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Awesome music in the year 2016

another year, another bunch of awesome albums that give life in this unbelievably shitty world some value. Once again, limiting my favourite albums of 2016 to a list of 10 choices proved a very difficult task, and I already regret leaving some albums out. There are a few bands whose new albums I didn’t get to listen to, such as Imperial State Electric and Disharmonic Orchestra, whose new albums I have yet to find at a reasonable price, Asphyx and Sodom, whose albums I did not bother listening to in their entirety after listening to a couple of songs, and The Adolescents, whose new album I just discovered. I will start my review of the year with albums I wasn’t impressed by.

bombs-of-hades_2014aBombs of Hades is a band I discovered because they did a split-EP with the awesome Tormented. I liked bits off their new album titled Death mask replica, but after having listened to it a few times I stopped wanting to listen to it again. I may have had a different opinion of Interment‘s new album, Scent of the buried, had it come out in the early 1990s. Maybe if it had come out back then I wouldn’t have thought that their music is a bad imitation of Entombed (“Chalice of death” is one of the most blatant rip-offs I’ve ever heard) and Dismember. But something tells me that even if the date on the back of this album was 1991 I would still consider it well-played, albeit uninspired, Swedish death metal. Protector‘s comeback album titled Cursed and coronated is sporting an awesome cover artwork. The music is not a big departure from their old sound, that is, fast but very repetitive thrash-death, but not as brutal as in the past. I personally think that their albums Golem (1988) and A shedding of skin (1991) achieved all there was to be 256_artistachieved. Abbath‘s debut album sounds unsurprisingly like post-Blizzard beasts (1997) Immortal, that is, brutal black metal with razor-sharp riffs and blastbeats, but also cold, Amebix-inspired, melancholic hymns. I think that Abbath has a unique song-writing style and his songs are always enjoyable. One of the most devastating cuts is “Endless“, whose main riff is reminiscent of Massacra’s “Apocalyptic warriors“. Another cool song is “Ashes of the damned”, whilst “Winterbane” is a good mid-tempo song. However, the main riff off the latter, as well as the second riff off “Fenrir hunts”, is reminiscent of dozens of other riffs Abbath has written in the past. Feeling that I have listened to this same album several times since the mid 90s I got tired of it quickly. Sorcery released a new album, titled Garden of bones. I liked some of the songs, and I listened the album a few times when it first came out, but got tired of it very quickly. The vocals are, in my opinion, the highlight of the album, and if Morgoth are ever in need of a singer descendthey should definitely turn to Ola Malmstrom for help. The new album by the Descendents kept me company for a few days. The style is consistent throughout the album, true to the melodic and poppy hardcore that characterise Californian punk, but far from the crazy and inventive structures and melodies of their debut. Just like with everything this band did after their groundbreaking debut, I quickly lost interest. Dark Tranquillity is an all-time favourite band, but I don’t like all their albums. Just like the last couple of albums they released, the new one had some songs I liked. I don’t think I can get over the cheesy keyboards, and the ideas that come with having a keyboard player whose influences probably come from dance music.

Some of the albums that I enjoyed, but didn’t make my top-10 list are the following: Insision released an album after many years. I first listened to them in 2002 on the awesome split-lp they did with Inveracity. Their brutal death metal is not ground-breaking but it definitely is enjoyable. destro I stopped following Destruction shortly after their comeback in the early 2000s. Although I was never a big fan, their new album titled Under attack has some awesome trademark riffs that are instantly recognisable Destruction riffs (check out the awesome “Pathogenic“, “Second to none”), and some excellent songs, like the intense and peculiar “Elegant pigs“. Slaughterday is a band that, as the name suggests, pay tribute with their music to Autopsy. Their new album (Laws of the occult) is really good. The songs are a bit too lengthy for my taste, the vocals a bit too monotonous and the riffs and melodies a bit too stolen from Autopsy, but still is a well executed and enjoyable death metal album. Testament is another cult band that I was never a fan of. The only moment in their long career that grabbed me was their album with Lombardo, the brutal The gathering. The new album, however, has some songs that are very addictive, such as the beautifully structured “The pale king“, and the rapid “The number game” and “Centuries of suffering“. Overall, there’s high quality of songwriting and execution. Deranged‘s derangnew album (Struck by a murderous siege) is an album I enjoyed quite a lot. I’ve always considered Deranged the Swedish equivalent of Cannibal Corpse, with all their Squeaky riffs and low guttural vocals, and unique drum style. With the exception of The redlight murder case (2008) I haven’t enjoyed much of their output since after III (1999). Overall I would say that this one is a very good album that sits comfortably in their 1998-2001 period. It is full of trademark catchy riffs and arrangements, good vocals, and very good production. I found some of the songs a bit too long-winded for my taste. Nevertheless, songs like “Reverent decomposition” and “The frail illusion of osteology” are instant classics! This new album made me want to revisit their post-Plainfield cemetery period. Finally, Megadeth‘s new album (Dystopia) is a good return to form. Mustaine keeps the level of riff-making to an extremely high standard, and his ability to construct songs is undeniable. With the exception of two or three songs (“Post American world”, “Conquer or die” and “Last dying wish”) I consider Dystopia maybe the best album they have released since Youthanasia (1994). Songs like “Dystopia”, “Fatal illusion“, “Death from within”, “Look who’s talking“, are pure pleasure. I cannot deny that the exposure of Mustaine’s political views on the media over many years ruined his image for me, and that has affected how I perceive his artistic output. These days I focus on the music and ignore the lyrics.

The following are my 10 favourite albums from 2016, albums that have offered countless hours of entertainment or cultivation and I anticipate will continue to do so in the future:

Diamond-Head-self-titled-cover1. Diamond Head – S/T

I’d like to start this review with a disclaimer: any NWOBHM best-of list that does not include Diamond Head’s debut, Lightning to the nations (1980), is absolutely devoid of any credibility. Their first three albums are personal all-time favourites, and Brian Tatler and Sean Harris constitute one of the best musical collaborations of all time.

The new album is clearly a throwback album – an obvious effort to tap into the sound that made Diamond Head an iconic band over the years. The new singer, Rasmus Bom Andersen, has obviously studied Sean’s style and mode of contribution to DH’s sound, and he is doing an awesome job imitating it. There are songs that sound like they came straight out of the debut, like the phenomenal “Shout at the devil”, “Diamonds”, “Speed” – which reminds of “The prince” – or the rapid “Wizard sleeve”, which is pure Deep Purple (first mark II era). Other orchestrations and melodies are reminiscent of the more progressive and atmospheric style of Canterbury (1983), like “Silence”, “All the reasons you live”, and some sections of “Bones”. “Blood on my hands”, a tremendous slow, bluesy song that could easily be on Borrowed time (1982) and in which Rasmus gives an amazing performance, is perhaps my favourite song on the album. There are some excellent orchestrations, the guitar and bass tones are excellent and the production is perfect. The annoying thing about the vinyl version is that the song “Diamonds” is inexplicably excluded from the vinyl and is included instead on a “bonus” 7inch. Overall, this is an album that has provided so far countless hours of entertainment. Brian and Rasmus emerge as an awesome compositional duet. It’s worth noting that Duncan Scott (the band’s original drummer) has a couple of song-writing credits.

28784218742. Metallica – Hardwired to Self-Destruct

Metallica is one of those few bands whose output cannot be judged with a simple “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. My opinion regarding the songs on this new album have changed a dozen times since it came out. At first I only liked a few songs (i.e. “Hardwired“, “Atlas rise”, “Moth into flame“, “Halo on fire”) but, overall, I found each song to be a bricolage of incoherent ideas.  The songs I thought were more coherent and resembled “songs” in the conventional sense, were the ones that I liked less (i.e. “Now that we’re dead”, “Dream no more”, “Am I savage?”). Compared to Death Magnetic (2008), an album that I loved and continue to love since the first listen, I initially found this album to be disappointing. Hardwired, in my opinion, lacked in two departments: choruses, and thrashy riffs.

At the same time, I found myself strangely drawn to the various ideas albeit incoherent, so I kept on listening. “Here comes revenge” gradually became one of my favourite songs on the album, and I quickly surrendered myself to the infectious groove of riffs and vocal melodies reminiscent of the And justice-Black album era on super-heavy songs like “Confusion“. Some of the heavy, slower riffs on Hardwired are super exciting, James’s vocal melodies are beautiful, and the Californian-punk vibe of the faster songs/sections (“Hardwired”, “Moth into flame”, “Spit out the bone”) is refreshing. It definitely is an album that grows on you, and the unconventional structures and melodies have something to do with that. For example, the craftily put together chorus of “Confusion” (and how it’s resolved with the line ‘my life, the war that never ends’), sends chills down my spine. The same goes for the end of “Dream no more”, a masterpiece whose heavy chorus and lyrical theme allude to “The thing that should not be”. I also thought that the lyrics are really good overall, especially compared to the poor quality of the lyrics in Death Magnetic, and there are moments that remind me of the awesomeness of old Metallica (one of my favourite moments is the verse after the first chorus of “Here comes revenge”). After many listens I think that Hardwired is a beautiful album, chock full of awesome songs that only Hetfield and Ulrich can come up with. My favourite songs would be “Dream no more”, “Confusion”, “Here comes revenge”, “Moth into flame” and “Am I savage?”.

93166-rage-first-studio-making-of-for-the-devil-strikes-again-revealed-11201373. Rage – The Devil Strikes Again

Peavy has always been among my favourite singer-songwriters. I always thought that his genius burned brighter than the sun between 1988 and 1996. During that period he was the driving force behind eight of the most brilliant albums of all time. With XIII (1998) however, and thenceforward, I thought that the elements that made Rage a unique band increasingly faded. The final nail in the coffin for this band, in my opinion, was the compositional take-over by Victor Smolski. While Smolski is an undisputedly awesome guitarist, in my opinion he was a horrendous song-writer. Unity (2002) was the last album I liked from Rage, and even on that album the songs I liked the most were three brilliant compositions by Peavy (“Insanity”, “World of pain”, “Seven deadly sins”). It turns out that Peavy himself stopped being happy with the situation and last year decided to re-assemble his band.

The result is a return to the Rage that I love and an album that sits nicely in the 1994-1996 period of Rage. It kicks off in a style similar to Black in mind, with a devastating song, the homonymous one. Whilst the riffs themselves are not on par with what Peavy, Manni, Chris and Spiros came up with back in the day, the songwriting itself is brilliant. Overall, the guitar playing in this album reminds a lot of Spiros’s playing, especially the heavy use of palm muted hitting of individual notes of chords. Peavy’s distinctive vocal melodies make the difference. His brilliance shines through gems like “The dark side of the sun”, where his vocal melody on top of a typical Slayer-ish riff makes this song one of the best in Rage’s career. Another song I love is “Ocean full of tears”, a song that is very craftily put together; Peavy’s vocal pattern on the pre-chorus is magnificent, and the way the fast double-bass kicks in during the chorus and the way it juxtaposes the contained energy of the palm-muted guitar riff are genius. The slowest song on the album, “Times of darkness”, is a dark and gloomy small masterpiece, with awesome vocal melodies and chorus. The choruses in some cases are quite formulaic (such as on songs like “Deaf, dumb and blind” and “Requiem”) and lack the adventurous spirit of old Rage. The opening riff of “Final curtain” is reminiscent of Megadeth‘s “Disconnect”, but it’s an incredible song, with a beautiful chorus, an awesome middle section and guitar solo, and ending. Among the bonus tracks, “Into the fire” is mesmerising, and I cannot believe that it is excluded from one version of this album (thankfully not the vinyl version). Overall, this is an album that made me really happy and stands proudly next to this band’s masterpieces. From recent interviews I’ve seen with the band – and the thanx lists in the album – Peavy appears to be really happy with his new music partners, and Marcos and Lucky are aware of the huge privilege they have of playing next to one of the greatest songwriters of our time. I hope they stay together and create another great album when they’re ready.

a1231087888_104. Temisto – S/T

Since Morbus Chron’s sad break-up I have been keeping an eye out for any new undertakings by Robert Andersson and Edde Aftonfalk. This search led to the discovery of Temisto back in May of this year. According to the Metal Archives, Robert sung for this band at some point, so as soon as I found out I instantly looked it up. My curiosity was rewarded greatly. This is Temisto’s debut, and although Robert is not participating in it, he did co-produce it. If it didn’t have the awesome production that it does have, the aesthetics of this album reminds of the mid-1980s when underground extreme metal was one big category, and the lines between Thrash, Death, and Black metal, by today’s standards, were blurry. If I had to pin Temisto’s sound down more specifically, the following albums instantly come to mind: Necrosis (2004) and Discipline (2001) by Cadaver, Neverending destiny (1990) by Agressor, Horrified (1989) by Repulsion and Sweven (2013) by Morbus Chron. Another, maybe more accurate description would be that this album sounds as if Morbus Chron  decided to play like Repulsion. The up-tempo moments on this album are as furious as Horrified‘s, and Necrosis‘ (or even Discipline‘s) moments of utter madness. The furious pace and vocal patterns on songs like “Succubus” and “Descent into madness” are pure Repulsion. Especially the latter song is a masterpiece of unrestrained brutality. The intro of “Temple of the damned”, another furious masterpiece, draws on a riffing style made popular by Slayer on “Postmortem”, and used extensively by bands like  Immortal. The weird riff played halfway through the song could have been found in Internecine‘s Book of lambs (2001) (for example “Ceremonies of deceit“). The slow and mid-tempo songs, especially instrumental songs like the beautiful “Demiurge”, remind of Sweven‘s dissonant and more melancholic moments. However, the instant association I made with Sweven is unfair, as any album that is compared to it (an unprecedented death metal masterpiece), is doomed to come off looking bad. The song-structures and the narratives in some cases are simple; songs like “Abyssal depths” lead nowhere, their structure reflecting the nihilistic attitude of old-school black metal, devoid of any emotions, and simultaneously devoid of any twists and interesting sections that abound in most of the other songs in this album. Still, this is an extremely intense and fascinating album that has provided me with endless hours of listening pleasure.

600x6005. Brujeria – Pocho Aztlan

Brujeria is a band for which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I find it impossible to resist their unique brand of grindcore-death. On the other hand, I realise that their appeal, in my case at least, stems from how their music reflects an extremely aggressive type of masculinity and femininity that I reject, yet I find “exotic” because I get to experience it from a safe distance. Anyway, my expectations for this release were not very high. Cazares and Herrera, both of whom had a big influence on Brujeria’s sound, are no longer part of the band, and since Shane Embury’s compositional loyalty lies with Napalm Death I imagined that he wouldn’t have much to contribute here. This album was therefore a pleasant surprise, as it has some awesome songs in the familiar style of Brujeria. Pocho Aztlan provides more evidence in support of the hypothesis that Embury fell in the cauldron of magic riffs when he was a kid. Most of the songs are composed by him. The combination of his trademark riffs and melodies and Juan Brujo’s insane performance have once more created something unique. Some of the songs on the album have appeared in various other formats in the last few years, such as E.P.s and compilation albums. As a result different songs are recorded under a different configuration of musicians. Erlandsson’s drum-playing can clearly be heard on songs like “No aceptan imitaciones“, and Barker’s hyper fast rolls on songs like “Satongo”. Overall, the style is very reminiscent of Brujerismo (2000). However, in my opinion, Pocho Aztlan is even better than Brujerismo, albeit without something as awesome as the two stand-out songs of the latter, i.e. “Pititis te invoco” and “Division de Norte”. Some new elements, such as the ritualistic chants on the homonymous song and “Angel de la frontera”, are adding to the quality of mystery and horror of Brujeria’s music. Songs that in my opinion stand out include “Pocho aztlan”, an awesome tune composed by Patrick Jensen, “Profecia del Anticristo”, composed by Jeff Walker, “No aceptan imitaciones”, “Isla de la fantasia”, and “Plata o plomo”, composed by Embury.

1000x10006. Entombed A.D. – Dead Dawn

The new Entombed A.D. album is awesome. “Old-school” Swedish death metal has been making a comeback for more than 10 years now, and this trend has accelerated in the last few years. Nevertheless, Entombed A.D. still have, in my opinion, an important advantage over all those new (e.g. Entrails), and newly reformed (e.g. Internment, Sorcery), bands. The advantage stems from three facts: firstly, although the songwriters of Entombed A.D. are far from being original members, they probably feel the duty to preserve the Entombed legacy. This obligation guides to some degree their song-writing practices; secondly, Olle and Nico have been in the band enough time (playing the old Entombed songs) to have embodied to some extent, and according to their interpretation, the essence of Entombed’s sound; thirdly, LG is an original member and a unique singer. These three elements make Entombed A.D., in my opinion, better than most other bands which try to reproduce what bands like Entombed, Dismember, and Grave did back in the early 1990s.

I enjoyed Dead dawn a lot. I thought it was a bit more varied than Back to the front, which had several songs that seem to follow the same recipe, that is, mid-tempo start leading up to a fast-double beat or D-beat chorus. Dead dawn has some slightly unusual doom-laden songs, like “Hubris fall”, mid-tempo groovier tracks, like “Down to Mars to ride”, and some fast Slayer-beat tunes with fast tremolo picking, like the excellent “Midas in reverse” and “Black survival”. The influence of old Entombed is obvious on songs like “Dead dawn“, reminiscent of songs like “Evilyn” off Clandestine (1991), or “Total death”, a brilliant song reminiscent of the perfection of “Serpent speech” off Hollowman (1993). The main problem I have with this release is the guitar tone, which I dislike, and the production overall; I think that these choices are not doing justice to the music, and I imagine the same songs with the sound of Clandestine or Wolverine blues would be super. All in all, it is an album that I have enjoyed a lot and, although my interest has recently waned a bit, I think that I will be coming back to it frequently.

mercylesspatheticdivinitycd7. Mercyless – Pathetic Divinity

The melodies and structures in the new offering by Mercyless explore the lost art of grim, mysterious and dissonant death metal of early 1990s Morbid Angel and Immolation, but with a much larger dose of European thrash and melody, not unlike Aggressor‘s Medieval Rites (1999). A good example would be the song “How deep is your hate” whose heavy and dissonant riffing is interrupted by a beautiful instrumental section near the end. The main riff of “Pathetic divinity” reeks off Morbid Angel, and it is super awesome and memorable. The interesting structure of songs like the aforementioned and “A representation of darkness”, or the hooks of songs like “Left to rot” and “My name is legion“, are sure to keep old-school death metalers grinning with satisfaction. “Eucharistic adoration” is another stand-out song, with an impressive sonic attack after the mid-tempo intro. The vocals are simply amazing, and quite reminiscent of Morgoth. However, I also found the vocal patterns throughout the album to be a bit repetitive. Another element that I dislike is the drum sound which is quite fake and drags down – especially the grinding parts – the impetus of the riffing. The only two songs that left me unimpressed are “Christianist” and “Liturgiae”.

5505538. Brutality – Sea of Ignorance

Brutality is a band that I’ve known and listened for decades, yet never fell in love with. The new album showcases a band that seems frozen in time; it could have easily come out in 1993. It is an album completely untouched by styles that emerged in the broader metal genre the last 23 years. The singer has always been the big asset of this band, and he is indeed doing a great job on this new album. His voice is as brutal and furious as ever. Each song is a good mix of noisy grind, but also melancholic melodies. “48 to 52” is a phenomenal song, and one of my very favourite songs of 2016 overall. The chorus is extremely catchy, the slow melancholic solo section and the grind explosion are insane. “Brutally beheaded” and “End of days” are two other of my favourite songs (the vocals on the latter are insane). “Tribute” is the most thrashy song on the album, and has some pretty cheesy lyrics, as it is full of old extreme metal band references (similar to what Entombed did with “Masters of death” and Tormented with “Reversed funeral”). Initially I did not pay attention to the Bathory cover, as it represents a period in Bathory’s career that I never liked. I now think that it is a brilliant cover, successfully capturing the mystery of the original whilst adding Brutality’s brutality. Overall, I would say that Sea of ignorance is a great album and my favourite one from them.

Cauldron_In-Ruin9. Cauldron – In Ruin

Canada’s Cauldron is another relatively new band that looks nostalgically back at 1980s heavy metal. I am very happy that I found out about this band, as this album offered countless hours of musical enjoyment. They play nondescript old-school heavy metal, and definitely they don’t offer anything terribly new, but the songs they compose are brilliant. Songs like “Burning at both ends” are driving and exciting; songs like “Hold your fire” have a rare epic quality. The choruses are absolutely infectious and the guitar solos are inspired. It took me a while to get used to the vocals, which are unusual for a heavy metal band, in that they are a bit asthmatic. My first impression was that of a band that could not find a singer, ending up with one of the other members handling the vocals as a last resort. Nevertheless, this gives Cauldron a somewhat distinctive sound, and in any case, the songwriting is so good that the vocals don’t pose a problem in the end.

64610. Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

I have never been a huge fan of black metal, although over the years there have been albums that I have loved and respected from the broad body of works that could be characterised as black metal. Dark Funeral made their own contribution to black metal early on with their extremely fast and majestic take on the genre. I haven’t listened to them for ages, and the last album I bought was Diabolis interium (2001) when it came out. Their new album blew me away and stayed in my mp3 player for months. “The eternal eclipse” is hands down one of their best songs, on par with “When angels forever die” (1996), “Shadows over Transylvania” (1996) and “Hail murder” (2001). Slower songs like “As I ascend” and “Temple of Ahriman” are equally brilliant. Every single song is really good and catchy, overall a fine example of mid-1990s black metal. I can imagine that being mentioned by Justin Bieber is something that can destroy a black metal band’s credibility, and probably Dark Funeral were bummed out when it happened. I only wish he had mentioned some other Black metal bands that take themselves much more seriously and would make them lose their sleep forever, such as Mayhem or Burzum.

2016 PLAYLIST



My 10 favourite album openings

The way in which an album begins can set the mood for the album, and determine whether the listener will become excited about it or not. For many recording artists, an album is not merely a collection of songs, but also a narrative that has a beginning and an end. As such, the song that will open the album has particular significance. Moreover, musicians and record company executives will make decisions regarding the order of the songs, with considerations concerning the satisfaction of the listener (driven, of course, by maximisation of profit concerns). Songs that are considered to be “fillers”, meaning that their role is to bring the album up to a number of songs or duration that agrees with the music industry’s standards, are more likely to be placed in the middle or the end of an album. Songs that are considered to be “hits” are positioned usually in the beginning of the album, in order to hook the listeners and to grab their attention. The following are album openings that I consider fascinating.

cover_andjusticeforall_lg1. And Justice for all – Metallica (1988)

By far what I consider to be the best album opening of all times. One of the best melodies I have ever heard, slowly fading in, culminating in one of the best riffs ever written. It appropriately sets the mood – severe, melancholic, powerful – for one of the most important, innovative and influential thrash albums of all time (and my favourite Metallica album). Almost twenty years since I first heard it and it still sends chills down my spine, and makes me think about all the different ways in which Metallica have been innovators. Click here for a video of someone who demonstrates how to play this song, and admire the perfection of this intro.

Black_Sabbath_-_Black_Sabbath2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

Members of Black Sabbath have been quoted saying that at the time the debut album was written, the band wanted to create horror-film music. The way in which the album opens is indeed chilling. Rain, thunder, the chime of a church bell, and then the three notes of the Tritone (the Devil’s chord) accompanied by an ultra-heavy rhythm section resulted in a style that was bound to be revered by people who would take it and shape it into what we call today heavy metal. Combined with the terrifying album cover this introduction is pure horror. Although the band itself hadn’t settled on this specific style at the time, and the songs on this album are quite varied, this song embodies the true essence of heavy metal.

athega3. Slaughter of the soul – At the gates (1995)

No one in their right minds who have listened to this album have not gone berserk listening to this absolutely perfect introduction. For me, being one of the very first death metal albums I ever listened to, it defined what a death metal opening should sound like. It begins with industrial sounds that bring into mind decadence, coldness, and the non-human. Slashing sounds tear the soul apart (a lyric on the eponymous song) and bring the smothered words, “We are blind, to the world within us, waiting to be born”, into surface, culminating in one of the most perfect and recognisable riffs of all time. Pure genius!

blin4. Somewhere far beyond – Blind Guardian (1992)

Many metal bands over the years (including Metallica, Kreator, Sepultura, Unleashed, and Sinister) have decided to open their albums with a clean guitar intro, but never, in my opinion, has a band done it so perfectly as Blind Guardian did in this album. The mysterious-sounding chords played in the beginning of “Time what is time” are accompanied by a uniquely soulful and stellarly executed clean guitar solo, culminating in a powerful and extra-heavy, palm-muted triplet riff that denotes that this album will be a highly rewarding journey for the listener, full of imagination, aggression and lyricism.

altar5. Youth against Christ – Altar (1994)

Some of the most important death metal bands of all time have come from Holland, including Pestilence, Asphyx, Gorefest, and Altar. Altar never became popular and are often compared to Deicide due to their anti-christian lyrics and inhuman style of music. They still remain one of my all-time favourite bands, and albums like this one and Ego art are treasured. Youth against Christ starts off with a monologue by what appears to be a tele-evangelist preaching damnation to the masses. His hateful speech is suddenly interrupted by a brutal attack consisting of a super-tight heavy riff on top of crushing blastbeats, symbolically crashing christian discourse violently to the ground.

Blind_guardian_tales6. Tales from the twilight world – Blind Guardian (1990)

No album opening can better define the word “Epic” than Tales from the twilight world. A band known for its admiration of science fiction literature and epic music, Blind Guardian again give lessons of how to hook the listener and, at the same time, summarise the mood of the entire album in the first seconds of the album’s opening track (“Traveler in time”). There’s no real fan of metal music that does not know the words, “The morning sun of Dune”, or does not get goosebumps thinking about them. A truly astounding opening that perfectly describes the Bravado of heavy metal music. God I love Blind Guardian so fucking much.

brok7. Loathing – Broken hope (1997)

The distorted words of Marlon Brando (as heard in the movie Apocalypse now), “Horror, and mortal terror are your friends” echo with disgust as the single note of the first riff of “Siamese twins” and the late Joe Ptacek’s super-brutal vocals kick in, to mark one of the most brutal beginnings in the history of death metal. I listened to this album when it first came out in Metal Era, one of Athens’ most iconic heavy metal record stores (used to be owned and run by Jim, the bassist of Rotting Christ), and, being a fan of more traditional death metal at the time (Death, Dismember, Unleashed, etc.), shook me to my very core.

carcs8. Symphonies of sickness – Carcass (1989)

I think that this introduction is indicative of Black Sabbath’s significant influence on brutal death metal. Carcass took the logic of heaviness and doom of Black Sabbath, and let it rot. The claustrophobic intro to Symphonies of sickness, a chaotic syncopated riff followed by distorted synthesiser sounds accompanied by the maggot-infested Black Sabbathy riff of “Reek of putrefaction” and Jeff’s disgusting growl, is definitive of brutal death metal. Although “Genital grinder”, the song that opens their debut album, is also magnificent, I decided that I prefer this opening because it is so much spookier and sick.

ali9. Alice in hell – Annihilator (1989)

Alice in hell begins with “Crystal Ann”, one of the most beautiful instrumental pieces I have ever heard, regardless of music genre. Jeff Waters is a widely celebrated guitar genius and the introduction of this album is a testament to that. I personally never skip this intro when I listen to this album. What’s even more impressive is the way in which the instrumental song leads into “Alison hell”, which takes the serene and calm mood of “Crystal Ann” and transforms it into caution and a sense of looming threat, building up to some of the most awesome riffs ever written. This is art.

bene10. Transcend the Rubicon – Benediction (1993)

On the cover of the vinyl version of the album there’s a sticker that says “If brutality was crime, Benediction would have been sentenced to death”. The quote alludes to the fact that Transcend the Rubicon is a masterpiece of brutal death metal. After the swampy, claustrophobic openings of the previous two albums, Subconscious terror and The grande leveler, Benediction choose to cut to the chase and make a strong statement from the get go. The opening of this album perfectly sets the mood for what the listener is about to experience: super heavy, hardcore-charged British death metal.



Metallica in Glastonbury: Ethics and popular music

A few hours ago an extraordinary campaign for the world of popular music started taking place, a campaign to ban Metallica from playing in Glastonbury festival. The official reason behind this campaign is Hetfield’s indeed appalling hobby of bear hunting. Although I agree with the basic premise, I disagree with the conclusion.

Practices of musicians, promoters and audiences alike, that have a moral dimension are not a new thing. In fact, they are an everyday phenomenon. Every time that a fan of Malevolent Creation – who likes their music but hates their politics – does not attend one of their gigs, this fan makes a morally informed decision. It could also be said that all those fans who attend the concert also make a moral decision, either with their approval or with their acquiescence. Jello Biafra’s decision to not appear with his band in Israel has a moral dimension, as well as the practices of all those other bands that do appear in Israel.

What it all comes down to is, should we reduce the identities of musicians down to their capacity to create music or should we take into account all other aspects of their identities? Musicians are people whom most of us have decided to judge based on the music they create rather than all their other personal and social practices. However, the advent of the internet and the tendency of even alternative media to treat musicians as celebrities have opened a window to musician’s personal lives. I personally lost respect for many of my music heroes over the years.  I sometimes think that I would prefer not knowing about musicians’ personal lives. On the other hand, I would not like to support fascist bands. It appears that enjoying music regardless of musicians’ politics and staying true to one’s values are two things that are very difficult to be reconciled.

The heavy metal genre had working class origins within which very specific discourses operate. Based on the context within which heavy metal was born, it would be very unlikely for sexism, for example, to not be present. A moral stance that punishes all musicians who are sexist would mean the dismissal of the heavy metal genre in its entirety. Of course, social actors based on their different biographies have differential degrees of agency within any structure. Accordingly, heavy metal musicians can be sexist to different degrees or even be critical of sexism. In any case, the social, cultural and economic contexts in which music happens should be taken into account, without this meaning that we should absolve musicians and forgive their shortcomings.

Now, there are two reasons why I find the reaction to Metallica’s appearance a bit hypocritical. The organisers of the campaign argue that removing Metallica is important because:

"This is a cruel and abhorrent thing to do. 
Killing animals for food is one thing. 
But killing for so called sport is wrong.

They have thus arbitrarily decided that killing animals for sport is wrong, but killing them for food is ok, which I find problematic. The other interesting thing about Metallica‘s headlining appearance in Glastonbury is that when it was first announced, I witnessed some negative reactions in various online forums. The reason seemed to be that the audience associated with Glastonbury has not been a heavy metal audience historically. One of the things that I read was that people who had already bought tickets before the headlining act was revealed would definitely be disappointed.

This is the basic reason I have to question the motives behind the campaign against Metallica. Metallica’s appearance would disappoint lots of people who have bought tickets and would have preferred another headlining act. Additionally, all the douchebags who buy a bunch of tickets in advance and then sell them back in super-inflated prices to people who did not manage to secure a ticket, would also be disappointed. Who says that the campaign was not started, or, if not started, supported, by some of those people?

Would Glastonbury’s audience accept Dave’s Megadeth to appear in the festival? Dave has written the song “Countdown to extinction”, a song explicitly critical to practices such as bear-baiting. Yet, Dave also has some pretty radical right-wing views. I personally think that what it comes down to is probably musical taste and opportunism. Nevertheless, this development raises interesting questions with regard to the changing relationship between artists and their audiences, the role of social media in the democratisation of decision making, or corporate responsibility and the role of the public, among other things.



H.P.Lovecraft and Death Metal (4th update)

After a long time I decided to revise this post about the influence of H.P. Lovecraft’s body of works on the Death Metal genre. When I first wrote it back in 2009 I had just started delving into the wonders of Horror literature. I rediscovered Stephen King, some of whose works I read back in the 1990s, and I quickly found books by Clive Barker and H.P.Lovecraft, two other great figures of Horror literature. My interest in the horror genre was not accidental. Having grown up listening to Heavy metal, I was inadvertently exposed to horror literature references. My first Heavy metal CD ever was Iron Maiden‘s Live after death. The thing that first mesmerised me before even listening to the music, was the amazing cover. On the tombstone, a quote from Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu is inscribed: “That is not dead which can eternal lie, yet with strange aeons even death may die”. Part of my interest in exploring those references in more detail stemmed from my desire to understand my favourite musicians a bit better, and connect with them on an abstract cultural plane. Another factor that enabled this obsession with horror literature is the availability of extremely cheap books in England. I have bought almost all my books from local charity shops, and each book has cost me between 50p and £2. Finally, my interest in horror literature can also be linked to my fascination with horror movies, which goes back to my early childhood. I remember being in the early grades of primary school and watching The Hand (1981), together with my mom, or The Blob (1986) without my parents knowing, or Poltergeist III (1989) and not being able to sleep, or being 9-10 years old and looking forward to Friday night to watch the new episode of Friday the 13th the TV series (and talk about it with my cousin George next time we’d meet).

As Roland Barthes has pointed out, all texts refer only to other texts. This post is about Lovecraft’s influence on various texts (i.e. lyrics and images) associated with the Death metal genre.

Nile‘s first full length, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (1998), is my personal favourite Nile album and a true gem of mid- to late 1990s American brutal death metal. Both the words “Nile” and the title of the album can be found in the same sentence at the end of the haunting short story by Lovecraft, “The Outsider”. The catacombs are the home of the deformed creature which has dwelled there mummified for centuries, before it ventured to visit the outside world. The catacombs are the place where the creature returns after realising its abominable existence. Another noteworthy example, as pointed out by one of the readers of the blog, of Lovecraft’s influence on Nile’s music is the monumental “4th Arra of Dagon” off Those whom the gods detest (2009).

Morbid Angel,  the cornerstone of American brutal death metal, is clearly guided by Lovecraft. References to the Ancient Ones and Yog-Sothoth, characters built around the Cthulhu mythos, are ubiquitous in all Morbid Angel discography, especially in albums Blessed are the sick (1991) and Formulas fatal to the flesh (1998). Morbid Angel not only write lyrics inspired by Lovecraft, but also their philosophical explorations draw on the mystical cosmos created by Lovecraft; what constitutes reality; which part of reality the human mind can perceive and what its limitations are; how the human mind is bound by social and cultural norms prohibiting us from accessing other realities, and so forth.

ENTOMBED---CLANDESTINE-2013-Back-CoverEntombed‘s masterpiece Clandestine (1991) contains the song “stranger aeons“. The lyrics are written by Kenny Hakansson. Phrases like “stranger aeons” and “Stranger things that eternal lie” point towards the Cthulhu mythos once again. Other phrases like “lurking at the threshold” also point to other Lovecraft tales like the Thing at the Doorstep, or The Lurking Fear. The painting by Nicke Andersson at the back cover of the album, depicts a head with frightening hollow eyes and tentacles, reminiscent of Lovecraft’s ancient God Cthulhu.

In 2006 Death Breath from Sweden released the excellent album Stinking up the night. The album closes with a haunting instrumental titled “Cthulhu Fthagn”. The song is apparently a tribute both to Lovecraft and Metallica, who had recorded the instrumental “The call of Ktulu” in their Ride the lightning (1984) album. These words (cthulu fthagn) are what Wilcox the sculptor heard, during his horrifying dreams of the city where Cthulhu slept. In the same album, the song “A morbid mind” also refers to the Lovecraftian mythology, and ”Flabby Little things from Beyond” refers to the short story From Beyond where a scientist creates a device that allows people to perceive hidden dimensions. Massacre‘s first album From Beyond (1991), one of the ultimate Death Metal albums, is dedicated to this story as well. What I have identified as Lovecraftian references in Tiamat‘s work, are a bit more obscure. The title “In the shrines of the kingly dead”, off Tiamat’s debut album, alludes to the terrifying story The hound, where the phrase “the narcotic incense of imagined Eastern shrines of the kingly dead” can be found. The story Celephais includes the recurring phrase “where the sea meets the sky”, and a similar phrase is also found in Tiamat’s “A caress of stars” off Clouds (1992).

Other references to Lovecraft come from bands like Therion, and their song “Cthulu“, off their fantastic second album, Gutted‘s “Nailed to the cross”, a strange blend of Lovecraft and anti-christian lyrics off their debut album Bleed for us to live (1994), and Sinister‘s “Awaiting the Absu”, from their masterpiece Hate (1995). In the eponymous track of Septic Flesh‘s first album (i.e. Mystic places of dawn (1994), one of the superior albums in death metal history, or even music history overall), there is  the lyric “… Sarnath the doomed, and names that echo in the labyrinths and the cavernous depths of chaos”.   This is a reference to the short story “The doom that came to Sarnath”, which talks about an imaginary city that prospered after ravaging an ancient alien race, which eventually returned to take revenge. The song “Lovecraft’s death” off Communion (2008) is full of references to stories such as The rats in the walls, The whisperer in darkness, and The music of Erich Zann, among others.

Another amazing song coming from recent years, is Morgoth‘s “Nemesis” off their awesome comeback album Ungod (2015). The lyrics of “Nemesis” come from Lovecraft’s homonymous poem, and I cannot imagine a better soundscape for it. Another relatively recent example of Lovecraftian death metal comes from Morbus Chron. Their first album includes the brilliant song “Red Hook horror“, which references The horror at Red Hook, one of the most talked-about Lovecraft stories. It is one of the stories that have been identified as an example of Lovecraft’s xenophobic and far right beliefs, as it is laden with derogatory epithets and imagery about US immigrants and the economically deprived. Morbus Chron have borrowed minor elements of the story and created their own vague, gruesome narrative.

seagrave

The art of Dan Seagrave, one of the most important painters-cover artists of the death metal genre, clearly draws on Lovecraft’s imagination. Much of his more recent work, finds the artist obsessed with bizarre architecture (i.e. “non Euclidian geometry”), of the kind mentioned in the dreams of Lovecraft’s characters of the city R’lyeh. Looking at covers like Morbid Angel‘s Gateways to Annihilation (2000) or Suffocation‘s Souls to Deny (2004), can only bring into mind descriptions from the Call of Cthulhu like, “…great Cyclopean cities of Titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths…”.

Some of the readers of this blog have made some contributions in the comment section, so please read on for more Lovecraft influences! To be continued…