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Hammered Dulcimers Reign Supreme

It’s hard to hate-listen when there’s so much good metal coming out, right?

The new album “VI:Flora” by Botanist has been rocking my face lately. This band is TOTALLY WEIRD, yes, but if you’re down with something new and unique, headbang wif me:

What I love about this band is, they’re totally doing exactly the things black metal does, but the instrumentation is weird! All the blastbeats and tremolos and distortion are still there. It ends up sounding evil in a culty way. It makes me want to worship the gods of nature.

This new album reminds me a bit of Deafheaven – the song structure just has the same sort of drive to it, and the song-ending crescendos just stimulate the same parts in my brain.

Full album at their Bandcamp page.

Hate-Listening to BABYMETAL

Hate-listening is a thing I do where I challenge myself to listen with an open mind to bands I know I’ll despise.

babymetal-logo-620x283

Does BABYMETAL need an introduction? Probably. What you already should know is that BABYMETAL went viral with their music video for “Gimme Chocolate!!” Something funny about this is, I already love this song “I Want Pancakes” by grindcore project / father-daughter duo band Sockweb. But they’re totally legit. BABYMETAL, is not. They’re an “idol”-type band, where some teenage girls audition to be in a band. Some suits at Amuse Inc. sat around in a board room and thought, oh, you know where there’s marketing potential? Combining the hard-crushing sounds of metal with J-pop. Teenage boys will love it! Teen girls will love it too! You know, for the fashion. (Sorry, is that sexist?)

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being marketed to.

babymetal

…here are some other things I hate though:

  • How the vocals are super-clean while everything else is dark and dirty. And the entire album has the vocals mixed way forward in the mix. It really makes all the riffage sound like it’s nothing more than background noise.
  • How god-awful it is when even any bands use tried and worn-out formulas to write pop music. The whole reason I got into metal in the first place is so I didn’t have to hear the same fucking 3-minute pop song formula over and over again. Metal celebrates breaking rules and pushing boundaries.
  • The spastic styling of “line!”, which starts out being sort of a heavy dancy industrial track, before fading into pure sugary J-pop, then by 1:30 they’re play J-trap. That’s right, J-TRAP, as if regurgitating some bassy beats in the middle of the song is somehow an intelligible artistic statement. Then it’s super heavy with growly vocals by 2:00. Why would a band ever do this? This actually seems like at least one part of the song is going to annoy everyone. Same complaint goes for “Song 4″, which has a reggae breakdown in it. (really)
What chord do you think she's playing here?

What chord do you think she’s playing here?

Is there anything worth checking out in this record, though? Meh. The first two tracks are totally passable as electro metal. I’m not even mad at “Megitsune” – it’s got operatic vocals, sure, but at least it’s heavy throughout without spastically jumping into other styles. And god, I hate to say it, but “Rondo of Nightmare” is heavy as fuck! Check out that Meshuggah riffage…

Overall, the thing I hate most about BABYMETAL is the entire industry behind it. Something I believe is true about metal, perhaps more so than any other genre, is its meritocracy. Like, I want to believe that the good metal bands rise from the ashes, and the shit bands sink. The reason people are talking about Fallujah, for example, is because they’re doing something new and incredible with a stagnant genre. You know, maybe it’s not just because someone marketed the band correctly?

And, I mean, of COURSE there’s marketing behind any band that I’ve heard of, so maybe this is a futile argument. Metal bands do tons of ridiculous things to get attention (corpse-paint, the legends of Mayhem, girls in leather, etc. etc. to infinity). What’s offensive about BABYMETAL though, is that the marketing and profit motive came first, before the desire to create something heavy. The minds behind it know exactly the path they’re exploiting to gain popularity and financial success. They WANT metalheads to cry out in anger. And it’s working! To rub salt in the wound, 99% of metal bands don’t make enough money to live! All the bands playing by the rules of metal are losing if you judge success in a monetary way, or even if you judge success by popularity / views / whatever.

The Flesh Prevails.

Fallujah, currently melting my face.

Really digging this album “The Flesh Prevails” from FALLUJAH. Don’t be an idiot like me and ignore these guys for having a dumb name. They’re not what I expected at all (i.e. they’re not Iraqi / not neocons) – just some straight-up progressive death metal. This is one of the best / heaviest albums I’ve heard since ULCERATE – “Vermis” last year. 5 out of 5 wolves.

Progressive death is not really something I’m super familiar with or psyched about – I guess it seems easy to do badly? – but holy fuck, you can count me on board from now on. I mean, I grew up listening to tons of prog-metal, but most of it just doesn’t have balls, namsayin’? It’s wussy singers, and bands generally tone back their heaviness while they’re busting out some insane guitar solos.

But that brings us to Fallujah. They’re not afraid to just add layers upon layers to their sound, creating something super-dense. Take the shift in tone in “Carved from Stone” at 2:20: most bands would be happy to add a crunchy riff to blisteringly-fast drums (a “breakdown”, if you will), but even while that’s going on, you’ve got a melodic guitar line and vocals at the same time.

Not to toot Satan’s horn, but: metal fans are able to process way more of what’s going on in a given track. We need MORE STIMULUS, more layers, more of everything. Think about it: your average non-heavy music fan will hear a track like this and process it as “noise”. Yet, as a discerning metal listener, you can focus on each of the parts at your whim. You can hear the beauty surrounded by noise. SIDE NOTE: I can actually understand the lyrics of this band sometimes?!

I also dig the little flourishes of black metal, esp. on the track “Starlit Path” – reminds me a lot of ENSLAVED. Oh man, love that wailing on “Levitation” too.

Giving Slipknot A Chance

Let’s timewarp ourselves back to 1998 real quick.

slipknot

The songs I’ve heard before are objectively the best songs! “Objectively”, yes – I mean, maybe if it was 1998 and I loved Iowa, I would think all these songs are f’in classics. But idunno. Lots of these Slipknot songs come off as lame. Like “Vermillion”. It just sounds like typical nu-metal, pretty generic with its growling and whatnot. Way too mid-tempo for me, sounds like a track by Cold or Coal Chamber. Especially when they’re cranking out aggressive burners like “Before I Forget”. Stick to what you’re good at, eh?

But anyway, overall, I love the variety within each Slipknot song. With nine band members, there are like 362880 things that could go wrong at any given moment. But these guys do a great job of switching from one sound to the next, and delivering some pretty dense riffage at times. Maybe not that dense compared to, you know, black metal, but it sure as hell was pretty dense for mainstream-friendly nu-metal. Even that track “Vermillion” does a good job of switching between clean and growly and shouty vocals.

Vol. 3 was not really doing it for me. I wonder how I would’ve felt if I were a Slipknot fan, hearing this back in 2002. Would I be pissed that it wasn’t as heavy and straightforward as their first album? Would I think it was the most epic and progressive thing ever?

All Hope Is Gone has pretty good production, and at least Slipknot evolved in SOME direction…but they kinda just sound like Pantera by this point. It definitely has some cool riffs, but it just doesn’t bring anything new or unique to the table. They get super-wussy on tracks like “Snuff” too. So yeah, I actually prefer them at their nu-est! Nu-metal fucking rules. I never thought nu-metal would make me nostalgic – I thought we could all just pretend it never happened – but I WAS WRONG.

  • Slipknot: A
  • Iowa: B+
  • Vol. 3: Subliminal Verses: B
  • All Hope Is Gone: C

Best Metal of 2013

Guess what! If you’re a metal fan, your year fucking RULED! Sometime during the summer, there was this series of albums that came out – Altar of Plagues, Deafheaven, etc. – where I felt like metal was about to change forever. AND, I was starting to notice how the bands I grew up listening to, are actually influencing the bands I love today! Fucking ace.

Anyway, let’s GET TO IT.

Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury [blackened atmospheric post-sludge]

ALBUM OF THE YEAR. It’s the most dense, most evil album I heard this year, and I can’t recommend it enough. A total departure from their previous, “atmospheric post-black” stylings – this album is full of intense vitriol condensed into shorter songs.

Botanist – IV: Mandragora [hammered dulcimer black metal]

When I first heard about these guys on NPR(!), I wasn’t really digging the music. Then I saw them live. Then I started listening to this album on repeat. It’s pretty bizarre – black metal stylings with unusual instrumentation. It’s evil in new ways! These songs sound kinda shite at low volumes, so make sure you crank up the volume so you can hear everything clearly.

Deafheaven – Sunbather [hipster post-metal]

OH YEAH, this one was awesome. Hey, it even made the pitchfork top 10! This album is way more post-rocky than their previous effort “Roads to Judah”, which bothered me at first, but the new album is super-groovy, and somehow positive while still remaining heavy. Reminds me a lot of Suffocate For Fuck Sake, and of course my favorite band ever Mogwai, who they also covered last year…

Jucifer – Зза волгой для нас земли нет [not-actually-Russian sludge-doom]

I’ve loved Jucifer ever since I saw them on this snowy day, but their albums have always sucked! Until this one. Whole lotta noise from these two. I’m not sure what they’re screaming about – probably something about setting Pussy Riot free and getting rid of Putin.

Letlive. – The Blackest Beautiful [post-hardcore]

Does this even count as metal? It’s more in the vein of post-hardcore – obviously inspired by Glassjaw. But anyway, I found these songs super-catchy, especially “Empty Elvis”. Really great singer, really cool riffage with a quick-moving punk attitude.

SubRosa – More Constant Than The Gods [sludge-doom]

This band o’ ladies from SLC have been serving up sludgy doom metal for awhile, but this album shows they’ve matured into a real force to be reckoned with. Great if you like ominous howling and fuzzy-as-fuck guitars. When I put on this album, I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a witch coven.

Sadly this one isn’t on Spotify, but it’s absolutely worth tracking down.

The Ocean – Pelagial [progressive metal]

Prog-metal used to be my jam when I was a teenager. Hard to find any that isn’t lame these days. Some of the singing on this album is kinda lame, but they’re pretty damn close to Mastodon on the “non-lame prog metal” scale. Anyway, the good parts!: great riffs, really good dynamics, noticeable themes woven throughout the album, and some awesome buildup to the super-heavy “Bathyaplelagic III: Disequillibrated”. Oh, and I just read that this album is a concept album, and the tracks are named after ocean depth zones, in descending order…so it gets darker and heavier! Fck yeah.

Ulcerate – Vermis [blackened death]

Fuck, this album is DEVASTATING. I already loved Ulcerate for their insane drumming, but this album is just amped up on every level. The drums on here are just unbelievable – tons of insane double-bass rolls, seamlessly shifting into more comprehendable beats.

Other Albums That Were Sorta Okay I Guess

Arkade Fire – Reflector
Baths – Obsidian
Lusine – The Waiting Room
Machinedrum – Vapor City
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Palms – Palms
Rosetta – The Anaesthete
Russian Circles – Memorial
Stomach Earth – S/T
Sweet Valley – SV
Tricky – False Idols
Woe. – Withdrawal

Oh and here’s a Spotify playlist with a bunch of these bands and more: