Better Late than Never: Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

Alright faithful reader. Let’s get real. And not just real, REALLY fucking real. I’m about to spend the next 3-4 paragraphs blathering on about how I feel about Deafheaven’s newest album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (spoiler alert: it’s really, really fucking good). About how masterfully the band can blend the warm guitar sounds and upbeat melodies of alternative rock with the grimy, piercing evilness of black metal. About how, despite being far from the only band trying to bring a new dimension to the stagnant sound that is European Black Metal, Deafheaven can do it more effortlessly than group around. But let’s cut through the bullshit: you don’t need to read this review. By the time you’ve read the title of this article you’ve already made up your mind about how you feel. Nothing that I could say, do, pontificate, preach, evangelize or squawk has a popsicle’s chance in hell of changing your mind once it’s been made up about Deafheaven.

You see, for reasons that I still don’t understand to this day, Deafheaven currently hold the title of Most Polarizing Band in Metal. Something about bringing non-metal elements into a genre occupied by little boys trying to embody “TRVE KVLT” and all the bullshit it entails brings out the hatred in droves. I wouldn’t expect everyone to like Deafheaven, and I understand that metal fans have a hard time embracing other music styles, but honestly, what the fuck? Their music is good. They are talented. They scream their faces off. What else do you really want?

So that brings us to Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. Stylistically it is a near 180°-turn fromDeafheaven their last outing, 2015’s New Bermuda. While New Bermuda was Deafheaven at their most black metal, full of endless blast beats and riffs denser than a poorly made cupcake, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love skews towards the band’s alt-rock sensibilities, with oodles and oodles of light, warm and fluffy pancakes…I mean guitar tones, romantic imagery, and a pervasive sense of calm dominating most of the album. Vocalist George Clarke’s menacing, unbridled screams are the only constant from the Black Metal realm, although there are brief moments of aggression expertly peppered in throughout most tracks (in particular “Canary Yellow” and “Glint”). It’s almost as if the band embraced their harshest criticisms and leaned into them more than accounting for them, producing an album that sounds more like the record that they’ve always been meant to make.

At just seven tracks (with four of them over 10 minutes long), Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is best digested as a whole, as the brief interludes on the album (and I use that term loosely, with the shortest track on the record clocking in at 4:08) do a fantastic job of setting up the album’s heavy hitters. While “Near” and “Night People” may not be as memorable as “Honeycomb” or “Canary Yellow”, they are integral to the flow of the album, providing an even greater juxtaposition than already exists on the main tracks.

Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a wonderful album, and one that feels like Deafheaven pushing themselves further musically than ever before. While I must admit that I miss the uncut aggression of New Bermuda, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love show a level of maturation and growth that I didn’t expect from the band. Now, for those of you who skipped the entire review just so you can bitch about the grade that you inevitably disagree with, eat shit.

GRADE: B+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Honeycomb”, “Canary Yellow”, “Glint”

Better Late than Never: Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light

THE BRIAN JOHNSON CORROLARY: When a band unexpectedly improves upon losing an important member. See: Johnson, Brian and “Back in Black”

Losing a band member can have a wide range of effects on a band, from no effect whatsoever (probably just a bass player) to complete and total ruination (lead singer or eponymous lead guitarist). Occasionally, as was the case with AC/DC and few others, bands can lose a vital member, sometimes to choking on vomit and sometimes not, and actually get better. Such is the case with Skeletonwitch, who up until this point were a decent thrash band most notable for their awesome name. After losing former vocalist Chance Garnette to the bottle, Skeletonwitch brought in Wolvhammer frontman Adam Clemans to fill the void for their newest offering, Devouring Radiant Light. What the band produced is something greater than either Skeletonwitch or Wolvhammer have ever put out, a blackened thrash instant classic and one of the deepest albums of the year.

From the minute that album opener “Fen of Shadows” kicks in, Devouringskeletonwitch Radiant Light is a relentless assault on your ears, pummeling you with furious thrashy riffs that play an endless game of cat and mouse with dense, suffocating black metal. Clemans’ grimy, evil vocals up the black metal factor of the album to a level that I never heard on any of their early work. Most impressively, the album never sounds repetitive or monotonous, a problem that plagues both black metal and thrash in particular. But the intermixed styles, as well as their ability to add just a touch of melody (like at the end of “Temple of the Sun”) give the album a level of needed complexity that separates it from its peers.

Added to the metal mixing pot that is this album are the occasional light & warm guitar tones (a la Deafheaven) that creep into a few tracks, most noticeably the middle sections of “The Luminous Sky” and the chorus of “The Vault”. Most people are tuning into blackened thrash metal for heaps of heaviness, so those lighter moments were an unexpected and, yes, pleasant surprise. And make no mistake, they aren’t forced into the music, serving as a natural and continuous bridge between destruction and chaos, like an oasis in the middle of a dry, evil, death-ridden desert.

More than anything, the strength of Devouring Radiant Light is the depth of the album, with each and every track (all EIGHT of them) warranting repeated listens. Not since Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name has a metal album been so strong from front to back. Even when I started to think that the last few tracks weren’t quite as strong as the beginning (and that’s not an insult, as “Fen of Shadows”, “Temple of the Sun” and “Devouring Radiant Light” all should warrant Song of the Year consideration), “Sacred Soil” kicked in with its simultaneously heavy & melodic chorus, bringing the album to a raucous and deservedly magnificent close.

It’s hard to believe that the band could top this record, even with it being the first album with Clemans at the helm, since as far as I understand he means to continue fronting Wolvhammer (despite being replaced by good ol’ Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams on their most recent tour). Even if this is the band’s peak, and I would bet on it, Devouring Radiant Light is an Everest-esque peak, one of the finest achievements of the year and as unique a metal experience as I’ve had recently. Listen to it. NOW.

GRADE: A-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Fen of Shadows”, “Temple of the Sun”, “Devouring Radiant Light”

Better to Review Later Than Never: Between the Buried and Me – Automata II

Automata I, the first half of Between the Buried and Me’s double album that was released earlier this year, was a fine listen. Nothing revolutionary, a couple of excellent tracks mixed in with few less than memorable tracks, but a fun listen nonetheless. More than anything, it felt like it was hurt by the unconventional release structure of the record, with the first half dropping back in March and second half in early July. While I enjoyed Automata I, it felt incomplete. Thematically it felt incomplete, musically it felt incomplete, and story-wise you were left hanging at the end.

On Automata II, Between the Buried and Me bring everything full circle, wrapping up theBTBAM Automata 2 double record on a much stronger note than they started it off on. While Automata I had multiple tracks that struck me as nothing more than filler, every minute of Automata II feels integral to the album. After my first few listens to Part 1, I’ve only revisited “Condemned to the Gallows” and “Blot” while skipping over the rest of the album. Part 2, on the other hand, is best consumed as a whole, the musical flow of each song leading seamlessly into the next. Even the lone sub-8 minute track, “Glide”, serves as a wonderful appetizer to the highlight of the album, “Voice of Trespass”.

Since the album stretches across just four songs, here’s a track-by-track review of Automata II:

TRACK 1: “The Proverbial Bellow”

The longest track on the album at a brisk 13 minutes and 18 seconds, “The Proverbial Bellow” is a proggy journey through all that makes Between the Buried and Me great. The band jumps effortlessly between styles and time signatures, starting the song off with a two and a half minute instrumental introduction, then moving onto a spacier, more atmospheric section before bringing in the heaviness around the six and a half minute mark. The song would have fit in nicely with the rest of the tracks on Coma Ecliptic, although the band (in a trend that continues throughout this album) focus in a bit more on their heavier side than they have in a LONG time.

While the track does lose a little bit of steam during the extended instrumental outro that occupies most of the last 2-plus minutes of the song, it doesn’t go out with a whimper, instead sending the listener off with a guitar solo that would make Slash proud. Overall, an excellent start to the album, and an excellent preview of what’s to come.

TRACK 2: “Glide”

Far and away the shortest song on the record, “Glide” mostly serves as an extended lead-in to the third track. But even with that being said, it is still a fun listen, with a carnival-like atmosphere backed up by the best accordion work I’ve ever heard on a metal track. “Glide” sets an uneasy and off-the-wall mood that will only be thrown into high gear once “Voice of Trespass” kicks in. The brief moment of swing that comes in for the final 15 seconds is the perfect precursor to…

TRACK 3: “Voice of Trespass”

WHAT. A. FUCKING. SONG. For a band that has become famous for their ability to incorporate any and all music genres into their own sound, this has to take the cake for their most ambitious work yet. From the soaring big-band and jazz-inspired instrumentation to the carnival-barker vocals, this song is one giant “What the Fuck?” wrapped up in a delightfully fun package.

For all the efforts that the band has made in recent years to embrace their melodic side, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Tommy Rogers sounds angrier than he does during the chorus on this track, which sounds even heavier when contrasted with the fucking SCATTING that he does right afterwards (god I love how bizarre this song is). Were you hoping for a Xylophone solo? Well guess what!?!? YOU GET ONE! By the time the refrain kicks in for the last two minutes of the song, I fucking dare you to not be singing along. More than anything, this track is FUN. You can bank on this one showing up on my end of the year lists.

TRACK 4: “The Grid”

It would be nearly impossible to adequately follow up the intensity, craziness and downright fun of “Voice of Trespass” …and “The Grid” doesn’t. But it’s still a solid track, with a slightly muted chorus reminiscent of Automata I counterbalanced by some pretty impressive aggression during the verses. While this is probably the weakest track on Automata II, it far outpaces the weaker links on Automata I and provides a satisfying-enough close to the record (or records, if you’re willing to consider both albums as one work).

So there you have it. Automata II is comprised of one of Between the Buried and Me’s all-time greatest songs, and excellent song, one great intro track, and one song that is fine. For a four-track album, that’s not too bad! The biggest issue with Automata II isn’t the music itself, but how it should be judged in relation to Automata I. I know that the band considers this a double record, but due to the staggered release and the vastly different styling between the two I have a very hard time doing that. Had they been released together I likely would have been able to digest them both as one work (and if I’m being honest, they both would have been bumped up in my book on their respective strengths playing off each other), but I’m not able to do that.

With that being said, Automata II is easily the stronger of the two albums, showcasing what Between the Buried in Me is trying to become while playing more off their past than what they did on Coma Ecliptic. It’s another solid progression of their sound, but an acknowledgment that they won’t abandon what got them to where they are today.

GRADE: B+

HIGHLIGHT TRACK

“Voice of Trespass”

Too Many Reviews in the Kitchen

Listen here, people. Having a cat is a FULL-TIME JOB. Between taking care of him, plus my actual full-time job, plus everything else involved in being a functional adult, I’ve gotten moderately behind on my reviews. Like, really, really far behind. Like, at least four of the albums below deserve a full-length review, but if I keep putting off writing them until I have the time then they will never get written. Which is good news for you, because now you get to read a bunch of reviews in one fell swoop of albums that are likely to show up of many a “Best of” list at the end of 2018.

DevilDriver – Outlaws ‘til The End, Vol. 1

Much like Burn the Priest’s Legion: XX, DevilDriver’s collection of covers on Outlaws ‘til The End, Vol. 1 benefits from the unlikely scenario that much of their fanbase will be familiar with the source material. Maybe more than any other genre, there just isn’t a lot of crossover interest in metal and country (yes, even OUTLAW country, whatever the fuck that is). Personally, I was only familiar with two or three of the tracks that they chose to cover here, leaving the merit of the music in it’s own hands rather than it’s success as a cover. And you know what? In a country-less vacuum, they’re pretty damn good.

Calling in help from Randy Blythe (Lamb of God/Burn the Priest), Brock Lindow (36 Crazyfists), and many, many others, Outlaws ‘til The End, Vol. 1 is a wildly fun listen. Idevildriver never would have thought beforehand, but the subject matter from these tracks lend themselves almost perfectly to a metal makeover (I’m assuming OUTLAW country tends to be a bit darker than the Garth Brooks and Tim McGraws of the world, as least if this album is any proof). It was mildly surprising to see frontman Dez Fafara take a backseat on most tracks to the many guest vocalists, but his voice adds a nice aggressive complement on most tracks, and the music is more than heavy enough for metalheads of most shapes and sizes. COUNTLESS bonus points awarded for covering Steve Earle’s classic, “Copperhead Road”, one of a small handful of country songs I’ll ever admit to enjoying.

Grade: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Country Heroes”, “Copperhead Road”

 

Immortal – Northern Chaos Gods

Every pre-and-re view that I’ve read on this album is built around the framework of Northern Chaos Gods being Immortal’s first album without former guitarist/vocalist Abbath, who left the band on less-than-great terms back in 2015. Luckily for me, I’ve never really listened to Immortal before, so the album was served to me on a nice, clean plate. And keeping with the analogy, Northern Chaos Gods is a goddamn filet mignon the size of your head served with a side of tacos level of awesome.

Black Metal (and more specifically, European black metal) tends to bore me, as noimmortal amount of evil lyrics, or demonic growls, or expertly applied corpse paint can make up for the fact that it tends to sound really, really repetitive. Somehow, someway, us Americans have found the way to put an interesting spin on black metal, be it Panopticon’s infusion of folk and country, Deafheaven’s mixture of light, melodic alternative rock (more on that next week), or Zeal and Ardor’s Black Keys-meets-Mayhem fusion of black metal and blues (see below!). But Immortal have made one of the most fun & energetic black metal albums I’ve ever heard from the other side of the pond in Northern Chaos God, with more than enough evil to satisfy the most TRVE KVLT among us, all while throwing out some of the most memorable riffs around.

Honestly, there isn’t a weak track among the eight on the record, starting with the thrashy, vicious title track and closing with ”Mighty Ravendark”, which thrust itself right into the mix for song of the year from the moment I hit play for the first time.

Grade: A-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Northern Chaos Gods”, “Called to Ice”, “Mighty Ravendark”

 

Khemmis – Desolation

Since I started electronically putting my metal thoughts down on paper 5 or 6 years ago, there are only 3 albums I can think of that I would call “perfect”. The Dillinger Escape Plan’s One of Us is the Killer, Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper, and Khemmis’ Hunted, the critical darling of 2016 that thrust the band onto the worldwide metal map. KnowingKhemmis that, I knew going in that there was no chance that the band’s 2018 follow-up Desolation could live up to the standard that Hunted set before it. And guess what? It doesn’t. But very few bands are able to put out a single record that reaches the level of awesomeness of Hunted, let alone two, so that shouldn’t stop you from appreciating Desolation for what it is: a fantastic fusion of doom and rock that shows that Khemmis is still willing to take musical risks even after the success of Hunted. Desolation shows a lot of creative growth from Khemmis, and being the 2nd-best record in their arsenal is a pretty impressive place to be.

At 6 songs and just over 30 minutes long, Desolation shows the band taking a more streamlined approach to their sound than Hunted, with lead single “Isolation” being the most radio-friendly track the band has released to date. And while that is typically metal code for “shitty”, I actually mean that as a compliment in this instance. “Isolation” shows Khemmis doing their best Iron Maiden impression, dropping the catchiest riff of their career over thunderous tribal drums and their trademark doom-laden croons. While it may not be the best song they’ve ever released, it is the most accessible, and stands a good chance to get the band further exposure with its ability to attract those outside of the doom-o-sphere.

Album closer “From Ruin”, while not as instantly addictive as “Isolation”, may prove to be the best track on the record, with its slow, lurching pace and dramatic vocals crafting one of the most intense experiences on Desolation. It’s the track that’s closest stylistically to those on Hunted, and with each subsequent listen it gets better and better. While “The Seer” may be my least favorite track from the band yet, 5 of the 6 songs on Desolation are some degree of magnificent, and for that reason Desolation, despite not living up to its predecessor, is still one of the finest achievements of 2018.

Grade: A-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Isolation”, “Flesh to Nothing”, “From Ruin”

 

The Night Flight Orchestra – Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough

If you aren’t familiar with the Night Flight Orchestra, the band features a bunch of heavy-hitters from the Swedish metal scene (including Soilwork frontman Bjorn StridNight Flight Orchestra 2 and Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo) doing their best Rush/YES impression. 2017’s Amber Galactic was my first exposure to the band, and my love of 70’s prog turned me onto their style instantly. While the concept may sound a little gimmicky, there was nothing gimmicky about Amber Galactic, which was 30 years late to being once of the best 70’s rock albums of all time.

On Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough, the band backs off the rock side of their sound a bit to further embrace the sound of the decade they’re trying to emmulate. The unfortunate side effect of this decision is that the album DOES sound gimmicky. The piano, and the sleaze, and the over-the-top love ballads are just too much to bear. Sure, it’s still a fun listen, but if I still bought physical copies of albums I would have worn out Amber Galactic last year from how many spins I gave it. About 3 listens in, I’m pretty sure I’ve had all of the fun I can with Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough. While “Paralyze” can stand up with any of the tracks off Amber Galactic, it may go down as the only memorable song from this album.

Grade: C+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“This Time”, “Paralyzed”, “Can’t Be That Bad”

 

YOB – Our Raw Heart

I won’t sit here and pretend that I’m the world’s longest-running YOB fan. You, dear reader, deserve the truth. I’ve really only started listening to the band over the last couple of years as I’ve started to get more and more into doom, and in particular doom of the sprawling, epic variety. I can’t sit here and say that Our Raw Heart is the greatest YOB album ever, as I haven’t spent enough time with their older works to make that decision. What I can tell you is that THIS ALBUM IS FUCKING AMAZING AND GO LISTEN TO IT RIGHT FUCKING NOW AND WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?!??!?!?!?!?

If you are unfamiliar with the backstory, a lot of the inspiration for the record comesYob from the near-death experience and grueling recovery of frontman Mike Scheidt  back in 2016 & 2017 thanks to a particularly miserable diagnosis of acute diverticulitis. It’s hard to grasp the emotional toll that such an event can take on a person, but goddamn if Scheidt doesn’t convey it better than I could imagine with his soulful and anguished screams on Our Raw Heart. Each and every track on this record is a journey full of pain, full of fear, and more often than not, full of hope. His growls (like on “The Screen” and “Original Face”) are some of the most powerful and most ferocious of the year. His singing (“Beauty in Falling Leaves” and the title track) and some of the most delicate and heartfelt of the year. The music on the record packs an unbelievable punch, and yet the band, in true YOB fashion, never rushes their sound to create something artificially heavy. The emotional weight of the music packs more than enough doom on its own.

YOB’s calling-card is the sprawling and exploratory nature of their sound, and that is when they’re at their finest. When I saw the band live in NYC last week (amazing doesn’t even begin to describe the show), my only complaint was that they didn’t play “Beauty in Falling Leaves”, far and away my favorite track from Our Raw Heart. Clocking in at an impressive 16:27, the track is a wandering exploration of everything that makes YOB wonderful. It may be the strongest metal track lyrically this year, and every facet of the music takes you on an ethereal journey through pain, joy, loss, and acceptance.

Grade: A-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Ablaze”, “Beauty in Falling Leaves”

 

Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

Black Metal likes to pat itself on the back for how evil and dark it thinks it is. Well a bunch of nerdy Norwegian teens talking about how much they hate god isn’t dark. Zeal and ardorSlavery? That was fucking DARK. Zeal & Ardor mastermind Manuel Gagneux mixes black metal, rock and blues into a fantastic goulash of soul all based on a foundation of American slave songs. That, just be definition, is SO MUCH MORE METAL than 90% of the music on the market today. However much you may think that franken-monster of sounds shouldn’t work, that’s how much it works. Stranger Fruit will have you tapping your toe at every turn and banging your head in between.

With the fuzzy, bluesy appeal of the Black Keys and a level of evil that you run-of-the-mill black metal band could only dream of achieving, Stranger Fruit is about as ambitious as a metal album can be. While the album deserves all the credit it gets for blending the sounds together, what it truly deserves credit for is just how good each style is on it’s own. I have no doubt that Zeal & Ardor would be just as successful a soul band as they would be a straight-forward black metal act. It’s their ability to excel in both worlds that allows them to cross back and forth so seamlessly in their music. Never before has black metal been so insanely dance-able.

Grade: B+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Servants”, “Row Row”, “Ship on Fire”, “We Can’t Be Found”

Album Review: Ghost – Prequelle

A band as theatrical, as bombastic, as over-the-top and full of grandeur as Ghost deserves more than your normal album review for their newest release, Prequelle. Quite possibly the most anticipated metal of release of 2018, Prequelle was guaranteed to divide the metal community well before anyone had heard a note. Many consider Ghost “not metal”, much more akin to Babymetal than Black Sabbath. Others, like yours truly, love the band’s gothic/classic rock sound and their commitment to the most fun persona in metal. Therefore, I present you with the most in depth album breakdown in the history of EmperorCupcake.com:

TRACK 1: “Ashes”

What better way to lead off the biggest metal release of the year than…a pretty low-key intro track. While the use of “Ring Around the Rosie” clues you in right away that The Black Plague may be a focal topic of the album, the track doesn’t do much to set up the first real track of the record. Altogether, somewhat unnecessary.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 2: “Rats”

Now THIS is how you start out an album! While “Rats” doesn’t quite have the hook that “Square Hammer” does (although, if we’re being totally honest, no metal track does), this song easily has the widest appeal of any song on Prequelle. The main riff is fantastic, the lyrics are full of wonderfully dark imagery, and the chorus will undoubtedly get everyone singing along live. Bonus points for what may be the best metal video of the year, and easily the best choreography of the bands career.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 3: “Faith”

Ghost doesn’t lose a lot of steam with this track, following up one of the catchiest songs of the record with one of the heaviest. Cardinal Copia’s closing snarl to the chorus, “Because Faith is Mine!”, stands out as one of the most deliciously evil moments of the album. While the instrumentation isn’t quite up to the same level as “Rats”, the song still manages to pack quite a punch during the verses before backing off a bit during the chorus. “Faith” is far from the most memorable track on the album, but it’s still pretty fantastic in its own right.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 4: “See the Light”

While I’ve probably listened to Prequelle all the way through from start to finish at least 5 or 6 times already, I still feel like I’m coming to terms with exactly what the album is. But at this (relatively) early junction, “See the Light” is probably my favorite track off the record. It more than makes up the lack of epicness on “Faith” with what I think is the biggest, baddest, and most showy chorus on the whole record. What starts as a quiet, slow-paced track gradually builds into a grotesque hook that any fan of the band will fall for immediately. I mean, “Drink Me // Eat Me // Then you’ll see the light” is just wonderful in the context of the album, and Tobias Forge’s soaring vocals on the last line give it an impact that is hard to top.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 5: “Miasma”

The first of two instrumental tracks on the album, “Miasma” is an absolute jam (and I mean that in the fullest sense, which coming from a still-recovering hippie means quite a lot). For all the press (and frankly, it’s mostly been bad) that frontman Tobias Forge has received over the last few years about his supposed desire to be know as the sole creative force behind Ghost, it’s actually somewhat nice to see him let the band take center stage on a couple of tracks. “Miasma” still carries all the theatrics that any other Ghost track does, just sans the vocals.

And the saxophone! My god, the saxophone! It’s just SO FUCKING MAJESTIC! Ghost may be many things to many people, but one thing that you can’t argue against is that they are just a ton of fun. And what more fun way to close out a blistering instrumental track than with a soaring saxophone segment! Eat your heart out, Geoffrey Rafferty.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 6: “Dance Macabre”

The other benefit of “Miasma” being an instrumental track is that it provides one hell of a lead up to “Dance Macabre”, which will undoubtedly go down as the biggest track off this album if the early live returns are to be believed. And frankly, who can blame the crowds? “Dance Macabre” (which by the way is probably the best song title of all time) is the culmination of Tobias Forge’s stated desire to have Ghost sound like “the one band from the 70’s you haven’t heard”. It wouldn’t sound out of place in the catalog of any huge 70’s rock band, with the uplifting guitars and lyrics nearly straight out of a love song, this track is Ghost at the most accessible they’ve ever been. It’s no surprise that the band has already been holding this track off until the encore, as this is destined to become a crowd favorite starting…well, yesterday.

I was full well and ready to write how Forge’s pronunciation on “Be with you” as “Be wit chu” in the chorus drove me nuts, but then I looked up the lyrics to see how they read and discovered that the line is “I wanna bewitch you in the moonlight”. A) I’m a fucking idiot. That makes too much sense, and I absolutely should have put 2 and 2 together to figure that one out, and B) That line in the chorus just went from a weakness of the track to a rock-solid strength. What a fucking line. What a fucking song.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 7: “Pro Memoria”

So far, so great, right? Well, yes. But here’s where the album unfortunately starts to lose some steam. “Pro Memoria” isn’t a bad track by any means, but for a band that lives and exists for excess, “Pro Memoria” just seems to fall flat at every turn. The energy level takes a HUMONGOUS step back from “Dance Macabre”, and each time if feels like the song is about to take off…it doesn’t. Sure, the chorus is pretty fun, but it’s also a little on the nose for Ghost. The imagery, the clever wordplay, and all of the dark fun are absent, replaced by the simple idea that yes, you’re going to die.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 8: “Witch Image”

The standout of the 2nd half of Prequelle, “Witch Image” doesn’t quite match the energy level of flair of “Rats” or “Dance Macbre”, but it’s still a tightly-packed rocker with one of the better choruses on the album. I’m a sucker for the evil/gothic imagery in Ghost’s finest songs, and Tobias Forge crooning “While you sleep in earthly delight // Someone’s flesh is rotting tonight” just warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. The addition of a mini pre-chorus before the 2nd go-round adds a nice wrinkle that breaks up the traditional song structure that this song almost falls victim to.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 9: “Helvetesfönster”

Instrumental track #2 on Prequelle, “Helvetesfönster” unfortunately falls into most every pitfall that “Miasma” misses. Most notably, I can easily see how if would be better if it had lyrics. “Miasma” exists very well as an instrumental track, changing up sections and sounds quickly enough that lyrics feel unnecessary. That’s not the case on “Helvetesfönster”, which gets occasionally repetitive to the point that it sounds like a standard track that they forgot to add vocals to.

On the plus side, some remedial internet sleuthing tells me that “Helvetesfönster” translates to “Hell Window” from Swedish, and refers to the side cleavage of dresses that began to show up during the middle ages. Neat! The internet says it’s true, so it must be true.

Ghost Rating

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TRACK 10: “Life Eternal”

While “Life Eternal” isn’t the bombastic album closer that I originally felt that Prequelle deserved, the more I think about it the more I’m happy with this song finishing off the album. While I would have loved a showy, grandiose climax (giggity), “Life Eternal” keeps in line with the subdued energy of the 2nd half of the record, sacrificing soaring guitar riffs and juicy hooks for the more delicate touch and emotion that they’ve previously shown on tracks like “Cirice” from Meliora and “Pro Memoria” from earlier on the album. By the time the chorus rolls around for the 2nd time it will surely get stuck in your head, but I was very aware that this was the final track on Prequelle, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t hoping a little bit more.

Ghost Rating

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising in the streaming society that we are today that Prequelle is front-loaded with the best tracks on the record (after all, better to hook the listener early to give yourself a fighting chance at them listening through the whole album). While I don’t doubt that there are some who will prefer the 2nd half (my brother’s favorite song is “Pro Memoria” after all), I’d imagine that most people would agree that the album doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts. But that feeling exists for two reasons: 1) Ghost are fucking awesome, and people have been pining for this record for years. The band’s reputation has skyrocketed since the release of “Square Hammer”, the largest mainstream hit the band has achieved to this date, and it’s helped pile on expectations to this record, and 2) The first half of this album is ABSOLUTELY AMAZEBALLS. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Amazeballs. I’d put the first 6 songs on Prequelle right up there with the best stretch on any record that Ghost has made.

What’s even MORE exciting than that 6-song stretch is the thought that occurred to me as I finishing up the album on my 3rd or 4th listen of Prequelle: even with all of the success, and the fame, and the notoriety that Ghost has achieved so far, I still don’t think we’ve seen the band’s best album yet. Opus Eponymous was an amazing debut that few bands have matched. Infestissumam proved that the success of their debut album wasn’t a fluke. And Meliora showed range that the band hadn’t displayed on their first two records. But each of these albums, as well as Prequelle, have flaws. Part of that is due to Tobias Forge being willing to take so many risks musically, changing the bands sound drastically from album to album, but not all of those risks have panned out. But even when they fail, Ghost fail SPECTACULARLY, just like they do everything else. I have no doubt that the band has the perfect record in them, and Prequelle leaves me more convinced than ever that that album will be coming soon. Prequelle is the perfect title for this record, as after so many listens I’m content, but more enthused for what comes next.

GRADE: B+

Ghost

A Whole Bunch of Reviews: Non-Ghost Edition

While I’m dragging my feet on putting together my review for year’s most highly-anticipated (or dreaded) metal album, Ghost’s Prequelle, here’s a whole bunch of other review that I’ve been sitting on.

ALIEN WEAPONRY – TU

The band du jour of Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal station, Alien Weaponry is a trio of New Zealand teenagers who play what is consistently referred to as “Thrash” despite their sound not being thrash at all. The band stands out for their vocals being in a mix of English and something called Te Reo Maori, an apparently near-extinct Maori language. So that’s all well and cool. Still not thrash, but cool.

But if that neat little feature isn’t enough to sell you on giving the band a chance, their music should be more than enough to seal the deal. The band throws out infectious Alien Weaponrygrooves and memorable riffs on nearly every track, with just enough melody to make the choruses, even the ones in the almost-dead New Zealand dialect, stick in your head for days. I could barely dress myself for most of my teenage years, and these kids are putting out one of the most impressive metal debuts of 2018 before hitting 20. All while living in a remote corner of the world mostly known for Lord of the Rings and sheep.

Because it’s their debut, and because these guys put out such an impressive record at such a young age, I’m willing to forgive them for some of the blemishes on Tu. The English lyrics can be a bit cringe worthy, although another site I read correctly asserted that it’s because it sounds like they were written by teenagers…which of course, they were. And the record is probably five tracks to long, with some of the weaker tracks (I’m looking your way, “Nobody Here”) detracting from the overall quality of the album.

That being said, Tu is a blast to listen to, with “Kai Tangata” finding itself near the head of line for song and video of 2018. Alien Weaponry have put themselves firmly on the map with this album, and I already can’t wait to see what comes next.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Ru Ana Te Whenua”, “Kai Tangata”

 

AMORPHIS – QUEEN OF TIME

I’ve never really been able to embrace Folk Metal, but dammit, Amorphis know how to do it better than anyone else. I had to give Queen of Time a shot after the title track from 2015’s Under the Red Cloud nearly took my Song of 2015 title (finishing in a very close 2nd to Cattle Decapitation’s “Manufactured Extinct”).

While there are no tracks on Queen of Time that remotely compare to “Under the Red AmorphisCloud”, this album is about as good a full-fledged folk metal album as there can be. Even with all of the flutes, and mystic imagery, and medieval melodies, Queen of Time never feels over the top, always balancing out the folksiness with plenty of legit heaviness. I never dove deep enough into their last album, but I get a sense that there’s quite a bit more screaming on Queen of Time than the band has used previously, and they do it to great success.

Even with the lack of a standout track (and “The Bee” and “Wrong Direction” are both still pretty great), Queen of Time is a fun listen if you don’t mind a heavy dose of folk to go along with your metal.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Wrong Direction”, “The Golden Elk”

 

AT THE GATES – TO DRINK FROM THE NIGHT ITSELF

Expecting At the Gates to follow up their triumphant return (2015’s At War with Reality, my favorite record that year) with an equally impressive album was probably too much to expect, especially with the departure of guitarist/songwriter Anders Bjorler last year. To Drink from the Night Itself is actually quite an impressive record considering that At the Gates has been putting out music since the early 90’s and is still only a few years removed from taking a nearly two-decade break from recording.

While To Drink from the Night Itself doesn’t have the wall-to-wall consistency of At War with Reality, the first five songs on the record hold up against the rest of the group’sAt the Gates storied catalog. The title track is the high mark of the album, featuring the most memorable chorus and guitar work, but “A Star Bound in Stone”, “Palace of Lepers”, and “Daggers of Black Haze” all pack a heavy punch. While the second half of the record doesn’t hold up to the first half, even less-than-stellar At the Gates is still At the Gates. These guys are one of the defining melodic death metal bands of this generation for a reason, and To Drink from the Night Itself does nothing to weaken that standing.

GRADE: B-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“To Drink from the Night Itself”, “A Stare Bound in Stone”

 

BLEEDING THROUGH – LOVE WILL KILL ALL

Having just barely made it through the breaking up and reunion of Bleeding Through (kidding, I had no idea they had ceased to be until I heard about them reuniting), I was literally brimming with excitement (or, more accurately, apathy) for Love Will Kill All,Bleeding through the band’s first record since 2012. After all, they were halfway decent when I saw them open up for Slayer and Marilyn Manson, and “Kill to Believe” was a pretty sweet song, so I figured I’d give them a chance.

While I’m sure the band has matured emotionally and physically during their time apart, their sound sure as hell hasn’t. Love Will Kill All sounds like quintessential 2000’s metalcore, with melodramatic lyrics, good cop-bad cop vocals, and even some gothic keyboards thrown in to add some atmosphere. And you know what? It’s not terrible! If you became a metal fan during this time period (like yours truly), you have to admit that you’ve loved scores of bands that sounded just like these guys do (if you’re in your 30’s and never loved Atreyu, or From Autumn to Ashes, or Underoath, then you’re a fucking liar). For what Bleeding Through are trying to accomplish (which is the exact same thing they were trying to do 15 years ago), they do a decent enough job on Love Will Kill All.

My one complaint, and it’s a HUGE complaint, are the aforementioned gothic keyboards, which detract from each and every song on the album. I’m sure they were thrown in to try and give the band a defining atmosphere that set them apart from the rest of the aging metalcore bands out there, but it just flat-out doesn’t work.

Look past the keyboards (and I’m not going to lie, it’s real tough to do), and you’re left with a run-of-mill 2000’s metalcore record that is coming out a decade too late. Worth a listen, but probably no more than that.

GRADE: C

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Fade Into the Ash”, “Set Me Free”

 

BURN THE PRIEST – LEGION: XX

For those of you who aren’t in the know (and if that’s you, have you been living under a rock?), Burn the Priest was the original name of Lamb of God. I can only assume they changed the moniker at the urging of Wal-Mart and other good Christian chain stores that felt less-than-enthusiastic about carrying their records. But for a nice little treat for their fans, LOG have returned to their Burn the Priest roots to release a covers album, featuring the band’s take on a whole bunch of hardcore and punk tracks. Covered bands include Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Bad Brains, The Melvins, Ministry, and more.

While I’m not lame enough to have never heard of some of the bands that Burn the Priest cover here, I AM lame enough to have never heard a single one of the original Burn the Priesttracks before. Glass half empty: I’m not cool enough to know a single track that BTP/LOG that were awesome enough to be immortalized on their covers album. Glass half full: an album of covers isn’t really a cover album when you don’t know the source material. So technically, this album is actually a new Lamb of God album for me, which is awesome!

Burn the Priest lean pretty heavily into their earlier stylings on the record, and are mostly awesome at doing it. “Inherit the Earth”, “Kerosene”, “I Against I” and “Jesus Built my Hotrod” are the stars of the record, and the band (likely due to the varied nature of the original songs) don’t bog themselves down in a single sound on the album. Sure, it may not be QUITE as good as a new Lamb of God record, but it’s pretty damn close.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Inherit the Earth”, “Kerosene”

Album Review: The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer

I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer.

  • From the suicide note of Virginia Woolf

When that is the source material for the name of your album, you better believe you’re about to take a downward journey into despair and misery. And boy, does Oregon/Rhode Island’s The Body deliver it by the truckload on I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer.

The Body

Once again stretching the very definition of music, The Body have composed a mercilessly punishing record that oozes pain at every turn, a wonderfully rewarding record for those willing to plunge to the emotional depths to which the album can take you.

My first introduction to the body was back in early 2017 when they were opening for Alcest in what was likely the most mismatched band pairing to tour together. Without knowing a thing about the band, they took the stage at Irving Plaza that night and put on hands-down the most mesmerizing live performance I’ve ever seen. Whether or not people in the crowd enjoyed The Body (and for most of metal fans, that would be “not”), the audience was enthralled by the hellish display the band put on. With the deafening percussion played out via drum machine by Lee Buford and the guitars and most bat-shit insane vocals I’ve witnessed to this day from Chip King, The Body live is less a concert and more a performance art piece.

I spent days digesting the performance, trying to figure out for myself whether I even liked their music. After all, I’m not exactly huge on programmed drums, the music has a heavy electronic influence (not my cup of tea), and, as I discovered today, Chip King’s vocals sound an awful lot like the squeaky wheel on my Roomba. Whatever The Body’s core audience is, it’s not a huge subsection of metal. But eventually I decided that whether I enjoyed their music in a traditional sense or not, I was fascinated by their work and needed to explore further. Through both their solo efforts and their two phenomenal (and I truly mean fucking PHENOMENAL) collaborative efforts with Full of Hell, I unearthed one of the most unique bands in metal.

People who don’t dig The Body tend to say that it barely qualifies as music. And you know what? They’re kinda right. Nobody is dancing to The Body. Nobody is putting on one of their records and headbanging along in the car. Where most bands look to create some sort of melody, or groove, or refrain that the listener can latch on to and relate with, The Body seem content creating the most menacing, horrific atmospheres achievable through music. Their work serves as a soundtrack to the dark, the evil, and, on I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer, the tragic in the world today. I mean, you don’t have to look any further than their album names to know that you’re not gonna be in for sunshine and roses with these guys:

  • All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood
  • I Shall Die Here
  • No One Deserves Happiness
  • One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache

On I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer, the band seems to have taken the source material for the album name to heart, wallowing in pain and misery throughout the 10-track record. Even with spots of rap, reggae, and full on electronica mixed in with their tried and true experimental sludge/doom backbone, this album carries an inescapable weight on every track, every upbeat and high note counteracted with devastating emotional and musical heaviness.

While The Body commonly uses guest vocalists (I’ve grown to love Chip King’s squawk, but it can grow a bit tiring over the course of an entire record), King takes a back seat on most of the record, passing off the majority of the duties to the collection of Chrissy Wolpert (Assembly of Light Choir), Ben Eberle (Sandworm), Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota) and Michael Berdan (Uniform), letting them take center stage while he peppers in his patented shrieks from the background. This works incredibly well on this album, and I wonder if the band has taken note of how well their sound has mixed in with darker, more aggressive vocals on their joint efforts with Full of Hell. While I enjoy their solo work, The Body’s finest work has been on their collaborative efforts with FOH, where their churning, bass-heavy industrial sound creates a devastatingly awesome juxtaposition with Full of Hell’s grinding screams. It’s a sound that King’s voice, as heavy and unique as it is, just can’t quite match. On songs like “Off Script” and “Nothing Stirs”, the tracks reach their peak when the guest vocalists unleash their heaviest growls (not that I think King isn’t capable of this, but stylistically it isn’t possible if he is going to continue tracking his vocals by standing 3 feet from the microphone and yelling at the top of his lungs).

Of course, King does step to the forefront on a few songs, and he does so quite well. “The West Has Failed”, my personal favorite track off the album, features an upbeat drum line that sounds like equal parts hip-hop and reggae flowing smoothly under King’s pained shouts to create a sound unlike any other in metal. “An Urn” starts off with crackling feedback (I’ve got to imagine, thanks to the song title, designed create the feeling of being burned alive) before heading into yet another shockingly upbeat drum part. But in comes King again, ready to bring desolation and misery in heaping spoonfuls on every cry he lets loose.

While there really are no weak tracks on the album, it really kicks into gear after “Nothing Stirs”, which was surprisingly the first single released. While it’s not a bad track by any means, each of the five tracks that follow it take the grief and heartache to another level. “Blessed Alone” brings dueling female vocals (one clean, one heavy to a Full of Hell extent) into play over a somber piano and drum line, leading to one of the most emotionally heavy listens on the album. “Sickly Heart of Sand” is a little more up-tempo, with a twangy main guitar part and percussion more reminiscent of a hip-hop DJ spinning while high on mescaline, but it devolves into madness once the screamed refrain of the album title comes into play.

The album closer, “Ten Times a Day, Every Day, A Stranger”, brings the album to a crushing conclusion. Less a song and more of a spoken word poem, the lyrics are taken from Bohumil Hrabal’s Total Fears: Selected Letters to Dubenka, and are, if I’m not mistaken, probably the single most depressing thing ever put to record. It is a fittingly bleak ending to an album so wrought with despair an misery. It is, in a sense, perfect.

Somewhere along the way people have come to understand the definition of art as being something that serves no purpose other than its own existence. No functionality, no purpose, no reason for being other than to exist. I see a lot of music called “art” nowadays, and most of it is horseshit. Music is music. It exists to make people dance, or make people sing along, or even to create a shared emotional connection between people. The Body exist well outside of that realm. Their music, in some ways, is useless. You can’t dance, or sing along, or mosh along with it. I’ve seen firsthand that the actual audience response to this band is wide-eyed bewilderment with a healthy dose of confusion thrown in. But what they achieve on I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer is breathtaking. This album is an amazing achievement because it is so full of sadness and anguish that, for most people, it will be unlistenable. Sounds like art to me, right?

GRADE: A-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“The West Has Failed”, “Off Script”, “An Urn”