Impressions: More Albums from 2016

I’m torn.

I always want to discover new bands, or check out ones I’ve heard of and somehow haven’t gotten around to. You never know where you’re going to find another contender for the top 5, y’know? But I also don’t want to ignore the popular stuff — the stuff everyone else is listening to. Sure, it’s good to seek out your own interests, but I want to be a well-rounded listener.

This recent batch is made up of friend recommendations and a couple discoveries. Broadening the ‘ol musical horizons, and all that. I’ll try to be brief.

Master, An Epiphany of Hate – I listened to the entire first track, which is probably more than this album deserves. I don’t especially like ragging on bands — not in public, anyway — but I honestly don’t think I could stand more than four minutes of this album. I just can’t take the vocals seriously — even for death metal! It just sounds like the laziest effort, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if the instrumentation made up for it. But I can’t remember a single note. If an album can’t grab me from the first track — or in An Epiphany of Hate‘s case, the first 30 seconds — there’s a good chance it’s not for me.

Score: n/a

After the Burial, Dig Deep – My friend and fellow Mysidia member Chris recommended this one to me. The clip he played through his PlayStation microphone late one night didn’t really do the band’s metalcore heaviness justice; a couple listens later and I’m kind of on board. Maybe it’s just the way the genre has been going lately, but I felt a distinct lack of clean singing on tracks like “Deluge” where it felt like there should have been. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely didn’t mind their absence. After the Burial seems comfortable doing it their way, and as it turns out, I’m more or less into it.

Score: 3

Delain, Lunar Prelude (EP) — Is there really room for another female-fronted symphonic metal band in my life? Maybe, if Delain would put out a full-length album. The good news is they’re doing just that later this year, so why put out Lunar Prelude so close to its release? The two brand new songs they put out aren’t bad, and neither is the new version of a song from their last album, but they aren’t enough to really get my horns in the air. I’ve always been a fan of the less-operatic vocals that this genre has been moving toward in recent years, so a proper release from Delain might be enough to win me over to their side.

Hypno5e, Shores of the Abstract Line – Awful name aside, Hypno5e could be one of the year’s more promising new discoveries for me. Not top 5 material, but prominent enough to get my ears perking up whenever I hear them mentioned. The opening track has great atmosphere and builds up to a welcome dose of heaviness. I’ll admit, I was expecting a more unique sound than the derivative djent-inspired riffage, especially for a band labelled as “avante-garde,” but their offenses weren’t egregious. Shores probably won’t win any awards from me, but Hypno5e has my attention.

Omnium Gatherum, Grey Heavens – Disclaimer: This is a Garrett J. Peters band. Or was that Insomnium? I’ve never been able to tell the two bands apart until now. Ominium Gatherum emphasizes the “melodic” in their brand of melodic death metal, but Grey Heavens doesn’t especially wield this in a way that hits home for me. Some tracks like “Rejuvenate” have standout moments, but overall I think I’d rather listen to something with a little more variety. “The Pit” and “Frontiers” are excellent though, so I can’t completely condemn this one.

Score: 2.5

DevilDriver, Trust No One – I said I didn’t like bashing bands. I really don’t. But it’s hard for me to express my dislike for DevilDriver without getting a little rowdy. I bought their first album back in high school, and like then, there’s competent musicianship on Trust No One, but it’s hampered by the same bland songwriting. Not predictable necessarily, just filled with an overwhelming sense of apathy. Like, that shouldn’t seem possible with a genre as bombastic as metal, right? If you want me to get the claws out, here goes: I think Dez Fafara might be the worst vocalist in metal. His diction is terrible, his voice just totally devoid of charisma. He’s like the first death metal vocalist you ever met, who only got the job because he’s the only one whose voice didn’t hurt after growling for half an hour. But, like DevilDriver the band in the time I’ve listened to them, he never got better.

Score: 1.5

Witherscape, The Northern Sanctuary –  This album does things I like, but I’d still find it really hard to recommend. Like, unless you’re looking for something very specific (“albums with Dan Swano”), I’m not really sure what my angle would be. Songs with memorable parts that don’t build up to anything that impressive? A mix of clean and death vocals that ultimately don’t work together in interesting ways? Half-baked progressive elements that don’t challenge listeners? It seems like I’m coming down hard on The Northern Sanctuary, and I really, really don’t mean to. This is a “metal album.” It has metal music, played by metal musicians. It’s an  instance where actually having nothing to compare it to is a bad thing.

Score: 2.5

Whispered, Metsutan – Songs of the Void This is a Garrett recommendation, which means there was a good chance it was going to be melodic death metal. Whispered is the latest offering in a line of bands he’s brought to my attention that sound Bodom-inspired, which isn’t the most grievous act if they’ve got the chops. Metsutan shows theirs well enough with talented showcase of catchy riffs (the opening of “Strike!” will probably be stuck in my head for the rest of my life). However, it’s all marred by the very thing Whispered uses to set themselves apart. The Eastern instrumentation used to lend exotic flavor to their songs is done in such a poor, tasteless manner to the point of distraction. I mean, not even Chthonic gets it right all the time, but at least that sort of thing feels like it belongs there. Maybe I’d have liked Metsutan more if it had been more derivative after all.

Score: 2

That’s it for now, but man, the weeks keep flying by. Expect another one of these sooner than later.

Top 5 Metal Albums of 2016 Forecast: The Story So Far

I was just thinking the other day how I was going to have to have a tough time with my top 5 metal albums of 2016. Not for the wealth of awesome titles, but for a lack of really standout ones. (I ended up being super wrong, but more on that in a bit.)

I had a few I knew would probably be on there (Gojira, Borknagar), but I couldn’t think of many more albums that had come out that “felt” like they deserved to be there. Not like last year.

For reference, I spent much of last year spinning the same albums, over and over again. Leprous’s The Congregation was equal parts prog and tech-infused black metal, while Tribulation’s Children of the Night met my needs for a grim yet rockin’ good time (and with raw, natural production to boot). Gorgoroth’s Instinctus Bestialis was short and so, so sinfully sweet; I couldn’t tell you how many times I listened to it during the final half hour of a Friday afternoon to make the weekend come sooner. Pyramaze’s Disciples of the Sun was a gift from a band I’d all but written off (seriously, how do you follow up an album with Matt Barlow on it?), but still it grabbed me with its fresh take on power metal. Finally, Ghost’s Meliora, my 2015 metal album of the year — well, it felt like album of the year. It’s such a well-crafted album, with so much care put into the songwriting and production that I knew it was in the running from the first time I heard it.

So when I reflected on all that and thought about the albums I’d been returning to this year, nothing really stood out. Then I had a rare moment of clarity; I thought to myself, “That can’t be right, can it? Surely there are albums out there to give Magma and Winter Thrice a good run.”

I keep a Google Docs page filled with albums I’ve listened to throughout the year. It has the month and day they were released, as well as a tentative “score” numbered 1 through 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The score indicates how I felt about them at the time, and it could increase or decrease on subsequent listens. Top contenders are bolded, and are (usually) 4s and higher.

Turned out I had a lot of bold 4s in the 2016 doc.

I really, really, wish I had a more satisfying conclusion to this bit of drama. But the reality of it was that I just plain forgot several albums I’d enjoyed. So I spun them again, and whaddya know? They’re great, and it looks like 2016 is going to be even more heated than 2015 was.

Here’s what’s coming:

My Contenders for 2016 Albums of the Year

Borknagar, Winter Thrice – I like albums that “sound” cold. It helps that “winter” is in the name of Winter Thrice, as this is a very cold-sounding album. I picture a lot of black mountains covered in frost, and the boughs of trees weighed down by snow when I listen to this. You know, Necrolord album art kind of shit. It also helps that I think the songs here are really good, which is why I’ve returned to it so many times. I just can’t get enough of the style of harsh vocals they have (I could take or leave the clean?) and their sense of melody is particularly strong. For an album to have come out so early in the year and still have me coming back to it — that says a lot.

Prediction: 2

Amoral, In Sequence – Artwork tends to play a large part in getting me to check out bands I’ve never heard of. This one looks like a card from Magic: The Gathering, so points there! I’m also digging Amoral’s prog-metal groove, particularly the two opening songs. I’ll admit, I’m not crazy about the drum production or the vocals, and I get kind of murky toward the songs on thr end of the album. I’ll definitely give it some more listens to give In Sequence a proper shot at the top 5, but honestly, I don’t know. It had a solid chance at its January release, but the competition is fierce.

Prediction: Honorable Mentions

Raubtier, Bärsärkagång – Since discovering them a couple years ago, I’ve always turned to Raubtier when I’ve been listening to Rammstein but want a little more oomph. I was delighted to find they had a new album this year, and that delight turned into sheer headbanging enthusiasm once I heard Bärsärkagång. It’s ferocious and fun, and every bit deserving of a spot on my top 5. But we’ll have to see.

Prediction3-4

Ihsahn, Arktis – So I told you I liked Leprous, right? I told you that, right? Arktis reminds me a lot of last year’s The Congregation, and not just because some members of Leprous were in Ihsahn’s live band a few years back. This album continues the unique combination of progressive, melodic black metal that I thought was just a one-time thing. Granted, I don’t think it’s as strong as Congregation, but that’s not an album it’s up against this year, is it?

Prediction4

Kvelertak, Nattesfard – This one came out of nowhere for me. It was from a Game Informer editor I follow on Twitter, one who I hadn’t up until now associated as being down with the devil horns. But maybe he is? I don’t know. What I do know is that he provided me with one hell of a recommendation. Nattesfard is a pretty eclectic mix of rock ‘n’ roll and black metal, but without being straight up black ‘n’ roll. Like, there’s too much pop-oriented melody going on in Nattesfard for it to be shelved next to Aura Noir and Darkthrone. But I like “different;” hell, last year was a top 5 composed mostly of “different.” There’s a good chance Kvelertak could place pretty high.

Prediction2

Katatonia, The Fall of Hearts – I feel like I just got done talking about “different,” and then along comes The Fall of Hearts. But I’m a fan of bands that do things with confidence, and Katatonia pulls of a kind of gorgeous progressive metal that sucked me right in from the start. This is metal I wouldn’t be afraid to play around my child, but it’s just so damn artsy that I can still feel like I wasn’t holding back. Anyway, there are some heavy hitters this year (emphasis on the “heavy”) and I don’t know if this has a place as AOTY. But the top 5? Easily.

Prediction: 3

Gojira, Magma – Ohhhhhh boy. There are just some albums you just know are going to be contenders, and Magma fits the bill. The riffage is just as memorable as its melodies, with a range of song dynamics that make me say, “why, yes, I will listen to this again.” I don’t want to say too much about it, lest I run out of things to say when it gets album of the year.

Oh, I meant “if.” If it gets album of the year. Ha ha.

Prediction: 1

Black Crown Initiate, Selves We Cannot Forgive – I talked about bands that pull off a certain style with confidence, and Black Crown Initiate definitely does that. The most remarkable thing about Selves We Cannot Forgive is how damn messy it sounds. But it’s an appealing messiness, or else it wouldn’t be here. I’ve only listened to it once as of this writing, but that should speak to how much it impressed me. I don’t know if it’ll make the cut, but a few more lessons should make its final position more apparent.

Prediction: Honorable Mentions

Revocation, Great Is Our Sin So this only came out last week, and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be seeing it on my top 5. Great Is Our Sin just has so much going for it in terms of dynamic songwriting and sheer metal-ness. It has parts that really haul, but then pulls it back in a way that doesn’t feel forced. It’s just an unnaturally good metal album; Gojira may have a hell of a fight for this one.

Prediction: 1

And that’s all I’ve got for now. More albums await in the months to come, not to mention all the ones I’ve overlooked. There’s new Dark Tranquillity on the way, as well as Devin Townsend Project, Evergrey, Insomnium, and even some blasts from the past like Sonata Arctica and (don’t laugh) Korn. My musical tastes have broadened over the years, so who the hell knows? I probably won’t have another post like this until next year, but expect some proper album reviews? Maybe?

Like the final top 5, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Best Metal Albums for Raising a Future Metalhead

They say it’s important to teach your kids a good foundation early on, and I can only assume “they” are talking about classic metal albums. After all, I want to raise my daughter right; if that means Swedish Melodic Death Metal 101 comes later, so be it! We’ll play things by the book.

As Mostly Metal Parents it’s our responsibility to usher in the next generation of metalheads. This means providing our progenies with timeless works of the genre’s forefathers. So slip one of these on after her evening bath or when she goes down for a nap, and she’ll be following you in your footsteps before she can even say your name.

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Album cover for Black Sabbath's Paranoid.

As far as I’m concerned, Black Sabbath is the first metal band to ever exist. That’s how this household is run, dammit! Paranoid may not be Sabbath’s deepest cut, but I think it’s a more significant, more refined metal sound. Yeah, “Black Sabbath” the song is almost enough to singlehandedly change my mind, but against “War Pigs,” “Hand of Doom,” and “Fairies Wear Boots,” my daughter will be off to a better start. Look, as soon as she’s lolling her head in time to “Iron Man,” I’ll know I’ve made the right choice.

Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast

Album cover for Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast.

How do you introduce just one Maiden album to your burgeoning metal disciple? Simple – choose the one with the most satanic imagery! In all seriousness, it’s the quality of the songs I want her to focus on; the other stuff is just an added bonus. Number is not my favorite Maiden album, but I’m not sure which is really, so when in doubt, stick with the classics. “Number of the Beast,” “Children of the Damned, ” “Hallowed Be Thy Name” – do I really need to go on? This is just the tip of the iceberg that is Maiden’s discography. With luck, those NWOBHM boys will put out at least one more before they’re through.

Judas Priest – British Steel

Album cover for Judas Priest's British Steel.

I really, I really want this to be Painkiller. Not to discredit British Steel, which is admittedly both metal and British as fuck, but I suppose Painkiller will be a nice treat when she’s older and she can really appreciate the change in direction. For now, however, she’ll enjoy hits like “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight,” which pretty much provide a blueprint to a metal lifestyle. I mean, the song “Metal Gods” is on this album. “Metal Gods!” You don’t get much more self-explanatory than that.

Metallica – Master of Puppets

Album cover for Metallica's Master of Puppets.

Yeah, I know the Black Album has an actual, literal lullaby on it. That’s useful for babies, but I’m looking for staying power. Master of Puppets is timeless, the result of a metal band defining what “metal band” even means with blistering tracks like “Battery” and “Damage, Inc.” while taking the genre to new places with “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and “The Thing That Should Not Be.” And once we’re done here, it’s onto …And Justice for All. That way if this whole plan of mine backfires, she’ll have some appropriate lyrics to pin the blame on me: “Dear Mother, Dear Father / What is this hell you have put me through”

Start ‘Em Young

There are plenty more albums I could have included, but this is a good start. So before you go asking “why isn’t X on this list?!” know that it’s entirely up to you what albums you show your kids. It’s an open curriculum! Just so long as your intentions are in the right place – namely, making sure your child has a taste in music as good as yours.

Now, I don’t want to come right out and reveal my diabolical plans, but maybe I’ve got ulterior motives for this whole Mostly Metal Dad thing. This could be my way of corrupting today’s youth, starting with molding my very own in my image. But consider that she’s only two and a half months old; my daughter can’t really understand any of it yet. If or when she decides to perceive these albums as more than just senseless noise, well, that day is a long way off.

Will showing her classic metal albums really have any impact on her future musical preferences? Maybe not, else I’d have started right from the womb. But then she might be able to take me to court for subliminal messaging.