ON THE YEAR
Last year at this time I was angry. Constant anger starts to numb the spirit. You feel tired rather than restless. So you stop paying attention, focus back in on the minute garbage that makes up individual human life.
This morning I read that a 7 year old migrant girl died of dehydration while in our custody.
There are a lot of ways to die, and almost none of them are easy. But dehydration is something we may not really think about as being an awful way to go. Cancer, fire, drawn and quartered… Dehydration? Doesn’t feel like it stacks up.
Ten years ago I was in an emergency room with a searing, unmanageable pain in my lower gut. The doctors didn’t know what was causing it, so they ran batteries of tests. I went in the ER at around 11:00 pm and the testing went from then to about 5:30 in the morning.
During this time I was not given any medication. The doctors were not sure how it would affect whatever I was suffering from. And if they needed to do exploratory surgery, I needed to be drug free for the anesthesia. I also needed an empty stomach. No food, no pills…no water.
Funny thing about excruciating pain. Dealing with it uses up resources very quickly. You sweat out and respirate a LOT of water in the first little while. You get very thirsty. If you can have a sip of water, no problem. If you can’t, your body gets in a drag race with agony. Which will make you more miserable: the insanely painful gut issue or the desperation for water?
Every time I thought to myself, “this pain cannot get worse. There is no worse to get,” the pain increased. It was astonishing. Fascinating. It hurt so much I kind of detached, mentally, like I was Spocking my own demise.
For all that, the thing that was consistently more important to me, suffering wise, was that I was thirsty. I was so fucking thirsty. I could detach from the pain, but not from the thirst. The thirst was always raking me, slicing me, scorching my throat. If you would have offered me morphine or water, but not both, at that moment I would gladly and greedily have taken the water. The thirst was a madness.
This lasted all of five hours. I was never in any danger of dying from dehydration. Not even close. So my imagination can only touch what the seven year old little girl went through. She died of something that made me more desperate than diverticulitis.
In my hands. She died in my hands.
See, I am the government. In a democracy we are the government. Every shitty thing the government does, I do. And I can think of few shittier things than forcing a seven. Year. OLD. Human being to dehydrate. TO DEATH.
I am angry again.
“Could you, you know, just write the fucking list now?”
Yeah, I mean, yeah, I could, sure.
“OK, so will you? Now?”
Hhhhhhhhhhhyyyeaaahh I guess. I just get so…
“We don’t care, Chris. We just want to see your picks, OK?”
OK, OK. I am just a pick object, to you. A thing that picks records. Some trollop reviewer, dancing in the window in the red light district of the heav…
“THE LIST…please. Just the list.”
I am more than just a mind, goddammit! I have urges! I have a…
“Chris, that joke will never be funny.”
Fuck it won’t.
“It won’t. Drop it.”
You know, for a slightly different version of me, you are a fucking asshole.
“I’m not different at all.”
RECORDS THAT WERE JUST SLIGHTLY LESS FANTASTIC: 20-11
20. Outre-Tombe – Nécrovortex
Wow. Ugly, young Bolt Thrower worship is what I didn’t know I needed, but I needed.
19. Sodom – Partisan EP
Two new songs from Sodom is like two new songs from Sodom. Which is to say, buy it.
18. Deceased – Ghostly White
GHOSTS? THERE ARE GHOSTS!!?? Get the hell out of the house! No, don’t try to get to the bottom of it. JUST GET OUT!!!
17. Aseitas – Self Titled
What, you thought I wasn’t going to find a weird, recklessly heavy album to put on my list? Joke’s on you. This is blackdoomdeathpost with enough sheer gravity to suck the universe back into itself.
16. Judas Priest – Firepower
Any time a band with as many miles as Judas Priest puts out a record as fresh and energetic as Firepower, you idiots better give them your money.
15. Needful Things – Deception
A destroying release from a veteran Czech grind crew, this will fill your weeping, gaping Nasum void easily…well, not easily. Nothing about this record is easily. But it hits the spot.
14. Obscura – Diluvium
Giving Horrendous a run for their money in both virtuosity and songcraft, this record has a slightly thrashier feel to it that helps it stand out in the crowd.
13. Moss upon the Skull – In Vengeful Reverence
So many of this year’s best records pay homage to death metals of yore. MutS does so with an almost insane amount of technical death prowess and inventive styling. Channeling the gooiest moments of greats like Iniquity, this is a keep-an-eye-on-it band.
12. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
A delight for a zoology major like me, just cuz. A story told by geological ages of life via prog and death metal? Coulda’ just called it “The Chris Sessions Explosion”. And, like the Cambrian, there are many fascinating results.
11. Terrorizer – Caustic Attack
Pete Sandoval belongs grinding. He belonged deathing, but he belongs grinding. Pete Sandoval just belongs.
RECORDS THAT WERE FANTASTIC 10-1
10. Horrendous – Idol
There is nothing new or revolutionary about technically magnificent musicianship in death metal. But Horrendous writes honest to fuck great music, both on a technical and a purely gut level. They play with ferocity and sublime deftness, by turns. Nothing is wasted, nothing is just noodling. It’s virtuosity with a vision. It drops your jaw, but it also feeds your id.
9. Hooded Menace – Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed
Not quite doom, not quite death, Hooded Menace will be what they are without your labels, thanks. A step up from previous efforts, this record could almost be NWOBHM or even trad except that it wants to be whatever the hell it wants to be too much to worry about it. But whatever it wants to be, or you want it to be, it requires playing. A lot. If you are smart you will do just that.
8. Extremity – Coffin Birth
As you will see, I found a lot of value in younger acts this year—but just as much in stalwarts. Extremity is a band of individual stalwarts in a young band, and that means I got the best of both worlds. A supergroup without being a supergroups, playing straight up ruthless death metal. It is expected of the musicians in question, but no less satisfying for that.
7. Tomb Mold – Manor of Infinite Forms
As with Binah below, Tomb Mold is a newish band playing familiar death metal, but with a lot of value added in the form of songcraft. The unfolding riffs and battlefield drums alone are head turning, but the way they combine into masterful compositions, flipping and flaying, and always returning to some of the best straight head banging chugs you can find, make this a keeper.
6. Binah – Phobiate
You will always get me racing with the Boss HM 2 sound, but Binah didn’t let that sound do all the work. They wrote SONGS for the sound to drape across. Moving and disturbing, crafty and layered, these songs stand on their own. The Boss sound is just the skin of the beast.
5. Cripple Bastards – La Fine Cresca Da Dentro
So many grinders in my year’s end is a fine sign that the year in metal has been very good to me. Cripple Bastards write songs in a language I do not understand, but they make music in a language anyone with a temper can understand. The songs could be about cute little puppies, delightful cakes and how sweet little children are, as long as they sound like a fistfight in a street riot. And hooks! Grind is often full of hooks, but Cripple Bastards are hookier than your creepy uncle’s fishing cap.
4. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology
Somewhere, somehow, invertebrate biology became as metal a topic as zombies, war and beer. Which, hey—slimy, undulating amorphous horrors are ripe for the squishing, either receiving or delivering. Slugdge does more than just make a metal record about mollusks, though. They create a metal opera about them. And with some of the most compelling melodies, whatever-is-called-for vocals and gut turning riffs you are likely to hear. It’s absurd and delightful and disgusting. What the fuck else do you need?
3. Abysmal Torment – The Misanthrope
Death Metal dominates my ears. I am that guy. It’s not going to change. I love it love it love it. And there is almost nothing in the universe I love more than when a death metal band makes a perfect record. Equal parts riff, emotion, hooks and depth, Abysmal Torment delivers on The Misanthrope. A brutal, veteran death band upping their game is not new, but these folks have not just upped, but Michael Jordaned their game.
Also, huge props for getting a picture of my head for their album cover.
2. Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
Last year one of my top listens was Morbid Angel’s latest. It’s fitting that this year an artist I first heard on a classic Morbid Angel record should be at the top of my list. Eric Rutan started off Hate Eternal with a bit of a one-note problem. His songs didn’t stand apart or keep the attention. Song craft is a craft, though, and he and his fellows have crafted their craft into a monumental record. Vicious, demanding, and mesmerizing, Hate Eternal has become as crucial as its elder.
1. Axis of Despair – Contempt for Man
In a year where death metal essentially dominated my playlist, it comes down to a grind band to break form. Axis of Despair was in my ears more than the rest, though, because it did what a great grind band should do: get to the fucking point, stay on fucking point and drop it when you finish. Grind is evolving, and there are a lot of exciting and disgusting acts out there, but for this year this band played it the way I needed to hear it: early aughts and filled with guts.
Special Year End Mentions
Failure, as always, cannot release a bad record. In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind is still gestating in my brain, but history teaches that Failure titrates itself into your heart. The albums that stay with me are often the albums that, though I could not put down, I could not fully appreciate…at first.
Pig Destroyer did not release one of the best albums of the year. Or of their career. But the metal community either loved or hated this thing, which seems oddly hilarious. Head Cage is not nearly as bad as some people think, but not nearly as good as some others think. Maybe that is the real problem?
The Haunting of Hill House was not metal, but Deceased likes ghosts, and THoHH had ghosts. It also had two of the best episodes of television in the last several years. In fact, episode five was a perfect short story, told perfectly.
Regarding Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O’Brien’s recent troubles: sometimes we forget that metal people are people. Brains are exceedingly complex collections of neurons. Complexity can always fall prey to complication. I have watched my own brain steer me into ideas and behaviors that I think are fucking nuts. I will never come down on or speak lightly of anyone who’s mind seems to betray them. I hope he and anyone else struggling with mental illness comes out of it with peace and clarity.
Finally, a hearty “hail!” and horns in the air to the metal makers we lost this year. Gone, never forgotten, and leaving us richer: a hero’s end. 2018 RIPs
Extra Credit Essay
CHAPTER THE FIRST: Great Is Human Hubris—Greater Still Is Human Fellowship
I had a great idea.
All of my ideas are great, of course, but this idea was greater than the others: I would write an article about the lack of black people in metal. Where are they? Why do we see so few in the crowds and hear so few in our headphones? A few are represented—members of Suffocation, Living Color, the Detroit seminal metal/punk Death—but so very few. The ChicanX, Cetral and South American communities are well represented, and those of Middle and East Asian descent. The numbers of diverse peoples I see in metal have always seemed to mirror the general population—but not for black Americans. Do we the fans make POC feel unwelcome? Do they uniformly not enjoy the genre? Is it purely cultural or are there other, more esoteric reasons?
I did not write the article. I was not getting enough interest from people of color, and their voices are the voices that matter. After a few weeks, I had a new job and new college semester to deal with, so the project faded. I will still try to move it forward, but if there is no interest from metal fans and musicians who are black, then there is no article. I can tell you what I think, but I am merely pale with a touch of ruddy. My voice is irrelevant.
I did get one person to talk to me about it, though. The guitarist and vocalist from the band Stone Vengeance, Michael Coffey. We talked for quite a while, and planned on talking more, but life got in the way. Shame. See, Michael and I had one of those conversations. The kind you don’t know you are about to have and you hate to leave when time shuts things down. The kind upon which friendships are born. Had we been in a bar, I have no doubt we would have ended up pub-crawling all night.
We talked about metal. His journey into metal, specifically, but as a matter of fact, it was OUR journey. Somehow we lived separate lives in separate places and have had separate destinies, but the number of times I laughed and said “ME TOO!” during that long phone conversation would make you think we were lifelong buddies.
Music has not, in my experience, been a language we all speak in unison. If some country-western fan decided to drop a convo on me regarding the importance of The Outlaws to the genre, I would sort of nod my head and reply “if you say so.” I am not out here listening to Waylon and Willie and the boys. And, due I imagine to my arrested development (meant in the real way, not the hilarious series I never watched way), I was in my forties before I really stopped identifying aggressively as a metalhead. I AM one, but I can see it more clearly now. It doesn’t define me, exactly. It adorns me.
What defines me is that arrested development I talked about. Or the depression / PTSD that caused it. Or overcoming it. Or my 30 year marriage to the lady who had me giggling so hard last night I farted. Or the son we raised who is slowly making his way through the world. Or my blind eye, fat ass and bad back. Or my desire to help fellow students see the abject glory of the universe revealed through the scientific method.
Or everything or nothing. But Mr. Coffey and I shared a hell of a talk about metal. He’s a great guy, as far as an hour and a half phone conversation can make out, and I got to know him, just a bit, by being a metalhead. And by being curious ABOUT metal. By wanting to see connections between what I love and all the people that love it too.
CHAPTER THE SECOND: I Wandered Lonely As a Crab
Around that same time I was able to get to a small record store in a back alley in Salt Lake City to see Pyhrron. I got to meet these guys, a couple of whom I have been Facebook or writer friends with for some time. And we had great little conversations. There wasn’t time to sit for an hour and a half, but there were minutes and moments and laughs and metal. I met a fellow metal writer, the members of the sublimely terrifying Succumb, and again, had great, if brief conversations.
A woman working in the same office I do passed me in the hall the other day, and I made a silly quip and she made one back, as we often do. I don’t know her at all except to pass her in the hall and trade that silly quip. I mentioned something about metal and, yep, suddenly we were thick as thieves. I dropped the obvious bands—Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation—she lit up. I dug deeper—Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation—she lit up brighter. Her husband’s fave, Morbid Angel, the fantastic new Hate Eternal and Abysmal Torment albums… just like that, we were old friends.
The only thing I had in common with any of these folks was metal. Metal took us straight past the “so what do you do?” shit and made us instantly relate. Humans need communities. We can’t fight bears one-on-one. We can’t bring down Woolly Rhinos in pairs. We need a team. A group. A community. Heavy metal, as ridiculous as it is, provides me with that community. I’ll never really fit in any of the traditional communities. That ship sailed long ago. But I have never been to a show where I could not walk up to any stranger and just start talking metal.
I am not a shut in, but I am not exactly a party animal either. I tend to let the day exhaust me and spend the night recharging. I am not one of these corny Luddites who loves / hates the internet and will post a bunch of bullshit—online—about how no one looks up from their phones anymore. Fact is, if I had had a phone to stare at when I was a kid instead of engaging with the adults in my family, I might be a lot healthier and happier today. So none of that revisionist bullshit for me, thanks. The Internet is swell. I love it outright. Google scholar, comedy clips, streaming records and snarky writers. And my metal community lives within it.
The point to all this is several.
One, a community is just a collection of interdependent individual organisms. Online metalheads qualify. We learn from each other, we teach each other, we share and we take and we give. We need no introductions. We all love something to the degree we can all accept each other. All we ask is that we are cool to one another, and we all bang our heads to “Victim of Changes.”
Two, curiosity, no matter what it is about, is never wasted. I can recite to you facts about evolution, cosmology, rock music and World War Two fighter airplanes because these things fascinate me, but I can also tell you stories and myths and ideas that have osmosed or congealed from curiosity about all these things, but have little to do with them. I have just described a new friend I met because of curiosity about metal. If, when learning anything, you find yourself asking “what the hell good is this?”, the answer is that there is nothing else but learning. Never kill your curiosity. Always follow it. You can make or lose a dollar, a friend, a lover, but you can only make experiences and ideas. That’s all you really have that is YOURS.
Three, stop belittling the internet and people who use it. You sound like buffoons who say “if god had meant for man to fly he would have given him wings.” Is that what you want to sound like? Is it? Fucking, NO. You hate those people. You want to hit them. You don’t, because it is against the law, and also would make you feel like a dick. And you are probably not a dick. Not really. Maybe a little, but who isn’t? So knock it off. If you do it, I mean.
Four, go listen to “Victim of Changes.” Preferably from Unleashed in the East. You know you have wanted to ever since reading it earlier.
Five… can we all work together this year to stop children dying of thirst in our facilities? Can we all start fucking demanding that this shit ends? Can we all agree that it might be something worth fighting over? Or are we really that far gone? Think it over.
See you next year, unless something awful happens and I turn into a Deceased song.