[Cover “artwork” shamefully done by Wobbly]
Happy Thanksgiving, or Native American Heritage Day (tomorrow), or Eat So Much You Pass Out And Your Friends Play With Your Easy Bake Oven Day, or whatever. The interpretations and meanings of this holiday continue to evolve, but the one aspect we here at Last Rites really like to emphasize is that whole thankfulness thing. Treasure what you’ve got and express it.
“But,” you say, “aren’t you the same group of nincompoops that sometimes likes to point out the turkey albums of each year? Wouldn’t that be the opposite of thankfulness?” Well, yes, you are right that on several Thanksgivings we have indeed spent a lot of energy talking about the albums from that year that ‒ for one reason or many ‒ disappointed us. What can we say? We’re still a rather cantankerous bunch from time to time. But in other years we’ve gotten in on the thankfulness game as well, so there.
As for this Thanksgiving? We’re doing both! But mostly the thankfulness part. Each of us thought of an album that at one point we disliked, ignored, or flat hated but now we hold in quite a high regard. Call it “Flipping the Bird” or “Turkeys to Treasures,” if you will. We’re calling it both!
Chime in with your similar turkey-to-treasure stories, if you’d like. Above all else, we here at Last Rites hope you have a relaxing, largely drama free, culinarily satiating, and ultimately, THANKFUL Thanksgiving. [ZACH DUVALL]
Coroner ‒ Grin
For years I thought Coroner needed to always operate at a high speed boil, attacking the listener with fiery technical thrash that rarely relented. And while Mental Vortex reduced the madness a bit, it was still a highly technical album with a good amount of thrashing violence. Then came Grin, which introduced a groovier, far less aggressive, and downright stranger Coroner. Despite having a for-the-time modern/alt edge, it wasn’t nearly as immediate as their previous material. I hated it at first.
I also grew up thinking that I hated Brussels sprouts because as I child they were served to me with all the flavor boiled out. Like Grin, sprouts are kind of weird, and they need a different approach. When I realized that sprouts didn’t have to be boiled, but could instead be roasted with a good dollop of fat (may I suggest rendered pancetta?) for tasty caramelization, I came away loving them.
Grin is the fattier, roasted version of Coroner, and it took a change in my listening approach to truly appreciate that. The album quite often sounds like some parallel universe version of Celtic Frost where they embraced alternative metal, which is extra funny considering Tom G. Warrior’s appearance on Coroner’s Death Cult demo. A lot of that is due to Ron Royce’s vocals sounding more like Warrior’s than ever before (he was always pretty close), but also due to riffs that combine catchy repetitiveness with heft. Parts of “Caveat (To the Coming)” sound like something Kim Thayil might have written for To Mega Therion, at least until it opens into a seriously shreddy Tommy T. Baron solo.
And that’s where Grin really separates itself from convenient comparisons: all the virtuosity still on display. A tune like “Internal Conflicts” may have some pre-nu/alt metal throwdown grooving, but it also gets pretty techy at times and way shreddy at others. This is a pretty intensely 90s album (dissonant lines and vocal effects and samples and all), but one made by a progressive, virtuoso band that cut its teeth during the height of the tech shred era. Unlike an album like No More Color, Grin makes you wait for the rewards, but said rewards ‒ great bass lines in “Status: Still Thinking,” rhythmic trickery and smoldering vibes of the title track, slithery riffs in “Serpent Moves,” the sexy main motif in “Paralyzed, Mesmerized,” etc. ‒ are awesome and all over the place. And it also bears repeating that Baron may never have delivered as sweet a set of solos as he did here. The slower tempos and lowered aggression gave him more space, and he filled it with style, kinda like the hot space of a roasting oven… or something.
Like the boiled Brussels sprouts of your youth, Grin deserves another chance if you’ve always viewed it as a lesser finale. It’s far different, but by taking their technicality into more open, alt-ish realms, Coroner stayed truly progressive. [ZACH DUVALL]
Unleash The Archers ‒ Abyss
Very few bands have birthed a trio of albums as unexceptional as Unleash the Archers’ Behold the Devastation, Demons of the AstroWaste, and Time Stands Still only to knock it out of the freaking park on the fourth go-round.
Listening to Apex for the first time felt momentous. And not just because it came out of left field. As this very website put it, “[i]t’s a complete album littered with slick riffs, solos that would make a prog-guitarist quiver and most importantly, a vocal performance that simply slays.” Apex was the band’s statement, its coming-out party. After tinkering with a largely compromised melodic death and power metal hybrid sound for six years, Unleash the Archers had finally shed most of the former to make way for a heftier version of the latter. There weren’t a ton of North American power metal bands playing with that much muscle and speed. That alone made the band a magnet not only for genre enthusiasts like me but for people who, ironically enough, the band was probably trying to court with their first three albums. With Apex, Unleash the Archers found its identity. Or so one hoped.
The three years between Apex and Abyss felt particularly long. That’s especially true for those months in 2020, when most bands seemed to be holding off on releasing music they couldn’t tour on. Yet here was Unleash the Archers, barreling through newly accepted album promotion norms five months into lockdown like a bat out of hell. Abyss was highly anticipated, and the floor was theirs.
Yet the album’s rollout felt like an increasingly sharp slap in the face. The first single—the title track, “Abyss”—was the less surprising of the three, mostly because it was still relatively riff-driven. But the fact that the band wasn’t being shy about its use of synth felt like a bad omen. Though also riff-driven, “Soulbound” felt even more simplistic, short, and heavy on the keys. And with interest already waning considerably, the release of the strangely poppy “Legacy” was the straw that broke the camel’s back. At the time, it felt like any ground Unleash the Archers had gained with Apex had suddenly and unceremoniously been lost.
Despite the disappointment, I had neither the courage nor commitment to cancel my pre-order of Abyss. I didn’t even care when it arrived dinged up—like raising a stink over candied yams, a Thanksgiving side dish I simply did not care for, I figured an album I probably wasn’t going to listen to much wasn’t worth quibbling over.
I was wrong on both counts. Candied yams, though both orange and a vegetable, are actually quite delectable. And despite being a sham of a sequel to Apex, which is to say no sequel at all, Abyss is its own beautiful animal. Judged on its own merit, Abyss is actually earnest in its excess of ambition. More than Apex, Abyss is definitively album-era material, and it wasn’t until I plopped down on my couch with headphones glued to my ears that it clicked.
Whereas Apex sacrificed some vocal variation for ripping guitar work, Abyss sacrificed some ripping guitar work for vocal and pacing variation. And that change in dynamics simply didn’t sit well with me. Nonetheless, with time, I grew to appreciate all the wonderful things on Abyss that were borne from the band’s above-mentioned ambition, including the AOR vibe of “Through Stars” and “Carry the Flame” and the semi-prog pop of “Legacy.” While Brittney Slayes benefits the most from the shift in sound, and deservingly so—her voice is an absolute treasure—there’s something to be said about how adept Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley were in playing to the strength of each song while retaining some of the heavier edge that made Apex such a fun listen. Admittedly, I do still prefer Apex to Abyss, but I am thankful for the risk the band took and I am hopeful that album number six signals another tonal shift. [Chris C]
Rage Against The Machine ‒ Rage Against The Machine
In 1992, I was about three years into this heavy metal journey (which, it would appear, is a lifelong one for me), and I was still very very much in the thrall of the classics: the Maidens, Priests, Metallicas, Overkills, Testaments, Accepts, and so on. Metal was a brave new world still unfolding before me, and unlike apparently a vast amount of people, I was anything but tired of it. I had only just gotten here, after all.
I was perpetually looking for new music, but I guess I wasn’t really looking for something new.
I don’t remember exactly where I was when I first heard Rage Against The Machine, or who introduced me to them, or when it was, really, but it was right around this first record. I remember kids at my high school, both younger and older ones than me, being completely blown away by it, by the mixture of hip-hop and heavy metal, by Morello’s array of guitar FX-laden noises, by de la Rocha’s bullhorn bark, by the groove and the power therein. But me? I was having none of it. “But what of this Countdown To Extinction album?” I was probably saying, “That’s some serious metal.” Hello, me, meet the old me, and he was mistaken.
It took me about 20 years to finally circle back to the first Rage Against The Machine, and when I did, when I spun it back up and “Bombtrack” kicked in, and then “Killing In The Name Of” hammered it home… well, yeah, you know… and you know you know. It’s a groove-laden, soulful blast of heavy riff and world-stomping swagger, adorned with radical leftist sloganeering delivered in that tenor rapping with all the subtlety of a klaxon call. Short lyrical phrases are hammered home, repeated in staccato rhythms until their spiked down into your brain; Morello skreeks and skronks, his guitar sounding like keyboards or turntables or Jimmy Page or like nothing at all before or since; Wilk and Comerford swing with a lumbering ease that few bands could ever match, providing the tightly coiled rage in this particular machine. There are no bad tracks, and the best ones have become classics.
The popular shift towards the nu- of the 90s left a weird taste in the mouths of a lot of metalheads, but there are gems buried in the rubble of Hot Topics and Ozzfest side stages. Rage Against The Machine helped kickstart the groove metal revolution, but don’t hold that against them like I did for so long. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong. [Andrew Edmunds]
Fates Warning ‒ Awaken The Guardian
For as much as some of us who remember what it was like to search out and hunt down new music before the internet like to wax poetic/idiotic about the electrifying thrill of discovering some completely unexpected avenue and having your puny brain exploded into technicolor like Dorothy stepping out of her house straight into a meat grinder, the unfortunate corollary is that sometimes you got a raw deal, or at least an incomplete picture.
Point being, the very first Fates Warning I ever heard was the Still Life live album, bought on a complete whim at the Sam Goody at my local mall. And friends, if I may be honest, I was NOT impressed. Hitting “play” on that first disc to find a violently self-serious run-through of a 50-plus-minute concept album I had never heard (and one, it should be said, that already tended toward the somewhat dull and ponderous) was a sour disappointment, and was enough to turn me off the band for some time.
After spending several years reading some print magazines and diving more deeply into metal, I started to get the impression that Fates Warning was just too important to keep avoiding. It was the ominous, fantastical imagery of Awaken the Guardian that convinced me to take another plunge, but friends, if I may again be honest, I was NOT impressed. Maybe if I had had someone more seasoned in metal to point out some context or other touchstones of nascent prog or US power metal, it would have worked, but on that second “first time” with Fates Warning, I simply could not find my way with John Arch’s vocals. They felt so strange, so elastic, so untethered that I could never find anything to hold onto—it was as if he and Jim Matheos had decided in advance on the timing and structure of each song, but then came up with their own entire universe of melodies.
Fast-forward the better part of another decade, and for whatever reason, Arch/Matheos’s Sympathetic Resonance finally hit me like a ton of crusty, arms-folded prog heads sneering, “well… DUH.” In hindsight, a large part of how I finally came around to their undeniably idiosyncratic pairing was the benefit of additional time and experience. Plus, the additional crunch and heft of the sleeker, more modern production was an easier pill to swallow while also providing a telescope pointed straight back into the past, as if to say, “Now do you see what we were doing and how we got to this place together?”
So please, Awaken the Guardian, consider this humble mea culpa the smallest of repayment for having shunned your brilliance and grandeur for so long. Now when I listen to “Prelude to Ruin,” I can tap my feet along to the bustling and yet remarkably steady rhythmic undercurrent while simply sitting back in happy confusion trying to pick out Arch’s lines. I mean, listen to how he phrases the line “Existence of any one thing has never been but the prelude to ruin” — who would have the confidence, let alone the skill, to pull off that kind of savant phrasing? And in this song, too, I can look back with some fondness and forgiveness at those earlier moments of becoming myself. Listen: the music is heard again. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
Triptykon ‒ Melana Chasmata
In truth, I could’ve picked any of the records Tom Warrior has been involved with from about 2006 forward for this piece: Celtic Frost’s Monotheist, or any of the releases belted out by Triptykon from 2010 through 2020. My grievances up to and including a few months of 2021 felt reasonable at the time and were based primarily on two admittedly lame factors, the first related to my status as a surly ol’ dog who remains active in a scene that’s constantly shifting and hauling in fresh recruits who so very often deride the past, and the second with reference to Warrior’s newfound tendency to drive vocal lines into the listener’s brain over and over again to the point of brain detonation.
That first point was the real stickler, though, and to understand it one might actually need to be an old dog who remains active in a scene that’s constantly shifting and hauling in fresh recruits that taunt us poor old timers with statements along the lines of, “Monotheist is my first Celtic Frost album, and it’s the best one because it’s the heaviest and I don’t like boomer metal from the 80s.” Point of fact: No band in existence has ever topped the heaviness of “Procreation of the Wicked,” and Celtic Frost accomplished that monumental feat way back in 1984. This is an armored fact, and no amount of slight of hand will ever defeat it.
Fast forward to 2021, I was just sitting there minding my own incredibly impressive business and decided to hit play on Eparistera Daimones within the mindset of someone with zippo experience with Tom Warrior projects in the past, and BOOM… It suddenly made perfect sense. There was no penetrating reason to pick the record back up again for one more swing, no fellow crew members sparking the excuse by jumping on one of our discography binges, no outside influence or distraction at all—just me and Triptykon’s Melana Chasmata having our first honest sit-down 7 years following its release.
What hit me the hardest as the songs finally began sinking into the marrow was just how different it all felt compared to Warrior’s work in the past. Not completely from another planet, of course, but where the classic Frost run from Morbid Tales through 87’s Into the Pandemonium felt otherworldly but still “boots on the ground,” this record made me feel as if I was adrift in space hundreds of years into the future and gradually drifting past a monstrously huge alien spacecraft / possible life-form torn from the imagination of H.R. Giger. That very unique Warrior / Giger partnership has always been there, but with Triptykon—and this album specifically—Giger’s sleek, carnal, mechanized, alien face had finally found its most sincere audible comrade. Whammo, I was hooked.
To put it into T-day’s “gettin’ down with the grub” terms, sometimes you gotta step away from the cranberry salad that everyone but you seems to flip their shit over and approach it from a “what if I reimagine the cranberry salad as a condiment on a stuffing sandwich OH MY GOD I JUST UNLOCKED THE NEXT LEVEL OF LIFE” angle.
And hey! I got through the whole blurb without a triptyphan joke! [CAPTAIN]