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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.

2015 PLAYLIST



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.



Now I sleep, the city weeps, hush: monumental song endings

One of the characteristics of old school death metal is that it is dramatic. It is a captivating type of music that commands the full attention of the listener. Old school death metal was never meant to be background music. It is full of twists and turns and every song has a rich narrative music-wise, independently of the lyrical content. Because most songs are complex musical stories, at any point of the song something new and interesting is bound to happen.

I think that in popular music performers are aiming to capture an audience with the opening notes of a song. In this post I will focus on the very last few seconds of songs. I will present songs that manage to excite me not with their intro, their chorus or an impressive guitar solo, but with their ending. This post will be an open one, meaning that every time I think of another song with a brilliant ending I will add it to the list. In this first version of the post I present five brilliant death metal songs, and I also throw in an awesome thrash song which would be a crime to ignore.

1. Benediction – Jumping at shadows

benedictionBenediction’s unholy trinity, namely The grand leveler (1991) – Transcend the Rubicon(1993) – The dreams you dread (1995), will always be among my all time favourite albums. From the beginning what set Benediction apart from their peers was the swampy, claustrophobic atmosphere, laden with murderous intent. Their obsession with serial killers combined with the murky musicality produced a chilling effect in all these releases. “Jumping at shadows” in paradigmatic of the terrifying atmosphere that only Benediction are capable of producing. The song describes the activities of David Berkowitz, a serial killer in the US who coined for himself the title “Son of Sam”, and the lyrics themselves have been paraphrased from letters sent by Berkowitz. The ending of the song sends chills down my spine: “now I sleep…the city weeps…hush”.

2. Suffocation – Surgery of impalement

Suffocation1Only a few bands can make one want to jump out of their body, and Suffocation is definitely one of them. Suffocation defined heaviness and brutality with their first album, an album that inadvertently paved the way for brutal music, with its razor-sharp triplet riffs, monolithic breakdowns and deep guttural vocals. Suffocation took a break for a few years after 1998 and returned in 2004 with a beast of an album titled Souls to deny. It is an offering that, in my ears, competes with any of their old albums for the title of the best Suffocation album. “Surgery of impalement” comes from this monumental comeback album. Its ending is pure brutality.

3. Carcass – Cadaver pouch conveyor system

Carcass-BandIt takes a unique musical chemistry to manage to offer something awesome after having already contributed some of the most innovative and genre-defining music in the world. Carcass did that with their comeback album Surgical steel (2013). If there’s one thing missing from contemporary brutal death metal is the sense of groove, not only in riffing but also in singing. Contemporary brutal death bands might be able to play a thousand notes per minute but the lack in ability – or are not interested – in composing clever musical phrases and rhythms that can hook the listener. The main riff of this song, the drum beat, Jeff’s performance and the perfectly applied guttural vocals – courtesy of Bill Steer – at the end of this song manage to do exactly that.

4. Kataklysm – Exode of evils

k3Sylvain Houde will always be one of the most creative singers that have ever passed through the infernal gates of death metal. Only a few singers have sung with such passion. Sylvain’s passion denotes an insanity which does not come across as fake, as a gimmick of death metal conventions. His insanity is 100% credible! Temple of knowledge (1996) is a monumental, absolutely unique album. Sylvain’s insane performance grants it uniqueness. In the end of “Exode of evils” the listener that has survived the relentless attack finds themselves faced with an infernal chant that can only mean that the worst is yet to come.

5. Malevolent Creation – Monster

retributRetribution has always been my favourite Malevolent Creation album and one of my favorite death metal albums from the US. The chemistry in this album, and especially the presence of the impeccable Alex Marquez, is unmatched and the band is on fire offering some of the most aggressive death metal ever recorded. Special reference should be made to the unique Scott Burns who applied his magic to this recording and brought the best out of the band. “Monster”, from beginning to end, is pure violence.

6. Slayer – Beauty through order

slayer-pr2-smallIn their heyday, Slayer have still been capable of producing earth-shattering musical attacks. World painted blood is an excellent album and a sad example of how a bad producer can fuck up awesome music. “Beauty through order”, my favourite song off this album, showcases an amazing chemistry that unfortunately will never be captured again; Jeff’s compositional prowess, Araya’s manic vocal performance and Lombardo’s genius drumming (here placing in the most appropriately genius way a devastating double bass drum attack) create one of the best endings I have heard in my life!

 



Jeff Hanneman (1964-…)
June 10, 2013, 10:05 pm
Filed under: metal, people | Tags: , , , ,

god-listens-to-slayer-400x289

Jeff Hanneman’s death affected me, as well as thousands of Slayer fans around the world, in a profound way.  Slayer is such an over-the-top band that I could never imagine any of its members dying.  Slayer have always been in a league of their own. Something like Iron Maiden. Nobody can even dare to imitate them. At the same time they influenced every single extreme metal band that followed. Slayer command our respect and we give it without much hesitation. From the moment Slayer started making music, all our defences were down. Slayer is one of those entities which could easily achieve religious status. People would follow them blindly. No wonder the extreme displays of devotion that Slayer fans have shown over the years. Slayer is an institution. Institutions can seize to exist when they become irrelevant, when the people stop wanting them. The institution doesn’t just go and die by itself.

Much of the credit for what Slayer have achieved goes to Jeff Hanneman. That is why we cannot believe that Jeff Hanneman is dead. Because he was an institution, something that transcended mortal life. Jeff Hanneman could not die. With Hanneman dead, our belief system is compromised, our constants in life have suffered a great blow.

Having said that, I feel I have to acknowledge that probably I belong to an older generation which unconditionally loved Slayer. When I was young nobody had something negative to say about Slayer. Ok, there were those sad little people who did not like Divine Intervention. However, that was nothing else than a childish reaction effected by Lombardo’s replacement with Bostaph. If you think about it, all the Slayer hate started because the Slayer institution that was already established was under threat! A central part of its logic was compromised, so the (less forgiving) followers reacted. Music had nothing to do with it. This album has some of the best music ever recorded. Anyway, the last few years that I have started following the various metal webzines, I have realised that younger generations do not show the same unconditional devotion that the older generations used to show. All of a sudden, King’s and Hanneman’s solos are sloppy, Araya’s vocals suck, etc. These remarks are indicative of a complete lack of understanding of Slayer’s work and mission in this planet. They, moreover, show that tFuck-You-Jeff-Hannemanhe people behind them have probably not grown up listening to Slayer. They grew up having a completely different understanding of what extreme music is. I can understand that if the first extreme metal band one listened to was The Dillinger Escape Plan, it would be difficult to understand Slayer, because of the different expectations that were created. Nevertheless, in this hour of sadness I would like to send a big “fuck off” to all the Slayer haters out there.

And then we are also faced with the question, should Slayer continue or quit now that Jeff is dead? Jeff may have died, but people on the internet argue over what he would want the rest of the band members to do now that he is dead.  Agency after death. Some fans think that he would want the band  to continue playing.  Some others don’t take into account Jeff’s supposed postmortem agency and argue that they should call it quits. They argue that calling it quits would be the ultimate form of respect towards him.

For me personally, it is very sad to think of Slayer without either Jeff, Kerry or Tom. It is not a matter of them not being Slayer anymore. It is more about being reminded that once Jeff was standing there beside them and now he is not. I am pretty sure Kerry and Tom can still create good music and lyrics. I always loved Kerry’s music equally to Jeff’s. Their styles are different but both necessary ingredients in the Slayer sound.  I do not doubt that the remaining Slayer can create a good album and I would not like them to quit. But seeing them live knowing that Jeff can never again be with them, will always feel awkward and painful.

Jeff

p.s. It goes without saying that Jeff has been a musical innovator and an uncompromising genious, whose contribution is unparalleled. Coming up with his best songs is impossible. However, I present here ten of my all time favorite Jeff Hanneman penned songs: Dead Skin Mask (lyrics by Araya), Seasons in the Abyss (lyrics by Araya), 213 (lyrics by Araya), Necrophiliac (some lyrics by King), Raining Blood (some lyrics by King), Behind the crooked cross, Beauty through order, Black serenade (some lyrics by Araya), South of heaven (lyrics by Araya), Psychopathy red



What music the first decade of the millenium gave us

I can approach this question in two different ways, the following: what personally blew me away, what appears to have made an impact on the music scene. Let’s start with the second one and some comparison with the 90s. The 90s introduced some hallmark records and even scenes. The early 90s kicked off in the underground with swedish death metal and a sound that is being copied today by thousands of bands. These monumental albums include Entombed‘s Left Hand Path, Carnage‘s Dark Recollections and Dismember‘s Like an Ever Flowing Stream. The mid-90s offered the definitive death metal album, At The Gates‘ Slaughter of the soul, which also created a school of its own and even mainstream nu-metal bands today rip it off without even knowing they’re doing so! I won’t refer to the USA since the death metal revolution came earlier in the late 80s there, although there is still technical death metal monuments like all albums from Death, Cynic, and brutal technical death metal like Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse and Monstrosity. The late 90s, however, in the USA introduced a style that would eventually make its impact in the first few years of the 2000s. Other notable musical revolutions of the nineties include of course Grunge and Nirvana‘s Nevermind, whose success led to an unprecedented parade of grunge bands, Radiohead‘s OK Computer, which reinvented progressive rock, the Bristol scene with bands like Portishead, The Hives, whose monumental first album (accompanied by some post-punk albums of the late 70s-early 80s) sowed the seeds for an awful pop-rock generation of bands like Franz Ferdinand et al, and of course the re-invention of Garage-punk-rock, first with American bands like The Humpers, later on with Scandinavian bands like Turbonegro and The Hellacopters. Many other novel things can be said about this decade, on cover art (Dan Seagrave), video-clips (Tarshem Singh’s Losing My Religion), etc.  Now what about the 2000s?

I am afraid that as far as death metal goes, the only notable records that had an impact on the scene would be Dying Fetus‘s amazing Destroy the Opposition (2000) and Pig Destroyer‘s Prowler in the Yard (2001). Destroy the Opposition is a monument of sheer brutality, full of the infamous break-downs and blast-beats that today’s kids value so much. Of course, the origins of the new wave of brutal death metal scene that rose in prominence in the early 2000s (Origin, Disavowed, Disgorge, Severe Torture, many many more) can be found earlier in early Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Carcass, or even early Deeds of Flesh and Dehumanized. Nevertheless, the more recent additions to the scene, such as The Red Chord and more uninspired and plain silly bands such as Suicide Silence that seem to plague the brutal scene today, definitely owe much to Pig Destroyer and Dying Fetus. As far as softer metal goes, the first thing that comes in mind is System of a Down‘s Toxicity. A perfect album which has a little bit of something for everyone. I can describe it as thrash fuelled mainstream hardcore-punk. Many utterly insignificant nu-metal boy-bands tried to copy them and failed miserably, I don’t even remember their names. In pop-rock, the Hives‘ second album Veni Vidi Vicious (2000), with songs like Hate to say I told you so, gave the ultimate push to bands like Franz Ferdinand who then established this obnoxious “hiccups” pop-rock that half of the bands featured in stupid NME (a british pop-rock magazine) play. In hardcore-punk some kind of an innovation that had an impact the scene hadn’t seen for many many years, came with brutal hardcore bands like Tragedy, Severed Head of State and From Ashes Rise. These bands influenced hundreds of underground bands around the world with their death metal infested d-beat hardcore. In a way, through paying attention to production and adopting a dark image, they have made hardcore-punk mainstream again. Cornerstones from this scene include Tragedy’s self titled album and Vengeance, Severed Head of State’s Anathema device and From Ashes Rise’s Nightmares. I honestly cannot think of something else that can be considered to have an impact on music the last ten years…

Now what personally blew me away! I have to admit that 80% of what I listen to came out before the mid-90s. However, there are some records that have definetely had a huge impact on me the last ten years. Here’s 20 of them:

1. Napalm Death – Enemy of the Music business (2000) The band’s first album for the millenium is their undisputed masterpiece, surrounded of course by previous and after masterpieces. However, this album’s  collaboration among musicians, musical variety, intensity and production are beyond belief! And the way it kicks off, ohhhhhh!!!

2. Dying Fetus – Destroy the Opposition (2000) The band’s third proper album, and not that much different from the previous one. However, the production in this album does justice to the capabilities of the musicians. Amazing break downs and grind, Kevin Taley is really unstopable, amazing vocals especially by Netherton, and the lyrics are just genious! It certainly kept me busy for at least two years and I still think that it paved the way on how modern death should sound. And the way it kicks off, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

3. Nomeansno – All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt (2006) After more than two decades the band keeps delivering awesome music. Less dark, a bit more happy but equally pessimistic with One and also a bit more punky, this album comprises a remedy in a world of talentless and uninnovative popular bands. And yes…the way it kicks off, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

4. Paradise Lost – Faith Divides us, Death Unites Us (2009) The entire Paradise Lost’s output over the last ten years deserves to be here! Probably the best thing metal music has to offer. The latest album is among the few albums that I feel like saying “I am proud I have lived to experience the release of this album!”. Hands down the best album of the year. My ears still cannot believe what they hear

5. Bad Religion – Process of Belief (2002) A great comeback for the band, after a couple of not so amazing albums. The new drummer definetely spiced things up and of course the same goes for the return of Brett Gurewitz. The power of this album and the diversity of songs is unique.

6. Tragedy – Vengeance (2002) A cornerstone of the new wave of brutal hardcore. Some Bolt Thrower and Amebix touches mixed with british and swedish d-beat (and why not some melodies bring in mind Strebers!) and two AMAZING singers make the difference. Dolefull, polemic, offensive, heavy and intense. Vengeance is among the best songs ever writen.

7. Propagandhi – Today’s Empires, tomorrow’s Ashes (2001) See previous post on the best punk albums from North America…

8.  Sokratis Malamas – Ena (2002) A composer that has influenced me a lot and is capable of doing what greek people say “education of the soul” (ψυχαγωγία), instead of entertainment. An album that sounds extremely personal, even though most of the lyrics belong to other artists/poets. Nevertheless, this somewhat outright cooperation with some genious lyricists gave birth to this gem of contemporary music. Traditional, ethnic, classical and modern influences blent together make this album so precious to me. (της σιωπης)

9. Thanasis Papakonstantinou – Vrachnos Profitis (2000) Everything I say for the previous artist apply here as well. The only difference is that here rock music is ever present  in the mix, a venture tried many times before by various greek artists but never had this result.

10. The Hellacopters – High Visibility (2000) One of the best things that happened in the world of music the last 20 years. This album, which kicks off exactly like TYR from Black Sabbath, has both the energy of the previous ones with the bluesy feeling of the ones that followed. What is amazing about this album, and this band in general, is that it manages to distill all the good elements of 60s and 70s rock and to throw away all the cock-rock mentality. This album makes me wanna play the guitar!

11. Broken Hope – Grotesque Blessings (2000) Monumental album which also set new standards in death metal. This album is unconventional and honest. It is totally unique in the sense that it sounds like nothing else. The melodies are from another dimension, and the lyrics are ingenious! An album that I never got bored of, because it has so much detail in its inventive structures. Masterpiece!

12. Immolation – Unholly Cult (2002) I was not sure if I should put this or the previous album here. The reason why I chose this one, is because it is more accessible. It has songs that you can remember, with bridges, choruses and everything. And they are all inspired like hell! I realised after years of listening to death metal, that at the end of the day what matters is not a thousand notes per minute or a hundred riffs per song. What matters is a good structure with a begining and an end, and songs that will be different from each other on their entirety as entities and not as riffs glued together. This is what Immolation always delivered.

13. Death Breath – Stinking Up the Night (2006) You have Nicke’s compositional skills, music and lyrics,  and Jorgen’s and Scott’s voice in one album. What else can one wish for? Christ all fucking mighty must be one of the best songs ever writen…

14. Entombed – Serpent Saints (2007) New line-up and a fierce return to 100% death metal for Entombed. Arguably the record I’ve been looking forward to for more than a decade (although I love all entombed albums before that)! Again here we have an amazing beginning and ending of the album, just like old times. In between we have a big variety of amazing songs, one better from the other! Once again old bands show how music should be played, and that does not include flawless musicianship, a thousand notes per minute and fake plastic productions, just passion and inspiration.

15. New Model Army – Carnival (2005) Surrounded by new musicians, Sullivan makes an impressive return with both this and the previous album (Eight). Much heavier and organic sound in relation to a glorious past, this album has made me think, close my eyes and travel to places I’ll never be and it has made me cry.

16. Slayer – World Painted Blood (2009) Not too much to say here. Slayer are gods! Are they the best group to have walked the earth? Why not! With their new album they demonstrate that only they can do what they do and no matter how many years will pass, no matter how much more extreme scenes will emerge, Slayer will always be able to make you wanna jump out of your body!!! Since I got the new album a couple of months ago, each time I listen to it I feel like I’m in a Slayer concert and I seriously want to hit somebody. Best song of the decade is Beauty Through Order!

17. The Partisans – Idiot Nation (2004) See previous post on the best punk albums from the UK…

18. Disfear – Live the Storm (2008) A monolith of brutal hardcore and a testimony of the state of humanity in the 21st century. All the angst and fears that we experience in an average day and refuse to admit to ourselves. At the same time it is a call to arms, although it does not spell out how… What can you do? Anyway music is supposed to heal the soul, if that will eventually cause a revolution it will be coincidental and I doubt it.

19. The Knife – Deep Cuts (2003) Not exactly my type of music, but still this album is so attractive that I don’t think is possible for anyone to resist. I don’t know how to describe it or why I think it is so important, I just love it.

20. Zeke – Death Alley (2001) Finally the record which I think symbolises the lust for life, having fun, partying and listening to all types of rock ‘n roll music, hehe. Oh, and of course our love for Satan…Amen.