Wednesday, December 07, 2011


8. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
As with Chemistry of Common Life, I still don’t really know how to describe this band. You know what they do, you understand the sound and the elements used to create that sound, but how it all comes together seems foreign. The thought of three guitars playing different things simultaneously not only goes against my own logic; it actually goes against whatshould work. But they make it work, really well.
If you were so inclined, start this thing from the beginning and get on a bike at night with headphones on. It might help you appreciate what I mean. This stuff is harsh, densely layered, yet so uplifting it can propel you.
Cuts like “Running on Empty” are massive. Like, Bon Jovi massive. And I mean that in a good way.

7. Obscura – Omnivium
It seems almost default for a noodly band from Germany to make my annual year-ender. Upon inspection, a noodly German band didn’t make my list last year. Going forward, I promise to have a noodly band from Germany on my year-end lists, and if Obscura is to release a new record in 2012, I’m sure adding a record by noodly Germans won’t be a problem (baboom. Music writing 101, people.)
Omnivium is as entertaining as it is accomplished, and watching them play this stuff live with grinning ease reinforced my opinion (the fans ((like, the spinning electrical ones, not humans)) gloriously blowing the hair of both guitarists, and what looked like Chesney from Coronation Street on drums also helped.)

6. Mastodon – The Hunter
Mastodon’s strength always was, to me, its ability to build and stack snakey, rigid riffs to a peak, then break the tension with a loose, driving groove. When working my way throughThe Hunter, and realizing none of that previous formula was there, I was bummed with a capital :(  , yet despite my initial reaction I was continually drawn to the record.
Seeing the band live brought sense, though, to The Hunter. After having spent years becoming increasingly complex both musically and conceptually, the band broke its own tension by stripping back and composing catchy, traditional “songs”. And wedging those catchy songs, and their massive sing-along-ready choruses, between the older, more complicated work, it all worked really well.
A band has to live with its music far more than the listener by playing it everyday, and these guys looked like they were having fun, which makes a big difference. The Hunter is a change, but it’s good, and still distinctly Mastodon.

5. Trash Talk – Awake EP
This thing is a 5 song, 7 minute and 19 second firesale of punk and hardcore. Its song titles might as well be “Ready?”, “You Sure?”, “Here we Go”, “Told Ya”, and “Eat That”, as that’s pretty much my emotional range when getting through it. Almost every tune begins with faded-in-feedback and moments are not spared, as the material seems to have been written with the mindset of everything happeningRightNOW.

4. Revocation – Chaos of Forms
I’ll admit to being skeptical of this band for probably no valid reason other than writer/vocalist, Dave Davidson, looking like a regular guy in his 30’s who could be mistaken for me, but was doing that touring metal band thing, which I’m not. When he was selected the #1 Modern Metal Guitarist by Metalsucks I caved and listened to Chaos of Forms.
It turned out to be the one band this year where I sent “check THIS out” messages around and immediately bought one of the band’s dumb tshirts designed for children with a giant stupid “heavy metal” image on the front that I probably shouldn’t be wearing anymore.
Davidson is the real deal here, delivering strong, crafty and clean riffing with slick leads (Dime, Slash, Vai influences). There is no posturing; it’s not trying to be anything other than pure metal with enough modern twists to keep it from being redundant. It’s a mixed bag, and while some of it doesn’t work, most of it does.

3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Holocene, man. 

2. Devin Townsend – Deconstruction
When the Junos jumped on board the Heavy Music bandwagon, announcing the inclusion of a Metal award, I couldn’t help but be cynical. And the winner is…what, Three Days Grace? Maybe (hopefully) I’ll be wrong, and whatever combination of people will have its collective head on straight enough to acknowledge that Devin Townsend, in quantitative and qualitative terms, has arguably been one of the most consistent Canadian artists – not just in heavy music – over the last decade.
To the mainstream, an album featuring guest appearances from members of Death, Emperor, Soilwork, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Gojira, Meshuggah, Opeth, Gwar, and Between the Buried and Me, may not mean much, but that is truly an impressive international roster of heavy hitters, and speaks volumes to the respect Townsend commands. Deconstruction is expansive, gets carried away a LOT, immature at times, but unmatched in its technical muscle combined with moments of, for lack of a better word, majesty.
Make no mistake, despite what the Canadian Music Industry thinks, this is the best Heavy music released by a Canadian in 2011.

1. Decapitated – Carnival is Forever
The only thing that has changed since I originally wrote of this record is that I’ve listened to it a lot more.

Honourable mentions:
Hate Eternal – Phoenix Amongst the Ashes
DJ Quik - The Book of David
Vader – Welcome to the Morbid Reich

- Ghost
- Black Metal. Like, all of it. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Decapitated - Carnival is Forever

As much as any record deserves to stand on its own and not be forced to carry the burden of backstory, it would be impossible to subject the newest release of Poland’s
Decapitated, Carnival is Forever, to any combination of text without acknowledging the events preceding it.

In my more productive metal writing days there were many words committed to the 2006 release
Organic Hallucinosis, as there was no question of it being one of the more satisfying metal recordings I'd heard in a long time. The band had always been a welded unit; capable of delivering airtight and sophisticated material, but Hallucinosis was a knockout blow. The production was louder, more up front. The songs shifted from the previously mechanical and traditionally technical Death Metal approach to a looser, more groove-filled style. The record thoroughly earned the overly abused descriptor: raw.

The previously lauded story of Decapitated was how the band formed when the average age of its members was 14, and then released the intimidating debut
Winds of Creation, 4 years later. The band remained consistent in both quality and release schedules until Organic Hallucinosis, when the subject of youth shifted from a group being "wise beyond its years," to "too young to go through this."

In the fall of 2007 while touring Russia, an accident involving a logging truck resulted in severe injury to vocalist, Covan - who had only replaced Sauron for the 2006 release - and the death of drummer, Vitek, brother of guitarist Vogg, and father to a child of his own. Vitek was 23.

Similar to the death of any non-mainstream artist, the world of entertainment - and those who follow - moved along without notice. But the metal community was shattered, holding hands and hanging heads all over the web. While deep in the routine of touring its strongest record, there was no worse upheaval. What followed were the obvious questions of which those asking already knew the answers. The band as we knew it, was finished.

Fate, higher powers, or whatever you choose to believe in can take any possession away, but the things that possess you will always remain. Your sight can be lost, your hearing, limbs, friends, family, all these things can be separated from you, but only death can divide you from your born inclinations. A brother to a guitar player, a songwriting partner, a biological competitor can cease to exist, but an accelerated ability to completely asphyxiate a fret-board with vehemence will eventually triumph.

In mid 2009, Vogg re-emerged to announce he would continue with a newly constructed Decapitated
*, and began recording in early 2011.

Music of all forms can be justified to its listeners as having an attraction based on how it makes one feel. I can’t say with confidence what this says for listeners of heavy music, but I will say that within less than 5 seconds of album opener “The Knife,” my physical being was inert, and my emotional self was standing with clenched fists and tears of stress.

This is the sound of delivery. This is the sound of expectation being dialed in to its most calculated end. This is a culminated climax of so much tragedy and strength that it will be one of the most emotionally exhilarating listens I will have. It is music unequivocally rising against what is arguably the most painful human experience and animating itself in song’s most aggressive genre. It is groove fueled with blood and blended with electricity. It is slipping into supreme feel only to follow with channeling the ghost of Dime in a ripping lead (United), it is polyrhythmed propulsion (Homo Sum), it is Sepultura's tribal twist meets Pantera’s "Becoming" with a dizzying ascending solo leading into a punishing blast (404). It is an 8 song, 42 minute compact uppercut of “over before you know it.” 

Carnival is Forever is a record above score, not because of perfection, but because of everything stated above. Yet what makes it so special is that it does stand on its own. The story of its inception just makes it that much more powerful.

*I covered the addition of Krimh via cover songs posted on YouTube here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Family Portrait

For a long time I played with these guys and had a head dipped in hair. This is a live video of the last show we ever played as a band. Party.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

Where to even begin with Marrow of the Spirit? The sweeping arrangements? The calms before, during, between, and after the storms? No, wait, I know, how about the completely over-reaching, poor execution of it all.


You want to be a black metal band (not Agalloch, specifically, but YOU. YOU want to be a black metal band), so what do you do? What is your approach? Let’s assess the situation; the situation being what kind of sounds you want to evoke, and how you want to identify yourselves. Yeah, yeah, you “want to carve your own path”. Whatever. 

So you want to be a black metal band, well alright then, blast away. Take out the low end and crank the treble of your Marshall. Have at it. Gargle screech your brains out. Have the most non-fun on the outside – fun on the inside you can possibly have while playing the sped-up-drumming-and-slowed-down-everything-else, weird brother of punk-rock. I can respect that as long as you understand that upping the ante comes with expectations that aren’t satisfied with mere ambition.
 Let’s change the subject.
 A shift began a bunch of years ago where a few bands known for bleaker sounds began expanding timbres by channeling psych and prog. Either vocally or instrumentally, there were definite nods to, for obvious instance, Pink Floyd. 
With Floyd being the best and obvious example, let’s expand:

An amazing aspect of a band like Pink Floyd is how the musicianship of its members (well, maybe not Nick Mason) reaches other musicians who appreciate the focused approach and commitment to doing more than simply making sounds with an instrument.


I read a guitar mag interview with David Gilmour in the 90’s where he attempted to explain his tone and vibrato. Naturally, tone isn’t something that can really be explained, it’s just something you develop, assuming you have an ear for it. His vibrato approach is taken from the vocal technique of sustaining the sound and adding the waved effect toward the end. Not all players use this ‘natural’ method but can have results that are just as effective, if not cremating (ex. Zakk Wylde, Dimebag, and Malmsteen all use exaggerated, freeway-wide shakes).

What’s interesting about things like tone and feel is that an average music listener may not understand these tools and how they’re used, but at a basic level their application creates a more pleasing sound, therefore a sound with broader appeal.

This isn’t to imply that Agalloch has any interest in developing tone and feel, let alone vibrato, in reference to their guitar work. Which is fine. Maybe they care, maybe they don’t. That said, when listening to Marrow of the Spirit there are melodic lines that sound so amateur it’s distracting. THOUGH, not distracting to the ‘average listener’, which of course is the catch. If the feel was improved, the sound would be improved, therefore piquing more ears.

People want to love music like this. They need it. But it’s too easy to be wooed by the limited everything about Agalloch. Rarely playing live, picking obscure cities when they actually do, providing no news about minor details like, you know, album releases. It’s all some pretty intriguing wrapping paper seemingly packaged by Ian Mackaye himself. Then you open the box and are presented with this guitar lead in the second song that’s like, TOTALLY UNNACEPTABLE. But then the 5th song has an acoustic lead that’s decent and I’m left pretty baffled by the whole thing.

On TOP of that you have this production that’s like, I mean, were you even trying? There are acoustic sections that transition into loud sections with no sense of dynamics at all. The acoustics were recorded completely up front but the shift to heavy has no punch because the engineering was distant, therefore disallowing any shift in volume despite being completely different tonal moods.

What’s so dumb about music and its genres and sub-genres is that a non-mainstream band like Opeth is considered mainstream metal yet completely off the radar to the average listener. As a result of this, metal listeners will delve deeper, searching for bands that are more obscure. And non-metal listeners who like Metal as long as it matches their dumb flipped up brimmed baseball hat will be ignorant to a band like Opeth but happily tow the line of your NPR hosts who latched onto this stuff because the jocks they hated in high school liked Pantera. This is of course no different than most other genres and what we’re left with is Marrow of the Spirit being named Decibel magazine’s Best record of 2010, an album Michael Akerfeldt could have written and recorded from a coffin.