap. It is a big, dumb, poppy, DUMB rock record, but most of its hooks fall flat, none of its idiocy is any fun, and all of it is wrapped up in the stiffest, most brittle production possible. Have you ever wanted to hear an entire album that sounds like variations on Devin Townsend’s “Lucky Animals”? Do you enjoy eating broken glass? Are you a hideous person with borderline criminal taste in music? Well, here’s a record just for you. The rest of us will be in the other room pursuing bilateral Van Goghectomies. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
WATAIN – TRIDENT WOLF ECLIPSE
Imagine being a kid on Thanksgiving again, sitting in front of a half plate of stuffing, cranberry jam, baked potatoes out of a can, ham, string beans, and Turkey. Gravy is all over the fucking plate, and it’s mixed in quite well with the cranberry sauce. You’ve already filled up on the abundance of Pillsbury biscuits and butter that were put on the table before anything else, but you’re going to force yourself to eat two more plates of this shit because it only comes around once per year. Fast forward a few decades later, and you’re coming home from work in the middle of August and someone has surprised you with a Thanksgiving-style meal at home. You’re super pissed as you realize, when taken out of the context of one solitary nostalgia-filled day, Thanksgiving food sucks. [Editor’s note: HOW DARE HE?!]
What does any of that have to do with Watain? Not much, really, other than the fact that Watain also sucks unless you’re a 14-year-old at Hot Topic. The cool costumes. The pictures of sermons. The evil imagery and lyrics. You couldn’t wait to unwrap that album just like you couldn’t wait to load up that big plate of yours on Thanksgiving once your parents said you could eat. But then you sat there, forcing yourself to eat, realizing why you never crave Thanksgiving food on any other day in the year. But unlike Thanksgiving, your adult self shouldn’t even crave Watain one day per year, because there are much better bands. But sure, Casus Luciferi and Rabid Death’s Curse were exciting, right? Well, kind of like a Thanksgiving meal cooked completely from scratch… much better than processed food, but it’s still just a Thanksgiving meal. If you loved it so much, you’d want it all the time.
But recent Watain is straight out of the can. “You should be thankful for your meal.” “Some kids don’t even get Thanksgiving.” “Do YOU want to do all the dishes?” You look out the window and see a family having a picnic in their back yard. The parents are drinking wine and eating fresh fruit, and the kids have pizza and soda pop. Everyone is smiling and having a good time. There are no dishes to be done after the meal. But that’s not the real reason why they’re happy. Their playlist that’s being blasted from their living room features Svartsyn, Arckanum, Ondskapt, Sorhin, Svartrit, Dissection, Dawn… Swedish bands that are actually, you know, good. If the kids across the street are well-behaved, they’ll get something foreign for dessert, like the latest Blaze of Perdition or Sargeist. It’s time you kissed your mom and went over to the Svarkquiståstsvrln’s house for dessert. Because traditional Thanksgiving, just like Watain, only gets more mediocre every year. And this year ain’t no different. [KONRAD KANTOR]