Mayday, Mayday!!! Catching up on some Notable May Releases…

Sometimes, life gets in the way of the important things. I’ve been dealing with so many happenings with my day job and my new house and my cat that I’ve been neglecting what’s important in life. Namely, writing metal reviews and watching Big Trouble in Little China for the 100th time. Well that changes now. Here’s a bunch of notable releases from May. Because you know what Jack Burton says: “Yes sir, the check is in the mail”:

TesseracT – Sonder

These British prog legends were going to have a hard time topping their previous release, 2015’s Polaris, in my book. What they’ve done is return with an even proggier, even more melodic, and at points, even heavier record. So did they surpass my TesseracTexpectations? Not exactly…

The problem with Sonder is that there’s just not enough of it. 36 minutes and 7 songs are all that you get to enjoy on Sonder, and one of them (“Smile”) is just an updated version of a single they released last year. But that wouldn’t be a problem if the music were bad. Everyone wins when there’s less bad music. But Sonder is a fantastic album, full of prog and melody and the deftest touch of heaviness where needed (seriously, the 3-5 screamed words in “King” make me want to super punch a skyscraper). It’s because of the sustained excellence throughout the album (even the updated version of “Smile”, a great song that didn’t necessarily need updating is a smashing success) that the short run time becomes problematic. But the material on the album is fantastic.

GRADE: B+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Luminary”, “King”, “The Arrow”

Sevendust – All I See Is War

Fun fact: the first metal show that I ever attended was Sevendust and Ill Nino at the Ogden Theater in Denver back in 2003. My friend Spencer snuck a frozen waffleSevendust into the venue in his pants and threw it at the band as they took the stage because we wanted to hear them play “Waffle”. They did. 100% true story.

Anyway, after 12 (seriously, 12!) studio albums, you should know what to expect out of Sevendust at this point. Lajon Witherspoon still has the best pure voice in rock & metal. Morgan Rose is a drum god. This album is full of solid jams and great hooks, and for anyone who loves this band, you’ll dig this record. Interestingly enough, the album is carried by both the heaviest tracks (“Dirty”, “Risen”, “The Truth”) and the softer tracks (“Not Original”), while the middle-of-the-road tracks tend to be where the album can bog down a bit. Still, a great effort from one of my all-time favorites.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Dirty”, “Risen”, “Not Original”

Wolf King – Loyal to the Soil

One of at least four wolf-themed bands to have released an album in the last few weeks (Wolvhammer, Wolves Among Us and Bad Wolves for those who were wondering), Loyal to the Soil is the leader of the pack when it comes to quality (get it? It’s a wolf pun). TheirWolf King blackened hardcore sound works really well with the unhinged screams (a la God Mother) on tracks like “Hail the Ash” and “Sorrow’s Reach”, while the tracks where they slow things down and boost the low end sound like Sumac getting a Deathcore makeover.

The introduction of the deeper death-growls after the first few tracks helps elevate this record from good to borderline great. While the primary screams work well for me, I could see their higher registry growing old over the course of an album if there growls weren’t there to balance them out. I’ve seen some comparisons to Nails thrown out for Wolf King, and while they never hit that level of violence they’re more than aggressive enough for the average metal fan.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Hail the Ash”, “Loyal to the Soil I”, “Sorrow’s Reach”

Abraham – Look, Here Comes the Dark!

Clocking in at a mind-boggling 1 hour, 51 minutes, Look, Here Comes the Dark! is not an undertaking for the feint of heart or the short of time. I feel like this Swiss post-rock outfit were aiming to prove that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing on thisAbraham album, because while each and every track is quite good, I’ve managed to feel downright exhausted each time I’ve finished listening.

Daunting run-time aside, Look, Here Comes the Dark! is an impressive record, full of varying styles and tempos that keep it relatively engaging throughout. The best comparison I could think of for their sound would be Cult of Luna minus the 80’s synth, but there are touches of Mastodon and a host of other bands thrown in as well. Extra bonus points for the cool concept of the album (it’s about a post-apocalyptic world) that comes through quite well in the lyrics. A thoughtful, expansive listen, and I could see this grade rising as I’m able to really give the record the time it deserves.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Hyperoine”, “Vulvaire”, “Erth”

LIK – Carnage

Hailing from Sweden, LIK (which apparently means “Corpse” in Swedish – how clever) drop the technicality and melody that seems to be ever present in Death Metal these days in favor of a straight-forward gore fest. Bonus points awarded from some of the heaviest,Lik crunchiest riffs of the year. Extra bonus points for growled vocals that you can actually understand! Points lost for being able to understand the lyrics…Bill Shakespeare these guys are not.

LIK certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel with Carnage, but Death Metal as a genre tends to get stale pretty easily. This album is a refreshing take that plays well throughout, with songs that work very well individually rather than every track blending together in a guttural goulash.

GRADE: B-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Rid You of Your Flesh”, “Only Death is Left Alive”

Dimmu Borgir – Eonian

A Norwegian Operatic black metal outfit full of dudes in corpse paint with names like Shagrath, Silenoz and ICS Vortex should not be allowed to put out an album that is this boring. I’ve been trying like hell for 10 minutes to come up with interesting things to sayDimmu Borgir about Eonian, but if I’m being honest I can’t remember a damn thing about it. This album is wholly forgettable.

Sure, “Interdimensional Summit” is pretty cool, and “Council of Wolves and Snakes” is an alright track, but that’s it as far as this record goes. It took everything in my power just to make it through the entirety of the record once, and I can guarantee you I won’t be making it all the way through again. I’d rather test my lawnmower blade with my tongue than submit myself to that again.

GRADE: D+

HIGHLIGHT TRACK

“Interdimensional Summit”

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.

 

Album Review: A Perfect Circle – Eat the Elephant

For those of you who can’t wait another second for the first new Tool album in about 750 years (approx.), I’ve got bad news for you. Eat the Elephant, the first new album since 2004’s eMotive from A Perfect Circle (AKA Maynard James Keenan’s other band, but not his other other band, Puscifer), sounds NOTHING like Tool. The expansive song structures and infectious tribal rhythms? Not here, folks. In their place you will find a subdued alt-rock album full of melody, both instrumentally and through Maynard’s surprisingly impressive voice. But if you consider this an alt-rock album more than a metal album (as I do), then it is easily one of the best alt-rock albums of 2018.

Musically, Eat the Elephant is a drastic departure from anything else I’ve ever heard in Maynard’s catalog. Even the two previous APC full-length albums, Mer de Noms APCand Thirteenth Step (I don’t really count eMotive since it was basically a covers album), had metal-ish sections that served as a musical bridge between A Perfect Circle and Tool (think “Judith” and “The Outsider”). These sections are almost completely absent on Eat the Elephant. Instead, the musical backbone of the album comes from a large amount of piano and some surprisingly uplifting and melodic guitar work. “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, one of the standout tracks on the album, sounds downright joyous even before you consider the heavier works in the band’s past.

But if it’s heaviness that you want, you won’t need to look any further than the CD insert (or whatever the millennial equivalent is) from some of the weightiest lyrics around. Another standout track, “Disillusioned”, could very well have been the title for the record, as that seems to be Maynard’s feeling towards America today if I’m reading it right (and he lays it on thick, so I don’t think I’m misreading). Be it the bleak outlook towards good people on “The Doomed” or the satirical tone of “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, Maynard paints a fantastically dark portrait of the world around him with his strongest lyrics to-date (and yes, I’m including all of Tool’s work in that as well).

Even more impressive than the lyrics, however, is Maynard’s voice. Never before, across any of his projects, have I heard Maynard allow himself to sound this good. Unburdened by needing to match the anger and aggression of Tool (and earlier APC), Maynard shows off a shockingly good voice on several tracks on Eat the Elephant (most notably “By and Down the River” and “Feathers”). While his voice has always skewed a bit more towards “melodic” than “violent guttural shrieks”, he’s always maintained a bit of a yell in his delivery that molds it into a more traditional rock/metal voice. But on Eat the Elephant, Maynard leaves behind those expectations behind and gives us a glimpse into just how talented of a vocalist he really is.

While not a perfect record (“TalkTalk” is a little too on-the-nose lyrically, and the final five tracks on the record all fall firmly into “meh” territory), Eat the Elephant is a wonderful listen if you can accept the non-metalness. Considering how highly Tool is regarded for the experimental nature of their music, Eat the Elephant may be the riskiest work of Maynard’s career, throwing away a proven blueprint for a wholly different sound. It won’t win over everyone, but no challenging work should. I have a feeling this grade will be rising as the year goes on.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“The Doomed”, “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish”, “By and Down the River”

Album Review: Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness

My wife (the Empress) recently had me listen to an episode of her favorite podcast “Last Podcast on the Left”, because they did a deep dive into the storied and sordid history of Norwegian Black Metal. I knew a fair amount of the backstory (Dead’s suicide, Euronymous taking pictures of his dead body, Varg Vikernes being a pseudo-Nazi and killing Euronymous), but I learned a lot about how absurd the attitude around black metal was around the time of its formation. After all, these were just a bunch of moody teenagers who got into a game of one ups-manship that escalated to the point of church burnings and murder. But once the evil ball got rolling, bands just keep falling in line, and pretty soon you had a genre wholly reliant on Satanism (or at the very least, anti-Christianity) and the desire to commit “evil”.

While the story was fascinating, I still have to admit that I’ve never really liked Mayhem, or Burzum, or Emperor, or any of the other “pioneers” of Black Metal in Europe. The whole “evil” motif always seemed so forced and artificial. I would much rather the darkness of the artist come through in their music than in how they may portray themselves. Which, if you’ve managed to stick with this intro long enough without abandoning to go watch porn or something (Thanks!), is my long-winded way of saying that America’s own Austin Lund, the driving force and sole member of Panopticon, is everything I’ve ever wanted in a Black Metal musician. Leaving behind all the pretension and posturing that seems ever-present in the European Black Metal Scene (and if thinking that makes me not True KVLT, then so-fucking be it), Lund has created yet another American Black Metal classic with his most recent release, The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness.

I’m don’t believe I’d ever run across an album with instructions before, but I discovered this snippet from Lund on the band’s Bandcamp page right before my first listen:

This is the full two disk, 2 hour long album sequenced as one long record, as it was meant to be heard. Please don’t listen to the album on your laptop speakers, it will sound like shit. Give it a shot on a long hike or by a fire with headphones. The first half of the album is atmospheric metal, the second half is more americana focused, so beware if you hate country/folk. 
cheers 
-A 

For such a vivid, complex, insanely layered work, this succinct description sums it up rather nicely. First off, under no circumstances listen to this on your laptop, or on shittyPanopticon car speakers, or on an antiquated boom box on the subway while people are just trying to get to work in solitude. Panopticon, after all, as an extreme black metal band, and as such are throwing literally all the notes possible at you all at once. Listening to this record in anything other than ideal conditions will be like listening to TV static for an hour, followed by a country record. And that doesn’t sound fun, does it?

(Speaking of which, for the purpose of this review I’m only considering the first album. For a folk/country album the second disk is fantastic, but I don’t, and won’t pretend to, know country and/or folk nearly well enough to pass judgment on the quality)

As far as giving it a listen on a long hike or by a fire? FUCKING DO IT!!! I hate nature. I grew up in the suburbs, I’m allergic to grass, I have an irrational fear of horses, anything with more than four legs terrifies me, and yet this album made me want to venture out into the wild depths of New Jersey’s wilderness on a journey to find both myself and a level of peace that only isolation in nature can provide. I would never, under any circumstances, do that, but this album makes me want to! Lund’s passion and love for nature is omnipresent in not only this record, but in all of his works. He does this not only through the lyrics, but through the ambient noise throughout the album. In both the softer, more contemplative moments, and the balls-to-the-wall hysteria of the most vicious black metal sections, there always seems to be the call of nature somewhere in the background. It’s an amazing achievement by Lund, and one that show how passionate he is not only about his music, but about the land he writes about.

Even if you’re not open to a new appreciation of nature through the lyrical and melodic content of the record (and fuck you if you’re not, try to be open minded next time), Lund is second-to-none when it comes to crafting atmospherically rich but insanely layered black metal, the likes I’ve never heard from this or the other side of the pond. Whereas I typically feel comfortable writing a review of a record after 2-3, listens, I’m up to 8 now on The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, and I’m still not sure even as I’m writing this whether I’m truly ready to pass any sort of judgment on this work. Lund explores every available inch of the black metal on this album, with a sound that bounces between nightmarish and serene with ease, but never settles into anything repetitive (and for Black Metal, that’s saying something).

With a vocal delivery that (fittingly) falls somewhere in line with a Grizzly Bear devouring a small woodland critter, Lund manages to incorporate a fair amount of melodic elements on the record, be it through the small, folk-laden intros to “A Ridge Where the Tall Pines Once Stood” and “Snow Burdened Branches” or some or the guitar parts in “Blatimen” and “The Singing Wilderness”. For every ounce of aggression and menace (and don’t be confused, this record is one of the heaviest albums I’ve ever dug into), there is an equal and opposite measure of tenderness, perhaps even designed to represent the duality of the wilderness that he so openly cherishes.

Perhaps the only thing holding this record back is the fact that Lund, and therefore Panopticon, are possible too good at making music. As much as I’ve loved diving deep into the album, it still hasn’t, and probably never will, quite reach the level of his finest work, Kentucky. And that is no slight to Lund himself, as with The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness he is now responsible for the three greatest albums in American Black Metal, and possibly in the genre throughout the world. His previous success doesn’t sully the fact that this record is an amazing achievement, full of not only wonderfully crafted music, but full of obvious passion by the creator.

GRADE: A-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Sheep in Wolves Clothing”, “En hvit ravns dod”

Album Review: Nekrogoblikon – Welcome to Bonkers

Under most normal circumstances I wouldn’t have given Welcome to Bonkers a chance. Nothing about the idea of goblin-centric heavy metal, featured a front/hype man dressed up in full goblin-garb, appeals to me. But I gave their video for “Dressed as Goblins” a chance when I heard that it was directed by Brendan Small (of Home Movies and Metalocalypse fame). The video, which someone on the comment page I was reading aptly described as “The Royal Tenenbaums, but with Goblins”, is bizarre beyond description and deserves several watches. It was also intriguing enough that I decided to give the band’s fourth full-length album a chance.

Welcome to Bonkers lives up to its title and then some, delivering furious, fast-paced, and authentically evil melodic death metal all with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Leaving aside all the gimmicks (a goblin hype man, goblin-centric lyrics, lyrics written by and for people in the throes of a bad acid trip), Welcome to Bonkers manages to be an impressive melo-death album, favorably comparable to The Crown’s Iron Crown (my favorite melodic death metal album of this year) and The Black Dahlia Murder’s Nightbringers, possibly the best melodic death metal album ever. Songs like “Row”, “Dressed as Goblins”, and “The Skin Thief” are all legitimately fantastic metal tracks, full of killer riffs and fantastic musicianship, all tied together with some wonderfully evil vocals. If the band woke up tomorrow and decided they’d had enough of Goblins (not likely, if the album closer “Goblins” is to be believed), they’d likely be able to make a successful go of it on talent and skill alone.

But surprisingly enough, the band’s shtick works. There was no more fitting choice to Nekrogoblikondirect the video for “Dressed as Goblins” than Small, as the parallels between the band and Metalocalypse’s Dethklok are striking. While they both produce fantastic metal in a vacuum, the selling point to both is that they’re playing insanely brutal death metal while singing about the most absurd subjects imaginable. Dethklok’s most famous tracks involved killing mermaids and summoning a giant murderous troll, so why can’t Nekrogoblikon sing about goblins and dragons and a magic spider? Just because it’s violent and angry and metal through-and-through doesn’t mean it can’t be hilarious. And hilarious it is, with songs like “Dragons”, “Thanks for Nothing, Moon”, and the aforementioned “The Magic Spider” packing laughs from beginning to end, all while staying metal as fuck.

While there might be a glass ceiling to how good a record can be once they adopt as many gimmicks as Nekrogoblikon do, Welcome to Bonkers is right up against it and threatening to break through. The absurdity and laughs make the record a great listen, but the quality of the metal is high enough to warrant multiple spins. Goblincore shouldn’t work by any stretch of the imagination, but Nekrogoblikon have found the sweet spot between funny and evil that allows it to thrive.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Row”, “Dressed as Goblins”, “The Skin Thief”

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!!!

More Housekeeping: Quick Reviews from Light the Torch, Primordial and more…

I swear, one of these days I’m going to get back to writing full length reviews. But what started out of necessity due to a total absence of free time has continued forward thanks to what feels like weeks on end of mediocre releases. There are some contenders to hopefully break that streak in the coming weeks (although the so-so early reviews on the new A Perfect Circle record won’t help), but until then, time to clean out my metal review closet.

Light the Torch – Revival

The former Devil You Know have returned with a new name and a tired sound. I, like every other guy who discovered metal in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, cut my teeth onLight the Torch Killswitch Engage’s The End of Heartache. Howard Jones may have been my first favorite metal vocalist. But KSE never topped that album with Howard at the mic (and to be honest, I’ve learned with age that Alive or Just Breathing is the superior album), and all three Devil You Know/Light the Torch albums have just made me pine for the days when Howard was the most commanding voice in metal.

There are a couple tracks on Revival that are worth you time (as there were on They Bleed Red and The Beauty of Destruction), but the overall album just falls flat. The soaring melodies of “Die Alone” and the devastating heaviness of “The Sound of Violence” stand out against an otherwise blasé record that consists almost entirely of clean vocals. While nobody has ever doubted Howard’s pipes, what made him so effective as a vocalist was his ability to balance his operatic singing voice with a blood-curdling scream. That scream, for whatever reason, is all but absent on Revival, creating a monotonous, overwhelmingly dull record.

GRADE: C

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Die Alone”, “The Sound of Violence”

Napalm Death – Coded Smears and More Uncommon SlursNapalm Death

It’s Napalm Death. It’s heavy and angry as fuck. If you’re expecting anything more or anything less, than that’s your own problem.

GRADE: B-

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Oh So Pseudo”, “Call that an Option”

Primordial – Exile Amongst the Ruins

The biggest knock against the Irish folk/black metalists on their most recent record is not of quality, but rather of organization. After hearing their first single, “To Hell or the Hangman”, well before the album released, my expectations shot through the roof. AndPrimordial then the album opens with “Nail their Tongues”, which is about as folk-y and black-y as it gets. The first two songs on the record had me preparing for an Album of the Year contender, but the rest of the album doesn’t deliver. Oh sure, it’s plenty heavy, balancing some fantastic doom with the band’s signature evil folk brooding, but the bar was simply set too high with the first two tracks for the rest of the record to live up to my early impressions.

Even so, Exile Amongst the Ruins is a highly entertaining listen, and you will be seeing “To Hell or the Hangman” on plenty year-end lists. The energy on the track (noticeably absent from the rest of this album) is infectious, and the pseudo-western acoustic riff that sends the track barreling around ever turn is an absolute marvel to listen to unfurl.

GRADE: C+

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Nail Their Tongues”, “To Hell or the Hangman”

Vexes – Ancient Geometry

Do you have a Deftones-shaped hole in your heart that you’ve been trying to fill? Well then I’ve got the band for you! Stopping just short of becoming a full-on cover band,Vexes Vexes’ sound falls nicely in between the early and later years sound of Deftones, with plenty of groove spliced with an equal portion of melody. While it’s hard to go too crazy over an album that’s so clearly derivative of a band that’s come before it, what’s the matter with releasing a great Deftones record? Deftones sure as hell didn’t do it with 2016’s Gore or 2012’s Koi No Yokan, so there’s an untapped market for the post-rock/nu-metal hybrid sound.

The album opener, “Helion”, has one of the most powerful choruses of 2018, starting the album out with a thunderous boom before transitioning into the more melodic singles, “Lift” and “Plasticine”. The surprising strength of the album is in the second half, where some of the more complete and memorable songs land. “Terra” might be the best on the record not named Helion, and “No Color” would have an argument for that top spot as well if not for the embarrassingly bad rapping verse.

GRADE: B

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS

“Helion”, “Plasticine”, “Terra”