overground scene

My 15 all-time favourite drum intros

In my early contact with metal as a teenager drums were of tertiary importance compared to guitar and voice. My first love was Iron Maiden, and although over the years I came to appreciate Clive Burr’s and Nicko McBrain’s skills and contribution to Maiden’s sound, my untrained teenage ear could not appreciate the nuances. My second love was Dio, and just like with Maiden what I fell in love with was the voice and the guitar-playing. I obviously enjoyed listening to Appice’s hard hits, McBrain’s speed on songs like “Deja vu“, I remember falling in love with Ulrich’s fills on “For whom the bell tolls“, or Columbus’s double-bass attack on “Black wind, fire and steel“, but I did not start really noticing the drums until I started listening to thrash, and specifically when I listened to Reign in blood by Slayer. After that, and the more my taste would gravitate towards extreme metal the more attention to the drumming I would pay. Who doesn’t like a great drum break in the middle of a song (*a future post is in order*), or an awesome drum intro?! Through memory work (so, simply by trying to remember) I came up with many awesome drum intros that have stayed with me throughout my life as a metal fan, and after subsequent filtering (as a result of which amazing songs by Hypocrisy, Judas Priest, Death, Xentrix, Ozzy and Kreator, among others, were left out) I present 15 of them here in chronological order.

1. SlayerEpidemic (1986)

Reign in blood blew my mind and continues to blow my mind no matter how many times I’ve listened to it. It’s funny how, as years go by and new trends in metal emerge, many younger people are no longer impressed by this masterpiece (which is something that I once thought impossible). “When was the last time you truly listened to Reign in blood?”, asks Gavin O’Connor. Seriously, Gavin O’Connor? Still, I would imagine for most people, it is a guilty displeasure not liking this absolute masterpiece and they wouldn’t dare admitting it (as opposed to Gavin who owns his opinion, is proud of it, and so I can make fun of him for being a poser who only listens to “Angel of death” and “Raining blood”). “Epidemic” has always been one of my favourite songs off Reign in blood, as it has a different groove to the dominant skank beat throughout the album. The drum intro has a lot to do with how much I like this song. Whenever I think of a drum intro this is honestly the first song that comes to mind. Nowadays, and after three decades of extreme metal drumming, this intro sounds quite “primitive”, but when I first heard it I would just play it over and over again, for several times before I continue with the rest of the song. Nothing compares to Dave Lombardo‘s intense and quite instinctive old school drumming massacre. The simply devastating drum sound captured on tape by Rick Rubin is not bad either.

2. King DiamondWelcome home (1988)

Mikkey Dee, now famous for being the drummer for Motörhead for almost 25 years, used to be in King Diamond. With him the King released some of his best albums (and my two personal favourite, namely Fatal portrait and Conspiracy), and I actually remember seeing or reading an interview with King Diamond where he said that Mikkey has been sorely missed (I personally think that Snowy Shaw did an awesome job as well). Indeed, the impressive drum performances in King Diamond’s early albums compared to the almost mechanical drumming in this last few albums is like comparing night and day. “Welcome home” is a masterful track off Them, and the intro is one of the most memorable and classy drum parts I can think of. Overall, this song represents the pinnacle of King Diamond’s progressive dimension. Agressor did an accurate cover of this song on their Medieval rites (1999) album, although the drum intro is neither entirely accurate nor has the feel of the original.

3. Holy TerrorNo resurrection (1988)

Holy Terror released two albums in the late 1980s, at a time when thrash was still alive and well but slowly losing ground as the first death metal albums, as well as the more extreme thrash bands of Germany, began to surface. The second album by Holy Terror is a minor thrash masterpiece and this song is a testament to that. Their peculiar style of metal that combined traditional heavy metal melodies and singing, with rougher and at times growling vocals, super fast riffs and drums, deserved more recognition in my opinion. Joe Mitchell‘s expertly executed super fast beats perfectly complement the super-fast vocal delivery. The intro to this song is an all-time favourite, and is the perfectly manic start for a perfectly manic song. I have been listening to it since my teenage years and it still does not fail to excite me. They don’t make them like this anymore.

4. Malevolent CreationCoronation of our domain (1992)

Alex Marquez gave his best performance on Malevolent Creation’s Retribution. His contribution on this album cannot be overestimated, and never before or after did Malevolent have such a colourful drum sound and playing, and orchestrations. I suspect that Scott Burns had a lot to do with fine-tuning Marquez’s playing, especially the blastbeats, as in subsequent releases his blastbeats are all over the place (I am thinking Divine Empire‘s second album where the blastbeats often seem to chase the guitar riff, but are unable to catch up with it. Still, it is an awesome album!). Anyway, this drum intro is probably the best out of all the intros in this list. This is the definition of finesse in drumming.

5. Dismember – Fleshless (1993)

This is an extremely simple fast single stroke drum roll (I think so) spread across two toms, opening one of the best songs in one of the best albums in the history of music (yes, not only death metal). One of the reasons I love it so much is because to me this intro is like saying “get ready for some non-stop relentless beating”, and indeed this is exactly what follows throughout the album. Remember, this is not a playlist with the “best” drum intros, but rather my favourite drum intros, and this is definitely one. I simply adore the drum sound on this album, and Fred Estby‘s playing is really exciting. Indecent and obscene is probably my all-time favourite death metal album, and Fred’s playing is one of the reasons.

6. GorefestPeace of paper (1993)

It’s no big surprise that all of the songs on this list come from albums characterised by great drum performances. In both False (1992) and Erase (1993) Ed Warby gives lessons in extreme metal drumming. His sound is clear, he hits hard, and his blastbeats are a force of nature. “Peace of paper” is an astonishing song off an amazing album, and it is also the song where Warby goes crazy with his snare-kick gymnastics. The drum intro is not anything special, but I love it. I think that his performance in these two albums opened up doors for him, as I recall seeing his name in many projects over the years. Gorefest did a very impressive comeback in the mid 2000s and then unfortunately folded again, and in those two comeback albums Warby also did an amazing job.

7. SlayerKilling fields (1994)

Divine intervention is a galore of outstanding drum work by Paul Bostaph. Quite honestly, when I bought this album I could not believe how someone can play like this, and to this day I consider Divine intervention a masterpiece with state-of-the-art drumming. This album is chock-full of drum highlights, and apart from this song, “Sex, murder, art” and “Serenity in murder” are personal favourites. There is no doubt that Paul knew that filling Lombardo’s shoes would be hard, mostly in terms of acceptance by the hardcore fans rather than actual performance, and did his absolute best to prove himself with this album. In my opinion, the intro of “Killing fields” is one of the heaviest and attention-grabbing moments in metal history.

8. BenedictionThe grotesque (1994)

Benediction is not a band known for its virtuoso musicianship. It is known, however, for its absolutely awesome and unique-sounding death metal.  “The grotesque” is one of Benediction’s best songs and it comes from the Grotesque/Ashen epitaph EP. This EP marked the departure of Ian Treacy, Benediction’s original drummer, whose improvement from Subconscious terror (1990) to Transcend the Rubicon (1993) was nothing short of stellar, and the short-lived collaboration with Paul Brookes (who has been very ridiculously photoshoped into the photo of the band on this release). I personally prefer Treacy, who has also provided some really cool drum parts, but nevertheless, Brookes offers a very memorable drum intro to this beast of a song.

9. UnleashedIn the name of god (1995)

“In the name of god” starts with a very simple double stroke roll, yet constitutes an extremely effective drum intro which has always stayed with me. The fact that it opens one of the catchiest songs in death metal history, composed by Fredrik, obviously adds to the importance of this drum intro, but there is no doubt that Anders Schultz‘s contribution to Unleashed’s sound is significant (also check out the awesomely placed double bass à la Slayer at the end of the song). Victory is, in my opinion, the last great album by Unleashed, and it is not a coincidence that it is also the last album with Fredrik Lindgren. He is one of the composers that is missed in the death metal genre.

10. Dying FetusJustifiable homicide (2000)

1999 was the year my friends and I found out about the then new wave of North American brutal death metal. A fiend of mine got hold of three awesome cassette-tapes; one with Deeds of flesh‘s Trading pieces (1996) and Inbreeding the anthropophagi (1998), one with Nile‘s Among the catacombs… (1998), and one with Dehumanized‘s Prophecies foretold (1998) and Dying Fetus‘s Purification through violence (1996). When Destroy the opposition came out we didn’t listen to anything else for a month. This is probably the least interesting song on the album, but what a great and memorable intro! Kevin Talley is a great drummer hailing from the American brutal death metal underground who has rightfully been recognised as one. His drumming on albums like Killing on adrenaline and Destroy the opposition are unbelievable. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the separation of Jason and Kevin from Gallagher resulted in inferior subsequent output from both Dying Fetus and Misery Index. Anyway, this whole album is a drummer’s pleasure.

11. The CrownI won’t follow (2000)

The Crown has always been a hit and miss band in my opinion. I never liked any of their albums in their entirety, just individual songs, and if I had to pick a favourite album I would choose Hell is here (1999). This song comes from Deathrace king, an album from which I worship two songs and the rest of them I listen to once every ten years or so. “I won’t follow” is one of the songs I worship, and the other is the inimitable “Back from the grave”. Janne Saarenpää‘s style is very intense and out-of-control and often reminds me of Chris Witchhunter from Sodom (I’m thinking of “Baptism of fire”). This is the definition of in-your-face extreme metal drumming of the type that inspires kids to pick up drumsticks and learn to play.

12. Deeds of FleshMaster of murder (2001)

Mike Hamilton‘s stint with Deeds of Flesh started with an album (i.e. Mark of the legion) which, for me, marked the creative downfall of the band. However, just like the drummers that preceded him, Hamilton’s drumming is amazing, and this song is a case in point. A beautiful, yet cold and lifeless, phrase composed of super fast double strokes and double bass, introduces an awesome riff. The way Hamilton switches from the hi-hat to the ride cymbal during the blastbeats, and the effect this has on the riff is also great. Later on in their career Deeds of Flesh tried to reinvent themselves and switched to super-technical death metal and, in my opinion, lost their distinctiveness that is still present in this song.

13. Pig DestroyerSnuff film at eleven (2001)

Just like Dying Fetus’s Destroy the opposition, Pig Destroyer’s Prowler in the yard was a game changer in the world of extreme metal. Brian Harvey provides super fast blastbeats, grooves, and insane drum fills.  This song is one of the most death-oriented songs on the album, and has such an awesome drum intro, representative of the musical and lyrical insanity that reigns throughout the album. What contributes to the awesomeness of this intro is that it does not lead to a fast beat but a tensely controlled slow beat. Harvey’s performance on the next album (i.e. Terrifyer) is also stellar. Having a drummer like this at one’s disposal is an amazing privilege, because it gives one absolute freedom to write anything they want, no matter how fast and complex.

14. Lock UpFeeding on the opiate (2002)

Nick Barker is one of those drummers who make extremely fast drumming seem easy. I fell in love with his drumming when Cradle of Filth‘s Dusk and her embrace came out, and I loved him even more in Lock Up, although his repertoire in the latter is much more limited. His performance with Cradle of Filth rightfully opened doors for him as over the years he has played with many prominent bands. This is actually one of the best album intros ever, and I cannot believe that I forgot to mention it in the respective post I wrote a few years ago. Overall, Hate breeds suffering is my favourite Lock Up album too. Bill Hicks’s inspiring statement, “Play from your fucking hearts!”, sampled at the beginning of the song is also genius.

15. Dark FuneralThe eternal eclipse (2016)

The final entry in this list comes from a recent album, namely Dark Funeral’s very impressive Where shadows forever reign. Dark Funeral has a history of great drummers, including the brilliant Matte Modin (who offered devastating drumming for Defleshed back in the day). In this album the drums are provided by Nils Fjellström, another master of inhuman speed in drumming (check out videos of him performing live with the band on YouTube, you won’t be disappointed). “The eternal eclipse” is my favourite song off this album, and the drum intro is perfect.

Metal lyrics and nazism: denunciation or praise?

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

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

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

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

Slayer’s Angel of death

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

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

Dismember’s Thanatology

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

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

On reviewing albums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An auto-biography of gig attendance #1: Rock Of Gods, 1996

Some of my ticket-stubs.

Many years ago I wrote a post about how music gigs are the best form of entertainment. Having reconsidered, I decided that music gigs used to be an amazing form of entertainment when I was young, when I hadn’t seen many bands live, and when I had like-minded friends to go to gigs with. Attending concerts has lost its appeal for me in more recent years. A few weeks ago my mother sent me some old ticket-stubs and rekindled all those memories of gig attendance of my youth. A few days later I learned that Immolation are coming to Brighton, UK, as part of Mammothfest. Immolation is one of my all-time favourite death metal bands, and in terms of consistency, endurance, and creativity, the best death metal band of all times, in my opinion. In anticipation of this gig and in remembrance of the music gigs of my youth I decided to start a new series of posts where I will share with readers some of my favourite moments of gig-attendance throughout the years. I will start with the first heavy metal gig I ever attended: the Rock of Gods festival in Piraeus, Greece, on July 12 1996.

The news of the Rock of Gods festival hit during a summer English course that some of my friends and I were taking. The line-up included Slayer (a band that I worshiped and still do), Blind Guardian (another favourite among certain members of our group back then, myself included), Motorhead (not a favourite at the time, but, still, exciting), Rage (hadn’t listened to them at the time), Nightfall (Greek black metal band), and Fatal Morgana (Greek progressive metal band). At the time I was 15 years old. Although I wasn’t particularly young, my parents were negatively disposed to heavy metal music and the wider subculture. Yet, the congruence of several factors around Rock of Gods allowed me to convince my parents to permit me to go: it was a summer festival (so we didn’t have school-related responsibilities), it was taking place close to our home-town (Piraeus), and several of my friends would accompany me (among whom a friend my mother considered the “ideal student”). So, I bought a ticket.

Most of my memories are of peripheral things around the concert rather than the bands themselves. My friends and I (a group of five) met with some older kids from school in a public square, and together we took the bus to Piraeus. The fan credentials of those older kids were much better than ours; they had long hair, they wore cool old t-shirts, they knew all the bands, and they were doing drugs. Savvas, one of the older kids, grabbed me by my Iron Maiden t-shirt (Fear of the dark) and, half-jokingly, told me “when Rage come out on stage, I will kill you!”. I laughed, but I was also a bit worried. In any case I made a mental note not to be near him when Rage would come out.

The bus dropped us off and then we had to walk for a bit in order to get to dock 3 where the festival was taking place. Our group was walking alongside hordes of heavy metal fans with smiles in their faces. On the way to dock 3, I remember seeing the following slogan written in spray on walls: “Αγαπάς το Rock; 7χίλιαρο!” (“Do you love rock? Pay 7.000 drachmas!”). Although I remember getting the anti-commercial message of the slogan, I was also confused. I was not sure whether the slogan was directed to fans (that were seen as passive dupes of capitalism), music promoters (that were seen as exploiting the fans), bands (criticised for not playing for free), or the broader system including all those actors together (the culture industry). That was a festival that cost money to organise, with an international bill consisting of several awesome and successful bands, so I couldn’t see how the price would be an issue. Upon reflection, I guess it was meant as commentary on the culture industry; a system whereby heavy metal music is mass produced and marketed as a commodity. The slogan was trying to point out that “if you love rock music you are forced into market exchange relations”. The contradiction in this message is that rock music itself, as we know and love, is the product of the capitalist economy; an economy that is producing albums, and has allowed relatively affluent kids from around the world to own instruments and make bands like Slayer and Blind Guardian, that are eventually recruited by the music industry. I still think that rock music as a commodity should be critiqued, but that slogan did not offer any meaningful critique.

Inside the festival area the atmosphere was beautiful. I had never seen so many heavy metal fans at the same place. I remember feeling quite awkward and slightly scared, so I made sure I stayed close to my friends. Before any of the bands started playing, I spotted Thomen, Blind Guardian’s original drummer, in the crowd. The feeling of seeing one of my music heroes up-close was unique, so without much thought I went to get an autograph. Thomen was very friendly and happy to sign our ticket-stubs. I thought about my friend, Nick, who couldn’t attend the concert because he was away on holiday, so I found a piece of paper and asked Thomen to sign it for him. I gave it to Nick when he came back from holidays and the bastard couldn’t care less. Around that time, we heard the disappointing news that Motorhead were replaced by Saxon…

My memories of the actual bands are extremely blurry. I think I was over-stimulated, by the crowd, the bands, and the newness of the experience of a heavy metal festival, so being attentive of the actual music-listening experience was hard. One of the things I remember clearly is the asphyxiating atmosphere at the front of the stage. Especially when Slayer came out, kicking off with “South of heaven”, the heat combined with the the crowd crushing on me, made me feel faint. I was next to my friend Mark, and when the first notes of “South of heaven” came out of the amps we looked at each other with surprise and started screaming like the little fanboys that we were. Mark then asked me “which song is this!?”, to which I replied “Dead skin mask!”, a mistake that I eventually corrected a few seconds later. I have no other recollection of Slayer that night, apart from the fact that they played quite a few of the punk covers off Undisputed Attitude (1996), and, if I remember correctly, Jeff’s guitar with all the punk stickers. Similarly, I have almost no recollection of Blind Guardian, apart from “The bard’s song”. This is really peculiar, especially since I was dying to see them, and Imaginations from the other side (1995) was (and still is) one of my favourite albums of all time. Although I was not listening to Rage at the time (I fell in love with them after the concert) I vividly remember Peavy at the front of the stage singing “Alive but dead”. Under different technosocial circumstances, a recording of this concert would be widely available, and I would love to be able to experience it again. The only thing I could find online was the YouTube video below, of an audio track from Blind Guardian’s performance on that evening, 21 years ago.

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

Music ownership these days, in terms of paying for music and owning the medium that carries the music, is not as relevant as it used to be before the digitisation and internetisation of music. As many have pointed out, today it is more about access rather than ownership; people access music on Spotify, YouTube, Bandcamp, and so forth, rather than owning it. Of course even with digitisation/internetisation there are ways of owning music, through the practice of downloading and storing music on different types of digital repositories. Still, this type of ownership feels quite different to the thing I am used to, that is, owning physical copies in the form of LPs, CDs, and Cassette tapes. One of the ways in which it is different is in terms of the “unity and autonomy” of the cultural product. This is what this post is about.

By “unity and autonomy” I refer to the things that make a cultural product distinct from other cultural products as well as a unified whole. It concerns the age-old question “what are the limits of a distinct body of works”? When does an artist decide that a specific number of songs constitutes an “album”? There are different actors and processes that have conspired to offer practical answers to these questions. The subjection of music to the logic and the laws of the capitalist market is one process, and tradition is another. Most recording artists don’t rely on the record company to tell them that they need something between 8-12 songs to have a”proper” album, they already know this is the case because they are familiar with popular music conventions. In turn, the popular music industry is partially responsible for those conventions.

What crystallises a body of works as distinct is its subjection to the manufacturing process and its reification, its transformation into a product such as an LP or a CD. First of all, there is a physical medium that contains a limited number of songs. Both CDs and LPs secure autonomy by including the chosen number of songs and excluding all other songs. Then there is a cover artwork that symbolically unifies the songs included in the CD or LP in question. Beyond those two important elements there are other things like a consistent production style and a specific band configuration, that construct a given body of works as unified and autonomous. The person who bought Gutter ballet (1989) and Power of the night (1985) by Savatage on CDs knows that whenever she listens to “When the crowds are gone” she listens to a song off Gutter ballet (1989) by Savatage, but when she listens to “In the dream” she knows that she listens to a song off Power of the night (1985) by Savatage.

How do things change with digitisation/internetisation? In a way things are not much different. Songs on online music platforms or downloadable songs are usually organised in traditional album formats. I could search for the Gutter ballet album by Savatage on Spotify, and I could access it independently from the rest of their albums. I could also download the same album and keep it in a distinct folder, separated from all other songs that can also be found in my computer. The folder as well as the information potentially embedded in the mp3 track (e.g. artist, album title, year of release) contribute towards the unification and autonomisation of the product. However, a key difference is that I could delete any of the songs from that folder. I could, for example, delete “Of rage and war” because the lyrics piss me off. I could also “cut” all the Savatage songs from three different albums I have neatly organised in distinct folders and “paste” them all together in one distinct folder titled “Savatage”. That wouldn’t change, of course, the information inscribed on those songs that ascribe them to distinct bodies of works, but still digitisation offers unique opportunities in challenging the unified and autonomous character of music industry products. Other unifying elements, such as cover artwork, lose their effectiveness as well. Of course, someone could say that in the past people would make mix-tapes, and, in that sense, blank cassette tapes and CDs offered opportunities for manipulation, but that didn’t have an effect on the “original” products, the CDs and LPs that were used to make the mix-tape. More things could be said about digitisation and convergence, such as how they effect modes of listening that are less demanding than, for example, sitting in your living room and handling big and sensitive media such as LPs and turntables, and the effect this has on perceiving an album as unified and autonomous.

The thing that prompted these thoughts was listening to Dark Tranquillity‘s excellent song “Exposure”. I first listened to this song during the summer of 1999 when a friend of mine bought the digipak version of the newly released Projector album. By that time I had gotten over Swedish melodic death metal, and I was more into brutal death metal such as Immolation, Broken Hope, Sinister, and Vader. But even by Swedish melodeath standards, I found that album extremely disappointing, and to this day it’s my least favourite DT album. However, in the end of the album there was a hidden track that we played non-stop for days. That song was “Exposure” and it was excluded from the regular versions of the album.

That fact made me reflect on how annoyed I was every time I bought an album and I realised that there was another version that included songs that my version of the album did not include. I then thought that this wouldn’t be much of a problem in the contemporary world, where some listeners are less loyal to physical cultural commodities. For one thing, the folder on one’s computer titled “Dark Tranquillity – Projector” is probably not as meaningful a unit as a CD or an LP. Moreover, the bonus track can be found and downloaded and subsequently added to the folder. Due to the resistant to modification character of CDs and LPs, an artifact without the bonus tracks was for ever condemned to be without. In the present historical period in advanced hyper-consumerist capitalist societies do “special editions” with bonus songs have the same appeal that they used to in the 1980s or 1990s, and for those people who exclusively use the internet to access music do concepts such as “bonus track” or “album” have any meaning?

In most cases, I think that bonus tracks are not on par with the rest of the songs on an album, but in some cases they are amazing. I will now finish this post with five examples of extraordinary bonus tracks that in some cases are better than all the songs in their respective albums.

projector_album_cover1. Dark Tranquillity – Exposure (Projector)

“Exposure” is hands down my favourite song off Projector (1999). The only other song that comes close is “On your time”, which has an unbelievable ending. The change that DT underwent during that period, and which to a large extent defined their style, did not go down very well with me, especially the extensive use of clean vocals and keyboards, and the slowing down of pace. “Exposure” is a song that could have easily been on The mind’s I (1997), an album that I’ve loved non-stop since it came out. It is fast, it has a perfect main riff and melodies, and Anders’ drumming is mindboggling.

slayer-diabolus-in-musica2. Slayer – Unguarded instinct (Diabolus in musica)

Diabolus in musica (1998) and God hates us all (2001) are my two least favourite Slayer albums, but if I had to choose one that I like better I would go with Diabolus. There are some awesome songs on this one, including “Perversions of pain”, “Screaming from the sky”, “Scrum” and “Bitter peace”. However, the Japanese edition of the album includes “Unguarded instinct”, the hands down masterpiece and best song on the album, in my opinion. This song has some of the best riffs and one of the best choruses Slayer ever came up with, and Bostaph’s performance is phenomenal. At least the version that I own includes another bonus track which is also quite awesome, the dark and menacing “Wicked”.

05_the_code_is_red_long_live_the_code3. Napalm Death – Losers (The code is red…long live the code)

Napalm Death have always released special editions of their albums with bonus songs unavailable in regular editions. Most of those bonus songs are awesome, because ND is awesome, but usually they don’t stand out. However, on this specific case I think that it was a shame the song “Losers” was not included in regular editions of The code is red… as it is an extremely powerful and memorable track, from the catchy drum intro, to the driving beat and the various tempo changes. This song was included on the digipak version, but unfortunately not on the limited edition LP version.

r-3402905-1329030970-jpeg4. Eldritch – Nebula surface (El nino)

El nino was the album that introduced me to Eldritch back in 1998, a band that I respect a lot although I don’t like all of their albums. Still, their powerful take on progressive-power metal always impressed me, and to this day I don’t think I have listened many other bands that manage to combine more conventional melodies with aggressive song-writing (another band that comes to mind is Rage) as effectively as Eldritch. The limited edition CD I own has this hidden track in the end right after the monumental homonymous song, and it is among my favourite songs on this album.

1239265840_large5. Vader – Anamnesis (Black to the blind)

Black to the blind (1997) is in my opinion the last great Vader album. When it first came out me and my friends were driven to insanity during endless hours of listening to the album back-to-back and headbanging violently. Unfortunately, the song “Anamnesis” is missing from our version of this great album, but is included in the Japanese version. At least it was included in the Kingdom E.P. too. This song is characterised by sheer intensity, phenomenal drumming courtesy of Doc (a death metal innovator), and an awesome start. Without a doubt it’s one of the very best songs on the album.

Favourite music from 2015

The end of 2015 is closing in, so this is the time to review some of the awesome music released over the last 12 months. The year 2014 felt like an excellent year in music, with Morbus Chron releasing an unprecedented death metal masterpiece, Ratos De Porao releasing what might be the best album in their immaculate career, and At The Gates returning to the grave with a pretty awesome album, among the highlights. What makes 2015 a bit different, in my opinion, is firstly that some of metal’s authorities released a new album, including Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Blind Guardian, and secondly that awesome death metal albums were almost totally absent.

Before I get on with my appraisal for 2015 I want to explain what I mean by “favourite music” in these posts. I do not claim that particular albums are objectively good, but rather that there are albums that I cannot stop listening to, either because they are wildly entertaining or because they are “cultivating”. So, it is primarily one quantitative criterion that determines which albums will end up on this list every year, that is, endurance: how much I have listened to an album, and whether I see myself continuing to enjoy it in the future. This might be happening either because particular albums might challenge (my) musical preconceptions, urging me to keep listening to them to discover new things, or because they are entertaining in a forthcoming way that caters to my own subjective preferences and expectations.

unleashedStarting with the albums I liked less, I will have to start with Unleashed‘s Dawn of the nine. The last album that I liked by Unleashed was Hammer battalion (although  I would not compare it to the first four albums not even as a joke). Since then the band under the influence of Fredrik has evolved into a blackened-death band which does not appeal to me anymore. Having said that, I could actually listen to the new album, whereas I found impossible to listen to the previous two. “Land of the thousand lakes”, “The bolt thrower”, “Let the hammer fly”, and “A new day will rise” are among the few songs that I liked. I actually find it difficult to explain why I don’t like Unleashed’s new album; I just don’t feel like listening to these songs again after I have listened to them for a couple of times. Ghost is a band that I keep going back to every time they release a new album, hoping that it will be something that I like. The reason why I still try to listen to them is because I recognise that they have a somewhat unique sound, which make them interesting. Still cannot get into them entrailthough. Entrails is a Swedish band that I never paid too much attention too. I listened to their two previous albums on YouTube when they came out and I thought that they were another one of the imitators of the real awesome old-school Swedish death bands, full of dull tremolo-picked riffs played just for the sake of tremolo-picking. I think the same thing about their new album, nevertheless, I did enjoy a few songs on it. “Epitome of death“, for example, kicks off with a really beautiful melody, moves on to a nice Revel-in-flesh-like groove and a cool chorus, and ends with an amazing, simply brilliant, melody! The song “Obliterate” kicks off with a nice grim melody which then leads to a riff that could easily be on Dismember’s Massive killing capacity album. So, I do like it, but how many times can one hear imitations of “Revel in flesh” before it starts getting boring? A band I was excited about was the project of tau-01The Baron (Amebix) and Away (Voivod) called Tau Cross. Their debut album has variety and the depressing mood that characterises both Amebix and Voivod. For sure they are not scared to play around with the conventions of popular song-writing, with songs like “Hangman’s Hyll”, which is among the ones I like the most. More uptempo songs like “Stonecracker” reminded me a bit of Born Dead Icons. Overall, Tau Cross was what I expected, that is, a more metallic version of Amebix’s last album, but left me somewhat unimpressed. “We control the fear” sounds like it’s written by Trey Parker of South Park.

600full-chris-barnesThe new Six Feet Under album (Crypt of the devil) is the next step in the evolution of the band after the loss of its identity that followed the departure of Butler and Gall and the introduction of short-lived line-ups and session musicians. Music-wise it is typical but good brutal American death metal, and includes some cool riffs and patterns. However, in my opinion, it lacks both the originality and the “chemistry” great albums are made off. Moreover, gradually since 2007 Barnes’ voice has been becoming monotonous and has lost its flexibility, and sometimes makes me feel like someone is scratching a board with a nail. The songs are good and I enjoy them, but as a whole this band has lost its distinctiveness. For those who did not like the classic SFU this is a good thing, and I have to agree that Death rituals was a snooze-fest. But, in my opinion, albums like Haunted, Maximum violence, or even Commandment cannot be topped by this new ensemble. Gruesome is a new gruessuper-group from the USA that pays homage to early Death. I first heard about them through Napalm Death’s Facebook page and I got really excited. The first song that I heard off their debut was “Savage land”, and it is without question the most accurate imitation of Leprosy-era Death I had ever heard. It turns out that all the songs are awkwardly similar to Death songs mainly of the Spiritual healing era, but also Leprosy and Human. The intro of “Gangrene” brings into mind “Flattening of emotions”. “Gruesome” starts in exactly the same way as “Spiritual healing”. This is a collection of very cool songs, played passionately (Gus Rios’ drumming is awesome!) but they feel a bit weird because they are so obvious rip-offs. It kind of feels like listening to Death’s Fate (1992) compilation album that Nilecontains songs from their first four albums. Nile‘s new album is brutal in the usual way, and their style is by default exciting, and I liked it as much as I have liked everything they have done since Black seeds of vengeance; that is, I enjoyed it but didn’t get super-excited. It is obvious that Dallas and Sanders are pushing themselves to their limits and their guitar playing has reached new unreachable heights. The band-members themselves have talked about the album in terms of it being less complicated than the previous one, and more “in your face”. Although this album indeed constitutes an extremely brutal attack, I did not think it is more straightforward than At the gates of Sethu. Songs like “Liber stellae rubeae” are striking in their complexity. The song “Evil to cast out all evil” is also a very complex song (its intro melody is quite similar to the respective melody of “Supreme humanism of megalomania” off At the gates of Sethu), as well as one of the most beautiful and complete songs in the album. The more straightforward and devastating songs, such as “Rape of black earth” and “Call to destruction” are also really good.

imperSome other albums that I enjoyed but did not make my top 10 list are the following: Imperial State Electric‘s new album (Honk Machine) is beautiful, as expected. I personally think it cannot be compared to any of their previous offerings, as I found it to be less varied and powerful, further emphasising their more pop inclinations. Nevertheless, some of the songs, including “Cold down here”, “All over my head“, “Another armageddon awaits”, and “Maybe you’re right”, proved to be beautifully addictive. David Ingram’s new band, Down among the dead men, came up with an album which is very enjoyable, albeit, in my opinion, quite repetitive. Exterminate! Annihilate! Destroy! is a mix of classic hardcore and death metal with Ingram’s trademark growls and hooky vocal patterns. Some of my favourite songs include “Unearthly child”, “Tooth and claw” and horreThe ambassadors of death“. Horrendous is another band whose debut album (The chills, 2012) drew heavily on Entombed’s first two albums. I thought it was an ok debut, which is more than I can say about their sophomore album which I found boring. Their new album titled Anareta is quite different from its predecessors, as it is more melodic and complex – but overall conventional – and quite pleasant. Similar riffs and arrangements can be found on some classic US prog death metal albums, such as Death’s The Sound of perseverance (1998) and Cynic’s Focus (1993), although Horrendous occasionally break into more furious brutal tremolo-picking, as on the songs “Polaris” and “Sum of all failures“. The rapid riffs and vocal patterns of “Acolytes” also bring into mind late 80s-early 90s Pestilence. As opposed to the aforementioned bands, however, Horrendous, in my opinion do not succeed, or maybe are not interested, in weaving all the different riffs/sections into coherent narratives. Still, this is a very good album with loads of things to be discovered. Tribulation‘s Children 0f the night monopolised my attention for a while and I still consider it a very good album. In my mind it sounds like the combination of Dark Tranquility’s Haven (2000), Septic Flesh’s Revolution DNA (1999), and Sentenced’s Frozen (1998). In other words, it is a very melancholic and melodic metal album, conforming to traditional Rock/metal structures, and, despite the growling vocals, I wouldn’t characterise it as extreme. Moreover, all the songs are slow/mid-paced and the melodies are similar, and even though I like the stylistic consistency and I was initially impressed, I got tired of it quite quickly.

Blind-Guardian-Beyond-The-Red-Mirror1. Blind Guardian – Beyond the red mirror

Beyond the red mirror is my favourite album from 2015 and there is only one serious contender to it (see next choice on the list). Comparing any band to Blind Guardian has become ridiculously meaningless over the years. The majority of heavy metal bands still seem to be stuck to the typical compositional canon of verse-chorus-verse. Comparing these bands to Blind Guardian is completely unfair since the latter abandoned this recipe as early as in the early 1990s. While Blind Guardian songs still have choruses and repeating themes, they cannot by any means be reduced to typical popular songs. The manner in which themes develop, constantly change, or are briefly interrupted by new melodies and themes, is breathtaking. The pleasure I can derive from each single song off Beyond the red mirror, exceeds pleasure derived from other bands’ entire albums. The album opens majestically with a choir performing a melody reminiscent of Orff’s Carmina Burana, setting the mood for the remainder of the album. “The ninth wave” is a great opener, but it is not by any means my favourite song on the album, as I find it a bit patchy and too orchestral for my taste. The following song “Twilight of the gods” is a beautiful song, the most conventional one in the album, full of amazing melodies, riffs and an awe-inspiring ending. “At the edge of time” is the song that strays the most from what Blind Guardian have done in the past, due to its theatrical/operatic character and the dominant role of the orchestra. It is a very different but magnificent song all the same. Overall, Hansi’s melodies are enchanting, and the riff-orchestration is magnificent. There are some razor-sharp riffs that would make death metal bands blush. There are some super heavy grooves and riffs that allude to the grandeur of Black Sabbath (such as the amazing rhythm guitars throughout “Sacred mind“). This band knows how to keep things interesting by slipping in short sentences (like on “Sacred mind” the phrase, “chance or predestined end”, near the end), explosive mood changing passages (such as “wake the witch who’ll be the brave one, don’t say what it’s like…etc.”, on “The holy grail“), or themes that offer resolution (such as the end of “Prophesies” – “But don’t be afraid, there’s more beyond the red door, but please ignore their pleas, just break the seal…etc.”).

There’s a couple of things that I dislike about this, otherwise perfect, album. Firstly, although some of the orchestral parts are amazing, like in “Grande parade”, a purely astounding song, in many other songs the orchestra seems to be consuming the electric instruments. Rhythm guitars are an essential element to Guardian’s sound and, in my opinion, they are too low in the mix. Most rhythm guitar parts in this album are astonishing, yet they are often buried under the orchestra and the drums. That’s a pity. Secondly, on their quest to create a flawless masterpiece I am afraid that Blind Guardian forgot to make an album that sounds “real”. I bet that the producer/band picked out the best version of any chorus and copy-pasted it from one section to the other (the most obvious example is the song “The throne”, an otherwise monumental masterpiece of epic proportions). While I understand that this might be common practice in the music industry, I would expect bands like Blind Guardian that respect themselves to refrain from it. Just because a section is repeated doesn’t mean it should be copied and pasted. I’m thinking of “Lionheart” from the album A twist in the myth, where small changes in the way Hansi sings the chorus, like that amazing trill he does with his voice the second time (on the word “easier”) adds to the song in such a big way. In any case, despite these minor hiccups, this is an astounding album.

SlayerRepentless2. Slayer – Repentless

Slayer’s new album is the only serious contender to Blind Guardian’s masterpiece. As a teenager, and like many other people around the world, I accepted Slayer as a unique band, as a band that is brilliant in ways other bands cannot even dream of. In recent years I came to realise that those elements that made me love Slayer back in the day are actually contested by many fans of heavy metal. For example, for some reason many heavy metal fans feel the need to express their dislike for Araya’s vocals and for Jeff’s and Kerry’s guitar-playing abilities. Those things have never been an issue for me; Araya’s vocals and Slayer’s guitar solos are two of the things that attracted me to them. I have also come to realise that most of those people who bash Slayer really enjoy criticising Kerry’s song-writing ability. Again that has never been an issue with me. I am not into Slayer just because of Jeff’s songs. Kerry-penned songs like “Piece by piece” , “Praise of death”, “Expendable youth”, “Temptation”, “Sex, murder, art”, “Circle of beliefs”, and so on, have been among my all time favourite Slayer songs.

Having said that, I have to admit that knowing that all songs but one on the new album were written by Kerry, I was a bit reserved. This is because part of the thing that made Slayer special was the juxtaposition of Jeff’s to Kerry’s style. My expectations were a bit lower than they would usually be. This does not mean that because it is one of my favourite bands I don’t have high expectations. Whenever I listen to a new album by an established band I ask myself the question, “If this were the album of a new band, not an established one that I am emotionally invested in, would I like it?”. The answer to this question with regard to “Repentless” is a resounding “yes”. After having listened to the new album literally hundreds of times I can say with certainty that I love it. I actually loved it from the first time I listened to it, and it makes me feel grateful for Slayer not breaking up after Jeff’s demise. Kerry really stepped up and offered some of his best songs yet. The stylistic homogeneity of the album is comforting and each song is beautifully crafted, loyal to the superior style that Slayer accomplished early on in their career. While some songs follow the traditional intro riff-verse-chorus formula (“Repentless”, “Cast the first stone”, “Atrocity vendor”), there are always variations that stir things up. On “Cast the first stone” (what a masterpiece!) after the second and third chorus an awesome trill-riff interrupts the normal flow, on top of Araya’s monumental voice screaming ‘When the war-cries echo, sacrifice is you’, and ‘On fields of blood you will pay’, respectively. The relentless beating on songs like “Repentless“, “Implode” and the excellently re-imagined “Atrocity vendor” are godly! The final section of “Implode” sends chills down my spine. The punky “You against you” (some excellent dissonant soloing on this one) is very refreshing and brilliantly captures the youthful mood of Undisputed attitude (1996). The dark/disturbing aesthetics of “When the stillness comes” – both musical and lyrical – is again unique; only Slayer can pull off such an awesome song. The way Tom sings the last verse is chilling, and the lyrics are the best on a killer-themed song since “213” in 1994 (Kerry has been ambivalent about who wrote the lyrics. Here he says he wrote them, while here he says Tom wrote them). “Piano wire”, one of Jeff’s final songs, is a song built around Jeff’s trademark dissonant chords, accompanied by Araya’s growling, semi-dazed voice, and a weird, unsettling chorus (the fast section with the solo sounds more like something Kerry would write). The musical narrative on songs like “Vices” and “Pride in prejudice” (the latter referring to police violence against African-Americans) is so compelling that, in my ears, are instant classics.

This is an album chock-full of awesome and catchy choruses, great song structures, and, in several occasions, really good lyrics. Kerry – as in Seasons in the abyss (1990), Divine intervention (1994), and Christ Illusion (2006) – is in top form. Tom deserves special mention as I think that he gives his best performance maybe since Seasons. On many songs I can actually hear him getting more pissed-off as the song advances! For instance, on “Atrocity vendor” by the time he sings the last chorus he is basically growling. For sure there are some minor repetitions here and there, for example the vocal pattern of “Repentless” is similar to the one in “Consfearacy”, but that’s somewhat typical for Slayer (remember how “Reborn”, off Reign in blood (1986), has the same vocal pattern as “Hell awaits”, or how “Praise of death” sounds a lot like “Necrophiliac”?). Overall, I consider this as a truly amazing album that I would not hesitate to characterise as a masterpiece. Slayer is a superior band, and by sticking to the style they invented and know best they casually created an album that stands out in the crowd of ever-expanding metal bands, many of whom are good but cannot even dream of creating something so unique and timeless.

the-judgement-scanner-new-album-20143. Scanner – The judgement

The last time a power metal album appeared on my best-of list was 2010. This year, however, two power metal albums unequivocally crept their way into my best-of list. Scanner is another German heavy metal band that I have always loved, and they happened to release a new album in this great for German power metal year. While Scanner started about the same time as Blind Guardian  – and in the mid-90s they were even compared to them – they always had their own identity that stands out among their peers. Unfortunately, I don’t have the words to describe what this identity consists of. I would say that Axel’s writing style is unique and that I would be able to identify it any time, but I cannot explain why. I guess it has something to do with the darkness his music evokes; lots of minor chord progressions and heavier riffs than most power metal bands. At any rate, Ball of the damned (1996) and Mental reservation (1994) are up there with the two Keeper albums (1987; 1988), Missing link (1993) and Perfect man (1988) and most Blind Guardian albums. While Blind Guardian evolved into something that can hardly be compared to their late 80s-early 90s days, The judgement could have easily been released during that period. All songs can be characterised as traditional heavy/power metal songs, with Scanner’s uniquely imaginative trademark sound. I find the new singer to be a particularly interesting case. At times I find his singing style too simplistic and, hence, unfitting for the leading role of singers in power metal bands. For example on the song “F.T.B” his singing is quite monotonous and dry and reminds me a lot of Casey Royer of D.I. on songs like “Pervert nurse”. However, at other times I feel that he might be a genius. His performance on songs like “Eutopia“, “Known better“, “Battle of Poseidon” or “Legionary” is astounding, and those high-pitched screams are just insane! The album opens with an awesome intro that is reminiscent of the Halloween theme tune by John Carpenter. There’s not much I can say about the rest of the songs, other than they are all instantly classic power metal masterpieces. Axel has easily come up with some of his best riffs and melodies yet. Listening to the opening riff of “Eutopia” and the beautiful mellow instrumental part half-way through (so classy!), the brutal rhythm section of “Known better” and the brilliant chorus, the background melody on the verses of “Nevermore”, I get chills down my spine. A classic album. Favourite songs: “Known better”, “Nevermore”, “Battle of Poseidon”, “Eutopia”, “The race”, “Legionary”.

Paradise-Lost-The-Plague-Within4. Paradise Lost – The plague within

It’s been three years since the last masterpiece by Paradise Lost. Over the last decade Paradise Lost has established itself as one of my three all time favourite bands (alongside Napalm Death and Blind Guardian), and with good reason. Paradise Lost belongs to that under-populated category of bands whose new material stands proudly to its early masterpieces. The band’s last three albums are reminiscent of the brilliant Icon (1993) and Draconian times (1995). The new album explores the more dissonant melodies and depressing mood originally found in Shades of god (1992). Mackintosh proves once more that he is one of the most important contemporary musicians. Compositions such as the Baroquesque “Beneath broken earth”, a masterfully crafted death-doom hymn, challenge popular notions of melody and composition in the metal genre. The tapped melody on the chorus of “Victim of the past” sends chills down my spine. The structure and melodies of “An eternity of lies” are breath-taking. Holmes revisits his growling vocals, something he hasn’t done since 1992, which prevail throughout the album. I personally think that either the band or the producer consciously decided to not overproduce Holmes’ vocals, hence keeping them more true to his abilities and his live performance. That’s a good thing because for almost two decades now his live performance pales in comparison to the studio “performance”. Finally, I have to confess that each time a new PL album comes out I can’t help but think how much better it would have sounded if Matthew Archer played the drums. This doesn’t mean that Adrian is not good, but rather that I prefer Matthew’s style for Paradise Lost. Favourite songs: “Beneath broken earth”, “Victim of the past”, “An eternity of lies”, “Terminal” (what a chorus!!!), “Return to the sun“, “Sacrifice the flame”.

Print5. Enforcer – From Beyond

I initially thought that Enforcer’s new album is much better than Death by fire (2013) but not as good as the brilliant Diamonds (2010). I now think that it is equally good – if not better – to Diamonds, despite lacking an obvious stand-out masterpiece like “Katana”. The style is closer to Diamonds, as the balance tips towards mid-tempo songs, with only two fast songs, the instant classic “Destroyer”, and the unrelenting “Hell will follow” (reminiscent of the early German speed metal of Avenger), which has an amazingly furious instrumental change half-way through, as well as three other up-tempo songs, “Banshee”, “Farewell” and the Axel Rudy Pell-ish “One with fire“. “Farewell” is a masterpiece, and probably my favourite song on the album. It is driven by a pull-off riff slightly reminiscent of Maiden’s “Flash of the blade”, and a hook on the chorus which is simply fantastic. Enforcer continue the tradition of reserving the 6th spot in the playlist for an awesome instrumental song that pays tribute to Iron Maiden (on songs like “Genghis Khan”) and Satan (on songs like “The ritual”). The melancholic mood and vocals in the melancholic but powerful “Below the slumber” are a bit reminiscent of Crimson Glory. Part of the verse vocal melody of “From beyond” is a rip-off of “The final countdown” by Europe, but the rest of the song is totally different; a very memorable and awesome song. I urge everyone who loves the classic NWOBHM sound (awesome twin-guitar melodies and beautiful solos) mixed with some German influences (fast sharp riffs and screaming vocals) to get this album.

BlackTripShadowline6. Black Trip – Shadowline

The second album by the new Swedish heavy metal gods Black Trip is awesome. I don’t think I will ever like it as much as their debut which is one of the best heavy metal debuts ever made, but I consider it to be a good successor. The main difference between the two albums is that Peter is not the sole composer this time around. Instead, Joseph contributes two songs (“Shadowline”, “The storm”) and a short instrumental, Jonas one song (“Berlin Model 32”), and Sebastian another one (“Scenery”). Sebastian’s song is a bit more rock-orientated, even reminiscent of Imperial State Electric. The listener of this beautiful album will be happy to encounter enchanting opening riffs that flirt with NWOBHM and British hard rock conventions, excellent twin-guitar solos and melodies, awesome vocals that are melodious yet powerful, and great musicianship overall. My favourite songs are “Over the worldly wall”, “Clockworks“, “Subvisual sleep”, “Shadowline”, and “Danger”.

115004_original_14417099037. Iron Maiden – The book of souls

I haven’t been so excited about a Maiden album since The X factor (1995), which I adore to this day. While I thought that all the albums since Bruce and Adrian’s return had some awesome songs worthy of the Maiden legacy, I also thought that most songs were boring. For one thing, Adrian took over as a composer and Steve’s input decreased considerably. I thought that Dance of death (2003) had many excellent songs, mainly those written by Gers and Murray, and that A matter of life and death (2006) was overall really good, albeit unexciting (with the exception of the standout “The pilgrim”). In my opinion, the new album goes down a different path to the one Maiden have been going down for many years now. The band pulls off some gems that hint to the glory days of the 1980s. The album opens in a majestic way with Dickinson’s “If eternity should fail”, a song full of great vocal-melodies, a big chorus, a fast mid-section with a catchy guitar harmony, and an epic ending. I haven’t heard such a good beginning on a Maiden album since The X factor (1995). I am quite happy that they have abandoned the cringy radio-friendly, supposedly “hit” short songs that opened their albums between Virtual XI (1998) and A matter of life and death (2006). The eponymous song is an epic masterpiece crafted by Gers and Harris, with a super heavy main riff, brilliant melody on the chorus, and an amazing faster-paced change. Dickinson’s performance brings it to new heights. This song reminds me of the Maiden of my youth, when I thought that they were they best band in the planet. An awesome song like “Tears of a clown” manifests a band capable of fashioning typical, old-school heavy metal tunes that bring into mind the No prayer for the dying (1990) and Fear of the dark (1992) period (ironically it is partially written by Smith). “Death or glory” is similarly an old-school heavy metal song with amazing vocal melodies and memorable riffs. “The red and the black” is along with the eponymous song an absolute masterpiece written in the unconventional melody lines that plague Steve Harris’ mind for 40 years now. The twin guitar melodies in the end of the song are pure brilliance! “When the river runs deep” starts off with a riff whose fury is reminiscent of something Smith would have written in the mid-80s. Overall, I consider it a very enjoyable album that reminds us that Maiden is the best heavy metal band that has ever been. As it has been the case for many years now, the production sucks.

Napalm-Death-Apex-Predator-Easy-Meat8. Napalm Death – Apex predator/ Easy meat

Napalm Death’s new album is, to my ears, very similar to 2012’s Utilitarian. The main difference between these last two albums and those that were released between 2000 and 2009 is that the former have lots of songs that flirt with the pure noise conventions of grindcore, while the latter had much more thought-through and riff-orientated songs. Indeed Apex predator might be the noisiest album with which ND have ever come up. Most of Mitch’s songs are characterised by the typical cross-over style strumming and beat, with the exception of the hyper-fast “Stunt your growth”, the slow and agonising “Dear slum landlord”, and the slightly groovier “Timeless flogging”. Embury provides the cuts that, in my opinion, stand-out more such as “Hierarchies“, “Cesspits” and “How the years condemn“. All in all, ND once more maintain high levels of healthy aggression and offer some pretty diverse and exciting songwriting.

Satan_Atom_By_Atom9. Satan – Atom by atom

Satan can make both its contemporaries (e.g. Iron Maiden) and the young bands of the new wave of old heavy metal alike blush! Bands like Maiden still write awesome songs  but they have completely lost their edge and energy, and newcomers like Enforcer, lack the sophistication of old bands that know their craft. Satan is both energetic and powerful, and sophisticated. The new album is beautiful. The riffs and arrangements bring to mind great moments in metal history such as Megadeth‘s Rust in peace (1990, which was influenced by Satan in the first place!) or Mercyful Fate. The riffing is the highlight of this album. The songs are riff driven, rather than melody driven. Indeed, sometimes the vocal lines feel kind of monotonous and some songs sound like instrumentals for which the vocals was an afterthought (the vocals reminded me of Germany’s Paradox from time to time). The music is nevertheless fascinating, and lots of the vocal melodies are also beautiful and add an extra layer of awesomeness (such as on the eponymous song). Favourite songs: “Atom by atom”, “Ahriman”, “The devil’s infantry“.

ungod10. Morgoth – Ungod

I found Morgoth’s new album to be very good, albeit a bit monotonous; the first couple of times I listened to it, it felt a bit like it was composed off one long song with minor variations. It took a few listens to appreciate its subtle beauty. This album is often reminiscent of the more atmospheric moments of Odium (1993), and at times offers the raw brutality of Cursed (1991). Songs like “Voice of slumber“, “Snakestate” and “God is evil” are hard to find these days and make my skin crawl with sweet nostalgia. The beginning of “Snakestate” is like it came straight out of Odium. “Black enemy”‘ has one of the most memorable choruses that Morgoth have written, and they sure have their share of memorable choruses. The same song is a perfect example of Morgoth’s unique style of building tension that is eventually released through a fast two-beat (kick-snare) drum pattern. While the overall sound is loyal to Morgoth’s trademark style of slow and agonising tremolo-picking, reminiscent of Death‘s “Pull the plug” (the pre-chorus bit), there are also some new elements in their sound, such as the beautifully harmonised melody on the chorus of “Descent into hell”. Karsten Jager who replaced Marc Grewe – a genius vocalist who absolutely defined the brilliance of the old Morgoth albums, as well as Comecon’s third album – is doing a very good job imitating his predecessor. Lyricwise, one can find the usual death metal themes around murder, pain and suffering, but also hints of a critique of capitalist exploitation of the environment and the masses. Harald Busse’s lyrics particularly are very nice, and the rest of the lyrics are not bad either. Also, listening to the song “Nemesis” whilst reading Lovecraft’s chilling poem (not included in the lyric sheet, I imagine for copyright-related reasons) is pretty awesome. The cover artwork and general design are outstanding.


Is this where I came from? #6 Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Slayer

Slayer‘s Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman have always been vocal about the immense influence of British heavy metal on their musical identity. In this, the sixth installment of “Is this where I came from?”, I put forward the hypothesis that Black Sabbath and Judas Priest inspired Jeff Hanneman of Slayer to compose one of metal’s most beautiful and recognisable riffs of all times.

judasJudas Priest – Killing machine (1978)

Killing machine is the first Judas Priest albums I ever heard, and although I prefer Sad wings of destiny (1976), Sin after sin (1977), Defenders of the faith (1984), and Painkiller (1990), I still like it a lot and contains some of the best songs ever written. The eponymous song, “Killing machine”, is written by Glen Tipton. In the beginning of the song the two guitarists alternate the same riff between them; the riff ends on the G-flat note and goes on feedback, during which the same riff begins again. This routine is repeated twice before Halford starts singing. While it is not one of my favourite tunes, I still think it is a really cool effect.

bev_bevan_blach_sabbath_1987Black Sabbath – Eternal idol (1987)

The eternal idol might not be one of my favourite Black Sabbath albums, but I do think it has some of the best Black Sabbath songs ever; “Glory ride”, “Nightmare”, “Lost forever”, and “Eternal idol”, are simply awesome songs! I consider the song “Eternal idol” to be the highlight of the album. It starts with a slow, dark and heavy riff that showcases Tony Iommi’s trademark compositional style and inimitable feel for the sinister. (I personally believe that the atmosphere and the vocal lines on that song – the latter originally written by Ray Gillen – were the blueprint for Psychotic Waltz‘s “Into the everflow”.) As I demonstrate next, this riff bears a strong resemblance to “Dead skin mask”.

slayer-1990Slayer – Dead Skin Mask (1990)

Many years ago I made the connection that the intro riff of “Dead skin mask” was probably influenced by “Killing machine”, but I did not think it was worth writing about. What convinced me and made it worthwhile is a video of Kerry King I just saw, in which he acknowledges, in passing, the influence of Judas Priest on “Dead skin mask”. “Dead skin mask” utilises the same logic of “Killing machine”. The two guitarists take turns playing the same riff, although in the case of Slayer the riff ends on a different note each time, one riff ends on E-flat and the other on G-sharp.

The resemblance that Slayer’s intro riff bears to Black Sabbath’s “Eternal idol” is uncanny. First of all, both bands use E-flat tuning (all strings tuned down half a step). Both riffs are played on the same chord and with the same rhythm. In both songs the first four notes of the first section of the riff are exactly the same. However, the second section of both riffs is slightly different, plus, the Slayer riff is faster and develops further. The result of the combination of Judas Priest’s alternating effect and Black Sabbath’s nightmarish note progression is chilling.