The Ocean’s latest single is an oasis in the metal desert

Back on July 20th, Skeletonwitch dropped Devouring Radiant Light, easily one of the best metal albums of 2018. In the month-plus ever since, we’ve had a whole lot of NOTHING released in the metal world. That spell should officially be over this week thanks to Pig Destroyer’s Head Cage and Clutch’s Book of Bad Decisions, but I’ve got to admit, it’s been rough going.

There have been some pretty fantastic singles to come out during that span, from Behemoth’s “God=Dog”, Anaal Nathrakh’s “Forward!”, and High on Fire’s “Electric Messiah”, but I’m not sure any of them can hold a candle to the track that The Ocean gave us today.

The band’s last full-length album, 2013’s Pelagial, is still one of my favorite metal albums of the century, and their track “The Quiet Observer” of a 2015 split with MONO was one of my favorite songs of the year. Along the same expansive, progressive lines as that track is “Permian: The Great Dying”, which has rocketed up to the tippity-top of my Song of the Year-shortlist. I mean, it’s over 9 minutes long and I’ve already listened to it at least 7 times today. That’s an hour of my day I’ve spent listening to this ONE FREAKING SONG. If my day were a pie chart, The Ocean’s piece of the pie could easily feed a teenage Nebraskan farm boy coming home from a day in the fields.

“Permian: The Great Dying” is everything that makes The Ocean great, with the progressive, almost post-rock melodies backed up by a menacing, ever-present darkness. Considering this is the lead single off a planned double album, I can’t wait to dig into the complex themes that the band undoubtedly has in store. Seriously, Pelagial was a concept album where the tracks, in descending order, describe specific ocean depths, both musically and lyrically. What are they going to come up with when they’ve had five years to write?

The Metal Dog Days

Good News


…actually, it’s relatively bad news that is leading to some decent news. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, of relevance coming out in August until the last Friday of the month. Sure, I have no doubt that there’ll be some decent albums from bands that I’ve never heard of, but when the biggest releases in the next few weeks are coming from Nonpoint and the brittle husk of what was once Alice in Chains, I don’t have the highest of hopes.

But that brings us to the good news! Since I won’t have any new releases to review, I’m going to take the next 4 weeks and review all of the albums that I’ve missed over the last month and a half (and believe me, that’s a LOT of albums). Pissed that you don’t know what I think of the new Skeletonwitch? YOU’RE IN LUCK!!! Have you been tossing and turning at night because you don’t know where I stand on Deafheaven’s newest record? Well fret no more! I’m going to be like fucking Oprah with metal reviews. You can bank on reviews for both of those bands along with the newest releases from Between the Buried and Me, Obscura, Vein, Black Fast, and maybe even a few more if I’m not too lazy on my upcoming vacation. Got an album you want reviewed? Let me know and I’ll get it done!

Up until August 31st, when we finally get records from Omnium Gatherum and Steve ‘N’ Seagulls, we’re kinda stuck in a dead zone. Let me, your humble anthropomorphic Cupcake ruler, be your guiding light out of the darkness.

Hot Singles are looking for YOU!!!!

The painful and inescapable truth that I’ve known ever since I submitted Converge’s “I Can Tell You About Pain/Eve” as 2017’s Song of the Year was that last year was devoid of great singles. Sure, Converge dropped a great song(s), but the list fizzled out pretty quickly after that, and the winner couldn’t hold a candle to Nails (“You Will Never be one of Us”) and Ghost (“Square Hammer”) from 2016 or Cattle Decapitation (“Manufactured Extinct”) from 2015.

2018? Off to a great start, with fantastic singles already released from The Atlas Moth, Judas Priest, Helion, Primordial, TesseracT, Harakiri for the Sky, and many, many others. And that was before the last month, which saw more singles dropping than Amateur Night at the Gentleman’s Club. Here’s a quick rundown of the best of the best from the last few weeks:

Ghost – “Rats”

I honestly don’t care anymore. Go ahead and judge me all you want. I fucking love Ghost. Tobias Forge and his ever-evolving band of ghouls can do absolutely no wrong in my book despite their horrible reputation against smug elitists who don’t think they’re metal enough. “Rats” may not be quite as catchy as “Square Hammer” (although I’m not sure any metal song is), but this song will embed itself in your brain and make itself nice and comfy in no time flat. Bonus points awarded for the fantastic choreography in the video, but bonus points subtracted for the limited movement in Forge’s face while wearing the name makeup for his new persona, Cardinal Copia.

Khemmis – “Isolation”

Khemmis took the metal world by storm in 2016 with their phenomenal album Hunted, which wound up at or near the top of any Top 10 list worth a damn. “Isolation” has a bit more upbeat vibe than anything on Hunted, but it still falls squarely in line with Khemmis unique and enthralling brand of doom. Full of soaring sludgy riffs and unparalleled vocals, “Isolation” gives me hope that Khemmis has more than one all-time album in them.

The Night Flight Orchestra – “This Time”

The greatest 70’s prog-rock band that just so happens to exist in the 2010’s, The Night Flight Orchestra are back to bring more classic rock tunes with a metal twist on Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough, the follow-up to 2017’s Amber Galactic. Featuring Soilwork’s Bjorn Strid on vocals & Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, TNFO are a magical blend of YES-style progressive rock with a modern heavy metal attitude. “This Time” may have the catchiest hook this band’s written yet, and that’s saying something considering the incredible awesomeness of Amber Galactic.

Deafheaven – “Honeycomb”

America’s favorite (or least favorite, if you’re the majority of the metal community) hipster metal band, Deafheaven deliver their signature blend of post-rock, shoegaze and black metal on “Honeycomb”, but with just a touch of melody and, dare I say, happiness? Over 11 expansive minutes, Deafheaven deliver one of their most focused tracks to date while still incorporating some elements I’ve never heard from them before.

Pallbearer – “Dropout”

Pallbearer are the only band on this list that doesn’t looked primed to be releasing a new album this year. Which is fine, because there is still enough residual awesomeness from Heartless last year that I’ll easily be able to get my Southern-made melo-doom fix from their newest single “Dropout”. Released as part of the Adult Swing Singles series, “Dropout” personifies what Pallbearer does best, with a couple of huge scoops of doom and sludge topped off with one of the most soulful and beautiful voices in doom, if not all of metal.

Bleeding Through – “Set Me Free”

Last I heard from these guys was back when I caught them opening for Slayer and Marilyn Manson on tour back in 2007. I was definitely a fan of “Kill to Believe”, and “Love Lost in a Hale of Gunfire” was pretty cool too, but they fell off my radar after that show (they released a couple of albums afterwards before calling it quits in 2014). But they’re back together for a brand new release, and if “Set Me Free” is any indication, it’ll be full of their patented metalcore sound with a hint of black metal sprinkled in. This song sounds right out of 2004, but it surprisingly plays well in today’s metal climate.


A Public Service Announcement: Go See the Opening Bands!

“What time does Neurosis come on???”

That was the irritating start to an amazing night back on August 4th of last year. I was in Brooklyn at the Warsaw to check out my at-the-moment favorite band, Converge, who just so happened to be opening up for Neurosis. At the very second I walked through security and into the venue, your stereotypical hipster metalhead checked in at the counter to see what time Neurosis was coming before promptly leaving the venue (I’m sure to go enjoy a cruelty-free organic free range bison burger and a microbrew the consistency of pudding).

I get it that everyone has different tastes, and it shouldn’t be surprising that some people were there only to see the band that was ACTUALLY headlining the show. But Converge is a legendary act in their own right (and for what it’s worth, were immensely better than Neurosis that night), and to skip their set for whatever small social gains that guy got out of leaving when he did was nowhere near worth it. Especially when you factor in who opened the show that night.

I knew heading to the show that a third band was playing, but I hadn’t had a chance to look into their work before heading out that day. When the lights went down at Warsaw for the first time that night, I settled into the middle of the sparsely-populated floor and witnessed what was one of the most breathtaking performances I’ve ever seen live. WarsawEvery last breath of air was sucked out of the room as Amenra mesmerized the entire crowd with the single-most devastatingly heavy show I’ve ever seen. You could feel the walls closing in with each successive note, and each maddening shriek from vocalist Colin van Eeckhout chipped away at my brain, leaving me on the brink of what was either a panic attack or Nirvana by the end of their set (all while facing the back of the stage the ENTIRE SET, Jim Morrison style).

I’ve since gone on to listen to every album in Amenra’s catalogue many times over, bought a hoodie from a shady-ass German merch site, and done a fair amount of digging into the surprisingly awesome Belgian metal scene. And it’s all because I showed up for an opening band I’ve never heard of. And to think, more than half the people that were packed into the venue by the time Neurosis took the stage missed out on this transcendent experience. And why? Even metal shows cost a non-insignificant amount of money, and it’s a lot easier to swallow (giggity) when you’re seeing three or four bands for the cost instead of one.

Amenra are far from the only band that I’ve discovered by showing up on time to shows, however, My metal fandom is littered with bands that I discovered simply because they were opening for another band that I enjoyed. Would I eventually have run into some of them eventually as their national popularity grew? Sure! But some of them undoubtedly would have flow under my radar, and my life would be sadder, more depressing, and less fulfilling because of it (not to overstate it too much). After doing a quick mental inventory, here are just a few:

Gojira (opened for Mastodon)

Car Bomb (opened for Gojira)

All Shall Perish (opened for In Flames)

Russian Circles (opened for Mastodon)

The Contortionist (opened for Between the Buried and Me)

The Black Dahlia Murder (opened for Dethklok)

The Body (opened for Alcest)

Gatecreeper (opened for Nails)

Lorna Shore (opened for Carnifex/Fallujah)

Red Fang (Opened for In Flames)

Cult Leader (opened for Dillinger Escape Plan)

Decapitated (opened for Lamb of God)

That is a god damn murderer’s row of metal bands right there, and I learned about every single one of them because I went to see a band that they were opening for one night. In many cases, those openers are now bigger and better than the previous headliners.

One final story to illustrate my point. My buddy Steve and I were given tickets to go check out Iron Maiden back in Colorado about 10 years back. We had a good hour-long drive to make, and since I’ve always been a big proponent of opening bands, I made sure we left with plenty of time to spare. But multiple accidents and roadwork unlike any I’ve ever seen in the Rocky Mountain area later, Steve and I wandered into Fiddler’s Green right as the opening band was finishing their final song. That song? “Pull Me Under”, by what I soon learned to be were metal legends Dream Theater. Possibly the one and only time in my life that I’ve been late to a show and I missed one of the most epic metal bands ever (and back when they still had Mike Portnoy, to boot).

Looking forward to my concert itinerary for 2018, the list of openers that I’m scheduled to see includes bands like Pallbearer, Toothgrinder, Astronoid, Fleshgod Apocalype, Bell Witch, Omnium Gatherum, and Moonspell, just to name a few. Even more exciting than that: some of the openers I’ve never heard of will undoubtedly be great.

So there you have it everybody. Don’t be that Brooklyn Hipster who missed Converge and Amenra because he was so fucking busy that he couldn’t spare an hour and half to see two of the best metal bands ever. Go see the openers!!!

Metal Songs for the Non-Metal Fan

I can count the number of friends that I have that listen to metal on half a hand. As I’m sure you, my metal loving cyber-friends, can imagine, it is quite frustrating living in a world surrounded by non-metalheads. How do I, a simple anthropomorphic cupcake ruler, enlighten everyone else to what is so blindingly apparent to me?

If you’ve ever come face to face with this dilemma as well, then fear not friend, for I’ve got the answer. Below you will find six metal tracks that even the most anti-metal fan will have to appreciate. And if they don’t? Well, far be it from me to tell you how to live your life, but you probably shouldn’t be associating with those people anyway.

Ghost – Square Hammer

“Square Hammer” is not just the catchiest metal song of all time. It might be the catchiest song *PERIOD* of all time (take that, Katy Perry!). It is scientifically impossible to listen to the track and not be singing along with the chorus by the time you reach the end. People might be intimidated by Ghost’s outward appearance, but go past the corpse paint and the blatant blasphemy to any and all religions, and what you’re left over with is a heavier version of Queen. And everybody loves Queen.

Just make sure you friendly non-metalhead listens to “Square Hammer” before watching any videos of the band, because surprisingly enough some people are turned off by the image of a zombie pope. Go figure. But there’s a reason this was my second favorite track of 2016, and it’s because Ghost know how to write the popiest heavy metal this side of Babymetal. “Square Hammer” will appeal to crustiest grindcore fan to the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. A monster of a track.

Polyphia – Euphoria

The biggest obstacle keeping non-metal fans from getting into heavy music is the screaming. They spend their entire lives coddled by the dulcet tones of their Ed Sheerans, and Lady Gagas, and Phil Collinses, and then when approached with any sort of scream, or growl, or shriek, or even *gasp* a guttural, they go running for the nearest corner in which they can curl up in the fetal position. So to get around that, and protect their fragile psyche, why not just skip the vocals altogether?

There’s a surplus, nay, a plethora of fantastic instrumetal bands that your average non-metalhead should have no problem appreciating. Animals as Leaders, Cloudkicker, Long Distance Calling, Russian Circles, and Scale the Summit are all awesome, and all worthy of far more appreciation than they get from only appealing to metalheads. But during this metal mission that you’re embarking on, I suggest Polyphia. Sure, they might all look like Justin Bieber, but don’t be fooled: these guys can write a heavy, technical, and most importantly, catchy metal song.

“Euphoria” is an easily accessible track, but one that will stay with you long after your first listen. I’m not sure there’s a catcher track that doesn’t have vocals anywhere in the metalverse, and maybe in the whole damn galaxy of music.

Code Orange – Bleeding in the Blur

These Pittsburgh hardcore rockers put out one of the angriest, violent, most pissed off records of 2017 with Forever. The album not only brought the band out from the underground and into the mainstream in the metal community, but earned them a Grammy nomination for their furious efforts. While chock full of pure venom for 90% of the record, Code Orange showed an uncanny ability to take their foot off the gas on “Bleeding in the Blur”.

Aside from a brief moment of background screaming and some minor guitar distortion, this track wouldn’t be out of place on any local Alt-Rock station. Guitarist & backup vocalist Reba Meyers, who spends most of the album dropping some hellacious growls, shows that her voice has an impressive softer side. Most rock fans should find something to like about this track, as there’s something familiar, yet different, about the sound of the track, almost as if it were a grunge track that got lost on its way to the 90’s, only to resurface in 2017. In some alternate universe it wouldn’t be surprising to see this as a smash hit for the Foo Fighters, but instead, it just so happens to be the angriest band around who surprisingly unleashed this hit.

Alcest – Autre Temps

More so than any other track on this list, it shouldn’t take much convincing (or coercing, if you’re that desparate) to get you resident square to appreciate “Autre Temps”. Alcest are perhaps the most highly respected post-rock outfit in metal today, with their delicate balance of melodic, emotionally charged instrumentation and bouts of heaviness, both musically and vocally, creating a complex, challenging, beautiful sound.

“Autre Temps” eschews the heavier sounds in the bands repertoire in favor of some of the brightest, most uplifting tones in the bands catalog. You may not speak a lick of French (like me), but that doesn’t stop you from sensing the joy and color in this track. It is a stunning achievement, complete with all of the technicality and complexity of Alcest’s heavier work, but without the screaming and sorrow that they’re known for.

Myrkur – Crown

This may be the heaviest track on this list, but you wouldn’t know if from Amalie Bruun’s mesmerizing vocals. One of the more accomplished black metal vocalists around today, Bruun’s clean vocals on “Crown” may never step foot in the same zip code as her screams, but the pain and sorrow of her heavier works are still ever present in the track. Her deft, delicate touch on this track shows a vulnerable, wounded side that you don’t see on the rest of her fantastic 2017 album Mareridt.

Best described as a heavy folk track, “Crown” is easy enough for your standard music lover to appreciate, with Bruun’s beautiful voice and the orchestral folk/doom music painting a vivid, if not terrifying, picture behind the vocals.

Opeth – Eternal Rains Will Come

Starting with 2011’s Heritage, Opeth underwent a quantum shift in their sound, completely abandoning their death metal roots for a more progressive sound. It was a strange shift, to be sure, but one that worked quite well thanks to the band’s already-proggy sound. All it required was switching out Mikael Akerfeldt’s death growls (some of the best in the business, in my opinion) with his equally impressive singing voice. While some of the “metal purists” gave up on the band for selling out to a less metal sound, those that smartly stuck with the band have been rewarded with three phenomenal albums: Heritage, 2014’s Pale Communion, and 2016’s Sorceress, all of which have seen the band delve further into their folk-rock sound while maintaining their progressive, jazzy complexity.

“Eternal Rains Will Come”, the lead track off of Pale Communion, was my song of the year for 2014 for good reason. It has some of the finest guitar work I’ve ever heard on a metal track, the lyrics are gorgeous, and in its own way, far different from anything the band had done in the past, it manages to be quite heavy with nary a growl to be seen.

Digging Deep into the Side Projects of Mastodon

Mastodon rocks. I have, and always will, love them. Every album they’ve made has ripped, and they are one of the more fun live acts out there. But most every artist feels the call to branch out during their life, and the boys in Mastodon are no different. Here’s a breakdown of the active side projects Mastodon are involved in right now, from my least favorite (although still quite badass) to most favorite (definitely quite badass).


Featuring an all-star lineup of Brett Hinds (Mastodon) and Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan) on guitar, Pete (not Peter) Griffin on bass (Dethklok), Thomas Pridgen (The Mars Volta) on drums, and William Duvall on the mic (Alice in Chains), GTO has an GTOoverabundance of talent at their disposal. With a sound that probably falls closest in line with that of The Mars Volta, GTO frequently dips their toes into metal, hard rock, and prog without every really settling into one genre. With so many great songwriters in tow, it’s no surprise that the band’s songs tend to skew on the complex side, often at the expense of groove and flow. While their 2016 debut album Broken Lines is a fun listen, it’s not as easy to get into as some of Mastodon’s other side projects are. Even more concerning is that Duvall’s vocals often struggle to keep up with the frantic pace on the proggier songs, perhaps showing some of his limitations that aren’t readily apparent during his day job with Alice in Chains.

With that being said, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra has an extremely bright future if the band keeps working together (I will never doubt the ability of any band featuring Ben Weinman, adding in Hinds is just icing on the cake), and with an eclectic mixture of styles and abilities in the group they have an infinite numbers of directions they can go.


Somewhere out there between space and time there’s an alternate reality where Mastodon came to be during the height of prog rock back in the 70’s. This is exactly what that band would sound like. Featuring Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor on drums & Arcadeavocals, Arcadea takes the prog sound that Mastodon showed on Crack the Skye to the nth degree, complete with retro synth parts and spacey vocals. With Zruda guitarist/keyboardist Core Atoms and synth player Raheem Amlani joining in on the psychedelic fun, Arcadea explores a side of Mastodon’s sound that is only hinted at, but never truly explored (for good reason, as your casual metal fan stands a near-0% chance of enjoying the jazz-prog fusion sound of Arcadea).

Surprisingly enough, the band’s weakest element is probably Dailor’s vocals (which is even more surprising given his expanded role as Mastodon’s secondary vocalist). Dailor showed he is no slouch at the mic on Mastodon’s most recent release, Emperor of Sand, taking over most of the “clean” vocals on the record and performing admirably. On Arcadea, however, he leans a little too far into the 70’s sound, with the heavy layering of his vocals detracting from his natural ability as a singer.

Arcadea’s 2017 self-titled release received a fair amount of critical acclaim (mostly from the more progressive reviewers), and with the experimental and exploratory nature of their sound it wouldn’t be surprising to see a follow up record from this outfit soon.


While their debut album has yet to be released (out February 9th), there’s a lot of buzz about this band based off the two singles they’ve released so far. Featuring Mastodon guitarist Brett Hinds, Tool Legend of the Seagullmendrummer Danny Carey, and…a bunch of other guys I’ve never heard of (including, bizarrely enough, the guy who directed famed Hollywood flop Jonah Hex), the band has already built up enough of a reputation that they played with Primus on New Year’s Eve last year despite only two official songs to their name.

While a couple of tracks are hardly enough to base an opinion off, I’m digging what I’ve heard from the band, with a sound that, while very hard to pin down (slightly proggy, a little folksy, a healthy dose of pirate-ness?) is very approachable. We can give the band an Incomplete grade for right now, but I’m certainly excited for their debut album.


Most of Mastodon’s side projects involve the members showcasing their softer sides (mostly prog and alternative rock), which falls in line with the band’s more recent Killer Be Killedapproach to their music (clean vocals, concept albums, etc.). And then there is Killer Be Killed. With vocal duties being shared by three metal legends, Killer Be Killed’s self-titled debut was a smashing success due in large part to the name recognition of the members. With Troy Sanders (Mastodon – Bass), Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan – Guitar), and Max Cavalera (Sepultura/Soulfly – Guitar) all taking turns on vocals, the band’s sound is more aggressive than anything in Mastodon’s recent library (and if I’m being honest, it’s heavier than anything that Mastodon’s ever done).

Killer Be Killed eschews all of the prog, melody, and experimentation of the other Mastodon side projects, instead embracing a balls-to-the-wall, foot on the gas approach to metal, writing crushing tracks that fall somewhere in between the sounds of the three vocalist’s day-bands (and lest I forget former The Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch behind the kit). “Wings of Feather and Wax” is still one of my favorite tracks in recent years, and it’s one of many spectacularly heavy, brutal, and somehow catchy tracks that the band produced.

While finding time to work together will not be an easy task with the success of the main acts for each member (although Greg’s schedule just cleared up quite a bit), there’s too much name recognition and too high of a ceiling for this group for there to not be a follow up to their debut. Stay tuned for more destruction.


Gone is Gone released a self-titled EP back in 2016 that left quite a lot to be desired. Featuring Troy Sanders (Mastodon) on bass and vocals, Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of Gone is Gonethe Stone Age) on guitar, Tony Hajjar (At the Drive-In) on drums, and Mike Zarin as a “multi-instrumentalist/composer” (their words, not mine), Gone is Gone had unlimited potential that wasn’t reached in the slightest with their debut EP. So imagine my surprise when their full length debut, Echolocation, flipped the script completely and shattered every expectation I had for the band.

My #7 album for 2017, Echolocation achieves the one thing that no other album from a Mastodon side project has been able to do. It’s sound lives completely independently of every band member’s primary gig. Echolocation doesn’t sound like Mastodon, or Queens of the Stone Age, or At the Drive-In. Despite it’s fuzzy, distorted, undeniably familiar sound, Gone is Gone crafted a sound that is wholly its own. Sanders’ vocal work is some of the finest of his career, and his always-impressive bass work drives some of the best tracks on the record (“Ornament”, “Sentient”). Because of the January release date, Echolocation didn’t receive much praise (or attention at all, for that matter), and because of it’s under-the-radar release I’m more than a little concerned that it may be the only record we every see from this group. Which would be an absolute shame.

BTBAM start 2018 out right with “Condemned to the Gallows”

2015’s Coma Ecliptic was a fantastic album, finishing very high at the top of many end of the year lists (including my own) and showing growth and maturity in Between the Buried and Me’s sound. Gone were the hyper-aggressive and chaotic sounds of their early albums like Alaska, replaced entirely with their new-age take on prog. Still heavy, still zany in a way that only BTBAM can be, but much more delicate and subdued. I don’t mean that in a bad way (it really is a fantastic record), but there was always a part of me that longed for the band’s older sound. While Coma Ecliptic was great, it could never quite reach the heights that Alaska and Colors did.

So many metal bands are stepping away from their heavier roots and embracing a more melodic sound (Gojira, Mastodon and Opeth are some of the bigger success stories in this DTwkfb2U8AAnN6Oregard), and after Coma Ecliptic it looked like BTBAM was heading that way as well. There were several articles written during the lead up to Coma Ecliptic about how the band wrote more naturally to clean vocals and melody. But after a whirlwind couple of days for BTBAM news, I’m starting to think that trend may be over with.

Fresh on the heels of announcing Part I of Automata, a planned double album set for this year, and a headlining tour with The Dear Hunter & Leprous, the band released the first single (and opening track) from the new record, “Condemned to the Gallows”. Granted we are only 3 weeks into the new year, but the track has sprinted to the forefront of my favorite tracks of 2018.

While there are still weird, ethereal proggy moments (this is BTBAM, after all), the song is the heaviest that I’ve heard the band sound in a long, long time. It left me wondering if last year’s tour playing Colors in its entirety had anything to do with the sound of the new record, as this song is a throwback to their older works. I can only hope that this is just a taste of things to come.