Archive for the ‘Heavy Metal’ Category

Midnight Priest, Midnight Priest (2011)

An album cover incomparably more interesting than the music within

My review of the debut full-length from Portugal’s Midnight Priest is up now at MetalReview.  Perhaps I’m a bit harsh on their raw, Mercyful Fate-ish NWOBHM style, but I found the album tiresome, grating, and almost wholly unoriginal.  Plus, despite their drummer’s insistence to the contrary, I remain at least halfway convinced that “Sábado Negro” means black sabbath.  I mean, Google Translator says it means ‘black Saturday’, which is completely understandable, but translating ‘sabbath’ from English back to Portuguese yields ‘sábado’, so…  Either way, Midnight Priest is out now on Stormspell Records.


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Saviours, Death’s Procession (2011)

This is the biggest image I could find? Thanks for nothing, Internet.

My review of the upcoming record from Oakland’s Saviours is up now at MetalReview.  I have some harsh(ish) words for the album, even though I think it works more often than it doesn’t, because most of the time I just want them to lock into a smooth rhythm and let the guitarists shred sweetly all over the damn place.  Death’s Procession will be out in a few weeks on Kemado Records.

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Satan’s Host, By The Hands Of The Devil (2011)

All ass-kicking, every day of the damn week

My review of the latest (and truly scorching) album from Satan’s Host is up now over at MetalReview.  Slightly dodgy cover of “Norwegian Wood” aside, this is a fierce and furiously fun record.  By The Hands Of The Devil is out now on Moribund Records.

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Have you been flinching as much as I have on this trip into the time when words were small, and ambitions smaller, and opinions surprisingly timid?  Have you recalled the follies of your own former selves in the process, or has the calcifying march of time so blotted the stains of memory as to render them fuzzed and vaguely pleasant?


Mastodon, Leviathan (2004)

Still some of the coolest fucking album art in, like, ever

Certainly among the most highly anticipated releases of 2004, Mastodon’s sophomore full-length Leviathan has already been subjected to endless hyperbole, so I will do my best not to add to the prattle.  As in any case where the expectations are so high, it is inevitable that many will be disappointed with Leviathan.  Those who are most likely to be disappointed, however, are those who were expecting Mastodon to release Remission – Pt. II, with little or no alteration to their already crushing and well-developed style.  Instead of treading water (pun only slightly intended), however, Mastodon has incorporated more melody, especially into the vocals – which are no longer hoarse barks, but rather tuneful bellows – and has polished the production up a bit.  Neither of these developments, though, has made their overall sound any less punishing.

Despite these modifications, Leviathan may be easily compared to Remission due to the fact that Mastodon has again written an incredibly strong group of songs, and simply plays the hell out of them.  Brann Dailor’s drumming is still the most easily recognizable and unique facet of their sound, as he whips through churning, chaotic rhythms with a subtlety and understated flair borrowed from jazz and progressive rock.  “Blood and Thunder” and “I Am Ahab” kick off the album furiously, while introducing the aquatic theme (much of it taken from Melville’s Moby Dick) of the record.  Far from being a mere pretentious bid for intellectual and musical depth, Mastodon’s sound is indeed massive enough to deserve the theme it claims, easily evoking visions of monstrous creatures rising from the watery deep to feed on the hearts and flesh of man.

Other album highlights include “Naked Burn,” in which Mastodon’s new found sense of melody is used to great effect; “Aqua Dementia,” which features throat-tearing guest vocals by Scott Kelly of Neurosis; and the positively epic “Hearts Alive,” which is able to suggest both crushing weight and transcendent beauty, as a ray of sunlight pierces the murky abyss.  Throughout Leviathan, Mastodon’s playing is fluid, inspired, and inspiring.  Although this attempt to avoid hyperbole has clearly failed, this is one band whose hype and acclaim is more than well-deserved, given that over the course of just two full-length albums they have managed to discover new ways for heavy metal to be heavy.


Dry, right?  Although there’s probably something to be said in favor of this more straightforward writing style.  Generally folks aim to get less pretentious as they age, but I seem to by doing my utmost and damnedest to reverse that pernicious trend.  Don’t encourage me, then; I’m incorrigible.

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In praise of some of this year’s releases that have featured prominently around Spinal Tapdance HQ lately, and in avoidance of some of the actual work I ought to be doing, I present a quick rundown of, as the title says, some of the new(ish) shit I’ve been spinning.

Beware the mad monk

Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits – Officially out today [ed.: Tuesday], I believe (along with enough other new metal releases to choke a horse, or at least force it into an equestrian approximation of headbanging), this is a nonstop grin-fest of everything wonderful and energetic about classic heavy metal.  Mike Scalzi’s vocals are as potent as ever, and the songs are both carefully honed and gloriously meandering.  Put it in yr ears and smile, smile, smile.

Color-by-numbers skeleton

Intronaut, Valley Of Smoke – For whatever reason, I’ve missed all the previous releases from this band.  This new album, though, really shook me by the shoulders and slapped me around a bit.  Excellent songwriting, beautiful textures, great clear bass lines and tasteful jazz-inflected drumming have kept this spinning over and over around here.  The instrumental title track may be the best thing here, though that’s not to downplay the judicious use of both harsh and clean harmonized vocals throughout.  Definitely recommended.

Climb it

Horseback, The Invisible Mountain – Tough to describe, but equally tough to ignore once it has sunk its claws in your flesh, this hypnotic album is something like an Americana act discovering krautrock and throwing in the menacing undertones of black metal.  Oh, plus the entire second side is a lilting ambient piece, the trip down the other side of the mountain after the first side’s arduous ascent.  A curious piece of work, but kudos to Relapse for picking this up for wider distribution.

It's good to remember how much you missed them

Autopsy, The Tomb Within – Brilliantly atavistic, mud-sodden death metal for murdering zombies.  It’s only five tunes, but all the death and doom you could hope for is alive and (un)well.  Welcome back, you perverts.

Brilliant artwork

Cough, Ritual Abuse – I haven’t got my grubby hands on the new Electric Wizard yet, but this new Stateside entry in the grand tradition of nihilistic sludge metal goes down just fine, all ragged edges and shaking hands.  Also playing of late has been Cough’s tremendous split with The Wounded Kings (reviewed at this very site by yours truly last week), out in November.  I’m pretty sure both sides of the split are streaming somewhere out there in computer-land, so get yourself to Google and soak in the doom.

Like 'Walden', but heavy metal

Celestiial, Where Life Springs Eternal – One of the most atmospheric albums I’ve heard this year.  Exceedingly nature-touched, overdriven-to-the-point-of-ambient ‘funeral doom’, though that genre description is hopelessly inadequate to describe the equally soothing and crushing sounds at work within.  Reminds one of neo-folk, without actually forcing one to listen to neo-folk.

It's a dead polar bear. Weep for this world.

Antony & The Johnsons, Swanlights – Antony Hegarty simply will not rest until he has made each and every one of us weep bittersweet tears.  This is fragile, strong, desperate, haunting music.  His duet with Björk is especially stunning, but the variety of songwriting styles on display throughout the album is most impressive.

Move your body

Gilles Peterson, Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura: Remixed – Last year’s original issue of the Havana Cultura recordings were already excellent enough, but here Gilles has enlisted the help of some top-notch remixers and reinterpreters to put a more club-friendly (without the horrific connotations that phrase can entail) spin on this broad pool of Cuban musics past and present.  Funky, soulful, and always a lot of fun.  It can’t all be heavy metal all the time, friends.  Gilles is there for you in your time of need.

Exhaustive, though not exhausting

Bob Dylan, The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 – A massive two-disc set of early demos of future Dylan classics, plus something like fifteen previously unheard songs.  This is a treasure chest to be explored, and in which to lose yourself.  The man is clearly not a ‘record once and move on’ kind of studio musician, as the strikingly alternate versions of some of these tunes illustrates.  Perhaps the most jarring alternate on here is the demo version of “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which is slowed way down, and led by piano only.

Hallucinatory shoegaze metal

Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings – Debut album from this side project of R. Loren from Texan weirdos Pyramids.  Features a shit-ton of guest vocalists and musicians, but succeeds largely because it doesn’t seem bogged down by that fact.  The album still presents itself as a coherent aesthetic whole, featuring a gorgeous variety of textures and moods.  Best heard as a piece, straight through, with mind set a-wandering.

Mind-bogglingly fantastic, dastardly metal art

Akercocke, Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone – Okay, so this is clearly not a new album.  In fact, it’s from way back in the Stone Ages of 2005.  But SONOFABITCH this album is so good.  You should play it all the time.  Each and every day.  Also, if the gentlemen of Akercocke would see fit to give us another album one of these days, why, that would be just swell.


Random bit of old news that I’m still bumming hard about:

Soooooo good

Beatrik went and broke themselves up a while back.  Dude also broke up his more straight-ahead black metal act Tenebrae In Perpetuum, which is also too bad, but man, Beatrik was where it was at.  If you haven’t listened to Beatrik’s second album Requiem Of December yet, well my goodness, you just really ought to do so.  All the best bits of depressive black metal, proper black/doom (like Nortt, see), and the great organ textures of Skepticism, topped off with fabulously excruciating vocals…  A really tasty treat, is what I’m trying to say to you.


So, what’s been keeping you lot auditorially-occupied of late?  Don’t be shy.

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So, by now many of you have probably seen (or at least seen reference to) this video of Adam Lambert (he of some or other season of American Idol) performing a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”  I’m sure with a second’s research I could figure out precisely where and for what purpose this was performed, but I frankly don’t give a shit, and it’s beside the point either way.

The reaction to this video from the heavy metal community, at least as far as I’ve seen, has been, as you might imagine, principally one of outrage, or perhaps even disgust.  How dare this man, this purest expression of everything about ‘pop’ culture that heavy metal purports to despise, attempt to infiltrate and appropriate our beloved canon?  Alert the village elders (Lemmy, Iommi, Steve Harris), man the ramparts, et cetera, et cetera.  All very predictable, and not necessarily wrong.

The offender

Still, I’d like to make a slightly different argument, if you’ll be so kind as to humor me.  Instead of being shocked, or horrified, or just simply saddened by Mr. Lambert’s very glam take on Metallica, I think that the metal community should, if not embrace it, then at least recognize this performance for what I think it is: A more artistically compelling and frankly dangerous statement than the original song.

First, here is the official music video for Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” from 1991’s self-titled album:

If you’ve made it through the video without collapsing into a fit of seizures, then bravo.  That video is truly a terror to behold (and not in a good way).  I’m not quite sure what compelled the director to think, “Oh, instead of filming the same exact action in real-time, let’s make the whole video a stop-motion thing, that’ll be spoooooooky as shit,” but there you are.

Metallica’s song is, of course, widely acknowledged as a “classic,” if for no other reason than it’s been around for a long time, and most everyone knows it.  Still, the thing is, it seems to have attained that kind of place in our culture where one is more likely to hear it played over the PA at a giant sports stadium, or at a high school assembly, or maybe even while waiting at the checkout counter of your neighborhood Walmart.  It’s safe.

Which is not to say, I should point out, that it was ever really dangerous.  By the time the ‘Black Album’ was released in 1991, Metallica was no more danger to anyone than Neil Diamond or soft pillows.  If anything, Metallica circa 1991 were the safest sort of rock idols, at least in comparison to the intentionally sloppy, calculatingly scruffy attitude inculcated by the ongoing and/or impending grunge revolution.  As opposed to the mopey, “caring-about-anything-is-a-waste-of-time” insouciance of Nirvana or (early) Smashing Pumpkins, the Metallica that toured the ‘Black Album’ was the undiluted expression of the megastar American dreams of every teenager hoping to pull herself up by the (guitar)strap.  “Eat your veggies and work hard, kids, and you, too, can be the biggest hard rock band in the world.  We’ll even let you grow whatever dodgy facial hair you like!”

The offending facial hair

The song itself, “Enter Sandman,” flirts with a menacing veneer, but its serpentine half-thrash comes off more like the boogie vibe they would embrace more explicitly in the much- (and probably rightly-) maligned Load/Re-Load albums.  In the interest of full disclosure, I ought to say that it’s only with age and wisdom that I’ve come to dislike this song (though my mild disdain for “Enter Sandman” cannot even come close to matching my pure fucking spite for the abomination that is “Sad But True.”  Truly, a song that ought to be excised from the annals of rock history, and for which sin its writers deserve far worse penance than making an embarrassingly “let’s-hug-it-out” documentary.)  Nevertheless, I do not think it is a particularly good song, trapped, as is most of the ‘Black Album’, in that wretched netherworld in which thrash is kicking to draw its last few ignominious breaths, but has already made halting, sopping nods toward the meatier ‘grooves’ that would come to typify the execrable folly of so much “metal” throughout the 90s.

Here, then, is Lambert’s live performance of “Enter Sandman.”  The backing track is a reasonable approximation of the original, though it highlights the plodding, infuriatingly middle-of-the-road riffing slightly more than one would wish.  The instrumentation isn’t particularly consequential, though, as the focus is obviously intended to be Lambert’s vocals and physical carriage throughout the song.  Thus:

Clearly, the audience here is loving every minute of this (although I suspect they would love each and every minute our [anti]hero spends out on the stage); they’re completely lapping it up, and there’s something oddly charming about the amateur video quality.  Lambert sings much of the song relatively straight (har, har), indulging in increasingly melismatic flourishes as the verses and choruses pile on in that inescapable logic of pop songcraft.  Lambert is clearly an objectively “better” singer than James Hetfield, although I suppose ardent fans of either man would tell you that that’s not really the point.

To cut right to the heart of my argument, though, make sure you watch Lambert’s vocal histrionics and masturbatory pantomime as the song goes into the solo break about halfway through.  Lambert mimics guitar soloing with his voice for a few phrases, but then – hark! – begins gyrating and loving his microphone in that most intimate of ways.  A 21st century Elvis, high on self-love instead of fried chicken.  Coming out of the solo break, Lambert plants some kisses on one of the musicians before continuing to sing out the rest of the song.

Now, to suggest that many in the heavy metal community will have been turned off by the whole spectacle is not necessarily to imply a pervasive homophobia (though there are likely elements of that for some people).  Instead, I assume that some combination of the pageantry, the preening male sexuality, and the theatrical vocal take on a well-established entry in the pantheon of American heavy metal will result in a generalized disdain.  I also assume that Adam Lambert doesn’t give a damn about heavy metal, or about the heavy metal community, and that perhaps few of his fans do, either.  The issue, then, is all one of context.  See, there’s nothing particularly controversial in Lambert’s performing that song to that audience, because they are clearly primed to enjoy every flourish, every note, every gesture of whatever song he decides to sing.

The reason, then, that I want to suggest that Lambert’s take on Metallica is more artistically vibrant is that it takes the warmed-over half-thrash violence of Metallica’s original, and the blandly predatory intent of Hetfield’s snarling recitation of children’s prayers, and turns what has become meek and safe into something dangerous to heavy metal itself.  Lambert’s writhing performance takes the implicit leering of Hammett’s wah-soaked (duh) solo and makes it explicit.  It’s in your face, as he strokes his microphone like the great digital phallus is always is in every other singer’s hands already.  In grafting a gay, glammy sensibility onto this half-heartedly aggressive music, I suspect that Lambert has transgressed the standards held (however subconsciously) by many in the metal community.

(This is not really the time or place for getting into the role of homosexuality in heavy metal – though it is a fascinating, important topic – but perhaps it will suffice to suggest that none of the more prominent gay men in heavy metal – Rob Halford, of course, but perhaps also more recently Gaahl (ex-) of Gorgoroth – have brought this type of sex performance into their public personae.)

Perhaps before closing I should add that I don’t particularly enjoy listening to Lambert’s version of “Enter Sandman.”  Despite the criticisms I’ve leveled at Metallica’s original version, I think I’d still prefer it to this half-theatrical, half-tepid version.  Nevertheless, it’s at times like this, when popular culture intersects – however briefly, however tangentially – with heavy metal, that both venues stand to learn from the other, or at least for whichever community one prefers to put itself up to a sharp self-assessment.  When something like Adam Lambert’s performance, however dull or insipid the actual musical performance may be, can appear so threatening to heavy metal, a genre and community ostensibly drawn to power, danger, and all the rest, heavy metal ought to take a look at itself, and at the transgressive potential it once thrilled to realize.

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Nevermore, The Obsidian Conspiracy (2010)
— Reviewed in the style of Ernest Hemingway —

The man looked at the picture and looked away and ordered another drink.

The hotel was loud and there were already a lot of people there.  The man pulled out a chair and sat down at the hotel bar.  He found the barman and ordered a pink gin.  Like the sailors used to drink, he thought.  A band was playing already when he sat down.  Most of the tables in the lounge were full.  Couples talking, lots of men clapping each other on the back.  The man thought he didn’t need any of that.  There would be time for that.

He thought about “This Godless Endeavor.”  He looked out the window.  A train pulled slowly out of the station, and a table of well-dressed young people across the bar from the man talked loudly about skiing.  Five years is a long time, the man thought, and maybe those fond memories were all wrong anyway.

“Turn to the left, turn to the right.”  The man did not listen.  The band played a chorus, almost like it was played from another room.  It played major, dipped minor.  The man thought he heard something.  Then it was gone.  He ordered another drink.  “Is this soliloquy or psychosis, or self-hypnosis?”  The barman must have left the radio tuned to a motivational program.  The man finished his drink, and watched the ice slowly become water in the glass.  He breathed out.

The band at the bar only wanted to play some crowd-pleasers.  The musicians kept pushing the lounge singer out of the way, so he pushed back.  He seemed a little tight, the pusher.  Squinted his eyes to look serious.  Too many damned words, the man thought.  As if each additional syllable made the sloganeering more effective.  The man glanced out the window.  The train was gone, and a listless breeze swept across the plain.

He listened to the band play “The Termination Proclamation.”  He listened, and then remembered her:

“He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks.  He looked up the tracks but could not see the train.  Coming back, he walked through the barroom, where people waiting for the train were drinking.  He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people.  They were all waiting reasonably for the train.  He went out through the bead curtain.  She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

‘Do you feel better?’ he asked.

‘I feel fine,’ she said.  ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.  I feel fine.’”***

How do you ‘abandon someone with scorn’, the man thought?  It’s all damned worthless anyway.  The barman dropped his mixing glass, and set his rag down to clean up the mess.  The lounge singer had recovered his poise, and was singing a slow song.  The man asked the bartender to turn down the radio.  The barman didn’t hear.

Most everyone had left the bar by now.  Empty tables weighed down with half-spilled glasses and uneaten food.  An older woman in evening-wear sat staring at the band.  She seemed to project a sense of feeling the music deeply, deeply.  The band’s set was only forty-five minutes, but they had lost some of their sheet music.  One of the players ran through some fast solos while the band sat back.  Maybe it was a saxophone?  The man was not interested.  The sparse crowd listened.  The man sat at the bar, thinking about lousy conversationalists who always steer a polite topic into ornate, self-serving directions.

The band played an encore, ‘Temptation.’  No one had requested it.  The man put down his drink.  It had soured.  The lounge singer bounced his voice around.  Even the well-dressed woman looked uncomfortable.  The rest of the band would not meet the others’ eyes.

The barman came back and tried to get the man another drink.  The man started to order another gin but then ordered a scotch.  “Say, this is some band,” said the barman.  “Yes, some band,” the man replied.  He balled a napkin in his hand.  “Don’t you like the music?” asked the barman, drying off some glasses with lime peels still stuck on them.  “Yes,” the man said.  He took another drink of the scotch.  It tasted like smoke and honey.  “No,” he added.  “It’s very nice music, but I don’t give a damn.  I just don’t like it at all.”  He paid the barman and pushed back his chair and walked out of the hotel and toward the train station.  He looked back.  The band inside was just finishing and those people still at the tables were still talking and laughing.  Maybe they were talking about snow and ski lifts and hot cider and good times but the man stopped looking back and put up his collar and his shoes echoed loudly on the ground.

There would be plenty of time to catch the next train at the station so the man thought about “This Godless Endeavor” again and shook his head and couldn’t remember what he meant to do.  The man hoped the band found the music they had lost.  He put his hands in his pockets and turned the corner and whistled a song he didn’t like.  He saw another train far in the hills and he closed his eyes and he kept walking and the train off in the distance went behind another hill and was gone.  He kept walking.


*** Just in case the jarring contrast from my piss-poor imitation didn’t make it obvious enough, this passage in full quotation is taken directly from Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants.”  This quote taken from my copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, The Finca Vigia Edition, 1987, New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., p. 214.  Let’s just say, shall we, that the Hemingway story likely shares its subject matter with Nevermore’s “The Termination Proclamation.”  You tell me which source deals with its theme more deftly, yeah?

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