overground scene

Favourite music from 2019

This year it was once again hard to decide which my 10 favourite albums are, as there were loads of great releases, some from all-time favourite bands to which I’ve been listening for more than 20 years. Some of the albums that came my way this past year I did not particularly enjoy, and I quickly gave up on them. These include the new offerings by Queensryche (although “Light years” is fabulous), Paganizer, Firespawn, Fulci and Sorcery. Another one is the debut album by Vltimas, a band that received considerable publicity in metal press. One of my close friends also recommended I should listen to this album, titled Something wicked marches in, but I did not particularly like it. I thought it is a standard modern extreme metal album, mixing death metal and post-Rebel extravaganza black metal. Execution-wise, the album is great, song-writing-wise, however, it did not appeal to me. The songs I kind of liked are “Total destroy” and “Truth and consequence”, both of which resembled Morbid Angel songs like “This means war” and “Nevermore”. I will not dwell any more on these albums, instead, I will move on to those to which I listened more carefully and enjoyed.

Exhorder was never a band I loved, although when I first listened to songs like “Exhorder” and “Death in vain” as a teenager I lost my mind. The new album is well produced, and contains well written songs. Consistent with the first two albums, this is a collection of super-heavy tunes. It is also consistent with the angry bro-metal attitude that never appealed to me. Nevertheless, the awesomeness of riffs and overall orchestration, as well as Kyle’s vocals, is undeniable. Also, listening to Exhorder with a super-clean production makes me realise that The Haunted were probably inspired by them. “Ripping flesh“, originally a demo song, is lush. Nile released a new album, the first since Dallas’s departure. No doubt Dallas’s devastating and catchy songwriting style and voice was big part of Nile’s sound, but Karl has always been the undisputed leader and the one who set the musical parameters in Nile. Overall, Vile Nilotic Rites sounds like a new chapter in the band’s career. More complex, with Kolias sounding more modern, and a bit busier with his fills, and, musically with some new sounds that you’d find in contemporary death bands. I definitely miss Dallas’s vocals, the new guy sounds to me quite generic. Nile is not one of my favourite bands (although their first two full-lengths, and more recently At the Gates of Sethu, I consider masterpieces), and the new album will not change my opinion. Yet, one cannot deny that this is absolutely devastating and well-played death metal. Blood Incantation is a band I paid attention to recently. Their new album, Hidden history of the human race, is really cool. It contains some nice compositions that draw on both the most brutal and most progressive traditions of death metal. Execution-wise, the band is proficient. The song structures are complex and it has long instrumental passages. The opening song, “Slave species of the gods”, starts with a riff reminiscent of Gorguts, and the first verse is like it came straight from Septic Flesh’s Temple of the lost race EP (seriously, it sounds so similar!), and then the riff on 2:53 reminds me of mid-1990s Monstrosity (specifically one of the breaks in “Devious instinct”). Early Septic Flesh influences can be heard throughout the album. So, overall good stuff. The vocals are way too monotonous for my taste though, and the vocal patterns resemble more reading from a text than adding to the overall musicality.

I’ve been listening to Sacred Reich since my early teenage years, and The American way (1990) quickly established itself as one of my favourite thrash albums. I was looking forward to their return. I have always respected them, and loved Phil’s vocals. The latter have lost their power, which is understandable, but they have matured and at times handle melodies more expertly than in the past (hear, for example, the post-chorus bit on “Death valley”) and constitute the most appealing, for me, aspect of the album. Awakening feels like a summary of the band’s career; there are fast songs reminiscent of Ignorance (1987) (“Divide and conquer”, “Manifest reality”), slower groovier songs reminiscent of Independent (1993) (i.e. “Something to believe”), and mid tempo and more punkier songs reminiscent of Heal (1996) (i.e. “Death valley”, “Revolution”) and The American way (i.e. “Awakening”, “Killing machine”). In my opinion, the band’s affinity to Black Sabbath becomes evident on this album more than in older albums, such as in the verse vocal melodies on songs like “Death valley” and “Salvation”. As someone who always preferred Heal and The American way to Ignorance, I found this album very appealing. Xentrix released a new album 23 years after the disappointing Scourge (1996). Once again, the band’s original leader, Chris Astley, is missing from the line-up. Because of that my expectations were low. The new singer has a great voice, I would say more powerful and effective than Astley’s, but also uncannily reminiscent of him. On first hearing, the song structures, melodies, choruses, and so on, did not impress me, or even convinced me that I am listening to Xentrix. I just thought it it is a decent album of American/Metallica-sounding thrash. After a couple of listens, however, the album started growing on me. A song like “The truth lies buried” is among the best the band has ever written, and would fit nicely among the little gems of Kin (1992). “The one you fear” is another stand-out song with great melodies, vocal patterns, and riffs. “Let the world burn” is another great up-tempo tune with awesome sections and a catchy chorus (The observant Xentrix fan will notice that the verse singing patterns are reminiscent of “Bad blood” from Shattered existence). “The red mist descends” is another stand-out song, with a classic Xentrix vibe, especially on the vocal delivery of the chorus. Overall, I quite liked Bury the pain, but I felt that it also lacked the dynamism and adventurous spirit of their early releases. Exhumed‘s new album, Horror, is one of the most easy-listening albums the band has released, if not the most easy-listening. Most songs are fast grindcore delights that cut right to the chase, without long instrumental bits and intros. The frequent and more blatant references to Carcass are not there. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. The band is clearly undergoing a period of creative resurgence, and I don’t know if that has something to do with Ross Sewage’s return or Harvey’s association with Matt Olivo. I need to pay attention to their previous album. A new band I listened to is Grave Altar, and their debut that came out this year is titled Morbid spell. It is a very enjoyable album of 1980s extreme metal, a time when different extreme metal genres hadn’t crystallised yet into thrash, death, and black metal. Morbid spell is a relentless skunk beat attack, and it sounds like a hybrid of early Slayer, Sodom, and Venom (the vocals at times sound like a more shouty Cronos). The lyrics are about Satan and destruction, and if you like this type of lyrics they are quite awesome. The vocal patterns are a bit repetitive, but very catchy and the choruses are great. Strigoi, Gregor Mackintosh’s new band, released its debut album titled Abandon all hope. It sounds a lot like Vallenfyre’s second album, with some new elements, namely the more melodic blackened strokes on songs like “Plague nation” and the symphonic touches on the homonymous song. Overall, it is raw grind-death fury (“Throne of disgrace”, “Nocturnal vermin”, “Parasite”, “Scorn of the father”), crust madness with a touch of melody (“Seven crowns”), and heavy doominess (in the style pretty much invented by Mackintosh in the first Paradise Lost album). This is an album with lots to offer and will definitely grow on me with time. Memoriam‘s third album marks a slight departure from the style of the previous two releases of the band. The production is more polished, but I prefer the sound of the previous albums (Russ Russell is one of my least favourite record producers). “Shell shock” is so far the song that resembles Bolt Thrower the most by Memoriam, and I don’t think its position as the opening track is coincidental; as much I’d prefer thinking that a band like Memoriam would not care about what idiots on the internet say, I wouldn’t be surprised this was done to satisfy said idiots. I consider some of the songwriting amazing (e.g. “Undefeated”, “Refuse to be led”, “Fixed bayonets” and “The veteran”) and in some other cases lack-luster (“Austerity kills” and “Requiem for mankind”). Overall, it is by far my least favourite offering by Memoriam, but I still like it loads. When I put on Zenith, Enforcer‘s new album, I was quite surprised to be confronted with a very tame version of the band. From beyond (2015) is a perfect album from start to finish, maybe their best one. Not that From Beyond did not have more radio friendly songs; the homonymous song was exactly that, but I think with this one they took it a few steps further. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this one a lot, it’s spent many hours in my mp3 player. “Zenith of the black sun”, “The end of a universe”, “Sail on”, “One thousand years of darkness” are all beautifully crafted songs. There are only two songs that I don’t like. One is the ballad, titled “Regrets”, which reminds me of 70s soft porn. The other one is “Ode to death”, which sounds to me like a failed attempt to copy Manowar.

Below are my top 10 picks for 2019. As I said earlier, loads of great albums came out this year (some of which I didn’t have time to listen to properly, like the new Midnight Priest and Angel Witch which sound very impressive), so it was quite hard choosing only ten. The following are all albums that I couldn’t stop listening to. These are also the albums, at least the first five in the list, that I think will eventually occupy a special place in my heart and in the respective discographies of these bands.

1. New Model Army – From here

NMA’s new album is a masterpiece and my favourite album of the year. Initially, I opined that it was the best since Love of hopeless causes (1993), but now I think Winter is better. For more than two decades NMA has been, in my opinion, a bit inconsistent, with great albums like Carnival (2005), Between dog and wolf (2013), and Winter (2016), but also with a few albums I didn’t enjoy much [Strange brotherhood (1998), High (2008), and especially Today is a good day (2011)]. Winter already marked a return to the band’s roots, and that shift persists on From here. There are loads of the more simple and straightforward instrumentation around a bass-line and a mid-tempo beat that could be found in the band’s classic period. Sonically, it is quite sub-tonal, which I suppose accommodates Sullivan’s vocals which have become deeper and harsher. Many of the songs are very minimalistic, structured around a simple chord progression, or a bass-line. Most of the songs are small miracles, like “Never arriving”, “The weather” [a song straight out of the Impurity (1990) era], “Passing through”, “The end of days”, “Where I am”, “From here”. Listening to this album feels like being in the wilderness, around a fire, listening to someone narrating a tale with some really profound, meaningful message. Lyrically, the album is as usual chilling. Sullivan is an amazing human being and songwriter, and I love him. I hadn’t seen NMA live since 2006 in Athens, so seeing them live earlier in December was a very emotional experience (they played seven amazing songs off the new album).

2. Nocturnus A.D. – Paradox

Paradox is my second favourite album of the year, but pretty close to my first choice. The return of Nocturnus was a delicious surprise. The fact that they released an awesome album, however, came as no surprise, as After Death released some unbelievable music over the first decade of the 21st century. It was also great to see that the band did not use any existing material from their After Death period. Using existing material would make sense, since there are some great ideas there which have gone under the radar on account of nobody giving a shit. Nevertheless, Paradox picks up where After Death’s 2006 demo (Secret lords of the chamber below) left off (the song “The antechamber” actually has a section that is a bit reminiscent of “The star chamber of Isis” off this demo). The main difference is that Paradox is even more consciously drawing upon The Key (1990), made apparent through the awesome cover art that directly references Seagrave’s classic painting. Paradox offered me everything that I expected from a good death metal album. The musical narratives are complex yet coherent, the choruses are catchy, the riffs remind people like myself why death metal once became our favourite genre. Looking at the band members it shouldn’t be surprising why this album sounds the way it does; a bunch of old geezers who look like they’re trapped in the late 1980s. I am not particularly interested in the lyrical thematology, but the lyrics are well-written and cool to listen to. If I had to pick my four favourite songs I would say “Bandar sign”, “Apotheosis”, “Aeon of the ancient ones”, “Paleolithic“. And what an epic instrumental closing is “Number 9”!

3. Subhumans – Crisis point

UK’s Subhumans released a new small gem titled Crisis point. It’s been 12 years since the brilliant Internal riot. That was a remarkable comeback, that I like almost as much as I do The day the country died (1983). The new album is a bit less ambitious I would say, more straight to the point, a bit more melodic perhaps, but full of energetic songs in the classic Subhumans style, beautiful lyrics, catchy choruses, and flawless musicianship. The song structures are mostly straightforward, following the verse-chorus-verse pattern. The orchestrations however are very well thought, and the different instruments add their own interesting layer to the composition. The drums come up with interesting patterns that move between classic punk and ska, the bass often takes on a lead role and contributes melodic lines. If I had to choose favourite songs I would say the following: “Strange land“, “Thought is free”, “Poison“, “99%”, and “Terrorist in waiting”. As a side-note, I think it is worth noting that although I understand the sentiment, I don’t agree with the premise of the 99% discourse. The 1% might be extremely wealthy individuals around the globe, but the 99% is a very mixed bag, people who don’t really share the same destiny in any shape or form. This statistic includes homeless people but also university lecturers, hospitality workers but also software engineers working at a bank. So, I don’t think it is is a helpful discourse; I think it obscures the complex ways in which inequality and privilege work.

4. Opprobrium – The fallen entities

The last output by Opprobrium was the misguided Mandatory evac (2008), an album full of great songs, but an abysmal production (basically it sounds like the recording of a rehearsal using an mp3 recorder). The band’s new album is an awesome one, properly produced, but musically, in my opinion, not as awesome as Discerning forces (2000) which is one of my all-time favourite thrash albums. It took me several listens to start appreciating this album. At first listen, the riffs felt uninspired and the compositions overall laboured. However, with subsequent listens I started enjoying more and more the unassuming character of the compositions, the ferocity of Francis’s classic vocals and singing patterns, and the overall feel of the album. It is a known fact that extreme metal flows through the veins of the Howard brothers. If anything, the Howard brothers know how to write great hooks. “Dark days, dark nights” is a catchy heavy and slow opener. “Creations that affect” is probably my favourite on this album, with a super-heavy intro which eventually builds up to a furious explosion, followed by a Sepultur-esque riff, another slow crawling session [that could have been in Death’s Spiritual healing (1990) album] and another awesome trilly riff slightly reminiscent of the fast riff on Black Sabbath’s “Shaking off the chains”. “Wicked mysterious events” is another highlight, with beautiful melodies and an explosive middle-section. Another song that stands out is “Turmoil under the sun”, which showcases the band’s great ability to compose songs with many time signatures. The riffs on this one are rabid. “In danger” is another small masterpiece, a relentless roller-coaster of riffs, accelerations and hooks. A beautiful album.

5. Possessed – Revelations of oblivion

Seven churches (1985) has a song titled “The exorcist”, based on the book/film of the same title, Beyond the gates (1986) has a song titled “The heretic”, which is the title of the sequel of The exorcist (the actual lyrics, however, are based on the film Evil Dead), and Possessed’s comeback album has a song titled “Dominion”, based on the prequel of The exorcist. What a display of awesomeness the new Possessed album is. Let me start with the obvious disclaimer that this album is an awkward album, given that the sole original member is Becerra, who’s musical contribution to the original band was minimal, mainly consisting in the musicality of his vocal performance. This means that musically the new album does not include the original song-writing team, and is co-written by people who have either consciously tried to conform to a compositional formula not created by them, or who, as fans/musicians of old Possessed, have embodied this formula. Having said that, each song is an instant classic, with personal favourites the three last songs on the album, namely the monumental “Ritual”, “Word“, and “Graven”. The beginning of the latter is, in my mind, already a classic. Becerra’s performance is simply stellar; amazing vocal patterns and delivery, which resemble more his Beyond the gates period, in the sense that he does not abstain from singing melodies from time to time. His style is instantly recognisable, and the rhyming of verses like “six-wrist-crucifix-styx-fist” are classic Possessed (and, of course, lets not forget a couple of instances of “hell-bell-fell”). The beginning of “Omen“, another small masterpiece, is a clear throwback to the brilliant “Fallen angel” off Seven churches. The production is clear and powerful, and everyone’s performances are great. At this point it is also worth pointing out the tragedy of music fans who will rally around this admittedly perfect album, but they would ignore the music that these same composers were involved in the past. In other words, do yourselves a favour and listen to Engrave‘s debut album.

6. Bad Religion – The age of unreason

I immediately loved Bad Religion’s new album, and for weeks I kept listening to the first half of the album on repeat. It is fast, it has catchy and inventive melodies, great playing and good lyrics; in other words, it is classic Bad Religion of the early 1990s. The new drummer, Jamie Miller, is doing a great job, is a bit less flashy compared to Wackerman, and overall more fitting to the band’s sound, in my opinion. I love his playing, his fills are very catchy. The first seven songs of the album are amongst the best songs the band has ever written. I cannot single out any songs because they’re all amazing. The second half of the album is, in my opinion, a bit less impressive. Starting from “Candidate”, a slow song reminiscent of the late 90s era of the band, the quality drops. The next song, “Faces of grief”, reminded me of the two short, sharp, non-melodic numbers from New maps of hell (“52 seconds”, “Murder”) which sound filler to me. The rest of the songs are quite awesome though, making up an amazing album overall. The cover is not really my favourite. The band laments the supposed death of reason, however, in my opinion, the Greco-Latin pedestal should not be sacred; challenging it should not be lamented. It actually deserves to be critiqued for many of the developments made in its name, including slavery/racism and capitalism.

7. Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra – Legacy of the dark lands

Legacy of the dark lands contains songs composed by two of my all-time favourite musicians, Hansi Kursch and Andre Olbrich. The music on this album sounds like a film score, at times, and a musical, at others. For more than 20 years now the band has been incorporating classical orchestrations in their songs. Moreover, Blind Guardian has not been your average metal band, at least since Somewhere far beyond (1992). Compositions are usually complex, and although there are still choruses, the verse structures, vocal patterns and guitar solos do not adhere to the heavy or power metal canon. In Legacy, the songs are fantastic; classic Blind Guardian masterpieces, but the instrumentation is not metal. As such, a big part of what I love about Blind Guardian is missing, namely the awesome rhythm guitars, the riffs, the solos, and the drums. This album is also a reminder that Hansi’s and Andre’s songwriting and the former’s vocals are, in effect, what makes Blind Guardian one of the best bands in the world. I have not paid any attention to the lyrics, and I have literally deleted from the mp3 folder all the interludes with the voice actors between songs. Fantasy literature is not my thing. Without the story and the funny voices to distract me, I enjoy a different type of storytelling which consists in the soundscapes created by the music and the vocals. The song “Harvester of souls” uses the music written for the homonymous song off Beyond the black mirror (2015). Lets see, now that the duo got all the orchestral stuff out of their system, maybe the next proper Blind Guardian album will be full-on power metal masterpiece. Favourite songs: “War feeds war“, “Dark cloud’s rising”, “Point of no return” and “The great ordeal”.

8. Entombed A.D. – Bowels of earth

Entombed A.D. released another awesome album in the style of Dead dawn (2016), that is, groovy death metal with sprinkles of classic era Entombed. Having said that, Bowels of earth is quite more up-tempo than the last two releases by the band, with only two slow songs. Some of the riffs and mid-song instrumental sections are reminiscent of the Left hand path – Clandestine era of the band. Although these atmospheric interludes are great, this approach is used across many songs, ending up being slightly predictable. The album opener is a classic in the vein of Clandestine (1991) and the same goes for “Fit for a king” and “Through the eyes of the gods” (the verse riff on this one, specifically the shift from power-chord strumming to tremolo picking, is also reminiscent of Dismember). “Hell is my home”, a song tapping into the more thrashy side of the band, has a distinct Mourning star (2001) and Inferno (2003) quality, and the verse vocal pattern sounds almost identical to “Young and dead”. The slow, crawling closing song in the form of the magnificent “To eternal night”, is epic and melancholic, and provides a fitting ending to the album, similar to “Night for day” from Inferno. Overall, the album is another worthy addition to the band’s legacy, and as good as the better albums that the band released after Nicke’s departure.

9. Diamond Head – The coffin train

The coffin train spent a lot of hours in my mp3 player. Comparing it to their masterpiece from 2016, I would say that this is a simpler album, a bit darker, and much more built around Rasmus’s voice; Tatler is much less prominent, riff-fests of the style of “Shout at the devil” or “Wizard sleeve” are missing, although the album has its fair share of catchy riffs. “Until we burn” and “Coffin train” are the two obvious masterpieces for me. The former brings to mind the more atmospheric feel of Canterbury (1983), and the latter is an epic song starting slow and hypnotic, slowly building up to an explosion of emotions. Other songs are awesome as well, like “Belly of the beast” and “Death by design”, the two more up-tempo songs on the album reminiscent of the early years of the band. “Shades of black” and “Serrated love” are two other well-crafted tunes, with beautiful orchestrations and choruses. The production is very clinical and everything sounds great. Rasmus’s delivery this time around sounds a bit more popy than before, but still quite impressive. The only song I do not particularly like is “The sleeper”, and, although this is a very enjoyable album, it also shows signs of repetition.

10. Disastrous Murmur – Santo subito

I was so young and naive when I bought Disastrous Murmur’s debut, around 23 years ago, that I actually thought I was buying a Disharmonic Orchestra album. I encountered it in a stack of records and first noticed the sticker on the top right hand corner which said ‘former members of Disharmonic Orchestra’. I didn’t bother reading it properly, nor tried to decipher the band logo, I just got drawn in by the marvelous cover and bought it. I only discovered my error in the train on my way home. When I listened to it I was not disappointed though; it is a masterpiece. Anyway, Disastrous Murmur returned after 13 years with a new album in their familiar style of sick death metal. The new album is a good mix of the more melodic path the band went down starting with …and hungry are the lost (2001) and their earlier more brutal era. It is mainly comprised of fast songs, with simple song structures and thrashy riffs, interspersed with blastbeats. Although I didn’t find the album particularly varied, so consistent with their past output, the songs are very interesting, catchy and with some great ideas (such as keyboards and melodic female vocals). In some cases the vocals – one of the highlights of the album, for sure – are more reminiscent of their classic masterpiece, Rhapsodies in red (1992). “Stop talking – start dying” is one of my favourites on the album. “The evil one” is a dark and perverse electro-death tune reminiscent of Pungent Stench’s cover of “Why can the bodies fly”. “Faith, fist, fire” is a catchy punky tune. Generally, most songs are underpinned by a punk attitude. “666 modified microwave possession” is another one of my favourite songs, one of the most complex songs on the album, melodic, with a heavy, trilly main riff, and a bizarre, haunting ending. “Menschenfresser” is another great tune with a very infectious main riff and beat. All of the songs are catchy. I have not read the lyrics, but I think this might be a good thing.

2019 Playlist

Once unwanted albums

I started buying metal albums in the mid-1990s, and, at first, the shops that I would turn to were local record stores in my home town in Piraeus, Greece. Then I started exploring the centre of Athens, and the first major stations there were the two Rock City stores (one at Sokratous street, one at Akademias road), Metal Era (at Emanuel Benaki street), the two Metropolis stores (both at Panepistimiou road), and Happening (Charilaou Trikoupi street). In all of those stores, but especially in Metropolis, we used to find rows of unwanted albums on sale that today are highly sought after. These albums were not second-hand, they were all new. I bought many of those albums back then, at a time when the cultural value of vinyl records was in decline. However, given the limited disposable income that I had back then (consisting in a meager weekly allowance by my parents), I also missed out on many great albums. This is a post about some of those vinyl records, each available in large quantities and unwanted. Now, in a different era where the discourse about the cultural value of vinyl has changed, they are exchanged in the global vinyl marketplace for considerable amounts of money.

1. MercilessThe treasures within (1992)

The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £89. The treasures within was released by Active Records, and Metropolis was literally (not really) giving away copies. Two of the albums in this list are actually from the same record label; for some reason in the mid- to late-nineties these records were sold for next to nothing. It is worth noting that the label went defunct in 1993, so maybe they had huge surpluses which they tried to get rid of. This album cost something between £2-4. I distinctly remember seeing a row of maybe 20 copies of the album every time I would go there, yet I never bought it. I had it on cassette tape back then and I did not particularly like it. Of course, I have regretted not buying it. It is still my least favourite Merciless album, but songs like “Lifeflame“, “The treasures within”, and “Branded by sunlight” are lush.

2. AtheistUnquestionable presence (1991)

Another release of Active Records. The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £50. For months on end Metropolis was trying to get rid of this album in the late 1990s. There was a long row of albums at the basement of the shop, and if I remember correctly they were being sold at 2,000 drachmas (around £4). I already owned it by that time, I remember buying it second hand from Monastiraki for around 3,000 drachmas. My impression is that Atheist was kinda forgotten by that point in time, at least in Greece; I don’t remember any mentions in magazines, and even in my network of friends nobody knew them. I was the one who introduced them to our group when, in 1996, I stumbled upon Piece of time at a local record store and bought it because of the sticker which said “Death metal from Florida with a difference. You better believe it”.

3. DeathSymbolic (1995)

The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £176. This was released by Roadrunner Records, and, around 1997, it was sold for 2,000 drachmas (around £4) in 7+7, one of the most historic record stores in the Monastiraki area of Athens. I bought my copy of Symbolic on vinyl then and there. There must have been more than 10 copies of that album for a long time. It is worth noting that the review of Symbolic on the Greek Metal Hammer was far from dithyrambic. I think it got 8/10, and although I don’t remember the specifics I remember thinking, based on the review, that it must be a mediocre album. 7+7 was the first record store I went to the first time I visited Athens, and the first thing I bought from there was Seasons in the abyss, by Slayer, on CD. Later on I bought one of my first vinyl albums, Xentrix’s Shattered existence. This shop is still around today, but it has transformed over the years. In the mid-nineties it used to have this tiny space way in the back where all the vinyl records used to be. To get there you had to go through a short corridor where the floorboards felt as if they were about to collapse. Back then it felt really mystical and hidden, a place of initiation and discovery.

4. TankardTwo faced (1994)

I fell in love with Tankard back in high school. The first album I got from them was Chemical invasion (1987) during a school trip in Athens, and on the same day I got Benediction’s Subconscious terror (1990). Nowadays, I mainly listen to their homonymous album from 1995, which shares with Two faced the thematic emphasis on anti-authoritarianism and progressive social critique. I thought Two faced, released by Noise International, had some very impressive moments (for example, the awesome anti-nationalist tune “Nation over nation“), but by the time I found it on vinyl my tastes had shifted to death metal, so I never bought it. In hindsight, I wish I had bought it; now I like it more than back then, and the cover art is simply brilliant. Metropolis had many copies of these, not as cheap as the rest of the albums on this list, but not that expensive either. The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £44.

5. MessiahPsychomorphia (1991)

I never got into Messiah, although a friend of mine repeatedly tried to initiate me to them by blasting Choir of horrors (1991) when we were young. The only album I ended up buying by them was the Psychomorphia EP, another one in this list released by Noise International, and that was because it was sold for next to nothing at Metropolis. I cannot remember the exact price but, just like all the albums on this list, there was a big batch of this on vinyl and Metropolis would sell it for around a couple of quid. The median price of this album on Discogs, at the time of writing this post, is £17.67. Listening to the title track now makes me think that maybe I should check them out again.

A Dio retrospective

Ronnie James Dio‘s self-titled band was one of my first loves in my first few months discovering the metal genre. Initially, I dedicated myself to Iron Maiden, and I distinctly remember refusing to listen to anything else for a good three-four months. One day, my friend Nikos came round my house carrying a CD version of Dio‘s Holy Diver (1983). He asked me to put it on and I refused, explaining that I only listen to Maiden and that he should piss off. He ignored me and put it on anyway. Being confronted with the sonic attack of Vivian Campbell’s high-octane riffing, as encapsulated in the first seconds of “Stand up and shout“, was absolutely shocking. Surely, it could only go down from there, but as Dio’s voice kicked in I felt a form of elation and wonder that I have often reminisced over the years, but, sadly, never experienced again.

I have often felt that the “metal community’s” posthumous praise for Dio was somewhat hypocritical, but this is my impression. In the mid-1990s I distinctly remember nobody giving a shit about Dio, especially his post-Sacred Heart (1985) career. If I remember correctly, Dream Evil (1987) had being voted by Greek Metal Hammer readers as one of the worst metal albums of all time (the list also included Divine Intervention, by Slayer). Myself, always feeling out of step with many of the opinions heard in the Greek metal press, I always loved Dio, and could not believe how someone could not love Dream Evil. In this post, I will attempt the futile task of ranking Dio’s 10 studio albums from my favourite to the least favourite one, and share some of my memories of the albums and meanings they carry for me.

1. Dream evil (1987)

For all the 25 years that I’ve been listening to Dio I have considered Dream Evil his crowning achievement. The way it starts already hints at the magic that is about to follow. The opening song “Night people” and the opening lyric – after Craig Goldy’s masterful tension-containing halting – ‘Do you like the dark, do you like the way it moves, do you come alive when neon kills the sun?’, sends chills down my spine every single time. These first few moments already signify that the brilliance of this album is the result of an amazing chemistry between Goldy and Dio. The verse vocal melody of “Sunset superman” is one of the best melodies in the history of humanity, hands down. “All the fools sailed away” is one of those epic masterpieces that are written once in a band’s career. Goldy’s solos are astounding (one of my favourite instances is near the end of “Naked in the rain“, right after the lyric ‘blow all the dreams away’). I still can’t get used to the beginning of “Overlove“.  And what can be said about the choruses on this album? The only mediocre moment in this absolute masterpiece of an album is the cheesy sentiment of “When a woman cries” (although musically it’s awesome). I feel that Dio’s heart was at the right place when he wrote the song, the intention was to condemn violence against women. But the effect the lyrics of this song have are, at the end of the day, to essentialise women by contributing to the misconception that women and men are essentially different, instead of condemning the logic of aggression as a matter of principle. This album was the object of much attention when we were kids. Looking at the logo upside-down will reveal the word DEVIL. Our high school books and notebooks were full of drawings of this logo. The album cover still gives me the creeps.

2. Strange highways (1993)

Reminiscing about Dio makes me reflect on what music listening used to be like in the 1990s. Surprise, mystery, and discovery were very different back then. In 1995 none of us had internet access, and even if we did, information there would have been very limited. Strange highways was an album that we didn’t know it existed, despite my friend Nikos and I being huge Dio fans. The reason was that none of our friends knew about it, and we hadn’t come across it in any of our local record stores. One day, Nikos invited me around to his place, and instead of buzzing me into the building he came downstairs and let me in. In his hands he was holding this obscure Dio CD I had never seen before with an awesome cover. Turns out his older brother, with whom he was sharing his room, had just bought it. I remember sitting on the stairs, mesmerised, staring at the cover. I remember commenting on how old Dio looked on the band photo. Strange Highways pretty quickly eclipsed other more classic Dio albums that I loved at the time. It wasn’t necessarily the more aggressive sound, courtesy of Tracy G’s noisy and dissonant playing and Dio’s harsher vocals, that appealed to me. The compositions are mind-blowing, and, more than anything, the vocal melodies are mesmerising. The introduction is one of the most memorable in Dio’s career, and the riff borrowed from King Crimson’s “21st century schizoid man” is still devastating. The range of this album’s music is impressive, as it varies from super heavy monoliths like “Strange highways” and “Pain“, to fast ragers like “Here’s to you“, from stomping mid-tempo attacks like “Jesus, Mary and the holy ghost” to a grunge-y ballad like “Give her the gun”.  One of my favourite cuts is the upbeat “Evilution“, a tune attacking the corporate side of popular music, thematically akin to Kreator’s “Love us or hate us”. The album closes with “Bring down the rain”, another heavy tune carrying one of the most beautiful bridges and choruses ever. An absolutely fulfilling masterpiece.

3. Holy diver (1983)

This was my introduction to Dio. The day I first listened to it my friend lent me the CD. I was alone at home, both my parents were away, and I felt I needed to share my excitement with someone, so I took the lift to the fourth floor, where a friend of mine lived. He wasn’t there but his dad opened the door, so I told him I wanted him to listen to this guy’s voice. Indeed, he sat down and listened to a couple of songs with me and he found Dio’s voice crystalline, but that wasn’t exactly the reaction I had in mind. As I said in my introduction, listening to Dio’s voice was shocking for me, impossible to describe. I remember that one of the very first metal songs I ever listened to was “Holy diver” maybe a year earlier. It is, unquestionably, a monument in heavy metal culture. Enough said.  “Caught in the middle” quickly became one of the most favourite cuts on the album. On the song “Invisible” there’s the lyric ‘in the palace of the virgin, lies the chalice of the soul’. Back then I did not know what ‘chalice’ meant, and the word was not included in my dictionary, so I asked my English teacher. Not knowing herself what it meant, but not admitting, she had to wing it and told me that it meant ‘beauty’. Anyway, there are so many memories attached onto this album, and every song (apart from one, the song “Gypsy” never felt like it belonged in this album, and I almost never listen to it) is an instant classic. Campbell’s frantic playing is breathtaking, his solos are one better than the other, his riffing and his use of pick-squeals are beautiful, instantly recognisable and definitive of Dio’s most enduring legacy. The final masterpiece of the album, “Shame on the night“, is a little gem in the vein of Black Sabbath.

4. The last in line (1984)

The first time I ever saw the cover of Last in line was at a local record store in my hometown in Piraeus, Greece. Once again, my friend Nikos and I were wandering around town when we came across this tiny record store in which you couldn’t fit more than five people at the same time. We started browsing the records labelled Rock, or something like that, when we suddenly came across the classic Dio logo on the faded and warped jacket of Last in line (I presume it must have been exposed to direct sunlight for quite some time). Immediately, Nikos turned around to the store owner and asked him how much it cost. The record owner looked at us with contempt and said, “it’s not for sale”. I eventually listened to the album for the first time when I got it as a Christmas present in December 1995. My dad took me to a now defunct department store in Piraeus (I think it was Lambropoulos) to choose a Christmas present and I chose Savatage’s Dead winter dead and Dio’s Last in line. Everyone’s playing is stellar on this album. “I speed at night” is probably Dio’s most frantic song ever. “Egypt” and “The last in line” are both classic heavy metal epics, and include some of Campbell’s most impressive guitar work. The same goes for “One night in the city“, probably my favourite song on the album (note the “Straight through the heart” reference near the end). Last in line could easily take the place of Holy diver in my list, as there is not one single mediocre moment in it.

5. Sacred heart (1985)

Listening to Sacred Heart always made me feel melancholic. It kinda feels like the end of something, and indeed it was the end of Campbell’s involvement with Dio. The keyboards are a bit too prominent, the character a bit more hard rock, but there is no question about the quality of the songwriting. The homonymous song is one of Dio’s absolute masterpieces, “Hungry for heaven” has an awesome tempo and breathtaking vocal melodies during the verse and bridge, “Like the beat of a heart” is a groovy hard-rocker (part of what I call the groovy heart trilogy, alongside “Eat your heart out” and “Straight through the heart”), “Rock ‘n’ roll children”, an instant rock hymn, “Just another day” has one of the most brilliant guitar breaks in the band’s career, etc. One of the things I don’t like about this album is the live audience samples heard throughout “King of rock ‘n’ roll“, an otherwise magnificent song. I thought that was a shit way to start an album. At first I thought it was a live version of the song which also pissed me off. How can you have a live version of a song there’s no studio version of? Overall, this is an awesome album that I love, just but slightly less than the above four albums.

6. Angry machines (1998)

Angry machines is the first Dio album I got the moment it was released. It feels like a century ago. I had been pestering the owner of a local record store every day to keep an eye out for the new Dio album. Eventually, it was released and when I bought the CD he also gave me a huge Angry machines poster which I had for many years on my bedroom wall. Initially, the album did not impress me, although songs like “Don’t tell the kids“, “Hunter of the heart” and “This is your life” became instant favourites. Eventually, I started appreciating the rest of the songs. Nowadays, I consider “Dying in America” one of my favourite on the album, that could have easily been on Strange highways. A very powerful album, with awesome moments of anger and frustration in a way that only Dio can deliver. It is, also, another experimental album, with even more alternative rock hints here and there. That was the last album, in my opinion, with which Dio re-invented himself.

7. Master of the moon (2004)

Dio’s final album is my seventh favourite by him. I didn’t like it initially. I still think that production-wise it could have been so much better. The orchestrations are also, in my opinion, poor. Certain parts are too lazy, others too crazy (what’s the deal with the keyboards on the otherwise great “The eyes”?). However, in my opinion, this was the first album in many years with really good classic heavy metal songs and no fillers. Every single song is good, and some are amazing. “One more for the road” is a classic Dio song that could have been found on Dream Evil or Lock up the wolves, “Master of the moon” also has a Lock up the wolves quality to it and such a memorable chorus, “Death by love” is an extremely catchy hard rock tune, as is the AC/DC-inspired intro of “The end of the world”, “The man who would be king” is a beautiful epic tale in the classic Dio tradition. I absolutely love “Living the lie” and “I am”, and the closing track, “In dreams“, is another favourite on the album, reminiscent of Dio’s work with Black Sabbath (the main riff could have been written by Iommi), and has a beautiful post-chorus section.

8. Lock up the wolves (1990)

Lock up the wolves was probably the first Dio album which didn’t fully fascinate me. Just looking at the band picture on the lyric sheet made me feel sad, as there was nobody else left from the original band. I also thought that Dio’s voice was strangely produced. For sure, hearing the awesome riff on the opener “Wild one” was great, but the more bluesy songs like “Evil on Queen street”, “Twisted” and even “Between two hearts” took a while to grow on me. Moreover, the nostalgic, self-referential lyrics of “My eyes” made me feel like Dio was grasping at straws. The homonymous song was something quite new for Dio, ultra-heavy, slow, almost eliciting a horrifying atmosphere, and I did like a lot. That song, in conjunction with the scary cover, still gives me the creeps. “Born on the sun“, “Why are they watching me“, and “Hey angel” are among my most loved songs on this album, and despite occupying the eighth position in this list we’re still talking about Dio, so it’s an awesome album. In high school, I used to have a huge patch of the album cover on the back of my denim jacket.

9. Magica (2000)

I was really looking forward to Magica, and Goldy’s return was the main reason. Given how much I loved Dream evil I could not wait to listen to another collaboration between him and Dio. The return to a more traditional heavy metal sound was received positively in the Greek metal press, if I remember correctly. To me it sounded a bit redundant. Similarly to Master of the moon a few years later, I thought that the orchestrations were quite empty. The various filler tracks serving the plot (it’s a concept album) annoyed me even more. I love “Lord of the last day” and “Otherworld“, and I really like “Fever dreams”, “Feed my head” and “Magica – Reprise“, but I don’t care much about the rest of the songs.

10. Killing the dragon (2002)

Killing the dragon is my least favourite Dio album. The cover is cool, and I like a few songs. The guitar-playing is great, often reminiscent of Campbell’s era, and some of the songs are, in my opinion a throwback to those times. “Better in the dark“, a great song, sounds like it could have been on Holy diver, “Push” could have been on Last in line and “Along comes a spider” on Sacred heart. “Rock ‘n’ roll” is a heavy song which makes use of that Zeppelin riff that everyone has copied from “Kashmir”, but I don’t like the chorus (a problem I have with several other songs too, including “Scream” and “Push”, that have catchy bridges but boring choruses). “Cold feet“, the last song on the album, is actually my favourite one (alongside “Better in the dark”); despite being very straightforward, it has a great hard rock groove and beautiful vocal melodies, it almost feels like it could have been on a Rainbow album. Overall, I consider it a more consistent album than Magica, more upbeat and reminiscent of the classic years of the band, but it also feels a little rehashed and without enough stand-out tracks.

Suspension of disappointment, and favourite bands

Suspension of disappointment is a term I use to describe my attitude towards new releases by bands that I love. Whilst suspension of disbelief refers to the temporary acceptance as believable of things ordinarily seen as non-credible, suspension of disappointment refers to the temporary willingness to accept that something is not as bad as it initially sounds. Whenever a band I grew up listening to releases a new album, I abstain from forming a judgement about it immediately; instead, even if I find it unexciting initially, I am willing to give it repeated listens before I decide whether it is not a worthy addition to the band’s legacy. On the contrary, I am inclined to trust my first impression of an album by bands I do not love, or I did not grow up listening to. I cannot be sure whether this is a personal attitude or a more widely adopted one.

A recent example of this attitude is when I listened to the new, come-back album by Xentrix, titled Bury the pain. Xentrix is one of the first thrash bands I ever listened to, and their first three albums have always been on steady rotation. The news of a new album excited me a lot, although the absence of Chris Astley, the band’s leader, was a bad omen. The last album the band released in 1996, titled Scourge, was indeed a disappointment, although even with that one I made a big effort to enjoy it (in the end, I only like “The hand that feeds itself” and “Never be“). Astley was missing from Scourge, and in the new album he’s been replaced by Jay Walsh. My first contact with the album happened through “Bleeding out”, the first song the label released on YouTube. My initial impression was that the band is clearly trying to revisit its earlier days. It obviously has a classic thrash sound, but it also seeks inspiration specifically from Metallica, just like back in the day; the main riff is very similar to the main riff off Metallica’s “This was just your life”; new Metallica, for a new Xentrix. The song did not impress me, although Walsh’s very good vocals – that remain loyal to Astley’s legacy – were welcome (if I didn’t know it was someone else singing, I would think it was Astley). Upon the album’s release, the time came to properly evaluate the effort. The first listen left me unsatisfied; I thought the structures were very simple, repetitive, there were no hooks, and the riffs often alluded to the lazy style popularised by Pantera. However, I suspended disappointment, and did not give up on the album, as I could feel a loose connection with it; I could hear Gasser’s distinctive drumming, I could hear some of Xentrix’s classic melodies, and, most importantly, this was a band that I loved since I was 15 years old.

After a couple of listens I eventually noticed one song, “The truth lies buried“, which effectively anchored me to the album. The next time I put the album on, I went straight for that song. Eventually, I fell in love with it, and I still think it is the best song on the album. But the more I listened, the more I started noticing catchy choruses and vocal patterns, interesting harmonies, and some riffs that reminded me of the Xentrix of old. “The red mist descends” quickly became my second favourite song (brilliant opening, vocal patterns, and chorus). I now like this album quite a lot, which is a completely different view from my original one, and the only reason this happened was by suspending disappointment. This is a privilege that other bands, bands that do not mean much to me, do not enjoy.

Incomplete albums, song-lyrics, and media technologies

Over the years, I have experienced many albums as incomplete cultural artifacts. In previous posts (read here and here) I have discussed how that was the result of missing bonus songs. Another grievance I had as a young music fan was about albums that did not include the song-lyrics in the booklet or inner sleeve. So, when my friends and I accessed the internet for the first time in the mid-1990s, before the days of YouTube or peer-to-peer music sharing, we used it primarily to complement our music-listening practices, and music artifacts themselves, by finding and printing out song-lyrics. Printouts like the one pictured below reside inside many of my vinyl records.

I printed out the lyrics for Xentrix’s Kin at home on 2/3/1997.

In the pre-internet days, I would sit with my friends listening to songs over and over again trying to make out lyrics that were omitted from the booklets of albums. I remember once spending hours trying to decipher the lyrics from various songs off Hypocrisy‘s The fourth dimension (and we did a pretty good job in the end). The arrival of the internet changed that. On the one hand we gained easy access to lyrics that we didn’t have to struggle to decipher; on the other hand we abandoned some of our rituals of music-listening. Just like the internet and the printer replaced endless hours of compulsive listening and comparing notes in an effort to decipher lyrics, web 2.0 and smart-phones replaced the printer. Although I still do not own a smart-phone it’s fair to assume that printing out song-lyrics, now that in many socioeconomic contexts the internet has become ubiquitous, must be a thing of the past. Additionally, websites like Encyclopaedia Metallum, a massive database that is user-produced, has changed how I search for lyrics, not simply by making it easier, but also enriching it with other information about albums and artists.

What I describe above should not be read as a lament for the sacrifice of a more “authentic” music-based sociality on the altar of technology. Instead, these different periods represent different techno-social eras characterised by different actors (both human and non-human) interacting within different networks of social relations. Every new technology that replaces a ritual, introduces in turn new rituals which involve, to use Bruno Latour’s terms, delegations (tasks with which we endow the technology) and prescriptions (skills and knowledge that the technology requires from us). For each loss of a face-to-face social interaction we gain interaction (albeit a more opaque and reified one) with unseen millions on the internet. To quote Xentrix, “each phase of life, a new scenario”.

The culture of Entombed’s Clandestine

Recently a colleague started an Album Club, inviting people to suggest one album that they would like to get together to listen to and talk about. Nobody from work listens to – or at least is a committed fan of – metal so I thought I should introduce them to some excellent masterpiece from my favourite genre. I considered several albums that are sublime and which I think everyone should hear, such as Death‘s Symbolic (1995), Dismember‘s Massive killing capacity (1995), At The Gates‘s second (1993) or fourth album (1995), Blind Guardian‘s Imaginations from the other side (1995), Iron Maiden‘s Somewhere in time (1986), Paradise Lost‘s Draconian times (1995), Napalm Death‘s Enemy of the music business (2001), Carcass‘s Heartwork (1993), Sinister‘s Diabolical summoning (1993) and Slayer‘s Seasons in the abyss (1990). In the end, I decided to go with Entombed‘s Clandestine (1991), an album I love as much as all the previously mentioned, and maybe a bit more. This is a post about the rich culture of Clandestine, which I also aim to share with my colleagues in the context of this Album Club.

My copy of Entombed’s Clandestine, bought from Metal Era, Athens, sometime in late 1996

As with many death metal albums, Clandestine is an artifact situated at the intersection of horror literature, horror cinema and death metal music. Influences from at least those three fields have been drawn to create what Clandestine is. As such, maximising the pleasure derived from Clandestine requires, first of all, attunement to the compositional conventions of the death metal genre. I consider the latter necessary for navigating the soundscapes created by fast tempos, absence of traditional popular music compositional templates, fast tremolo picking, growled vocals, heavily distorted guitar sound, and so forth. Albums that I consider important stations towards Clandestine include Black Sabbath‘s Master of reality (1971, “Evilyn” – especially the last verse – bears the mark of the riff and groove of “Children of the grave“), Slayer‘s Reign in blood (1986, from which “Chaos breed” borrows the evil melodies and backwards gallop of “Raining blood“), Death‘s Scream bloody gore (1987, from which Clandestine took… well, death metal) and Leprosy (1988, from which Clandestine borrowed fast tremolo-picked riffs like the main one of “Born dead“), Carcass‘s Symphonies of sickness (1989), Autopsy‘s Severed survival (1989, for the fast tremolo-picked riffs on songs like “Disembowel“),  Atheist‘s Piece of time (1989) and Atrocity‘s Hallucinations (1990, from which Clandestine borrows the compositional complexity, and in the case of Atrocity the beginning of “Defeated intellect“, and the disturbing melody at the beginning of “Hallucinations“), as well as more generally bands like Discharge and GBH (from which Clandestine borrows the D-beat heard on “Sinners bleed and “Blessed be“). Experience with the aforementioned albums/bands would build a degree of familiarity with the style which would then render Clandestine more decipherable, both in terms of musicality but also in terms of how an album like this came about.

Albums I consider important stations towards Clandestine

Horror movie samples are integral to the album’s soundscape. The awesome quotes from The masque of the red death (1964) (i.e. “There is no other god! Satan killed him”, “Each man creates his own heaven, his own hell”, “Death has no master”), itself a film based on E. A. Poe‘s story of the same name, are recruited in the opening song “Living dead” to complement Alex Hellid’s anti-christian discourse. As a horror movie fan I discovered some of those references accidentally over the years, but, in some occasions it was the result of intentional pursuit. In the past I have described YouTube users as intertextual enablers, significant counterparts in the production of culture allowing fans to decipher the intertextual character of cultural artifacts. In the case of Clandestine YouTube users have revealed things about the music I was unaware of. For example, I found out through YouTube user Форчан Скатился that the insane laugh in “Sinners bleed“, arguably one of the most haunting moments of the album, comes from the classic horror movie The Mummy (1932). Upon watching the movie I also discovered that the sampled words “death…eternal punishment”, which precede the aforementioned laugh (at 3:05), were also taken from it. In these occasions, the band takes texts found in films, edits, remixes and adds them to their compositions to animate horrifying sensations.

“Death… eternal punishment… for anyone who opens this casket. In the name of Amon-Ra… the king of the Gods”

Lovecraftian terror underpins some of the album’s lyrical thematology and visuality. “Stranger aeons” deserves special mention in this context. It is a song which for many years I did not consider on par with the rest of the songs on this album; it is slow, not as complex as the other songs, and it had that riff that whenever I would hear it I would think of “Ruptured in purulence” by Carcass. Over the years, and by building cultural competences in the field of horror literature, I learned how to love it. The intentional Lovecraftian references include the title, as well as the lyric “lurking at the threshold, you’re lost between the gates”. The latter refers to the book The lurker at the threshold written by August Derleth, based on H. P. Lovecraft‘s universe and some of his unfinished work. Interestingly, and this is where a person’s idiosyncrasy kicks in to continue the cultural production, much of the imagery that’s invoked while listening to this song was not intentionally encoded in the lyrics but inadvertently found its way in. For example, discursive fragments by stories like ‘The thing on the doorstep’ or ‘The lurking fear’ also come to mind when I listen to this song. I literally think of Edward’s liquefied body at the threshold of the house as described in the former, an image that produces a horrifying sentiment, which I don’t think was the intention of Kenny Hakansson when he wrote the lyrics. In such occasions I become a cultural poacher, combining disparate texts in unintended ways to experience unique pleasures.

Some good companions of Clandestine

Through the collonades” (a misspell of the word colonnades) is the closing song of this extremely thickly textured and complex album, a breathtaking song that has been transformed for me over the years. Although musically it always fascinated me, the cultural input that encouraged me to engage with the lyrics was Lovecraft. When I first listened to Clandestine in the mid-1990s I had not read Lovecraft yet. Only ex-post I can tell that reading those lyrics back in the day did not invoke a visual narrative in my mind, besides the image of walking down a dark path flanked by tall colonnades. It was reading Lovecraft, and especially tales like “The crawling chaos” (co-written by Winifred V. Jackson), that eventually allowed me to produce a coherent tale and a visual landscape in my mind. I love how the mood shifts from sombre to urgent and panicky as the narrator begins to describe the horrors s/he encountered (at 3:08 – “hellish terror risen in the mountains of unknown”). Finally, the horror of waking up from a nightmare only to discover you live in another one is a very Lovecraftian one, and the lyric line “although my dreams have ended, as I wished in weakened thought, beyond the night is total and through the collonades I walk” sends chills down my spine. It also brings into mind the Lovecraftian John Carpenter film In the mouth of madness (1994), where the boundaries between nightmare and reality blur, and the terror of waking up to a nightmarish reality is ever-present.

The above are merely a few of the things that explain my fascination with this album. What this account does not include is the memories from countless hours of listening to it, alone and with friends, for the past 24 years, and of course the pleasure of engaging with this album, both in terms of seeking to learn new things about it, and in terms of surrendering to its magic and allowing it to carry me away into its strange universe.

                                      The entire Clandestine live in 2016

Some of the scholarly ideas that underpin the above narrative can be found in the following:

Bourdieu, P. (1984), Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. London: Routledge.

Fiske, J. (1991), ‘Moments of television: neither the text nor the audience’, in: Seiter, E. et al. (eds), Remote control: television, audiences and cultural power, London: Routledge, 56-78

Jenkins, H. (1992), Textual poachers: Television fans and participatory culture. London: Routledge.

Zenerian, E. (2018), ‘Doing–listening’ with Deranged’s Struck by a Murderous Siege: An auto-ethnography of death metal vinyl consumption. Metal Music Studies, 4(1), 115-130.

Perfect bonus songs, imperfect albums, and the internetisation of popular music #2

This is a follow-up to a post I wrote about three years ago, a post I really enjoyed thinking about and writing. This post too is concerned with the idea of the music album as a complete body of works, how the illusion and the sense of conceptual integrity and unity of the album are threatened by ‘bonus tracks’, and how the digitisation/internetisation of music might be implicated in redefining what we mean by a ‘complete’ body of works. Just like in the previous post I will present some examples of awesome songs missing from the standard versions of albums. In all these cases the missing songs are better than most other songs on these albums, effectively calling into question the conceptual integrity of the album, and leaving me with a sense of the album being incomplete. Without further ado here are the songs in question in chronological order:

1. Roky Erickson and the AliensClick your fingers applauding the play, Sputnik, & If you have ghosts (I think of demons, 1980)

Anything I say about this album is inadequate to express how much I love it. I got introduced to Roky in the late 1990s by Entombed, through their cover of “Night of the vampire”. I originally heard the 1987 re-issue titled The evil one, which contains 15 songs. I bought the 1987 UK vinyl version of this record in 2007, titled I think of demons, and from it the three songs mentioned above were missing. I cannot begin to describe how annoyed I was. A few years later a friend of mine (thanks Aristea) bought me the unabridged The evil one version of the album (which also has the alternate US cover) from the Amoeba record store in California, so now I have those awesome songs as well. It is worth noting that the original version of the album that came out in 1980 has even fewer songs on it than the 1987 UK re-issue. This is another example of the arbitrary nature of albums and what constitutes a complete work of art. Someone could argue that the original album is the complete one, yet the additional songs are clearly recorded in the same period, have the same sound, and are on par with, if not better than, the 10 original cuts.

2. SuffocationHuman waste (Human waste, 1991)

“Human waste” is a track that is missing from the vinyl version of Suffocation’s Human waste EP. As opposed to other songs on this list “Human waste” has different production values than the rest of the songs on this EP, as the sound has clearly ‘demo’ sound quality. In that sense it constitutes more legitimately a ‘bonus’ song which does not threaten the conceptual integrity of the album. At the same time it is both an awesome song and it is the title track! I first listened to the album from a friend’s cassette tape which included the bonus song, and I distinctly remember that “Human waste” and “Catatonia” were the two songs that absolutely blew my mind. I bought the vinyl version from a local record store in my hometown called Paranoid around 1997, and I remember my disappointment when I saw that “Human waste” was missing, and to this day this album feels incomplete.

3. Bad ReligionNews from the front (Stranger than fiction, 1994)

The fact that “News from the front” is missing from the standard vinyl version of Stranger than fiction pisses me off immensely, because it is such a superb song with an amazing tempo, extremely catchy chorus, and memorable singing patterns overall. Most importantly, it is hands down better than any of the other songs on the album. I consider Stranger than fiction a weak album, and “News from the front” would motivate me to listen more often to some of the songs I actually like on that album (“Marked”, “Stranger than fiction”, “Better off dead”). Instead, I listen to “News from the front” as part of a compilation b-sides album have on mp3. Over the years, Bad Religion have repeated this crime with the brilliant “The fast life” missing from the standard version of the mediocre (in my opinion) The new America (2000), and the bonus track and B-side masterpieces, “Shattered faith” & “Who we are” respectively, missing from the standard version of The process of belief (2002).

4. NomeansnoLost (The worldhood of the world, 1995)

The album that introduced me to Nomeansno was The worldhood of the world (1995), a CD I bought around 2003 from Sonic Boom, a record store in Kypseli, Athens. I got to listen to the CD before I bought it, and listening to a few songs both enchanted me and confused me. In my head, I was trying my best, to no avail, to unambiguously classify this band. The fact that it did not fit clearly in the punk genre annoyed me (I was relatively new to the punk genre at the time), but, at the same time, I could not stop listening. Anyway, that was the start of a long-term obsession with this brilliant band, which I ended up seeing twice when they played in Brighton, UK, in 2007 and 2013. The song “Lost” is one of the punkiest and most awesome tracks on this album, and is composed by Andy Kerr, who had left the band a few years before this album was released. A few years later I bought the vinyl version of the album and I gave the CD to a friend of mine. Sadly, “Lost” is missing from the vinyl version, which is very annoying. Don’t get me started on the state of Why do they call me Mr. Happy? (1993) on vinyl…

5. The HellacoptersCity slang (Payin’ the dues, 1997)

“City slang” is a breathtaking song originally by Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. The Hellacopters have played many covers over the years and this one is one of my three favourite ones (the other two are Dead Moon’s “Rescue” and Love’s “A house is not a motel“). It can only be found in the rare vinyl version of Payin’ the dues (1997). Until very recently I did not own that vinyl, so I only had the song on a shitty cassette-tape I made from a friend’s album. In line with what the Hellacopters do, this is a very clean and technically proficient version of the original tune, without, however, lacking in passion and power. Compare Dregen’s carefully reconstructed solo between 2:35-3:00, to the more messy original by Fred Smith. Another excellent call was making the harmony at the end of the song more prominent. The way some of the notes are accentuated during that last bit of the song is also excellent.

6. Paradise LostShrines (Medusa, 2017)

“Shrines” is a relatively conventional song, short in duration, with great vocals, a perfect chorus, and a great post-chorus melody. I still cannot believe this masterpiece is missing from the standard version of Medusa! Every time I listen to it I’m pissed off. Over the years, some of Paradise Lost’s most breathtaking tracks have been reserved for singles and EPs (songs like “As I die”, “The rape of virtue“, “Sweetness”, “Fear“, “Master of misrule” spring to mind). “Shrines” is included in the limited digipack edition, and it is a pity, because, in my opinion, is better than most songs on the album (and upon reading the YouTube comments I can see that others have the same opinion). Thankfully, I managed to find and download a copy of the digipack edition, so the album I have on my mp3 feels more complete than the actual vinyl record.