overground scene


My 10 favourite death metal albums from the United States revisited

A few years ago (2014) I revisited a post I had written in 2008 about my favourite Swedish death metal albums. The time has come to revisit another list I wrote back in 2011, of my favourite death metal albums from the USA. Since 2011 when I wrote that list I have re-evaluated some of the albums I’ve been listening to since the days of my youth. Looking back at this list there are albums that I still consider unique and unprecedentedly fantastic and I still agree that they rightfully belong to my personal “best off” list of US death metal, and some others about which I changed my mind. The ones from that list that I wouldn’t change are the following:

1. Massacre – From beyond (1991)

It could be argued that Massacre’s debut album was a latecomer in the US death metal scene. By 1991 many of the cornerstones of US death metal had already been released, including three albums by Death, two albums by Obituary, and the debut albums by Morbid Angel, Nocturnus, and Atheist. However, Massacre’s debut was not welcomed as a newcomer. Instead, the name Massacre and its members already enjoyed a somewhat cult status by virtue of being associated with Death, Mantas and the first wave of US death metal. In terms of substance, rather than status, the songwriting in this album is astounding and, in my ears, timeless. The logic that underlies these songs is really a lost art; you rarely listen to death metal today that has memorable riffs, vocal patterns and choruses. Kam Lee is, of course, the ultimate death metal vocalist. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Dawn of eternity”, “Chamber of ages“, “From beyond”, “Symbolic immortality“.

2. Death – Symbolic (1995)

I set my own rule to only include one album per band in these “best of” lists. If I didn’t then I would end up with at least three albums by Death. This band reveals in a way what is wrong with lists such as this one. Death is a band that is so diverse, and wonderful in all its different incarnations, that by focusing on one period one neglects masterpieces from another. But I continue to support my choice of Symbolic, not simply because it is the album that opened my mind to unique forms of composition and musical aesthetics, but because it continues to enchant me every time I listen to it, despite listening to it for 22 years. Every single thing on this album, music-wise, lyric-wise, performance-wise, production-wise, is perfect. I still cannot get over Hoglan’s majestic performance, and Chuck, in my opinion, reached his pinnacle arrangement-wise. What can one say about the genius change of pace during the first minute of “Symbolic”, the brilliant layering on the chorus of “Sacred serenity”, the interlude on “Without judgement”, and so on? If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Symbolic”, “1000 eyes“, “Crystal mountain”, “Zero tolerance“.

3. Broken Hope – Grotesque blessings (1999)

I can imagine many, if not most, death metal fans criticising my decision to include this album in a top 10 death metal albums list. I imagine that most people would not consider Broken Hope a band of the highest order, and even if they did I can imagine that they would value other albums more than Grotesque blessings. The latter has indeed been criticised as an unsuccessful departure from their traditional sound. I disagree, as I can trace the origins of the more groovy and technical aspects present in Grotesque back to songs like “Felching vampires” off The bowels of repugnance (1993). Grotesque is simply the next step in the band’s evolution after Loathing (1997) and the steady, gradual increase of Griffin’s influence on the band’s style. From the very first time I listened to it I was enchanted. I remember really looking forward to the release of this album, since Loathing had demolished me (and I consider that one too as an absolute masterpiece, almost as perfect as Grotesque). Buying it upon its release I became obsessed with it, and I still cannot believe how perfect it is. The juxtaposition of Griffin’s surgically precise complex/technical riffing with Wagner’s more rowdy compositions, all coldly and inhumanly executed, has always astounded me. Add in the mix the brilliant and inventive lyrics, and Ptacek’s awe-inspiring voice and you have a masterpiece. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Wolf among sheep“, “Necro-fellatio”, “Christ consumed“, “Earth burner”.

4. Cannibal Corpse – The bleeding (1994)

The bleeding also retains its position as one of USA’s favourite death metal albums of all time. A timeless masterpiece, and the zenith of Cannibal Corpse’s career and whoever disagrees they don’t know what they are talking about. The departure of Bob Russay meant that CC lost its unrefined brutality and unique identity. That was further reinforced by the influences introduced by Rob Barrett and the more technical path the band went down during this period. The result is a much more diverse and accessible Cannibal Corpse, with extremely memorable riffs, clever song structures, and catchy vocal patterns; and of course Scott Burns’s astounding production. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Fucked with a knife“, “Pulverized”, “Staring through the eyes of the dead”, “The pick-axe murders“.

5. Suffocation – Effigy of the forgotten (1991)

In 1991 Suffocation was without a shadow of a doubt the most brutal death metal band. Their unique style of death metal eventually captured the imaginations of many musicians in the years to come, and Frank’s vocals, Mike’s drumming, and Doug’s and Terrance’s guitar playing developed into the blueprint of brutal death metal. In my opinion, all their albums up until the homonymous one from 2006 are fantastic, but the first one is still the best. Every single song is a masterpiece, a non stop riff-fest, with monumental breakdowns and furious grind, and one of the best sounds ever put down on tape. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Liege of inveracity“, “Infecting the crypts”, “Reincremation“, “Mass obliteration”.

6. Deicide – Legion (1992)

Deicide’s sophomore masterpiece is still one of my favourite albums of all time. Deicide in this album is like a freight train about to go off the rails. The intensity with which everyone performs is unprecedented. Benton’s aggression is unequaled, and his lyrics are some of the best he’s written, mostly reflecting the usual anti-christian element, but also alluding to Lovecraft’s terrifying universe. The Hoffmans offer some of their best performances as well – some of the most memorable riffs and solos ever, and Asheim’s drumming is intense and inspired (check out the genius beat of “Holy deception“). If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Satan spawn, the caco-daemon”, “Repent to die“, “Revocate the agitator”, “Behead the prophet“.

The exclusion of the Immolation and Morbid Angel albums from the original list does not mean that I don’t love those albums anymore. It simply means that in the case of those two bands I decided that I prefer other albums from their discography, and I’d rather have on this “best of” list. So, I would like to replace those two albums with the following two:

1. Morbid Angel – Blessed are the sick (1991)

When I wrote the original list I was unsure about including this or Covenant, but I decided upon the latter probably due to the superior production. I’ve always felt uncomfortable about this choice though. Blessed are the sick has superior songs, and took the genre to new unreachable heights. Blessed… is almost an otherworldly experience, and in terms of intensity, I don’t think that any other Morbid Angel ever came close (maybe Altars of madness). If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Fall from grace“, “Brainstorm”, “Day of suffering“, “Unholy blasphemies”; one of a kind songs of pure inspiration, attitude and creative vision that will never be captured again.

2. Immolation – Unholy cult (2002)

The same thing that happened with Morbid Angel in the original list happened with Immolation. Over the years I have kept changing my mind about which Immolation album is my favourite. All of their albums are awesome, but in my opinion they reached perfection during the Failures for gods (1999) and Shadows in the light (2007) period. Unholy cult was, hands down, my favourite album of the year when it came out. It is an album where the band went for a cleaner production, but without losing the power and terrifying atmosphere of the previous albums. I think that this album has the best drum sound they ever had. Each song is a small miracle, unique, inventive and extremely memorable. I simply love how the different layers gradually come together to form one of the most awesome riffs on “Unholy cult” (the one after the chorus), and “Reluctant messiah” might be my all-time favourite Immolation song. An absolute masterpiece. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Reluctant messiah“, “Unholy cult”, “A kingdom divided“, “Sinful nature”.

In the case of Autopsy, although I still love them and especially Mental funeral, right now I feel that I’d rather have any of the albums below.  The same goes for Obituary, who I love, but I prefer other albums much more. So, the two places that have remained unoccupied in my original list could be filled by any of the following four albums, which I present in chronological order. A lot of thinking has gone into the following list, and although I can imagine most people finding my choices strange, these are albums that have stayed with me for many years, and have had a profound impact on my understanding of music, taste, and, of course, lasting enjoyment:

1. Nocturnus – The key (1990)

Nocturnus introduced a new logic of extreme music. It is a band that took me ages to appreciate, although I listened to them back in the mid-late 1990s. Today, and for a few years now, I cannot get used to the sheer perfection of this album. Most songs are complex, orgasmic explosions of creativity, and even a relatively simple song like “BC/AD” is unique, dark and imposing. Also, the impact that this band has on modern death metal often goes unrecognised. If Nocturnus did not shape the sound of Nile, then I don’t know who did (listen to the first minute – and beyond – of “Standing in blood” and tell me that Nile did not shamelessly copy every single aspect of it!). Another one of death metal’s most inspired bands, Sinister, has also clearly been influenced by Nocturnus (compare the main vocal pattern of “Lake of fire” to the chorus of Sinister’s “Sacramental carnage”; the second riff of “Droid sector” is pure Sinister). If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Throne of fire”, “Standing in blood”, “Droid sector“, “Neolithic”.

2. Atheist – Unquestionable presence (1991)

I have thought a lot about which Atheist album should be included in this list. I bought their debut in 1996 without knowing the band, after reading the sticker on the cover that announced “Death metal from Florida with a difference, you better believe it”. I probably got Unquestionable presence a year later, and at first I didn’t think it was amazing. It took me a few years to appreciate its awesomeness. Today I cannot listen to this album without getting chills down my spine from beginning to end. It is not very often that an album not simply does not get old, but also that it reveals new things to the listener every time they listen to it. Not that Piece of time (and even Jupiter) does not have the same effect, but this one is something else. Atheist is pure death metal, more so than most other bands that are widely considered death metal. Atheist, especially on this album, truly broke with all conventions of thrash by mixing up intensity and aggression with unorthodox tempos, dozens of different styles of riffing and melody. This is death metal. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “An incarnation’s dream”, “And the psychic saw“, “The formative years“, “Your life’s retribution”.

3. Monstrosity – Millennium (1996)

When I bought this album sometime in 1997, it was my first contact with Monstrosity, and by that time I already knew Fisher from Cannibal Corpse’s Vile (1996). The level of musicianship on Millennium was unheard of at that time. Of course there were other technical death metal bands, but bands that played technical music on this high level and maintained an equally high level of brutality were few and far between. Lee Harrison’s drumming on this album remains one of the most inspired I have ever heard. Hear him shine as he artfully orchestrates “Dream messiah” and “Devious instinct”. Jason Morgan instantly established himself as a guitar god in my consciousness (unfortunately, as far as I know he didn’t do anything worthwhile after this album – I own the first Wynjara album and I don’t like it at all). Fisher gives one of his absolutely top performances on this album. What can anyone say about the pure brilliance of this album? The manic riffing and genius musical narratives on “Devious instinct”, “Fatal millennium” and “Dream Messiah”? The creepy atmosphere and ultra-massive break of “Fragments of resolution”? The grinding “Slaves and masters”?  If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “Devious instinct“, “Fatal millennium”, “Manic“, “Dream Messiah”.

4. Nile – Black seeds of vengeance (2000)

When I listened to Amongst the catacombs… in 1999 I could not believe my ears. When Black seeds... came out I was a first day buyer. Nile, in my opinion, reached the pinnacle of their development with this album. It’s hard to think of a more majestic death metal album than Black seeds. A truly ambitious album in terms of orchestration and composition. A song like “The black flame” holds a unique position in the death metal genre. Derek Roddy wrote the absolute Nile drums which defined their style since. Kolias might be a machine but apart from precision he did not offer one single thing to the character of this band. Roddy’s drumming on this album is one of the best of its kind and can stand proudly next to the work of Gods of the genre such as Sandoval and Smith. If I were forced to choose the four best songs I would say: “The black flame”, “Masturbating the war god“, “Multitude of foes“, “To dream of Ur”. It’s worth noting that on the dark Lovecraftian masterpiece “To dream of Ur” Nile’s original drummer Pete Hammoura plays the drums.

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Is this where I came from? #12 Clive Barker and Dismember

The newest installment in this series of posts is about a band and an author I admire a lot. I have loved Dismember since my early teenage years in the mid 1990s, and Clive Barker is an author who I admired first as the writer/director of the first Hellraiser film, one of the absolute masterpieces of horror cinema, and then as a unique horror writer. The song “Hallucigenia” by Dismember was probably influenced by Barker’s book The great and secret show.

Clive Barker – The great and secret show (1989)

The great and secret show is the first part of an unfinished trilogy known as “the art”. In this fantasy/horror Barker weaves a complex story about the battle between two evolved beings (that once were human) over the space (i.e. Quiddity) between our world (i.e. Cosm) and the afterlife (i.e. Metacosm). One of the two beings is the Jaff (or, his human name, Jaffe), who is drunk with power and has evil intent, and the other one is Fletcher, who wants to protect Quiddity from the Jaff. The Jaff has the ability to extract from people their primal fears, materialised as monsters that he calls terata (the Greek word for monsters), and Fletcher has the ability to bring into existence people’s fantasies, what he calls hallucigenia. By raising Hallucigenia he forms his “army from the fantasy lives of the ordinary men and women he met as he pursued Jaffe across the country” (p.64). At some point in the story (after page 367) the fantasies of many of the residents of Palomo Grove, touched by Fletcher’s power, come into existence. Many of those fantasies are of sexual nature, leading many of the people isolating themselves in their homes reveling in sexual debauchery with their hallucigenia.

Dismember – Hallucigenia (1995)

Dismember’s “Hallucigenia” is a song composed by Richard Cabeza, and it is one of the most fantastic songs off Massive killing capacity, and a cornucopia of references. It kicks off with a brilliant, creepy Autopsy-like melody, leading to an up-beat Venom-sounding chord progression (I’m thinking “Countess Bathory”) that is repeated during the chorus, ending in a similar way to Kiss‘s “Black Diamond”. The song title and lyrical content refer back to Clive Barker‘s The great and secret show. After reading Barker’s book and realising the connection, and after listening to this album for 23 years, the lyrics suddenly made sense! The protagonist of the song is someone who apparently fantasised about sexual debaucheries with demons. Hallucigenia refers to these fantasies coming to life.

Lyrics: “On my throne of sin, I watch the demons feed, nails cut deep into my flesh, and release my pulsing blood. Serpents dance before my eyes, and tempt the lust inside, let me taste the pain, devour me, my wicked queen! Whip me with chains of sin, let your jaws open my skin, lips and tongues licking the wounds, in ecstasy I’ll rise. Whores of hell, demons appear to feast on my flesh, bleed with me, souls forever free. Taste the pain and the desire, like a drug it’s my need, bleeding bodies, endless orgies, in carnal blasphemy.”



Is this where I came from? #11 Ozzy Osbourne and Hearse

It has been a long time since the last installment of the “Is this where I came from” series of posts. In this post I will look at a riff created by Randy Rhoads during his brief, but significant, period with Ozzy Osbourne, and how it was interpreted by the Swedish death metal band Hearse. Rhoads’s riffing, and the way it was further developed by his successors, had a big impact on metal guitar playing. Especially his distinct style of fast strumming re-appears in several incarnations of metal guitar-playing, ranging from Rage (Manni’s riffs owe a lot to Rhoads) to Entombed (listen to the recent “The winner has lost“).

1. Ozzy Osbourne – S.A.T.O. (1981)

Ozzy’s second album, Diary of a madman (1981), is my favourite album from him, alongside The ultimate sin (1986). The song that instantly stood out for me when I first listened to it was “S.A.TO.”, still one of the best songs, with some of the most phenomenal and out-of-control guitar work ever recorded. This song is a true Randy Rhoads classic, and I consider him a God simply on the basis of his playing on this song. Now, as Ozzy fans know, it is really hard to find YouTube videos of original Ozzy Osbourne songs, so for the purposes of this post you can listen to the riff that Hearse drew on by a fan-made video. The riff in question starts at 0:34.

2. Hearse – Well of youth (2003)

Hearse is a relatively underground band fronted by Johan Liiva, formerly of Arch Enemy and Furbowl. Max Thornell, Liiva’s bandmate from Furbowl, is also part of Hearse. Their style is commonly referred to as melodic death metal or death-n-roll, but I think both definitions fall short of the range of Hearse, as their music has d-beat elements, traditional death elements, grind, bluesy riffs and guitar solos, psychedelic passages, and classic heavy metal melodies. Dominion reptilian (2003) is my favourite album from them. It is an album full of unique, inspired songs, and a simply phenomenal performance by Liiva. None of the other Hearse albums come close to the awesomeness of this one, although In these veins (2007) and Single ticket to paradise (2009) are also pretty good. The melody that starts at 0:20 and is repeated two more times throughout the song is very similar to the main riff of S.A.T.O.



Favourite music from 2017

The year 2017 is marked by some fantastic musical releases. This year it was more difficult than usual to come up with only 10 favourite albums, and amongst those 10 albums it was difficult to say which ones I liked best. There are many albums that did not make my top-10 list but I also enjoyed quite a lot. Due to the sheer volume of releases by bands I already like I avoided opening up to new bands which I am more likely to dislike. I will start my review of the year with the albums I liked the least.

The initial reaction to Cannibal Corpse‘s new album was one of disappointment. After a couple of listens I started enjoying the album, but then quickly got tired of it. In my mind CC’s discography is organised in two periods, the Barnes and the Corpsegrinder period, and the latter is further broken down to the Owen period and the Barrett period. The Barnes period is my favourite, I consider it very distinct, and I think that his departure marked a huge stylistic change for CC. I think that Barnes’s way of singing, vocal patterns and lyrics defined to a large extent CC’s style. I never took the Corpsegrinder era too seriously, as I have always thought that the band became a bit cartoonish. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like CC post-Barnes. Both periods offer some excellent albums  (maybe with the exception of Gore obsessed). The current post-Owen era, is probably my least favourite, although I think all offerings are consistently good. The new album is enjoyable although the thrash approach to riffing and song structures that appeared in most recent releases is even more prominent now. It is also much less frenetic to their previous album (there’s not a single pure attack similar to “High velocity impact spatter”), and sonicaly, well lets just say Rutan is not my favourite producer. “Code of the slashers” has a cool slow section, but when it becomes fast it feels lazy to me. The structure, tempo changes, melodies and beating of “Shedding my human skin” represent the CC that I prefer. Other stand-out tracks include “Corpus delicti“, “In the midst of ruin”, “Destroyed without a trace” (great post-chorus blastbeat sections) and “Hideous ichor” (the intro riff is straight out of Kreator’s Coma of souls). Overall, it is a quite easy-listening album, and in a sense their least death metal album yet. Vallenfyre‘s Fear those who fear him has some really cool grinding songs (e.g. “Kill all your masters” and “Nihilist”), but in my opinion in lacking standout slow melancholic hymns. I listened to it a few times and I like it, but I would never compare it to the brilliance of their debut. Similarly, I liked Firespawn‘s sophomore album, although I don’t think I will ever consider it amazing, and I prefer their debut. Some songs I liked more than others (“The general’s creed”, “Full of hate” and “Serpent of the ocean” are my favourite), there are some nice melodies and Fredrik’s leads are enjoyable as usual, but I found the song structures and riffs forthcoming and repetitive, in many cases reminiscent of the simpler forms of early thrash. Warwound‘s Burning the blindfolds of bigots is an enjoyable hardcore-crust album made by members of Sacrilege and Discharge.

Moving on to albums I liked a bit more, Evocation‘s The shadow archetype kept me nice company for quite a while. I listened to the first couple of Evocation albums when they came out but I was not impressed. I didn’t bother with them again after that. However, recently I saw the new album on YouTube and the impressive cover art attracted me. I realise that it is a derivative album, but songs are well-written and well played, so I have enjoyed it. Evocation seem to have taken good elements from the two great traditions of Swedish death metal, mixing Entombed and At The Gates in equal measure. The main riff of “Modus operandi” and the drumming feels a bit too familiar (listen to At The Gates song “Unto others” – the riff before the break in the middle), but overall it is good. Blood Feast‘s The future state of wicked is a satisfying and entertaining old-school thrash album, full of catchy choruses, riffs that made me air-guitar, and cool vocal patterns. It could have easily been released in the mid-1980s. Broken Hope‘s Mutilated and assimilated is enjoyable, I listened to it quite a few times but I cannot say that I enjoyed it as much as the previous one. The input by the relatively new members is quite obvious as there are quite a few more “modern” elements. The end of “Malicious meatholes” is reminiscent of Atheist. Although I did not love this album I have no doubts that I will eventually revisit it and discover interesting things about it. On Swine plague, Dead Head offer excellent thrash in the vein of Slayer and Demolition Hammer. The band members are seasoned veterans and this album definitely surfaces in the disappointing swamp of new wave of traditional thrash bands. Kreator released an album that does not stray from the band’s post Violent revolution (2001) style, namely a more melodic and anthemic Coma of souls style of thrash. Although I am not a big fun of this style – and I wouldn’t expect Kreator to ever reach the heights of their 1985-1995 non-stop progress and brilliance – I do like all the albums of this period (Enemy of god (2005) and Phantom antichrist (2012) a bit less). I highly respect Mille and I definitely enjoy the riffs, vocals and speed of this album, but I could do without all the anthemic moments. Expulsion‘s Nightmare future E.P. is awesome and it stinks off Repulsion. Listening to Olivo’s uniquely insane compositions is a pleasure, and I cannot resist thinking how awesome it would be if he collaborated with the guys from Impaled. It is only an E.P. and it’s over really quickly, but what an awesome ride! Over the years Haemorrhage have evolved to one of the most recognisable and credible grindcore bands on this planet. On We are the gore they offer their well-known brand of awesome grindcore, albeit currently devoid of the sick carcass-inspired melodies of their gore-grind days. Their new album is catchy, like their previous full-length, with a good production and some surprising elements, such as the Dismember-sounding riff and the rock’n’roll solo on “Miss Phlebotomy”. “Intravenous molestation…” is a brief delicacy. The chorus of “Bathed in bile” could easily be in a Lock Up album. I liked it but I prefer their mid-90s – early 2000s period. Mastodon‘s Emperor of sand is in the vein of their previous two albums, that is, poppy, melodic, progressive, aggressive, sludgy and well-played metal. There are some songs that have stood out for me, including the fantastic “Ancient kingdom”, but also “Steambreather“, “Roots remain”, “Word to the wise”, the catchy “Show yourself”, and the very dynamic “Jaguar god“. I have enjoyed it quite a lot, but I will refrain from including it among my favourite albums this year because history has shown that I usually get bored with their albums after a while, and, additionally, there are so many other albums I enjoyed more. The Lurking Fear is another band in the long list of projects where established musicians join forces to pursue a shared musical vision. The main reason I became interested in them is due to the inclusion of Andreas Axelsson, one of the masterminds behind Edge of Sanity, and more recently Tormented. From the looks of it Tormented have folded and Andreas has moved on. Axelsson has written some of my favourite songs on the album, including “With death engraved in their bones”, “Upon black winds” (in which Axelsson shows off his talent of composing authentic old-school death metal), and “Tongued with fowl flames”. Two other really good songs on the album, however, turns out were not written by him. “The starving Gods of old” (my favourite on the album) and “Winged death” are two minor masterpieces, and Lindberg’s performance especially in the former is mind-blowing. The Slayer-esque beginning of “Tentacles of blackened horror” is cool. The blatant rip-offs from Autopsy are not impressive, especially since they’ve been done to death over the last 15 years or so. The lyrics are inspired by Lovecraft’s strange universe of abominations. The sound of Cthulhu snoring in-between songs is a good touch. My initial reaction to Suffocation‘s new album, …Of the dark light, was laden with disappointment. The production, the plastic drum sound, and the monotonous vocals alienated me and it took me a while to revisit the album for a second listen. To be honest my expectations were low, as a result of the lackluster listening experience associated with the previous two Suffocation albums. Just like with Pinnacle of bedlam (2013), I thought that Frank sounded disinterested and his voice was over-produced. Nevertheless, after a few more listens I started overcoming some of those elements that I found disappointing, and I realised that most of the riffing is excellent, and that overall I prefer this album to the previous two. “Return to the abyss” is a masterpiece in the true Suffocation style, with Hobbes’s manic riffing, twisted melodies and super-heavy break-downs on fire. In my book this song is inducted in the Hall of most awesome Suffocation tunes. Moreover, both in this song and in “Caught between two worlds” the band is trying a couple of things that could be considered novelties in the entrenched style of the band. The elements to which I am referring are the melancholic tremolo-picked riff in the last part of the latter, and the weird melody in the end of the former, which reminded me of the melody at the end of “Axeman” by Amebix. Another new element is the inclusion of Suffocation’s live-session-singer in some of the songs, which I think is a good move. Another problem that I have is that some changes lack cohesion. The ending of “The violation” is one example and the end of “The warmth within the dark” another; in both cases it feels like the song has ended before it resumes with a brief section that feels random. Incantation‘s Profane nexus is another high quality release by Incantation. In my opinion the sound is more primitive than on the previous album, and Alex Bouks’ absence is noticeable. I haven’t paid to much attention to it, and this relative absence of interest explains its position out of the top-10 list, but I suspect I will eventually love this album. Not many bands can write songs of the quality of “Incorporeal despair” and “Lus sepulcri”.

The following 10 albums are my favourite from this year. Between the second and the seventh albums in the list I cannot say with certainty which one I like the best, and the ordering has changed several times over the last few months. In my opinion they are all brilliant albums, reflecting a fantastic year in popular non-mainstream music.

1. Neocaesar – 11:11

Neocaesar’s debut is the undisputed album of the year. I cannot overstate how happy this release has made me. Neocaesar is a band composed of four ex-Sinister members. These are not any ex-Sinister members though. We’re talking about Mike, the absolute death metal vocalist who contributed some of the most breathtaking performances in three classic albums (Cross the Styx (1992), Diabolical summoning (1993), Hate (1995)), Bart, one of the absolute composers, who wrote unprecedented masterpieces for four classic albums (Diabolical summoning (1993), Hate (1995), Aggressive measures (1998), Creative killings (2000)), Erik, who sang on the magnificent Aggressive measures (1998), and Michel, who played bass on the classic Bastard saints E.P. (1996). Here, Erik plays the drums, and he is an absolute beast at that too! This album is unique and perfect from beginning to end. It contains eight astounding songs plus two dark instrumental pieces. The introductory instrumental song is dark and brooding; such a classy way to start an awesome album! Each song is craftily put together. Amazing melodies, spell-binding riffs, and infernal vocals by a truly genius vocalist. Bart moves within chord progressions that make every riff sound evil and monumental, and he has never strayed from this approach throughout his career. The way he combines different riffing techniques is also amazing; palm-muting, triplets, tremolo-picking, accented dissonant chords, are craftily used, each riff a genius combination of different techniques, to articulate unique sounding musical sentences. The production is awesome, the guitar and bass tones are fantastic, the drum sound is real (and, as opposed to Erik’s work with Warfather, his drumming here is fantastic and much more focused), and the contributions of all band members are equally audible. THIS is death metal. For a more detailed review of the album, please read this.

2. Desultory – Through aching aeons

After their remarkable comeback album in 2010, Counting our scars, I have been thirsting for new music by one of Sweden’s most awesome bands that defined melancholic death metal. It took seven years for new music to surface, I imagine due to day jobs and other non-music related responsibilities that non-mainstream musicians like the members of Desultory probably have. Through aching aeons feels like a fiercer Counting our scars, as there is a complete absence of entirely slow songs. Instead here we have more blasting sections, weirder riffs, less conventional song-structures, more frequent tempo changes, and a more growled approach to singing, in what might easily be Desultory’s best album. “Beneath the bleeding sky” is a monster, in a way similar to “This broken halo” in that it is a fast song full of awesome riffs, and has a very catchy melancholic chorus (the first time around followed by an emotive guitar solo). It is a song beautifully crafted, from the dark menacing first riff to the beautiful acoustic outro. This one along with “Divine blindness”, “Slither”, and “In this embrace”, are my favourite songs on the album, although every song has awesome things to offer. Generally, songs structures are complicated and, at times, might sound a bit incoherent but this can be a good thing; it means that the listener has to invest more time and effort connecting the various parts in order to perceive each song as a coherent whole. Johnsson’s manic style of drumming elevates the songs to a new level of awesomeness, although, in my opinion, the constant alterations between the kick-drum and the snare in leading the beat can get tiring. The band decided that this is their final album, and in a way it feels like they have come full circle. They will be sorely missed.

3. Propagandhi – Victory lap

Propagandhi’s previous masterpiece, Failed states (2012), had its own space in the best-of list of that year. Victory lap is another masterpiece in the classic Propagandhi tradition. Comparing it to their back-catalogue I would say that it is not much different to Failed states, but it is definitely less intense and heavy compared to Today’s empires… (2001), Potemkin… (2004), and Supporting caste (2008). The new album is mellower sonicaly, with lighter distortion, and some clean riffing (on “Lower order”, one of my favourite songs off the album). It is a beautiful album and it contains everything that is great about Propagandhi. The progressive instrumental end of “Cop out of frame” is sheer perfection, the refreshing speed and vocal pattern of “Letter to a young anus” are awesome, Todd’s classic depressing tunes and lyrics in “Nigredo” and “When all your fears collide” (the latter also including some intense hardcore moments) are extremely emotive, and the list goes on. I bet they got the riff in the middle of “Tartuffe”, a genius song, from Iron Maiden‘s last album (I’m thinking the intro riff of “When the river runs deep”). There’s really not much else to say about a band whose inspiration, but also kindness and love for each other and the world shine through their music. Listening to Propagandhi is humbling.

4. Rage – Seasons of the black

Having experienced the several ups-and-downs of Rage’s career over the 22 years I’ve been listening to them, I have grown skeptical of anything new by this seminal heavy metal band led by one of my all-time favorite song-writers, Peavy Wagner. Although I decided to attribute the dramatic deterioration of Rage’s sound to the compositional takeover by Victor Smolski, I cannot ignore that Peavy had something to do with it as well. Given that Rage’s beautiful previous album (i.e. The devil strikes again) is only one year old I was unsure whether Peavy and co., would be able to repeat the feat. I was then pleasantly surprised, as Seasons of the black is an album chock-full of excellent songs. I would have to say that Seasons and The devil are equally good. Overall, whilst The devil strikes again is reminiscent of the Black in mind-End of all days era, Seasons – even faster and even more melodic goes even further back to the Trapped-Ten years period. Peavy has come up with some of his best melodies ever, and I find hard to believe how Peavy’s potential to write this wonderful stuff was dormant for those last years with Smolski. Marcos has kept the riffing at a high level (check out the furious beginning of the album, the main riff of “Time will tell”, and the awesome guitar work on “Justify”), and his solos beautiful, to the point, and only when needed. The same goes for Lucky, whose drum patterns, awesomely executed fills, and perfectly situated double bass serve perfectly serve each song. “Time will tell” is perhaps the song that best represents Peavy’s unique style of song-writing; a true masterpiece with an unorthodox chorus typical of old Rage (Peavy makes me so happy…). The same goes for “All we know is not” (the first few seconds hint to “No sign of life” off Ten years in Rage), another frenzied headbanger in true Rage style with a genius chorus. “Septic bite” is another cool song that – for those who like comparisons – stinks off The missing link-era melodies (and that bass-drum count near the end). “Serpents in disguise” is an immaculately put together song, with a beautiful chord progression, chorus, and great pace. Another straightforward, super-heavy song with an infectious chorus, “Walk among the dead”, could have easily been in 10 years in Rage. “Justify” is another brilliant song, but the intro melody, in my opinion, feels a bit out-of-place in a Rage album (too anthemic). The last song is reminiscent of something that could be found in XIII or Soundchaser, and I like it but is my least favourite song on the album. This is the true Rage, insofar as Rage is Peavy’s band and his vision should be what guides songwriting. This album is a gift to all those Rage fans who loved the band in the early-mid 1990s.

5. Memoriam – For the fallen

The news of a new band by Karl Willetts, Andrew Whale, and Frank Healy was very welcome, as both Benediction and Bolt Thrower are unique and two of my all time favourite bands. I have to admit that when I found out that the main composer is Scott Fairfax, a younger musician lacking a noteworthy record in death metal songwriting, I kind of lost interest. All skepticism disappeared when I listened to the opening song, i.e. “Memoriam”, a wonderful song, I assume a memorial to Martin Kearns, with incredible lyrics and performance by Willetts. The second song, “War rages on” is an incredible assault on the senses. The  sample in the beginning is haunting, and the way it bleeds into the intro of the song is genius. The main riff is devastating, and paired with the massive drumming produce the sonic equivalent of an earthquake. I haven’t heard something that powerful in a long time. Each song deserves its own special mention because all of them are amazing. “Reduced to zero” is another massive epic, its different parts weaving a beautiful musical narrative. Whale’s off-beat playing during the first part of each verse is perfectly complementing the tension of the riff, and the double-bass during the second part is monumental. The more manic sections on songs like “Surrounded by death” and “Resistance” send chills down my spine, and the closer is another epic tour de force. It is worth noting that the chilling ending is narrated by Lynda Simpson from Sacrilege, a band to which both Bolt Thrower owe at least 50% of their sound! It is clear that even though our famous musicians are not the main composers, Whale’s awesome drum patterns and Karl’s unbelievable singing and lyrics make what those songs are. Without those two musicians, Scott’s songs wouldn’t have been what they are. A masterpiece.

6. Skyclad – Forward to the past

I cannot know if Satan’s reunion has something to do with the freshness and power of Skyclad’s new album, but that could be the case. Forward to the past feels like it’s been put out by a new band filled with the excitement and zest of youth. The thematic orientation of the album I guess plays on both the band’s interest in tradition (folk) but also on the tendency of the world to go backwards to scary things like nationalism (as opposed to cosmopolitanism) and fascism (as opposed to not being an utter piece of shit). The song move between the more traditional tunes (“The queen of the moors”, “Starstruck?“) and the more in your face thrashy tunes (“State of the union now”). The ballad titled “Words fail me” is a standout track. The beautiful (and literal) instrumental “Unresolved” (a song one might think was composed by Georgina and Steve, but is actually one of Dave’s compositions) is a nice break from the more up-tempo, festive atmosphere. Another song that stands out and is sure to become a live favourite is “The queen of the moors”, a catchy folk tune based on a poem by John Keats. “Change is coming” is another beautiful fast paced song, with awesome lyrics and infectious main riff and chorus. The only part of the album I disliked was “A heavy price to pay”, a song with fantastic music but lame lyrics. Overall, this is an inspired album that made me appreciate Skyclad even more, and urges me to discover the period after Prince of the poverty line (1994) which I have neglected. 

7. Morbid Angel – Kingdoms disdained

I was really looking forward to listening to the new Morbid Angel album, as it is a band that I’ve worshiped since the days of my youth and it’s never disappointed me. Up until Formulas fatal to the flesh (1998) Morbid Angel had been evolving, capturing the attention and colonising the imaginations of thousands of musicians and fans around the world. I remember that by the late 1990s I would discover a new Morbid Angel clone per week, and that included both new bands (e.g. Poland’s Devilyn, and Holland’s Centurion) and old bands (e.g. Poland’s Vader, and Canada’s Gorguts). In my opinion, the only one time Morbid Angel did not offer something terribly new was with Gateways to annihilation (2002). The new album continues down the same path that Trey went after Vincent left in the mid-1990s. After the two really good Warfather albums I was curious about what Tucker could contribute. As it turns out, Tucker gives astounding vocal performances on the new album and contributes some amazing music and lyrics too. Kingdoms disdained is a new unique addition to the Morbid Angel list of unique sounding albums. The album is extremely brutal and swampy, like FFTTF, although this time around Trey’s compositions are even more noisy and discordant, and the overall sound and production darker. I would imagine that for many people the loss of classical musicality of the classic Morbid Angel period (which includes the Covenant-sounding Heretic) will be missed, but this “new” approach still has things to offer. As usual there is a variety of structures and no two songs sound similar. In “Garden of disdain”, one of the more monolithic songs on the album, what stands out is the darkness evoked through Tucker’s infernal voice and the nuances of background noise. On the opposite end of the compositional spectrum, “Architect and iconoclast” is a complex, majestic, breathtaking song, at the moment my favourite on the album. The absolute genius end of “The pillars crumbling” can only be composed by Trey, and can only be heard in a Morbid Angel album. Songs like “From the hands of kings”, “For no master” and “The fall of idols” stand out for their sheer brutality and speed. “The righteous voice” is another relentlessly brutal song where at times the more classical musicality of Morbid Angel can be heard. “Paradigms warped” is a classic swampy monster of a song. The opener, “Little piles of arms”, is already a classic in my opinion; awe-inspiring vocal patterns, unique riffing, and complex structure.  Overall, this is another album from the master of the death metal art (Trey that is) that once again separates the leaders from the followers.

8. Lock Up – Demonization

I have said it before and I will say it again: Embury fell in the cauldron of riffs when he was a baby. The addition of Anton since the previous album has made Lock Up‘s sound a bit more thrashy; grindcore with a good dose of Slayer in the mix. Kevin Sharp’s inclusion is genius, as he contributes his rare brand of furious and insane vocals to the mix. The vocal patterns on “Void” sounds like something off Need to control (1994). Once again, those weathered grind craftsmen give lessons in fury and brutality. At times groovily uplifting (“Desolation architect”), at other times sluggishly heavy (“Demonization”), or moshingly mid-tempo (“Foul from the pure”, “Void”), or harcorely powerful (“The plague that stalks the darkness”), but mostly grindingly fast (“Secret parallel world”, “Locust“, “Demons raging”, etc.). I can say with conviction that this is a brilliant album.

9. Paradise Lost – Medusa

Paradise Lost has satisfied my need for excellent music album after album without fail for many years. The arrival of their new album, Medusa, did the same. This album feels even darker, slower, more brutal, and less melodic, reminiscent of Lost Paradise and Shades of god. The band suggested that it is reminiscent of Gothic, but I would disagree; nothing can ever come close to the style of Gothic. It was a one-off and I don’t think even Greg knew what he was doing when he created that masterpiece. Once again Nick makes heavy use of his growling vocals, and, as opposed to The plague within, he sounds confident. The only two songs where he predominantly uses his normal voice are the haunting “The longest winter” and the melancholic “Medusa”, maybe my favourite song on the album. “Fearless sky” is a long song that goes through various transformations, embracing different facets of Paradise Lost’s style. “Blood and chaos” is an instant hit, an extremely catchy song. “Until the grave” is another great song with a memorable chorus. “No passage for the dead” has some amazing dissonant moments reminiscent of the Shades of god era. “The longest winter” and “Gods of ancient” are two songs I am not particularly loving right now. In my opinion it would have been so much better if either of those songs were replaced by the magnificent “Shrines”, a bonus track I cannot believe was left out of the standard version 0f the album! Although this album feels at times a bit lazy to me, there are some real gems in there.

10. Immolation – Atonement

Immolation’s new album follows the well-trodden path that Immolation has paved over the decades. It is a unique and majestic style that doesn’t get boring. I have to admit that what distinguishes this album from the two previous ones, is the ridiculously heavy “Lower”. This song is really catchy, and relatively conventional, compared to Immolation’s usual unorthodox compositional style. Immolation is not known for its catchy songs, but, in my opinion, “Lower” is as close to writing one it can get with them (in the past they have come close with songs like “The weight of devotion” or “Dead to me”). I cannot have enough of this song! Of course there are numerous other great songs in this album, including “Fostering the divide”, “Above all”, “Epiphany” and another extremely catchy song, “Destructive currents”, whose tempo also reminds of Immolation’s earlier days. “When the jackals come” is another song that stands out, as it has this weird trill in one of the  main melodies, and a catchy chorus. Nothing terribly new here, but Immolation’s style is always welcome, and in my opinion the production and drum sound are not as annoying as in the previous two albums.

2017 PLAYLIST



Misogyny on Blabbermouth’s comments section

Whenever I read the comments section on Blabbermouth I increasingly find myself being terrified. Lately I’ve been following the news on Decapitated‘s trial (they’ve been accused of gang-raping a woman during their USA tour), and every time I end up being shocked by commenters who utterly discard the accounts of the woman who pressed charges. I would expect that given that none of the commenters were present in the situation, they would acknowledge that they cannot know what happened for sure. Moreover, given that male aggression is a trait widely encouraged in western societies, an aspiration, a status symbol for both boys and men, and a performance played out in metal concerts, football stadiums, and out in the streets, and violence against women is acknowledged not only in the reports of women’s organisations or feminist writers, but in wider popular culture (e.g. literature, film, music, porn), the news of a group of men who play a hyper-masculine type of music possibly raping a woman does not come as a shock. Maybe she is lying, but if I had to give someone the benefit of the doubt that would be her. Still, I would understand someone keeping a skeptical perspective given that we were not present in the situation.

Collage of comments by men making fun of Ford being beaten up.

I was reading a news item on Blabbermouth about Lita Ford’s autobiography and the accusations that she was physically abused by Tony Iommi in the 1980s. Apparently Ford informed Iommi in advance that she would make these claims in her book, and Iommi apparently attributed his actions to taking drugs during that period. Given that Iommi has not denied these charges I would consider it an open-and-shut case of physical abuse against Lita Ford. What one comes across on Blabbermouth’s comment section, however, is a frightening tirade of misogynistic comments. The themes emerging from these comments range from men making fun of the fact she got beaten up (see image above), saying that she got what she deserved, to attacking her credibility and her book (see image below).

Collage of comments regarding Ford’s book

What we read in the comments section of the Blabbermouth article are not necessarily representative of the views of the metal community, but the views of the conservative segment of this community which is over-represented in such forums. Conservative people tend to be more vocal than others. Being conservative by definition means that one’s views are in line with the dominant discourses in a specific societal context. In that sense, the person holding conservative views is more likely to think that their views are the right ones. Moreover, and for the same reason, this person is more likely to think that these views will most likely go unchallenged if expressed publicly because they are shared by most people. Even if the conservative speaker, lets call this speaker a “he”, thinks that someone might challenge his views, he will still feel that the majority of people will back him up.

Do misogynists feel that their views are widely accepted?

The views expressed by this conservative segment of the metal community might reflect an attempt to manage the terror experienced in its ranks from living in times where their dominant views are increasingly challenged. I was recently reading an article on the Black Lives Matter movement (Hoffman et al. 2016) where the authors used Terror Management Theory to explain the polarisation around the issue on social media. According to terror management theory people who take their point of view for granted and are used to not having this view challenged experience existential terror when their views are eventually challenged. The men in Blabbermouth’s comment section who make misogynistic comments and try to relegate the issue at hand to the realm of “fun” and “piss-taking”, are terrified because views they have held for a long time are now being challenged. Most importantly they are scared because they know that they could also be accused of similar deeds (i.e. abuse and rape) in the future. Their comments collectively contribute towards an environment hostile to accusations such as the ones made by Lita Ford. In other words, they are sending a message to all those women who might consider making similar accusations, hoping that they will preempt such actions. The message is, “you will be publicly ridiculed and verbally abused”.

Comments more sympathetic to Ford exist but they are few and far between, and they don’t have the same “success” as misogynistic comments. The fact that there are some non-misogynistic voices out there who are not scared of making themselves heard is hopeful, but it is clear that we have entered a period where more and more of men’s privileges and hurtful practices are challenged on a daily basis and increasingly in popular discourse. Men should see this as an opportunity rather than a threat. It is an opportunity to make themselves better people, able to create better relationships and lead better lives. If that happens they will be able to understand that the song that follows is not about them, but about women’s experiences of living in a misogynistic world.

Reference

Hoffman, L., Granger Jr, N., Vallejos, L. and Moats, M., 2016. An existential–humanistic perspective on black lives matter and contemporary protest movements. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 56(6), pp.595-611.


Metal lyrics and nazism: denunciation or praise?

The topic of this post is something about which I have thought many times in my life as a heavy metal fan. I think that now is a good time to address this topic, given that all kinds of authoritarian ideas are increasingly entering public discourse. The ostensibly “moderate” face of nationalism/patriotism that has persisted over the centuries, despite the catastrophes it has brought about, once again emerges as nazism. So, I think now is a good time to reflect on how our favourite music has talked about the repulsive legacy of the nazis. I will do that through a textual analysis of the lyrics of two songs that deal with the topic: Slayer‘s “Angel of death”, off their album Reign in blood (1986) and Dismember‘s “Thanatology”, off their album Hate campaign (2000).

The starting point of this discussion are three ideas coming from the British and French cultural studies traditions. The first idea is that a preferred meaning is encoded in a text. This means that the lyrics of a song are structured in such a way by the author in order to convey a specific, intended message. The second idea is that the audience of the text will not necessarily decode the message in the intended way. The audience might listen to the song and misunderstand what the author meant, or might understand what the author meant and agree, or might understand and disagree. The third idea is that the type of decoding that a member of the audience will do depends on this person’s own experiences, values, cognitive frames, as well as the cultural field within which the text is encoded and decoded. For example, a heavy metal song about Cthulhu is created and intended for consumption within a cultural environment where knowledge about Lovecraft is more or less taken for granted. Within this specific cultural environment of heavy metal fandom it is more likely to understand what the author intended to say, as opposed to another cultural environment where misunderstandings are more likely to occur.

The first point I want to make from the get-go is that nazis should be represented as nothing other than vile and disgusting. The nazis are the exemplification of absolute oppression, inhumanity, and evil. In that sense, I strongly believe that there is only one way nazis should be talked about in song lyrics, and that is condemning their actions and denouncing their ideology as a disease that needs to be cured once and for all. Nazis and their contemporary manifestations as white supremacists or “alt-right”, or whatever they want to call themselves, must be crushed. It is an ideology that has discrimination and oppression at its core, and it is our duty to imagine a society where each person strives for one’s own happiness as well as the happiness of others, rather than a society where everyone strives for one’s own happiness at the expense of others.

With this in mind I will now look at the song-lyrics of the two songs I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Both songs deal with the horrors of nazi Germany. Both songs appear to be “simply reporting the facts”. There are three questions that I want to pose: Is there a problem with simply describing the crimes committed by nazis? Do the lyrics unequivocally condemn nazis? Or does the way in which the lyrics are structured favour interpretations that celebrate the nazis?

Slayer’s Angel of death

“Angel of death” is a song about Josef Mengele, a vomit-inducing puddle of diarrhea nazi doctor that conducted vile experiments and murdered many people in nazi concentration camps. “Angel of death” is widely considered Slayer’s absolute masterpiece, and has also gained notoriety due to its subject matter. The band itself has defended itself many times over the years against accusations of being nazi-friendly. This defense ranges from explanations about how “describing what happened in real life” does not equal condoning it, to pointing out the contradiction that “how can Slayer be white supremacists if one member of the band has Chilean and another Cuban origins?”.

The majority of the song-lyrics are gruesome descriptions of the crimes committed by Mengele. Four words endow the text with a value-judgement towards those crimes. These words are “sadistic” and “infamous”, both used to describe Mengele, “sickening”, used to describe nazi methods of murder, and “harmless” used to describe the victims. The adjective “pathetic”, used alongside “harmless” to refer to victims, is more ambivalent. “Pathetic” could mean both “inferior” and “sad”. Whether it is meant to stand in a relation of complementarity with, or opposition to, “harmless” is therefore unclear. “Slayer fans who want to defend the band against accusations of nazi admiration would say that the band is “educating” people about the horrors of nazi Germany. Indeed, the four words I enumerated earlier favour a reading that condemns nazis. The same people could also argue that the subject matter is used for shock-value in line with a broader tradition of heavy metal gory thematology. On the other hand, due to the ostensibly neutral character of the lyrics and the ambivalent character of words such as “pathetic” it could also be argued that a far-right reading of the lyrics is possible by a far-right segment of the audience. Where Slayer fail, in that sense, is in providing an undisputed, straightforward message that nazis are vile. In other words, are “sickening” and “infamous” adequate for sending a clear message to neo-nazis that we don’t agree with them? Probably not.

Dismember’s Thanatology

The second song I will look at is “Thanatology” by Dismember. “Thanatology” is, in a sense, a tribute to Slayer’s “Angel of death”. The subject matter is similar, in that it deals with the horrors of the concentration camps. Another parallel is that it deploys some of the adjectives used in “Angel of death”, such as “sadistic” and “infamous”. In this case, however, there is much more evidence of far-right thinking than in the Slayer song. The most problematic thing is that the lyricist deploys the language of nazis to talk about the people who were so unfairly murdered by the nazi regime, by referring to “cripples”, “retards” and “unworthy”.  The only moments that could be read as a condemnation of nazis are the verse “brutal acts of infamy, never fading memories, sadistic hate campaign, in the pages of history”, the sentence “victims of nazi science suffer even to this day”, and finally, that he actually acknowledges the “holocaust”. So, do these lyrics unequivocally condemn the nazis? I would say that the lyrics are ambivalent. They could be read by people like myself, who is a fan of Dismember and who don’t want to think of their singer as right-wing scum, as an account of a horrible time in human history. But, I am afraid that it is equally possible to be read by neo-nazis as a celebration of the nazi regime, especially given the offensive and derogatory epithets used to describe the people murdered by nazis. For a band that has written some amazing lyrics about alienation, inequality, and the horrors of war (especially in Massive killing capacity), this is shameful and should not have happened! It is one of the few songs that I have struggled with, because when it came out I was already a huge Dismember fan and this song offended and disappointed me.

In the scary times we live there is no time for ambivalence. It is time to ask ourselves “which side we are on” and send a clear message to nazis, and that includes to speak against those songs that praise authoritarianism in our favourite music genres. Even if we acknowledge that interpretations vary, or that “we know better” than to be brainwashed by far-right rhetoric, we should be able to recognise the harmful potential of “neutral” or ambivalent lyrics, and shelter ourselves and others from it.



On reviewing albums

Getting angry at album reviews has been a past-time activity since my early teenage years. It is almost a masochistic fascination. I remember looking forward to reading the album reviews section on the Greek Metal Hammer, even though I knew that I was going to be pissed off. Over the years it became obvious to me that musical tastes are to a large extent subjective. Still that realisation did not stop me from getting angry at those reviewers who had a different opinion to mine. I eventually realised that the reason I would get angry was twofold. Firstly, I was angry with the fact that reviewers with a different opinion to mine received exposure by virtue of being in a mainstream magazine, which endowed them with the power to shape tastes. Secondly, I was angry because of the language they used. They would talk as if they stated an indisputable, objective fact, rather than a subjective opinion.

The times of print magazines and their monopoly in shaping public opinion are over. But the practice of authoritatively expressing opinions as if they were facts persists. The Metal Archives, also known as Encyclopaedia Metallum, is an amazing initiative and one I resort to almost daily. I mainly use it to look up connections between bands and information on discographies. But another feature of this resource is its album reviews written by registered users of the website. I almost never read those reviews, given that I know that I will disagree with the reviewers anyway. But from time to time I will come across an album rating (the average of all the ratings given by reviewers) that I will find so surprising that will make me want to read the reviewers’ rationale.

Recently I came across some terrible disparaging reviews of albums that I adore. Some of those reviewers are so deluded that they somehow think that they have cultural authority to judge what is good and what is bad. One of them had the nerve of telling the audience not to buy an album that the reviewer disliked! Here are five albums that I love but were reviewed in extremely unfair and ridiculous ways. As opposed to what I usually do, which is only giving my opinion on albums that I have carefully evaluated and discovered positive things about, I will respond to those reviews using their own disparaging language.

1. Scanner – Mental reservation (62% on Metal Archives)

One of the most obnoxious cases is Scanner’s absolute masterpiece from 1995, Mental reservation. This is an album that is clearly different from their first two albums. The latter were your average 1980s power metal albums, with awkward singers, and straightforward song structures sticking for most of the time to the popular music canon. I still like those albums, but comparing them to masterpieces like Mental reservation or Ball of the damned (1997) would be a crime. The album in question is amongst the best albums ever recorded. Leo Szpigiel is one of the most exciting singers in the German power metal scene, a truly genius singer and composer. The song structures are rarely straightforward. Each song has mood changes, beautiful chord progressions as well as verse-bridge-chorus progressions, musical intervals, perfect and more riffs that entire albums by other bands. Axel’s riffing is on an all time high on this album (listen to the mouth-watering verse-riff on “Upright liar“, or the triplet goodness of “Rubberman“). Each song has an awesomely crafted and memorable chorus. The lyrics and the story are beautiful. I cannot believe how anyone could listen to this album and not fall in love with it. There’s no point picking out favorite songs because each single song is a remarkable masterpiece. 100%

2. Sinister – Savage or grace (55% on Metal Archives)

The problem with some ratings on Metal Archives is that even if certain reviewers have actually made an effort to do a decent review of an album, a number (I’m using the word “number” here as in “I am not a number, I’m a free man”) might come along and destroy the overall rating. This is the case with Sinister’s Savage or grace. The horrid 55% rating is due to one reviewer who gave the album a 5%. Now, this reviewer admits that this was the first Sinister album they had ever heard. If that is the case why rush to publish an utterly rubbish review? Why judge a band whose history or style you are completely unaware of? I think it would be much more interesting if people shared their opinions about albums they make an effort to understand. I would not review a recent Arch Enemy album because I stopped following them 20 years ago, and I know that they play a type of music I haven’t made an effort to understand. I would not review a Nightwish album either, because they play a type of music I haven’t bothered with, so it is likely that I will not appreciate what they have to offer. So, the reviewer of Savage or grace should not have bothered writing a bunch of crap about Aad, Rachel, and one of the most genius guitarists in the planet, Ron van de Polder, who composed this album. An album that indeed suffers from a poor production, but every single song is a small orgasmic masterpiece. More vile reviews have been written about two other masterpieces by Sinister, Aggressive measures (1998) and Creative killings (2001), but I’ll get to that another time. 94%

3. Gamma Ray – Sign no more (63% on Metal Archives)

Gamma Ray’s Sigh no more might be my all-time favourite album by them. It is their last album featuring genius (and greatly missed from other GR releases) bassist Uwe Wessel, who wrote or co-wrote some of the best songs in Gamma Ray’s career, including “Changes“, “Start running” and “The spirit“. It is also the only album featuring the talents of Uli Kusch, a truly awesome drummer and arranger (listen to some awesome chops on “As time goes by“). This is one of the last power metal albums where the genre was going forward with new fresh ideas. Scheepers is giving some of his best performances ever. The first reviewer on top at least explicitly mentions her/his standpoint; s/he learned about Gamma Ray through No world order, an album I cannot listen to even if someone paid me. It makes sense if someone likes that version of Gamma Ray to not necessarily like the old Gamma Ray. But don’t fucking characterise their old masterpieces as “weak and overblown” for fucks sake! Another heavy metal authority who also likes No world order (my condolences) gave the album a 15%. Another reviewer who gave the album a 34% has some extremely laughable opinions (presented as facts) about the album’s “constant rock beat”, “laughable lyrics” and, last but not least, the profound “there is little value whatsoever here”. To use the same kind of eloquent language, this album is fucken awesome! 93%

4. Slayer – Repentless (48% on Metal Archives)

Slayer is a band famous for many things, including having some of the most fanatic and committed non-admirers. I can understand why someone might feel the need to slag off a band that is almost universally admired and recognised for its contributions to popular music. A band held to such high regard might be a bit too much for someone who does not agree with this recognition, who thinks that the band in question does not deserve it. Of course, that does not make the person in question any less a whinny little brat. If you don’t like a band just do what the rest of us do and don’t listen to it. The second reviewer gave the album a 30% had the nerve of admitting that s/he “listened to this thing twice full though”. An album that has taken a band ages to put together can surely be appreciated after two “full through” listens. What a number. Anyway, I am not going to repeat how much and why I liked this album, you can read my review here. Slayer are gods, they have over the years mastered the art of song-writing, and they became famous for their ability to compose songs like they do. In this album, Jeff or no Jeff, they did the same. 92%

5. Rage – Seasons of the black (69% on Metal Archives)

Rage’s new album is a great example of what is wrong with some of these reviews. The album just came out, yet a bunch of people, without taking some time to listen to the album a few times, re-evaluate their initial response, allow themselves to discover new things, rushed into making a negative judgement in a public platform. What gets to me is how some people, with regard to Rage, seem to completely ignore the band’s rich history and take as a given that Smolski was the best thing that happened to Rage. To these people I have to say that there was a worldwide following in the late 1980s and 1990s that loved Rage and who don’t give a shit about Smolski and his self-involved guitar playing and deaf-tone “melodies”. With regard to Rage’s new album, which I’ve been listening to non-stop for a month now, I have to say that it is almost perfect. Beautiful choruses, awesome riffs, awesome drumming, mindbogglingly beautiful melodies and song-structures. It’s an album full of catchy, inventive songs, and this is what old-school Rage fans like. 90%