I'm not that old (*cough*31 this Saturday*cough*), but I am elderly enough to remember a time when the metal kingdom was a more honest and wholesome (?) place, before jocks and fratbrats had taken over the mosh pits and any self-respecting Hessian worth a stack of his own cassette demos wouldn't be caught dead wearing eyeliner or emo bangs. And up until the present, I prefer metal from this era -- I guess I like my metal like I like my women: dirty, mean as fuck, and at least 18 years old.
Right: It's OK to be old and love metal.
But I don't want to pigeon-hole myself. Lately I've become a little worried -- am I missing out on significant amounts of awesome metal as I contentedly kick back and rock the same old Obituary and Deicide albums once again? I don't know a Gojira from a Pelican from a Lamb of God from a Job For A Cowboy, and I've always just assumed that I'm not missing anything. I'm pretty sure I'm not.
But lately I've been making a very real and focused effort to catch up on "modern" metal a little bit, in all its different forms. I'd hate for a game-changing album to slip under my radar as I pore over another batch of Carcass bootlegs here at the retirement home, and as a result, I've been stocking up on immense amounts of metal from '09 and beyond, separating the wheat from the chaff in some kind of an attempt to reconnect with the present.
Left: Shelby Cobras, circa late April, 2010.
For the most part, it's been a pretty fruitless endeavor. More and more often, I am reminded that my taste in music is usually the polar opposite of "critic's" taste in music, and I will almost always be the most disappointed by a band or album that has received large amounts of praise in the media. Examples: Remember when all the blogs and magazines had a huge boner for Nachmystium? Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 (great fucking title, guys) was on everyone's year-end best-of list, but I guess I just never "got it" (I wrote about it here). In fact, I think Nachtmystium is terrible. Now word comes down the pipe that Assassins 2: Black Metal Boogaloo (or whatever) is on the way, which I'm sure all the "critics" have already decided is awesome. I don't get it. My impression: hipster ninnies playing watered down, thoroughly mediocre hipster "experi-metal" for hipster beardos to jerk each other off to. Or what about Cobalt? This is another band that everyone couldn't get enough of last year, and seeing their album Gin on all the Top 10 of 2009 lists last year, I was fooled into buying it. I guess I'll never learn. I found their music to be a formulaic loud-quiet-loud snoozefest -- you know you're in trouble when the CLEAN singing is the best part.
In a way, too much positive press will turn me against a band. And most bands that people love talking about are the same ones that completely fail to arouse my interest: Amon Amarth, Isis, the Red Chord, Converge, just about any band with three or more words in their name (besides 3 Inches of Blood and Wolves In The Throne Room, I guess) Mastodon, Baroness (that one song was kind of cool), any type of "shoegaze/drone" black metal (I blame Burzum and Darkthrone, PS), about 90% of bands discussed on MetalSucks, 95% of bands discussed on Blabbermouth, and 100% of whatever Sergeant D is listening to these days. The whole Folk/Viking/Pirate metal thing was cute for a minute, now I'm sick of hearing about it. But I digress. I didn't come here to bitch about what's WRONG with metal all day. I actually have some positive stuff to say here too. I swear we'll get to it soon.
I think I've figured out what frustrates me so much about the state of modern "extreme music", and I can sum it up in one sentence. I'll use bold type AND italics to help it sink in:
METAL HAS BECOME SELF-AWARE.
Everyone remember what happened when Skynet became self-aware? It was bad news. The same thing is happening to metal. It's a tough concept to grasp -- I'm not sure I understand it 100% myself -- but I've found an example that illustrates my point rather succinctly:
We are all familiar with the band Arsis, correct? Well, I've always dug 'em (I'm a sucker for tech-metal), but I've never really had a mental picture of them in my head. Their lyrics have always seemed kind of emo (lots about "guilt" and "sorrow" and "candles" and whatnot), but I've forgiven it due to the insane guitar acrobatics and unconventional song structures. Resultingly, I procured a copy of their 2010 album Starve For The Devil upon its release. Let's take a look at the video for the first track, "Forced To Rock" (why would anyone be "forced" to rock in the first place? Doesn't that imply that one doesn't want to rock?):
WHAT THE COCK IS THIS ASS?
I'll tell you what it is: METAL BECOMING SELF-AWARE. This is metal declaring war on its creators. Do you get it yet?
It's not all bad in the world of tech-death metal, though. In the last year I've discovered a couple great bands, among them GOROD from France and OBSCURA from Germany (a country quickly establishing itself as the world tech-death capital). Both of these bands put out excellent albums in 2009 (Process of A New Decline and Cosmogenesis, respectively), and have stayed in pretty heavy rotation around ICHQ lately. If you're into self-indulgent wankery, I recommend checking both of these groups out (I'm not going to upload this stuff because it's still new and you should go buy it). Obscura totally reminds me of an updated version of their fellow countrymen PAVOR -- which is a really good thing. But here's the kicker: Both bands use the Cynic Focus robot/vocoder voice from time to time. What's up with that shit? I always just kind of figured that the Robot Voice was kind of like Cynic's "thing", you know?
Gorod, "The Path". Robot vocals at 2:35.
Obscura, "Choir of Spirits". Robot vocals at 2:50.
Speaking of Obscura, check this shit out (I am especially fond of the Calculus and Chemistry textbooks displayed prominently in the background. Adorable.):
And while we're still (kind of) on the subject of Cynic, am I alone in thinking that their 2008 "comeback" album Traced In Air was, I don't know... Kind of "meh"? I mean, Paul Masvidal seems like a nice guy and everything, but early reports have it that Cynic's next new album is going to be a "re-imagining" of Traced In Air called Re-Traced. Metal nerds are already creaming their jeans on this one, but I've got to call Consumer Fraud here. Anyone remember the Load/Reload debacle? I'm just sayin'...
One more item while we're on the whole tech-death thing: My boys BRAIN DRILL -- the band everyone loves to hate -- have a new album, promisingly titled Quantum Catastrophe (left), due to hit the shelves in exactly one week. It was hard to judge if their new lineup is up to snuff from the one video that I saw, but I've been addicted to their first two albums (2008's Apocalyptic Feasting and 2006's The Parasites) for a solid two years now. Should be interesting...
And when are we going to see a new Deeds of Flesh record? That last one was epic... Or Necrophagist? Their new one was supposed to come out LAST YEAR... Hmmm...
Right: Another ruthlessly fucking br00tal 2009 DM release, Fleshgod Apocalypse's Oracles. Brother Peter uploaded it HERE. I suggest you check it out.
But enough of the super-techy stuff. Let's talk straight up death metal. In fact, I have a prediction I'd like to share with you all: You guys remember that "retro-thrash" thing? Guess what? By mid-summer all those denim vests and white sneakers will be replaced by Asphyx and Demilich T-shirts over sweatpants. That's right --
OLD SCHOOL DEATH METAL IS THE NEW RETRO THRASH.
How do I know? Because Japan is all over it. Ever heard of fucking COFFINS, bro? These guys have proved that there ain't a goddamn thing wrong with sounding like Autopsy in the present day, and if you don't believe me you should head over to The Unflinching Eye and let Brother Aylmer school you some. Once again, by mimicking our past, Japan has predicted our future. And if you have any doubts about that country's SUPERIOR TASTE IN EVERYTHING, I invite you to inspect their obsession with (and mastery of) SLAM METAL. Old school DM is the wave of the past/future, just wait and see...
Left: Sometimes it's OK to judge an album by it's cover.
For my old school death metal dollar, it doesn't get any better than the two-piece VASAELETH, who perform crushing, apocalyptic sludge via INCANTATION. Their 2010 release Crypt Born And Tethered To Ruin (left) has been melting my face repeatedly as of late, and I need to share the sickness. You should really go buy it from Profound Lore HERE and bask in the triumphant misery of your own gory demise. This album is BEYOND awesome.
But the Death Metal Album of the Year (so far) is DEFEATED SANITY's Chapters of Repugnance. By a fucking long shot.
We last checked in with these Bavarian grindfreaks back here, but that album came out in '07 and things have changed significantly since then. Chapters is indeed the "game-changing" album I referred to at the beginning of this post, a horrific bloodbath of a release that sounds like Gorguts and Cannibal Corpse wallowing in a trough of severed limbs. Just when I was starting to wonder where metal could possibly go after all of its wonderful, gory mutations, my question has been answered. There are no words. This album is weird and mystifying in the same way that Lovecraft's protagonists could never describe the unimaginable horrors that confronted them at the end of their stories. Buy it. Crank it. Worship it. Repeat.
(Technically, this album was officially "released" TODAY. But whatever. You have been warned.)
DEFEATED SANITY, "Salacious Affinity". PS The bassist plays a Modulus Quantum 5. Duh.
Death metal chapter = CLOSED.
Doom metal chapter = OPEN.
As you guys might already know, doom just ain't my bag. There's some good stuff out there, but for the most part, it's just dudes playing slow for the sake of playing slow. My attention span just isn't that long. There are, however, two doom albums that have blown my mind in recent months. They are FUNGOID STREAM's Oceanus (I think it's pronounced "Oh, see anus.") and AHAB's The Divinity of Oceans (BUY). We last heard from Fungoid Stream in 2004, the year they released the monumental Celaenus Fragments album (which you can, and SHOULD, get over at FROM THIS SWAMP). I was immediately enchanted both by Fungoid's Lovecraftian leanings and their funeral-doom-meets-John-Carpenter-synth-film-score meanderings, and the mere prospect of a new trickle from The Stream left me giddy with glee. Oceanus delivers. You can download two tracks for free on the official Fungoid Stream website.
Onward to AHAB!
Everyone seemed to lose interest in this German band after the release of their Moby Dick-themed concept album The Call of The Wretched Sea back in 2006 (download that sucker here). And with good reason. The album came out right around the same time as Mastodon's Moby Dick album, and Ahab is only interesting in relation to Mastodon, right?
As I might have mentioned the last time I wrote about Ahab, Wretched Sea is the ONLY White Whale-centric metal album that EVER mattered. Leviathan was a drag. Too bad everyone forgot about this band once the Mastodon controversy passed, because 2009's The Divinity of Oceans (above right) is amazing. Chumps.
So is "Seafaring doom metal" the new "it" genre? Has the market become so specific, so fractured, that I can afford to say "I only like OCEANIC funeral doom metal" and get away with it? Apparently so. Fuck yeah.
... Let's see, what else? I like what Ihsahn has been up to since Emperor bit it (except when he sings all pussy). The Brutal Truth comeback album was totally brutal (it's the truth), although it wasn't the best release of '09. But speaking of killer albums from last year: I've already told you how I feel about Dethklok (Dethalbum II won a Trappy). And Suffocation. But Skeletonwitch's Breathing The Fire was an epic triumph as well. Immortal's All Shall Fall was All-right, but I'm digging the grassroots shredding of bands like PROFESSOR and BLACKHOLICUS more than any type of faux-evil corpsepaintery these days.
Also: I've never been a huge fan of High on Fire, but when did Matt Pike turn into a creepy, botoxed drag queen?
... And speaking of drag queens, you're probably wondering what these lovely ladies are doing in a post about the state of modern metal. Well, I have a surprise for you. Rhapsody
File this one under 'Most Pleasant Surprise of 2010 (so far)'. This album is both a return to form (their last couple albums haven't been great) and a brave adventure into unexplored territory. Yes, our buddy Christopher Lee is back, as are all the elements (in enormous portions) that have made Rhapsody the unstoppable epic-symphonic-shred-power-unicorn-Narration Metal juggernaut that they are. Yeah, I know: you're too "cool" for Rhapsody. But dude, you're seriously missing out. I'm telling you as a friend.
Just as Slough Feg's "White Cousin" was the best song of 2009, I'm starting to think that Rhapsody's "Reign of Terror" might be the track of '010 (probably not, though):
One last thing I want to get off my chest before I bail:
There are very few extreme metal bands that can stay both relevant and brutal for a several decades. Napalm Death is still holding it down, Testament is still keeping it real... Exodus? Well... No. Not you, Exodus. I was hoping against hope that Slayer's new (well, '09) album World Painted Blood would be some sort of return to relevance for them after hearing the "Psychopathy Red" single, but alas, my dreams were quickly crushed. Although "Red" was a pretty rippin' song, rumors about World Painted Blood being the "new Reign In Blood" were quickly proven false. No surprises there -- Slayer hasn't put out a decent record since Seasons In The Abyss. But bear with me here...
You have just borne witness to the (yawn) first (yaaaawn) track off of said album (yaaaaawn). It's all here: Boring, three note "main riff", sucky solo, uncomfortable spoken-word part... Jesus, what a mess. But it gets worse. Check out track 10, "Playing With Dolls" (I will LITERALLY GIVE YOU A MILLION DOLLARS IF YOU MAKE IT THROUGH THE ENTIRE SONG):
My point is this: it has become time for Slayer to throw in the towel. Artistically speaking, these guys sound like exactly what they ARE - 50-year-old dudes chasing after a music genre that is quickly leaving them behind. Slayer sounds like Kerry King looks - Outdated, irrelevant, overwrought, and sloppy. It's embarassing.
Since the rest of the metal world is too polite to say it, allow me: STOP IT, SLAYER. YOU'RE CREEPING US OUT. For fuck's sake, listening to "modern" Slayer is like watching your parents get drunk and dance at a wedding. Yeesh.
Maybe it's blasphemy to call Slayer out like this. But isn't blasphemy what Slayer's all about?
DID I JUST BLOW YOUR MIND?
I'd like to thank anyone who made it through this entire post. I meant for it to be a lot shorter, but I get carried away sometimes. Oops. Let me know about your take on the world of modern metal down there in the 'Comments'.