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Jump, Carry On, or Both: 2014′s Best Power Metal

By: Adrien Begrand Posted in: featured On: Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

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Last week on Twitter I asked to no one in particular, if a publication is going to put out a “Best Metal of the Year” list, why do they all focus primarily on the extreme metal side? Hey, I like Dark Descent, Gilead, and Nuclear War Now as much as anyone else, but there’s a lot more to heavy metal than death metal, black metal, and grindcore. What’s so great about Decibel is that the mission statement is crystal clear from the get-go: it’s always the “Top 40 Extreme Albums”. Non-extreme metal fans don’t exactly have a reason to complain about Decibel, as opposed to a list that claims to offer an authoritative view of the entire metal genre but whose vision is only limited to bands that play underground shows in Brooklyn.

Power metal always takes it on the chin, especially in America. “Because it sucks,” is always the retort by the cooler-than-thou, which is fine. When you write one friggin’ positive review of a Fairyland album you’re forever branded as a power metal sympathizer, but to be honest I’m as picky about power metal as anyone. When it sucks, it sucks harder than any other metal subgenre, but that’s power metal: it’s all or nothing. As someone who has a genuine interest in finding great new metal music regardless of subgenre, I’ve actually had a handful of very good power metal albums come my way over the past year, and because I have nothing better to do today, I thought I’d share five titles that are well worth hearing. And sorry, Sabaton, Edguy, and Unisonic, you’re all great, but you just missed the cut.

Freedom Call, Beyond (SPV):
I love this band. How can you not love a band that implores folks to have a “happy metal party”? Freedom Call is all about joy, and they don’t hide that fact one bit. See them live, and they’ll put a big, dumb smile on your face. Their latest album is yet another strong piece of work, loaded with plenty of double-time speed lifted from Helloween, but better, more explosive hooks than Helloween has come up with in the last quarter century. “Raise your hands, hail for everyone, jump and carry on,” sings Chris Bay at one point. I have no idea what you mean by that, bud, but sure, count me in. 

Grave Digger, Return of the Reaper (Napalm):
Funny how one week after writers wet themselves (justifiably) over the new Judas Priest album, few if any bothered to pay attention to another veteran band putting out their best new music in eons. German geezers Grave Digger have been churning out crap for years, but their 17th full-length, for some crazy reason, sounds fiery and inspired, gravelly-voiced mainstay Chris Boltendahl carrying on about being “hell bent for wengeance” and whatnot. I counted these guys out years ago, but they came through with a real fist-banger. Just try not to be offended by the album cover’s clear rip-off of Dissection’s The Somberlain.

Iron Savior, Rise of the Hero (AFM):
Iron Savior’s eighth album was another very pleasant surprise. As usual it offers up a good combination of robust classic metal and power metal sing-alongs, but these songs are a blast. Singer Piet Sielck is in commanding form on such barnstormers as “Last Hero” and “Revenge of the Bride”, and the band even makes an idea as ludicrous as covering Mando Diao’s dance-punk “Dance With Somebody” miraculously work. There’s plenty of muscle on this album, but the music isn’t afraid to move, too.

Primal Fear, Delivering the Black (Frontiers):
Ralf Scheepers and his band returned with a tenth album that, like Grave Digger, feels a lot more assertive and fun than anything they’d done in the past decade. As usual the guys have the whole 1984 sound down, nailing that Priest/early Queensrÿche thing down impeccably, but the songs all hold up extremely well, especially “King For a Day”, “Rebel Faction” and the hilariously titled “Inseminoid”, Scheepers continuing to hit the high notes like no other.

Riot V, Unleash the Fire (Steamhammer):
What a feel-good story this is. After founding guitarist Mark Reale died in 2012 it would’ve been totally understandable of Riot called it quits, but the surviving members took on a couple of new faces, respectfully renamed the band Riot V, and came through with arguably the best power metal album of the year, hearkening back to the speed metal glory of the 1988 classic Thundersteel, yet forging a new identity with new singer Todd Michael Hall. That this album succeeds so mightily was a huge surprise, but from the songwriting to the return of Johnny the Seal on the cover, Riot V gets it all right.

Tales From the Metalnomicon: Damon Root’s Heavy Metal Justice

By: Shawn Macomber Posted in: featured, gnarly one-offs On: Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

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Today the Metalnomicon welcomes Reason senior editor Damon Root, one of the most thought-provoking, singular voices writing on the intricacies of American law today. He’s also a metal/hardcore devotee and the original articulator of the Suicidal Tendencies litmus test for federal candidates, which, as we all know, has had a profound effect on our nation in several alternate dimensions.

So, anyway, yeah, Root’s new book Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court is a straight up tour de force of eye-opening, epiphany-inducing history parsing. It’s great and everyone interested in the inner workings of the Supreme Court and its profound effect on our lives should read it. But we suspected some metal/hardcore science got excised by the squares at Palgrave Macmillan and, thus, hit Root up for a list of five classic hardcore and metal songs about justice.

The man did not disappoint…

Etched in stone above the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., are the words “Equal Justice Under Law.” But what actually counts as justice — and why? In Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court I chronicle a century’s worth of legal battles over such questions. But that’s hardly the end of the story. To grapple further with these weighty matters of law and liberty, I turn to the timeless wisdom of heavy metal and hardcore punk. Here, in alphabetical order by artist, are five classic songs that each, in their own way, address the meaning of justice.

1. “The Tombs” by Agnostic Front

Plenty of musicians have written songs about America’s criminal justice system, but only a select few have based their lyrics on firsthand experience. Roger Miret, lead singer for New York hardcore kingpins Agnostic Front, is among the select. After doing time in prison on drug charges, Miret penned “The Tombs,” his own searing indictment of how justice is really served in this country.

“They say man is innocent till proven guilty,” Miret notes. “For sure they meant the opposite in reality.”

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2. “Born to Land Hard” by Cold As Life

KILLING IS MY BUSINESS: Chattin’ Charts with Billboard‘s Keith Caulfield

By: Etan Rosenbloom Posted in: featured, killing is my business On: Monday, December 1st, 2014

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Music sales and airplay charts document the most heard and purchased artists, albums and songs in music. Death metal and grindcore never get airplay and barely sell anything compared to less-niche genres. So the logic should be simple: charts are irrelevant to extreme metal bands and fans, right?

Not entirely. The fact that almost nothing is selling these days has actually helped bands chart that would normally have zero chance of making it into Billboard Magazine, the music industry’s favored source of info on what the nation is buying and listening to.

For the final print edition of Killing Is My Business [in Decibel issue #123, Mastodon cover], I spoke with Keith Caulfield, Associate Director of Charts / Sales at Billboard. According to Caulfield, when you drill down to Billboard’s genre charts (e.g. Hard Rock Albums or Hard Rock Digital Songs), there’s actually a decent opportunity for a metal band with a following to show up. And there’s more opportunity than ever for bands at any level to use the kind of data that Billboard uses to help make smart business decisions.

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Can you explain exactly what your position entails at Billboard?

Primarily my job is to manage the Billboard 200 chart, which is our main top albums chart, do analysis on that chart, and trends in album sales. Talk about who’s #1, who’s moving up, who’s coming down, who’s selling, who’s not. My main gig is doing a lot of administrative stuff, ensuring the accuracy of our charts, working with Nielsen SoundScan to make sure the chart’s correct, making sure that albums are categorized correctly on different charts. I also manage some other charts, like the Catalog Albums chart, Heatseekers, Internet Albums, Digital Albums, Broadway Albums, Soundtracks, Compilations…and in addition to that, I do write. I have a column that runs in the magazine each week.

How exactly does Billboard determine what is hard rock vs. active rock vs. alternative rock?

We have a lot of different rock genres, and it depends on whether you’re looking at our airplay charts, or our sales charts. Specifically for our Hard Rock Albums chart, it’s basically a broad term that’s any sort of loud, guitar-based rock music. Which includes obvious metal acts, obvious punk rock acts.

It’s one of those things where you know hard rock when you hear it. You know Jack Johnson and Colbie Caillat are not hard rock, whereas Metallica and Pantera are very clearly hard rock. Sometimes an act can be multiple genres. Nirvana is both hard rock and alternative, and they’re also in the catchall “rock” category. Then someone like Sheryl Crow might just be rock, but not hard rock or alternative.

There are some other factors: how an album is being marketed and positioned in the marketplace. What radio stations are playing it, if any. If something’s not very clear cut, we have to go to other sources to see how it’s being treated, how the band identifies themselves, how are they being promoted. But most of the time you can quickly tell sonically – “Is this hard rock?” “Yes it is.” And then you move on.

Keith Caulfield

Keith Caulfield toasts your  success

For a chart that’s sales-based, like Hard Rock Albums, there can be a lot of research that goes into it. Would I imagine there are some other charts that map more clearly onto radio formats?

We have a number of those. We have a Mainstream Rock chart, an Alternative Rock chart, there’s a Triple AAA radio chart, which is like adult alternative radio…it’s kind of like KCRW-ish, if you’re in Los Angeles. There’s also heritage rock stations, which are more old-school, old-fashioned, ‘70s type rock music, with a little bit of contemporary music. And those charts are basically directed by the stations that report to that chart.

There are a certain number of stations that are on a “panel” – the bucket of radio stations that report to a particular format. So there are X number of stations we consider “alternative” stations, and those stations each week are monitored by Nielsen BDS, part of the Nielsen company. Each week we tally up how many times all these songs are played on those stations, that are on the alternative panel. And that, in turn, produces the Alternative chart.

So sometimes, if KROQ in Los Angeles decides to go out on a limb and play a song that’s not traditionally rock, but they want to play them on KROQ, then you’ll see some weird anomalies pop onto the Alternative Airplay chart. Eminem charted Alternative back when he first came out, with “My Name Is.” I always thought that was so weird – like “Woah, what’s this white rapper dude doing on the Alternative chart? How does Billboard think he’s alternative?” Well, we don’t think he’s alternative, but the radio stations that we consider alternative decided to play him.

So even though you’re just reporting what airplay is happening, there are ways in which that act of reporting ends up defining how people think of a band or an artist.

Yeah. Certainly this past year, a lot of people blinked at the categorization of Lorde as a rock artist. She actually won a rock category at the Billboard Music Awards. It’s funny, because when a bunch of alternative stations play you, and they make “Royals” one of the biggest hits in alternative radio, well, by definition, you’re technically an alternative act, according to those stations that played you. And that’s where the categorization happens – those stations played you, and in turn that funnels into all the other things that happen afterwards. Award shows, where you get placed in magazines, where people categorize you on the web – “Oh, they’re alternative!”  It’s all because of what happened to this introductory single, before your public identity was ever established.

With metal, it’s very clear. You’re a hard rock band; you’re a metal band, there’s no denying that. Cannibal Corpse is not going to be turning up on Top 40 radio anytime soon.

What sort of data does Billboard use to determine positions on your various hard rock charts?

The two sales charts, Hard Rock Albums and Hard Rock Digital Songs, it’s sales from brick and mortar retailers, from chains like Target. It’s also internet sales from Amazon.com, digital sales from iTunes, Amazon MP3, Google Play… It’s just what Nielsen SoundScan collects in terms of sales each week. I think SoundScan captures like 90% of music sales in America. So the chart’s pretty close to what’s being tangibly sold in the US each week.

Same thing for Hard Rock Digital Songs, except it’s just songs that are paid downloads from digital services. Pretty much any significant seller of digital music in the United States is reporting to SoundScan each week. There are dozens of them.

I know you have separate streaming charts as well. Does Billboard have ways of looking at the overall picture of an album or song, regardless of the way it’s heard?

We have rock on-demand charts. On-demand is where you’re making a specific decision to listen to something – like I’m clicking “yes” on Spotify, whereas a passive listener is just having something streamed to them, without making a decision. We’ve got a chart for everything. But these are all separate entities. We don’t have one blended chart that blends all these things together, if that’s what you’re getting at.

[UPDATE: the month after this interview was conducted, Billboard announced that it would start integrating streaming statistics into its main Billboard 200 album charts beginning December 2014.]

How long have the Billboard Hard Rock Albums and Hard Rock Digital Songs charts been around?

The Hard Rock Albums chart actually started in July of 2007. Hard Rock Digital Songs we’ve had since January of 2011. SoundScan’s been tracking digital song sales since 2003 or 2004, but it took a very long time to get the process in place to divvy up all the different genres for digital songs. The album and genre categorization was in place before then – we’d been doing that for decades. But in terms of digital songs, it’s a lot harder.

What was the first #1 album or track on those two charts?

The first #1 hard rock album, in July of 2007, was Smashing Pumpkins’ Zeitgeist. The very next #1 album after Smashing Pumpkins was Linkin Park, Minutes to Midnight, if that makes you feel any better. Then Korn, untitled.

The first hard rock digital song #1, in January of 2011, was My Darkest Days featuring Zakk Wylde’s “Porn Star Dancing.” Sick Puppies was next, Aerosmith, Guns n’ Roses.

Which album has held its #1 position on the Hard Rock Album chart the longest?

You may laugh at this: Nickelback’s Dark Horse. It was #1 for 37 weeks on Hard Rock Albums.

I’m laughing, but I’m crying on the inside. I’d be curious to see the one that I would qualify as hard rock as metal – which of those actually lasted longest?

Certain really aggressive, sonically pummeling rock music doesn’t really sell incredibly well in general, period. So for any of those albums to even chart is kind of a big deal, and for them to hit #1 is an even more incredible deal.

The few charts where it might happen on for an extreme act are things like Heatseekers or Tastemakers. Might you have examples of extreme acts that have done well on those charts? I know Motionless in White was at the top of some chart just this past week.

Reincarnate was #1 on our Rock Albums chart, and the Hard Rock Albums chart, as well as #2 on the independent albums chart, and #8 on Internet Albums. Also #9 on the overall Billboard 200 chart, which is the overall all-the-genres-competing-against-one-another chart. [Motionless in White’s label] Fearless [Records] has actually generated a lot of high-charting records on the pop charts over the past year or two.

[Extreme] albums don’t generally stick around for very long. They’ll chart for a week or two on the Billboard 200 maybe, a little bit longer on the rock charts. But because so much emphasis is put on the first week of an album being on sale, and also because there’s a fairly limited fan base that’s going to buy this album, it adds up to a robust first week but then not a lot of sales afterwards. That’s why you’ll see someone have a big debut, and then fall off the chart.

That happens with a lot of niche acts, be it a hip-hop act or a classical act or a metal act. You have 300,000 fans, and you’re going to get maybe 20% of them to show up in your first week. And then the rest will eventually get the album, maybe they’ll stream it later, but the core fans that turn out in your first week, that’s going to be your biggest week. And then after that, it’s dwindling sales, and the album falls of the charts. So it’s not unique to metal. That’s just the nature of the beast.

When the self-titled Metallica album came out in 1991, it was a different era for metal. But that was extremely successful for a long, long time. What accounts for that long-tail for certain albums?

It could be said for any kind of album. Metallica at the time had built up such a large fan base from their work in the ‘80s. Then MTV started to embrace them with “One,” and they really embraced MTV with the self-titled album. It was the perfect blend of bringing your core fan base, and merging that with a mainstream sensibility to a degree. Sometimes artists and consumers meet at the right time and the right place. Your music resonates with people. That’s why they were able to debut at #1 with the black album, and they’ve been incredibly successful ever since then. Almost every album they put out debuts at #1 with a huge first week.

In terms of the long-tail, how it continued to sell so well, the thing had like six, seven different hits on it. MTV consistently played videos on it for, I swear, two years. You heard them every time you turned on rock radio. I’m sure the entire album was probably in rotation at many radio stations. They were on the road constantly.

I think literally for three years after it was released, they were supporting it on tour.

It was just constant hard work, constant promotion and constant great music that clearly resonated with people. That’s why that album continued to sell so well, and continues to sell so well today. It is the biggest-selling album of the SoundScan era –and when we talk about the SoundScan era, we mean when Nielsen SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991. It has sold more than 16 million copies in the US, by far the biggest-selling album in the US since 1991. So that says something!

That metric captures the success of Metallica pretty accurately, because SoundScan started tracking sales the same year the album came out.

Yeah, right around the same time. Metallica’s album debuted in August, and we started using SoundScan in May of that year. That same year, Skid Row’s album [Slave to the Grind] debuted at #1. That was a really big deal. And that was only a month after we started using SoundScan. Everyone was like “Whaaat?!”

The charts operated so differently before then. Before SoundScan, the charts were very driven by pure pop and adult contemporary music – just because that was the best kind of tracking capabilities we had, and that was what was reported to us by the retailers. Once SoundScan information came on board, we were able to see that these genre acts, like Garth Brooks, like Reba McEntire, like Metallica, like Skid Row, like Pantera, sold incredibly well. And that wasn’t truly reflected on the charts before SoundScan started. That’s why you see so many core rock acts, and core country acts, for example, show up high atop the charts after SoundScan started.

Pantera’s a unique situation. When Far Beyond Driven was released, there were so many more fans of metal at that time, and they were willing to go out and buy. Is that one of the only truly extreme albums, with screaming and loud guitars and heaviness, that has done that well on the Billboard 200?

I put together a list of the “hardest” rock #1s on the Billboard 200. I can quickly rattle them off for you, and you tell me if any of them match the sound of Pantera. I have a feeling they probably don’t: basically every Metallica album since Metallica. Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind. Van Halen, not so much…Limp Bizkit…Tool? They were #1 with Lateralus and 10,000 Days. Korn had a couple #1s. Staind was #1 a couple times. System of a Down. Disturbed…not really. I don’t think AFI counts, but they’re certainly a rock band. AC/DC, not exactly a screaming type band, but kind of screaming! Avenged Sevenfold, probably not “metal” metal. And Black Sabbath actually was #1 last year.

Wow, with 13!

Yeah, that was their first #1 album! It’s a long time coming.

None of those bands other than Sabbath approach the level of extremity or underground respect of Pantera.

Pantera continues to be this big “really?” at #1. They built up such a fervent fan base at that point, and it was the right time and the right place. Had it been any other particular week, they may have not been #1. They sold 186,000 copies in the first week with Far Beyond Driven.

Okay, so the Hard Rock Albums and Hard Rock Singles charts we’re talking about track physical and/or digital sales. Do you find that your sales charts like these two are pretty well correlated with the airplay or streaming charts?

Yeah. I think so. Sometimes you get an anomaly. Sometimes songs are huge on the radio, and no one buys them for whatever reason. Sometimes songs are big airplay hits, but that doesn’t translate into sales. It’s more difficult to convince people to buy something. As hard as it is to get on the radio, it’s harder to get anyone to buy something.

And vice-versa. Sometimes you have a great sales story, and radio just ignores you. So there generally is a lot of crossover between all the charts, and sometimes you have a curiosity that’ll do well – it’ll be a top 10 record on the airplay charts, but in terms of sales, it sells like 1000 downloads a week. And you’re just like “Really! How many millions of people heard this song, but no one wanted to buy it?”

How do companies use Billboard info to make business decisions? 

I think the general vibe is that our charts are used as a measurement tool for the industry – record labels, management, booking agents and so forth – to gauge what are the most popular acts, and what are the most popular songs and albums in the country. How can we use that to book talent on TV shows? How can we use that to book shows at concerts? How can we route our tours better?

Certainly SoundScan’s information and a lot of streaming information, you can whittle that down to zip codes and regions, so you know how well you’re doing in certain areas, so you can better gauge how to route your tour, for example. Our charts are national charts, so I don’t tell you on our chart how many copies sold in Poughkeepsie. But you can access that data through SoundScan.

Then a lot of our charts are used in a more consumery way. Consumers like to find out where their favorite acts are on the charts. It’s this huge range of “Hey I like to look at lists. Where’s my favorite artist? Oh, it’s at #6 this week. That’s fun!” to the far extreme of “Let’s look at super-granular data from Nielsen to see should we have a meet ‘n greet at this place, or should we save that opportunity for a different place, because there aren’t enough fans there?” 

I can imagine stories about a manager, or a label, that’s looking at the Heatseekers charts and they’re like “Wow, this person doesn’t have a label already! 

Yeah. Especially with our new Twitter charts, we have these new Billboard Twitter real-time charts which are pretty cool. They monitor the most-discussed and talked-about tracks and artists on Twitter. We have two different charts. One is just for the top tracks, period. So if a hugely popular artist on social networks drops a new song, it could [make it on] that Twitter chart. And it’s a real-time chart, so it may not be #1 15 minutes from now, ‘cause it’s constantly refreshing.

Then we have a chart that’s just for emerging artists on Twitter. It’s for artists that have less than a certain number of Twitter followers, so Twitter and Billboard define them as “still developing.” We hear stories from departments at different record labels and management people who look at these charts as guides to help them find new talent and to acquire for whatever the organization is. They look at these charts to help them narrow down “Alright, which of these acts are unsigned? Can we license this song that’s really popular on the charts and happens to be a European hit, but no one’s licensed it in America? Maybe we should use this chart to help find out which songs we should acquire.”

That same thing was done with all of our charts in the past, and continues to be done, but I think the Twitter real-time charts are a great example of how something that’s very now, very of the past hour, can be used.

Or you know, if you’re just a publication, if you’re a TV show and you’re looking for stories to tell, look to the charts and see “Who have we not talked about recently? Let’s scroll down and find someone. Oh look! They have a great story! They have an interesting look!“ That sounds really pedestrian, but that happens too.

It’s an interesting story in itself, those real-time Twitter charts. That’s kind of the holy grail for any data keeper – knowing exactly what’s happening NOW, and to be able to analyze it and deploy it.

Yeah. If everyone could be like “Right now, three copies have been sold in this area. One ticket has been bought in Anchorage, Alaska.” Yeah, that’s great.  But my god, we’d be just drowning in data. At least the Twitter real-time charts give you a snapshot of what’s happening right now.

And it captures a certain segment of the audience and a certain segment of the music audience that may not be captured in other ways. A lot of people on Twitter just don’t buy anything. They stream it, they play it on YouTube, they share links with people. And that’s how they interact with music.

Have you noticed any chart trends that apply to metal more than to other genres?

I don’t have a great thought on this one for you unfortunately. The general notion is that, because of the way our album sales charts work, everyone has a much better shot at charting than they ever did before. One, you don’t need to sell that much to get onto the charts, period, because fewer people purchase albums. And therefore if you can convince your fan base to buy a couple thousand albums in a week, or 10, 15, 20 thousand albums in a week – that’s a TON for some metal acts, but if you can convince them to buy that many in a week, you’ll chart. And you may not be around the week after that, but you’ll have your moment in the sun on the charts.

I mentioned Cannibal Corpse jokingly earlier, ‘cause I just love saying their name…I don’t listen to them, I just love the fact that they exist. They’re so extreme! But they just charted their highest-charting album ever, with A Skeletal Domain. It debuted at #32 on the Billboard 200 chart. Which is huge. Are they as big as they were in the ‘90s, early 2000s? I don’t know. But they’re able to have their moment. They can now say they’ve had two Top 40 albums in the United States on the Billboard 200 chart. Which is pretty cool for a very extreme act. And there’s lots of examples like that. They just happen to stick out because every time they pop on the charts, I go “Ooh boy! I get to write about Cannibal Corpse.”

There are so many sales in the metal world that happen either at shows, or some kind of distro that exists only online. It’s a single person, sending you a copy from his or her home, where it might not be reported to SoundScan.

[SoundScan] knows that they can’t capture every single transaction. So they try to extrapolate for what they’re missing. Sometimes sales are weighted. The number that we announce – you know, “Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett sold 131,000 copies, and they’re #1” – well it’s not really a pure number. That’s a weighted number. It’s a number that is based on actual sales, but it’s also weighted a little bit, to account for what’s missing in their capturing of sales. So when people say “I sold exactly 10,000 copies,” actually you probably sold more like 10,500. Or maybe 9,800-something. But SoundScan did some shake ‘n bake to the number to determine “Alright, we’re missing this percentage of the population. How do we estimate how many copies we missed?” If they’re doing their job correctly, which we think they are, they are going to capture the sales and project for the sales that they’re missing.

Now, for sales that are just some dude selling something on eBay, no, we’re not gonna be able to capture that. If it’s someone selling something at a show, actually those sales can be reported by SoundScan. We accept venue sales all the time from acts on the road. All you have to do is set up an account with SoundScan, and you report your venue sales each week. They have a process in place to collect the receipts, you show them the ledger of what’s been sold, blah blah blah.

Sometimes we see acts pop on to the Heatseekers chart primarily because of venue sales. You can look in SoundScan, and see each week, they don’t have that many [sales], but the sales you see each week, “Oh look, it’s in this region. The next week they didn’t sell any in that region, but now they’re over here, in San Diego. The next week they didn’t sell any in San Diego, but now they’re in LA.” It’s because they’re moving through the country, selling a handful of copies at all these different locations. Sometimes that can help you have a nice robust number, and that can attract attention, and maybe can get you a bigger label deal, etc. But yes, we do accept venue sales, and SoundScan does that all the time.

Are you aware of any charts other than Billboard’s that focus on extreme music?

I’m not a metalhead, so I don’t know. I know there are tons of publications and websites that deal specifically with metal and hard rock music, but I’m not immediately familiar with other charts that deal specifically with hard rock and metal. 

I used to subscribe to Rolling Stone, and there would be a snapshot of what’s selling well at one specific store in North Carolina that might be metal-focused. Or you go into Amoeba, and they have a list of the Top 10 metal records from that month. 

I guess that’s useful, but we’ve already said how old we are, because we’re talking about physical albums at a brick and mortar retailer. Ooh, how old-fashioned is that! There are hardly any traditional record stores left. It’s just so hard now to say “This is the definitive way that we should rank the top metal acts.”

I’m trying to think what would be most useful to a band. I would think it would be most useful to find who just clicked on my YouTube video? Who just clicked on my lyric video? I’d imagine a lot of these metal bands, if they’re young enough, they’re really in tune with social media and the internet, and digital stuff. What would be incredibly useful to me is using Google metrics, and YouTube metrics, to find out where my song as played, and who’s clicked on it, who’s watched it so many times, and how many different playlists have I been added to. Who’s subscribed to my channel. Maybe I can route our future climb-in-a-van tour towards those cities. Just in the same way you’d use SoundScan information to do that, this could be on a much more granular level, visually-speaking.

But that isn’t like a public chart. It’s not something just anyone can access on YouTube or Google Analytics. It’s just focused on your own material. If you say “Here are 10 other metal acts that are like me. I want to look at how they’re trending on YouTube and Twitter and Facebook across the US.”

How can a band get that kind of information?

We have great social charts that track the most social artists – the Social 50 is what it’s called – it’s a company called NextBigSound [that provides the data]. They scrape data, and they also have deals with different providers where they access Facebook information, Instagram information, YouTube, Vevo, Twitter…the really big, obvious ones. And they look to see who’s up, who’s down, who had more likes than normal this week, who had more fans subscribe to them and so forth.

NextBigSound is a really great resource for artists. If you subscribe to NextBigSound, you can access a lot of data that they collect for you. It’s kind of like a Nielsen SoundScan, it’s kind of like a Google, where they can provide you with a lot of information that can help you better plan your plan of attack when you roll out an album or a song. We use that information to make a lot of our social charts.

Are there obvious trends that Billboard charts can’t capture?

I’d like to say that we try to capture everything. If we notice something we’re missing, or that is a new trend in the industry, we try to get a chart going that would capture that. If you’ve seen how our charts have evolved over the decades, back in the ‘40s and ‘50s we had jukebox charts, we had charts that charted what DJs would report as being played, and what was the top-selling songs in retail stores.

Eventually, that jukebox chart went away, because jukeboxes didn’t exist so much anymore. But then we started tracking all these different genres of music, because the different genres started to grow and got bigger. We have more genre chats now than we’ve ever had before. Back in the early ‘90s, we had country and R&B, we had classical, we had jazz, but it wasn’t until later that we had blues charts and new age albums and world albums and all these different genres that became more and more popular, and we were able to track them.

The same thing happened with YouTube and streaming and Spotify, all these different ways that people are consuming music. We were able to create charts and work with the industry, work with the people that collect this data to present charts to the public. If we ever see something that is not being captured by us, we certainly try to gauge if that is something we should be capturing, and if so, then we try to make it happen.

********

Visit Billboard online at billboard.com.

Follow Keith Caulfield on Twitter yonder: @keith_caulfield

See everything he’s ever written for Billboard here.

Sucker For Punishment: Housecleaning – I Mean, Gift Guide!

By: Adrien Begrand Posted in: featured On: Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

fanks

As a Canadian I can’t help but marvel at American Thanksgiving. The sheer brilliance of it: make it a Thursday holiday, which’ll in turn compel people to take Friday off, and just like that you’ve got a four-day weekend. Unless Remembrance Day or the February statutory holiday falls on a Thursday, we don’t exactly have that experience here up north. So to my American buds, I salute your country and its knack for fun little loopholes like that.

Anyway, Thanksgiving is always the official start of the holiday spending season, and because we are now in that deadsville new release period of the year, for a little fun I’ve slapped together a little gift guide for Decibel readers, featuring plenty of stuff that’s either appeared in my mailbox over the year, my email inbox, via social media, or which I’ve simply gone out and bought as a fan. Either way, there should be something you like here. So enjoy, and have a fabulous Thanksgiving while the rest of the world wonders why Twitter is so dead on a Thursday.

New Music:

The new release schedule might be entering its December dormancy, but good music is still trickling in. Primordial’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade) is a very welcome return by the Irish pagan metalers, featuring some of their strongest material to date, not to mention the best production on any Primordial record to date. Powerviolence band Full of Hell have teamed up with noise maestro Merzbow, and the resulting album, fittingly titled Full of Hell/Merzbow (Profound Lore) is a wickedly intense, sneakily catchy 24-minute piece of work that meshes some rather ambitious grindcore and abstract ambient work with great creativity. Listen and purchase it via Bandcamp. And then there’s the mighty AC/DC, who after an eventful year for all the wrong reasons, cap it all off with Rock or Bust, their best new album since Fly on the Wall 30 years ago. I’ll review it in full next week when it comes out, but in the meantime go stream it at iTunes and think about whom you want to buy it for.

Music BluRay, DVD, etc.:

It’s been a fairly slow year for metal video releases, but a handful have stuck out for yours truly. Gojira’s Les Enfants Sauvages (Roadrunner) is as good a live album/concert film as I’ve seen in recent years, a near-perfect snapshot of one of the best live bands in the world in action. Meshuggah’s The Ophidian Trek (Nuclear Blast) works better as a live album than as a concert film, but is still an essential purchase for fans of the band. Meanwhile Rush’s gigantic R40 box set compiles the band’s last five BluRay releases, and as a tantalizing bonus, tosses in two hours of bonus material, including video footage of a complete performance of “2112”.

Wait, cassettes are still a thing?

I refuse to buy into the idea that cassettes are a viable option as a music medium in 2014, but once or twice a year I will make a rare exception, and the one cassette I didn’t hesitate to buy is Gatekrashör’s self-titled debut album. Not only is it a ferocious, riotous dose of filthy speed metal in the tradition of Exciter and Nasty Savage, but the Calgary band have taken upon themselves to faithfully recreate the cassette design of the highly influential Canadian underground label Banzai Records, whose old tapes have become collector’s items, and for many of us old-timers and old-at-hearts, fetish objects. You see this tape, and you go, I must own that. And you definitely should. Purchase Gatekrashör on cassette here.

Yes, metalheads do read books:

2014’s been fairly lively when it comes to metal-themed reading material. Mike “McBeardo” McPadden’s Heavy Metal Movies is yet another hugely enjoyable release by Bazillion Points, whimsically delving into the connections between metal and cinema. For those looking for more serious subject matter, Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult, by Dayal Patterson (Feral House) is a well-researched, exhaustive history of black metal that, despite its curious (condescending?) ignorance of USBM, nevertheless is a worthy inclusion to any kvltist’s bookshelf. Handshake, Inc. has come through with a pair of essential books too: Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground, by Jason Netherton of Misery Index, is a massive, 480-page history of death metal that fully deserves to stand alongside Daniel Ekeroth’s Swedish Death Metal and our own Albert Mudrian’s Choosing Death. Then there’s Dan Lilker’s Perpetual Conversion, which chronicles the life and career of arguably the coolest guy in all of metal, with all the charm and likeability of the man himself.

The great, prolific Martin Popoff continues to churn out the books, but none in 2014 was better than The Big Book of Hair Metal: The Illustrated Oral History of Heavy Metal’s Debauched Decade (Voyageur Press), a coffee table-sized volume that chronicles the rise and fall of glam/pop/hair metal with studious attention to detail, featuring loads and loads of insightful quotes from many artists. I can’t recommend this one highly enough, it’s a total pleasure.

The notion that metalheads are gentle souls just like anyone else is hardly news to those of us in this scene, but that doesn’t make photographer Alexandra Crockett’s Metal Cats (powerHouse) any less adorable, as musicians pose with their favorite felines. Plus the proceeds go towards helping save cats, so why not?

Two years ago Decibel illustrator Mark Rudolph released Satan is Alive, a wonderful comic book tribute to Mercyful Fate, and this fall he’s followed that up with Morbid Tales! A Tribute to Celtic Frost. Featuring illustrations and commentary by far too many artists and metal writers to mention, this is a no-brainer, a must-own. I pre-ordered a copy, and you should too. Get it here.

Lastly, if you read Decibel, you know who John Darnielle is from his monthly South Pole Dispatch at the end of every issue. Not only is he an incredibly talented Decibel writer, a wickedly sharp metal fan in his own right, and a rather famous indie musician, but he’s also a best-selling author now. His novel Wolf in White Van (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) has met with universal acclaim, and was nominated for the National Book Award, and although I haven’t read it yet (it’s in my possession as of today!) I’m very optimistic. His book about Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality contains probably the best writing about teen alienation I have ever read, and I expect Wolf in White Van to be as enjoyable a book, if not more.

Movies!

Metal fans love horror movies, and I saw my share in 2014, and I haven’t enjoyed a horror film in 2014 as much as Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead. It expands on the original Dead Snow to a loopy, gory, hilarious degree: not only are there Nazi zombies, but Soviet communist zombies as well, plus a group of geeks led by Martin Starr (?!) who help do battle. And then there’s the horror movie love scene to end all horror movie love scenes. It’s a total blast, and comes out on DVD and BluRay on December 9.

When it comes to more serious fare, no flick in 2014 comes close to the ambition and vision of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Starring Scarlett Johansson and featuring a mesmerizing soundtrack by Mica Levi, it’s not the usual effects-ltden sci-fi movie mainstream audiences expect, but takes its cue from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, going for something a lot more vague, more meditative, and quieter. It requires you to think, to absorb, to lose yourself in its mind-blowing beauty. This is one you have to see on BluRay.

As for re-releases, the Criterion edition of David Lynch’s 1977 masterpiece Eraserhead is, hands down, the finest BluRay movie release of the year. The restored visuals are stunning, the supplements are thorough and highly entertaining, and best of all, that weird, weird story about Henry Spencer, his deformed baby, and that Lady in the Radiator is as thought-provoking and disturbing as ever.

What about gear?

If you write on a personal blog well enough and long enough, promotional items practically fall into your lap. One day I was asked if I wanted to review a new pair of headphones, and seeing that freelancers can never say no to free stuff, I said yes. Well, it turns out that my pair of LSTN Troubadours is easily one of my favorite things of 2014, giving me exactly what I want out of a headphone, and what I was in need of, quite frankly. I don’t want that battery-boosted sound that the more popular modern headphones provide, I’m always interested in something more understated. LSTN is totally old school and organic, in both its aviator-style design and its sound. Featuring wood, housed speakers that fit comfortably over the ears, it’s all about warmth, and whether on the iPhone or listening to the turntable, my ebony Troubadours feel great and sound even better. It lacks that bass boost that other headphones give, so if you listen to more rock/folk/classical than electronic and hip hop, these are an excellent fit. I can’t recommend these highly enough. Check them out here.

The ultimate 2014 album guide!

I can’t write a gift guide and not include the current issue of Decibel now, can I? Metal fans wait all year to check out and argue over Decibel’s annual 40 extreme albums list, and more than a few use it as a guide to figure out what albums they’re going to purchase for themselves over the holidays that they might’ve missed. So if you haven’t seen it yet, buy the new issue here.

Reality check:

On a more humanitarian note, the folks in Ferguson, Missouri are having the worst year ever. Amidst the murder of an innocent youth by police, the prosecutor’s shoddy parody of justice, the tear gassing of peaceful protesters, the violence and looting, the Ferguson Public Library remains open for the youth of the community, and is always accepting donations. Go help them out.

Follow me on Twitter at @basementgalaxy

Wino Issues Official Statement, Re: Norway Deporatation

By: andrew Posted in: breaking newz, featured On: Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

wino

At this time, I feel it is necessary to release an official statement of the facts in regard to my recent deportation from the country of Norway. First, I want to apologize to all Saint Vitus fans, and to my band members and crew for my lapse in judgment that ultimately resulted in me missing the last six shows on our Born Too Late 35th anniversary European tour. On November 9th before noon just over the Norwegian border, I was arrested for possession of an illegal substance.  I take full responsibility for the consequences of my actions. The other members and crew were unaware of my substance use. I was truthful with the authorities, and initially sentenced to 16 days in jail, minus the three initial days immediately following my arrest. On those days, I was in solitary confinement, with no reading or writing material and fed solely bread water. Despite these conditions, I was treated respectfully and cordially by all Norwegian authorities. Initially, I believed I would be fined, allowed to continue the tour, and upon its end, I agreed to return to Norway to finish my sentence. I was disheartened to realize that I was to be deported straightaway back to the U.S., and not allowed to finish the tour. I sincerely regret the inconvenience and loss incurred by everyone involved with these gigs, the inspiring co-headlining Orange Goblin, our booking agent, promo folks and the venues, and of course, fans and ticketholders. I want to salute the members of Saint Vitus for carrying on with these shows without me, and proving admirably the class of true road warriors they are. Again, my deepest apologies to all. After several productive years of sobriety, the rigors of almost nonstop touring and life’s circumstances led me to develop a dependency that has become detrimental to my health, and now, my freedom. As of now, I am currently off the road, and actively engaged in treatment.

And THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES…

I will continue my course of creating music and art. Early next year you will see the release of WINO AND CONNY OCHS’ new full-length recording, “FREEDOM CONSPIRACY” on Exile on Mainstream Records. Also on the near horizon: A  full-length Wino solo acoustic recording, the launch of my art and music web store, and my no-holds-barred biography.

Thanks to all who Believe!

Wino, November 18th,2014

 

(h/t J. Bennett)

(photo: Jose Carlos Santos)

Encrotchment With Eddie Gobbo From Jar’d Loose: Week 9

By: Eddie Gobbo Posted in: encrotchment, featured, nfl 2014 On: Thursday, November 6th, 2014

encro

Don’t blame me. I voted for Gibby Haynes.

Slow, Still and Swaggin’

I’ve been a sports fan since 1984, when I came out of Dan Marino’s womb. I’ve been a metal fan since 1994, when I seen Cannibal Corpse in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, staring Dan Marino. One of the first dudes I remember meeting in the Chicago music scene that rocked the metal/sports lifestyle, like me, was Dave Hofer, author of the new biography of bassist and heavy metal legend Danny Lilker, Perpetual Conversion.

I used to watch Hofer from afar. He would rock a Pittsburgh Pirates hat on the regular. I assumed he was from Pittsburgh. Turns out he was from the suburbs of Chicago, and his wife (then girlfriend) Missy was from Pittsburgh. As you can guess, Dave and Missy are both “Stillers” fans as well. (Two people recently emailed me to point out that I’m spelling “Steelers” wrong; I’m doing it purposely to reflect the accent of yinz in Pittsburgh, ya jagoffs!!!)

The Stillers are playing amazing football right now, led by the most productive receiver in the league, a guy named Antonio Brown. Is this team a legit AFC Championship threat? An unbiased Hofer thinks so:

“Last season, the Steelers hit their stride too late in the season and finished 8-8. This year, they’ve made good adjustments much earlier in the season. Big Ben’s played lights-out the past couple of weeks. I could see them in the Super Bowl, easily.”

The last time the Stillers went to the Bowl, I ran into Hofer wearing a yellow shirt that said, “Ike Taylor: Swaggin’ U.” He told me that Missy had it made for him. Apparently Ike Taylor, when he introduces himself on Sunday Night Football, says “Swaggin’ U” instead of the normal [insert legit university name here]. This fact was confirmed a few weeks later when the three of us watched a Stillers SNF game together. I’ve been pissed lately because Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs has ripped off Taylor’s gimmick. On SNF , Suggs introduces himself as, “Hacksaw: Ball So Hard University.” I’m such a badass sports journalist that I actually recorded Suggs saying it this past week , uploaded it to YouTube, and have the clip for you right here.

I had to ask Hofer if he too was aware of/offended by Suggs doing this:

“Sadly, yes. I am aware of this. Weak imitation.”

Now, unlike Hofer and myself, there’s one man that has been very anti-Stillers lately: my dad. For the last several weeks, he has been wrapped up in gambling on them. The problem isn’t that they aren’t winning; it’s that my dad thinks they are too “slow” to watch. When we were watching them play the Jags a couple weeks back, my dad rose from his couch during a Stillers drive and yelled, “YOU’RE SLOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” at his big-screen TV. It reminded me of a grade school gym teacher yelling at the fat kid in the back of the line when the class is running laps. The following week, in a big matchup against the Browns, the Steelers ran the ball three consecutive times, gaining four yards each. My dad again rose from his seat and said, “I can’t watch this anymore. This team bores me,” and stormed out of the room. What does Hofer think?

“I don’t think they play slow or sluggish. The Steelers offensive m.o. is to take the lead, and then start running the ball to wear down the defensive line of their opponent, as well as drain the clock.”

I see both sides of the argument. The Stillers are a methodical throwback offense. They like the run game, the short pass, the scrambling QB and the old reliable tight end. But yes, by NFL standards these days, they lack the certain dazzling speed most NFL teams have. I believe this actually leads them to wins. They are not what defenses are used to facing these days.

To all you parents out there, let this be a lesson: Never yell at your TV in front of your children. Address all grievances with your television in private, or in a session with a licensed Cable Guy present.

If you’re looking for a great holiday gift for the metalhead in your life, look no further than Hofer’s new book, Perpetual Conversion. As an avid reader of rock biographies, I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s frankly the first of its kind: a biography of the life of a metal legend who existed exclusively in the underground. I’m proud to say it was written by a friend of mine, and a man that bleeds both black and/or yellow, depending on how much beer he consumed while watching the game.

perpetual

In the Cards

Welp, we’re officially halfway through the NFL season, and the best team in football is the Arizona Cardinals (The SI Power Rankings tell me how to think).

Good for the Cards! I guarantee their preseason mindset had a lot to do with them being the NFL’s only 7-1 team. They knew going into the season that they were in a division with arguably the two best teams in football, Seattle and San Francisco. They had to have their game tight, like Kobe on game night. Mistake-free football on both sides of the ball was the only way they’d might be in the conversation come December. And in said conversation they are.

What’s weird about the Cardinals is that their overall team stats actually lack luster. They are ranked 23rd in the league in yards per game (330.4), and only 14th in points per game (24.0). They’re also not in the top 15 of any major team defensive category. Bruce Arians has them playing an interesting style of football. It’s basically bend, but don’t break, but make SURE you win. The Cards will not shut out a team, nor will they blow out a team, and that’s OK (as Stuart Smalley would say). They’ve won three games by exactly 11 points this year, and the rest have all been wins by less than 11. Every one of their toast-of-the-league counterparts all have several wins where they’ve LEVELED teams. But that’s just the 2014 Cardinals. They are neither feast nor famine. They are just a team that wins (with a hard schedule coming up, so they better hold steady).

Shout-out to Carson Palmer, a man who everyone assumed would be retired, backing up some rookie, or packing lunches at this point. His stats aren’t strong, but his leadership is. And lastly, watch Arians jog to mid-field after a win. It’s Baywatch-esc!

FinTrolling

Now let’s meet the Arizona Cardinals, Jr., the Miami Dolphins. Like every girl in Miami, they’re hot. For the first time under coach Joe Philbin, the team has an identity not associated with bullying; they’re a fast, young team, with an efficient offense. Let’s not discount this giant feat. A team getting an identity is not easy. The last time the Fins had an identity, it was a weird one. Coach Tony Sparano had them playing a mafia-style wildcat, with RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams getting direct snaps. That worked for a few weeks, until the entire league figured out how to defend it in unison (stack the box every down).

Is QB Ryan Tannehill a superstar? No. But in the last five weeks, he’s played like one. Frankly, he’s played the best football of his NFL career. I attribute this to his offensive line not calling in sick like they usually do. If you watched a Dolphins game last year, it was like watching missionary position fetish porn. Tannehill was on his back THE WHOLE TIME! The Fins gave up a league-worst 56 sacks last year. This year, sacks are down, Tannehill is up, and therein lies two more porn references.

Here’s the problem: I see this Dolphin wave of success coming a halt, and quick. The Fins’ next three games will be unbelievably trying. The results could make, but will more than likely break, their season. This Sunday, they draw the Lions at Ford Field. They wont be able to run with this team in a shootout. This is rub of having an offense without a second gear. Shootouts kill you. Then they have a short week, playing the Bills on Thursday. The Bills are going to want to hit this team Rob Ford-on-a-pipe style. The Fins will probably come away with a win, but at the price of embarrassment, unanswered questions and someone more than likely getting seriously injured, also like Rob Ford. (Did you vote this week, by the way?)

Then the Fins go to Denver. Ugh.

6-5 going into December with match-ups against the New England, Baltimore and the two with the Jets (who will probably take one) is not conducive to a playoff berth. This week in Detroit is the Super Bowl for the Fins. They lose, no playoffs. It’s as simple as that. Gear up, Gloria Estefan employees.

Are You There, Mark? It’s Me, God

Welcome to Hell. I’ll be your tour guide.

[English Accent] Me Mum Never Lets Me Listen to Fucking Punk Rawk.

And finally this week, the Dallas Cowboys are currently in London preparing for their tilt against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Someone in the Cowboys front office, who probably has had sex with Jerry Jones, came up with the ingenious Twitter hashtag for all things Cowboys-related in England: #CowboysUK. As bad as that hashtag is, it doesn’t come close to the onecurrently being used by their personal English chef: #CowboysUKcook.

Pick of the Week

New Orleans -3 over Frisco

Decibrity Playlist: Giant Squid (Part 1)

By: zach.smith Posted in: featured, interviews, listen, lists On: Thursday, November 6th, 2014

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Giant Squid‘s debut LP, Metridium Fields, was re-recorded in the very early days of Decibel and we’ve been following the group’s musical trajectory ever since. Fortunately, the band is still going strong, having released a new album at the end of October. While guitarist/vocalist Aaron John Gregory described the record as a “giant love letter to the Mediterranean and specifically Bronze-age Greece,” the essay he penned for us below is his epic love letter to music. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did. Be sure to pick up a copy of Giant Squid’s latest LP, Minoans, here and stay tuned for part two next week.

How I discovered some important music while growing up in the suburban wastelands of Sacramento (open an ale, grab some headphones and keep an open mind).

I owe my entire musical existence to punk rock. Seriously. Well, maybe Nirvana before punk. And actually, probably Master of Puppets before Nirvana, but I didn’t know that yet when I heard it, cause my initial reaction to that album was pretty much total fucking terror (story below). But the scars that Puppets left on my eight year old self most likely resurfaced into something useful much later on. And even before that, it was The Monkees and Beach Boys all day long–mostly “best of” tapes for both–so I’m sure they too planted some important seeds in my early musical consciousness because I rocked the shit out those bands on my Grandpa’s Sony boombox cassette player growing up.

One thing was sure: I actively wanted to listen to music when I was really young and just fed my desire with whatever was catchy and close at hand in my sheltered, suburban life growing up in Carmichael, CA, a suburb of Sacramento. Mostly all my parents had laying around was 90% Jimmy Buffet, so pickings were very, very slim. But as I got older and started to put myself out there, Sacramento turned out to be not such a bad place to grow up and discover important music.

My Dad one day took me skiing. I was about eight. I fucking hated skiing. My Dad fucking loved skiing. Skiing scared the shit out of me, but I wanted to make the old man happy and not be a pussy, because we all know that skiing in the ’80s was super manly. Before we hit I-80 East towards Reno, we stopped at Tower Records in Orangevale, CA, right by Sunrise Mall. He wanted to grab some album that had just come out. I wanna say it was something cool like 38 Special, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks or The Kinks (which was about as cool as my Dad’s musical taste got), but I’m sure it was just another fucking Jimmy Buffet album. I can’t remember. But my Dad, among many things, was a generous dude and asked If I wanted something too. Here’s where my memory becomes crystal fucking clear. There was an endcap display of tapes, all with the craziest, darkest, most alluring picture on the front: hands in the sky playing a graveyard of tombstones as if they were marionette dolls. The top of the display repeated the image in a huge card board cutout and read: Metallica Master of Puppets. I’ll take this one.

On the first ski run of the day, I ate shit so hard and so ugly that my left leg twisted sideways at the knee, well beyond where even my childish rubber bones were capable of going. The pain was excruciating. I remember the panic and regret on my Dad’s face. One of the clearest memories I’ll ever have of him. The ski patrol came up and put me on a sled, hauled me down the mountain and Dad got me back to our Dodge camper van–one of those pop top versions with a side bench, little bathroom, sink and fridge. Now, my Dad was young. If I was barely eight, then my Dad was like 29ish. So I don’t necessarily blame him for doing what he did next. It boiled down to, “Are you okay? Yeah? Maybe rest here in the van a bit, listen to your new tape. Here’s a bottle of water and some vanilla wafers. I’m going to go get a couple more runs in, that okay?” Sure pops. Again, I can’t blame him. I ate snow on the first run half way down the bunny hill. My old man wanted to bounce black diamonds in his one-piece ski suit and aviators. So he bailed, but not after putting in my tape.

Now see the first paragraph above. Everything up to this point in my musical life was “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Little Surfer Girl”. My new tape starts to play. The gorgeous acoustic intro of “Battery” starts. I’m thinking, wow, this is really pretty. I did good on this pick. Then, well, ya know, “Battery” really starts, and I’m sure I spiritually shit myself. I remember so clearly just being fucking frightened. Laying on my back on the van bench, knee killing me, cold and alone, fucking “Battery” blasting. I made it only about ten or fifteen minutes in before pussing out and turning the stereo off, which would put me at about “The Thing That Should Not Be”. No wonder I aborted the mission.

Back then, I shelved the tape and didn’t revisit it ’til I was in sixth grade, most likely to impress, or scare off, the jocky neighborhood kids who listened to NWA and 2 Live Crew. I still have that exact tape to this day. And still think it’s one of the greatest, heaviest, most perfect albums ever made.

Nirvana: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on the radio when I was 13 and quickly my Appetite for Destruction and Master of Puppets tapes started collecting dust. I don’t need to say anything else about Nirvana. It’s all been said a million times before. What I can say is that I fucking loved Nirvana. My walls were wallpapered with posters and pics of the band. I bleached and then died my long hair with red Manic Panic. I wore shitty cardigans and tattered jeans.

About this time, the internet was just barely becoming a thing. The kid across the street had a computer and a program called Prodigy, which worked sort of like an internet browser by having internal message boards. I started going over there and writing other fans to trade live bootleg tapes via the mail. CDs were picking up momentum and some European companies were releasing live bootlegs on disc. After a while, one badly recorded Nirvana concert sounded like another, and years later I got rid of most of them. One CD in particular though was called Seventh Heaven, which I still have today. Earliest released version of “Rape Me” and two devastating versions of “Aneurysm” live.

When Nirvana played the Bosnia Rape Victim Benefit at the Cow Palace, my best buddy’s Mom drove us out there. When Kurt walked out on stage, I was only two people away from him, or should I say, two people away from the front barrier. At that moment all of the Cow Palace surged forward. I was a scrawny 15 year old. I lasted about six songs before feeling like I was going to shit and puke at the same time. I looked behind me and there was a mountain of a man, like a biker if an oak tree could be a biker. He looked at me, saw me turning green, asked if I needed help, which I most certainly did, and grabbed me. Somehow, against thousands of people seemingly pressing down on him, he was able to turn around and push me through some of the crowd and away from the stage…directly into the “mosh pit”. From there I battled my way to the bleachers and sat down, sad, watching the rest of the show. They played a bunch of jams from the yet-to-be-released In Utero.

That’s the concert above. As Kurt walks out, imagine me about eight feet in front of him. So fucking stoked to have seen him live. Fast forward 15 minutes in and watch them them plow through “Milk It” for the first time probably ever live.

Punk rock: About the same time I was really into Nirvana, I discovered punk rock. My first show ever was The Dead Milkmen at the legendary Cattle Club, about a year before that Nirvana gig above. I think my second gig was NOFX at the same venue. I had some Angry Samoans tapes, a couple Circle Jerks and D.I. tapes and finally some Dead Kennedys albums. I loved it all. Fast, pissed, easy to understand. But most of these bands were also damn fucking goofy, even when they were trying to really convey something lyrically of importance. Then, a neighborhood kid who had spent most of our time growing up together being the biggest thorn-in-my-side bully asshole, asked if I knew who the Subhumans were. And of course, when I didn’t, he made me feel like the fucking know-nothing poser that I surely was, of course…ahem. So, I went out to the local record shop just down the street that had a surprisingly well stocked punk rock section and promptly stole (sorry Mom) my first Subhumans tape, EP-LP. Fuck the bully for being such a fucking prick through elementary and junior high, but god bless him for exposing me to such amazing music.

The Subhumans changed my life.

I was vegetarian for over ten years after listening to the incredible peace-punk messages deeply entrenched in the Subs’ songs. I fucking rejected authority (high-school teachers), questioned my country (wore a shitty American flag upside down on my lame bomber jacket) and started really wanting to get good at bass, which was my instrument of choice then. Because the Subhumans weren’t just lyrically captivating in their anarcho-socio brilliance, they were goddamn progressive rock! No, they were still punk, punk as fuck! But they intermixed other genres of music like British style rocksteady reggae, Black Sabbath style doom licks and oddball time changes like early Genesis. They had a 16 minute song that took up the entire second side of an LP! And all of it was never contrived, never self-serving, never corny. It stayed pissed, dark, abrasive and was fast as fuck at times, while still slowing down to allow the band to stretch its musical prowess. Bruce, the Submhumans’ guitarist, will go down as my biggest influence today. His tendency to bounce around half-step driven, odd time, punk dirge riffs is the foundation of anything I attempt to do on guitar more than 20 years later.

For me, a metalhead looking to listen to Subs for the first time should start at From the Cradle to the Grave and then Worlds Apart. All of their albums are flawless, but those two records in general are the highest level of craft punk rock has ever achieved and are basically progressive rock masterpieces. I dare anyone to argue that point. The first Subhumans video is the 16 minute side B track from Cradle to the Grave, the second is Worlds Apart in its entirety.

Here’s a video of Giant Squid covering a Subhumans song at a Citizen Fish show we played a while back. One of the most fun moments I’ve ever had on stage.

About this time, I finally had a real solid band with a slew of songs. We were called Eggs in Your Face. It was a combination of dumbed down Nirvana simpleness and F.Y.P. snarkiness, all put to a 1-2, 1-2 fast punk beat, and it fucking ruled. I played bass and did “back up” vocals. My other Nirvana obsessed friend, Jason Divine, played guitar and sang and wrote the lyrics. Jordan, who was from another band that I was trying to get going called The Retards, played drums. The Retards, despite the dumb-as-fuck name, thought we sounded like the Submhumans or Minor Threat, at least in spirit. But Eggs in Your Face just sounded like three brats who were outside your house throwing eggs at your car.

One day, Jason and I both got pulled into the principal’s office separately when a little comic strip trading scheme we had was discovered. Sophomore year we both had art class at different periods. I’d draw some ridiculous Eggs In Your Face themed comic, usually us kicking dogs or blowing up the school, and placed it in his bin. Then he’d come to class second period and find it, laugh, then one-up me with something funnier, which I’d find next time I came in. Back then, Jason could draw circles around me, so shit got really good, and really crass, very quick. Of course the hippie art teacher eventually found it and reported it, hence the visit to the principal’s office. This was all pre-Columbine; we would have been expelled if it was ten years later, or worse. The principal asked if we really wanted to kick dogs or blow up the school. Of course we said no. I fucking love dogs. So we were off the hook, but were told to cut that shit out. So we channeled our ridiculous ideas through our band.

The video above is a pretty rad live recording of us playing at a party. I dare you to get three songs in. “Bring Dynamite to Your School” is one of my faves.

Soon after, towards the end of my junior year in high school, I met the dudes who would go on to create Giant Squid with me. But first we had to trudge through years of figuring it out. We started a band called The Pedestrians, which then changed its name to The Chinese Connection (simply after the Bruce Lee movie and for no other reason) and eventually The Connection. All incarnations played fast-ass punk with jarring breaks into upbeat rocksteady reggae. Yup. The Pedestrians played countless local shows at every coffee shop, parking lot, friend’s garage, pizza parlor, bowling alley and even during lunch at our high school. By the time we were The Connection, we sort of knew what we were doing and started recording in studios to 1″ tape. By the time we matured into The Connection, I tried to become Mr. Social Commentator. Again, listening to way too much Subhumans and Citizen Fish.

The video above is a snippet of us playing at a pizza place in Davis, California, 1996. Thanks to Ryan Bird for uploading this recently and several of the other videos below.

*Stay tuned for Part 2 next week

**Photo by Lauren Wiest

***Order a copy of Giant Squid’s Minoans here

****For past Decibrity entries, click here

Heavy Metal Horror Roundtable: Trap Them Meets Fangoria!

By: Shawn Macomber Posted in: featured, gnarly one-offs On: Friday, October 31st, 2014

Trick or Treat 9

Horror and metal. Metal and horror. One couldn’t quit the other even if it wanted to. Which, as anyone who has attended either a horror con or metal show recently can attest, neither does. Except maybe those djent dudes whose non-role-playing-game media consumption is limited mostly to scouring Nova physics + math specials for potential new riff patterns and humorlessly waiting to pounce on un-trve science jokes in episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

Or at least that’s what I’ve assumed, anyway.

Point is, each fanbase has dual citizenship in the other and as what is in effect a gigantic nation of gutter culture connoisseurs, recommendations for cool new shit can be hard to come by.

So to help Decibel readers celebrate today’s holiday in style, we’ve brought together two of the brightest lights in horror/metal for a (virtual) roundtable discussion on which horror films best match the various and sundry subgenres of metal.

Our guests are Brian Izzi, the inventive guitarist/songwriter behind the sturm und drang of one of the single best extreme metal bands of the last decade, Trap Them, as well as the proprietor of the primo horror blog VideoCult. (Be sure to check out his sick Halloween 2014 mix…) And in the other corner we have Sam Zimmerman, the brilliant, endlessly incisive managing editor of Fangoria online, who also happens to sing for the great new metallic hardcore band Dead Ringers and plays catch-me-if-you-can all day on Twitter.

Oh, and by the way, copies of our April 2012 zombie issue are still available!

Now, without further ado…

Swedish Death Metal

Izzi: Entombed covered the Phantasm theme on Left Hand Path. Phantasm has a Tall Man. Sweden has Tall Men. I think that’s all we need to know here.

Zimmerman: A band like Entombed always sounded primal to me. Visceral and melancholic. Something like a ferocious being who accepts its nature, but is appropriately brooding about it. I’m using this space then to point to a new film I think everyone should see: Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook — out in November — is viscerally frightening. It’s about monsters, but also the darkness we harbor inside ourselves and ultimately keeping such for a healthy balance, not eradicating it.

Black Metal

Zimmerman: Mired in occult imagery, Black Death could go either way, which seems integral to the pagan and satanic influenced subgenre: Confronting both the mystic, as well as the harsh realities of those that dabble in it. Also, HAXAN or ultra-blasphemous movies like Alucarda, Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, and School of the Holy Beast.

Izzi: City of the Living Dead. A priest is impaled, Ouija board misuse, someone throws up their own guts, a drill through the head, and so much more. Combine that with a haunting Fabio Frizzi score and there’s nothing more evil.

Doom

New Child Bite Video with King Buzzo, Primary Colors and Killer Music

By: Dan Lake Posted in: featured, listen, videos On: Friday, October 24th, 2014

CBnew

Detroit wildmen Child Bite are currently touring the wide United States, playing this Sunday at the Housecore Horror Film Festival and continuing with dates through the Midwest and East Coast (dates/locations below).  Today we get to show you their brand new (read: just finished yesterday) music video for “Ancestral Ooze,” a song from their forthcoming Strange Waste EP (out November 25th) on Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records.  The video, a tribute to the 1987 underground horror flick Street Trash (which, incidentally, was also referenced by the whole premise of a recent episode of new show Gotham), features Buzz Osbourne as the dealer of brightly colored beverages that cause people to meet their ends in various exquisitely gruesome ways.  The video was written and directed by ex-DEP guitarist Jeff Tuttle.

It’s Friday morning.  You’re not ready for this.  But, oh, you’re so ready for this.  Enjoy!

Child Bite Fall Tour Dates

10/26 Austin, TX @ Housecore Horror Film Fest w/ Superjoint, Corrections House
10/27 New Orleans, LA @ Circle Bar w/ Acid Witch, Author & Punisher
10/28 Louisville, KY @ The New Vintage w/ Acid Witch
10/29 Evansville, IN @ PG
10/30 Milwaukee, WI @ Cactus Club
10/31 Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle w/ Bloodiest
11/01 Grand Rapids, MI @ Spoke Folks
11/02 Ypsilanti, MI @ Crossroads
11/04 Cleveland, OH @ Now That’s Class
11/05 Baltimore, MD @ Club K
11/06 Rochester, NY @ Bug Jar
11/08 Brooklyn, NY @ Death By Audio w/ Doomsday Student, White Mice
Also, check out more Child Bite at their Bandcamp and Facebook pages.

Sucker For Punishment: Fight Like It’s 1985

By: Adrien Begrand Posted in: featured On: Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

exidis

After parting ways with vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza in 2004, Exodus took a huge risk in hiring the unknown Rob Dukes as the band’s new frontman, but it was a risk that paid off well. The confrontational, provocative Dukes injected the band with a level of manic energy not seen since the classic Paul Baloff days, and aided by some relentless touring and three very good studio albums Exodus was able to achieve a sort of creative rebirth, attracting a younger audience while at the same time winning over the old fans with this revamped lineup.

Things seemed to be going so smoothly for the band that it came as a very big surprise that Dukes was fired during the recording of Exodus’s tenth album. Even more surprising, though, was the news that Souza was back in the fold and would commence recording the vocals for the new album immediately. Contrary to what people might assume about who was behind Souza’s hiring – many speculated that Exodus’s new manager Chuck Billy masterminded the whole thing – founding guitarist Gary Holt insists that Souza was simply the best option the band had, and everyone had no desire to go through the painstaking audition process to find a new voice.  So hatchets were buried, the slate was wiped clean, and both parties amicably and eagerly joined forces once again.

Although Dukes was a phenomenal frontman, perfectly suited for Exodus, there’s something about hearing Zetro at the helm once again that’s so pleasing, especially to any metal fan over the age of 40. It feels right. I managed to catch the reunited Exodus at their performance in Montreal this summer, and it was admittedly a great pleasure to hear that gravelly, nasal voice performing such songs as “The Toxic Waltz” and “Strike of the Beast”. Based on that alone, you had to think that Souza’s return on record would be just as impressive, or even more, and that’s indeed the case on Blood In, Blood Out (Nuclear Blast), which bursts with the fun and energy of Exodus circa 1985 yet at the same time exudes the breadth of the post-2000 incarnation of the band.

Presented in a robust but deliberately organic sound by producer Andy Sneap, the songs have bite and attack to them, drummer Tom Hunting punctuating each track with his precise and strong double-time beats. The riffs by Holt and Lee Altus sound as nimble as ever and Souza clearly relishes his return to the band, sounding strong and charismatic. However, this record is all about the strength of the songwriting, which is leaner than the band’s ambitious last few albums, tracks like “Salt the Wound”, “Blood In, “Blood Out”, and “My Last Nerve” keeping things simple and incessantly catchy. It’s exactly what anyone wants from these great thrash progenitors, a record that holds up well against the most beloved Exodus albums. I’d even go a little further and call this the best Exodus album since 1989’s Fabulous Disaster, not only a return to prime form, but a welcome return of a familiar face and voice.

Also out this week:

The Acacia Strain, Coma Witch (Rise): I’ve been getting this band’s albums for the past decade, and for the life of me I can’t remember how a single song of theirs goes. That’s one hell of a commitment to mediocrity, guys. This seventh album comes close to putting that streak to an end, though, as “Holy Walls of the Vatican” and “Cauterizer” are snappy enough metalcore tunes to keep listeners awake. Such is the state of mainstream American metal these days that that statement can be considered high praise.

Arabrot, I Modi (Fysisk Format): After mastermind Kjetil successfully beat cancer this year he wasted no time in recording a quick little follow-up to last year’s masterful Årabrot, and the resulting six-track EP is yet another assertion that Årabrot is one of the most original, vital, exciting noise bands working today.

Bethlehem, Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia (Prophecy): Don’t bands ever think before they settle on an album title? Seriously, naming your record “Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia” is the worst possible thing you could do to your marketability. Then again, gothic black metal sung exclusively in German isn’t exactly marketable to begin with. Once you get past that asinine title, however, you’ll discover a shockingly beautiful exercise in gothic metal aesthetics, full of bombast and melodrama. I have no idea what the fellow is singing about, but the cadence and coldness of the German language goes perfectly with the music, adding some welcome mystique in the process.

Blut Aus Nord, Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry (Debemur Morti): Coming off the triumphant 777 trilogy that saw French musician Vindsval establish Blut Aus Nord as one of the most creative forces black metal has seen in the last decade or more, you had to wonder where he’d take the music next. After Sect(s), The Desanctification, and especially Cosmosophy expanded the project’s musical palette to thrilling effect, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Vindsval decided to get back to basics, but still, there’s a prevailing feeling on Saturnian Poetry that it’s a regression after several exciting years of progression. The third installment of the Memoria Vetusta series (whatever that is) that originally started in 1996, this album sticks to the black metal basics of tremolo picking, blastbeats, and screeched vocals, which compared to Blut Aus Nord’s recent work is hardly groundbreaking, nor exciting. Thankfully Vindsval is an adept enough songwriter to execute this rote, overdone style in a way that still feels authoritative and better than most black metal of today – the superb one-two punch of “Henosis” and “Metaphor of the Moon” an example – but there’s absolutely no way, in this writer’s opinion, that this record even comes close to the last three. When Vindsval goes forward, I’m with him. When he steps backward, he loses me.

Horrendous, Ecdysis (Dark Descent): I knew nothing about this Philly band before their second album landed in my inbox, but once I heard Ecdysis I was shocked by just how well these guys sneak the hookiest heavy metal riffs into their death metal. At times it’s extraordinary how mindful Horrendous is when it comes to the power of a good hook. When they happen upon one, they let it carry the song, instead of making it a mere fragment of 50 other riffs, melodies, and breakdowns. They find a groove, and stick to it, creating dynamic, engaging songs. Imagine that. I remain torn when it comes to the dry, Martin van Drunen-style vocal growls, as they feel like monochrome set against a Technicolor backdrop, but thankfully the instrumental arrangements more than make up for that shortcoming. Besides, “When the Walls Fell” is the best metal instrumental I’ve heard all year. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp. 

Inter Arma, The Cavern (Relapse): One of America’s most exciting bands has slapped together an interesting “EP” release, comprised of one long 45-minute track that veers exuberantly from black metal, to sludge, to progressive rock, to Americana, and back. So few underground American bands have the guts to combine as many styles as Inter Arma does, and although an album of shorter, more concise songs would be an easier listen than this sprawling epic, this is still a great glimpse of an exceedingly creative band hitting its stride.

The Melvins, Hold It In (Ipecac): Being a huge fan of everything Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover did with the boys in Big Business rounding out the band, I’ve been wary of everything they’ve done since. Yet, typical of these sludge lords, they always come through with something weird and highly entertaining, whether as Melvins Lite, reuniting with old band members, or in this case, teaming up with Paul Leary and JD Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers. The fact that Hold it In is playful is no real surprise, but that it feels leaner than any Melvins record I have ever heard is. The emphasis is no longer on pure heaviness, instead on just creating good, fun rock ‘n’ roll, and on this album you can totally hear the influences of the first to KISS albums creeping into the Melvins’ music more than ever. It’s not without its weird moments – the 12-minute “House of Gasoline”, for instance – but the more laid-back fare like “You Can Make me Wait”, “Sesame Street Meat”, and “Piss Pisstopherson” dominate the proceedings, offering a glimpse at the lighter side of this great band. It might not be a classic album by any stretch, but it’s a very welcome addition to what’s become a wildly diverse discography.

Menace Ruine, Venus Armata (Profound Lore): Like Occultation, whose new album also comes out this week on Profound Lore, Montreal’s Menace Ruine offers a surreal perspective on heavy metal that focuses on a haunting female voice. What separates this project apart, though, is how it constantly keeps the listener at an arm’s length, retaining an air of mystery throughout. Geneviève Beaulieu sings classical-inspired melodies in a very arch voice, while multi-instrumentalist S. de la Moth creates a murky, haunting musical backdrop derived heavily from black metal, gothic post-punk, drone, and once again, neoclassical. The music’s impenetrability makes this a difficult album to enjoy, especially when compared to Occultation’s bewitching new album, but if you can get past the pretension and let yourself warm up to the music, it proves to be a worthwhile, delightfully gloomy experience. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Occultation, Silence In The Ancestral House (Profound Lore): The cryptic Brooklyn trio’s debut album Three & Seven caught my attention two years ago, enough for me to single them out as one of that year’s better new bands, but it still felt as if there was plenty to improve upon, plenty of promise to live up to. The follow-up does just that, thanks partially to producer Kurt Ballou – who always does his best work when stepping away from his hardcore production, which can get predictable – but primarily to the maturation of this band’s songwriting. The juxtaposition of Edward Miller’s classic heavy metal riffing and expressive solos with Viveca Butler’s Siouxsie-derived singing is spellbinding to hear, the two sides creating a very unique tension. It’s a terrific example of a metal band taking traditional sounds, thinking outside the old parameters, and showing enough creativity to create something that stands out. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

October 31, Bury the Hatchet (Hells Headbangers): The inimitable King Fowley has brought back his October 31 project for its first album in nine years, and in what should be no surprise at all, it’s a deliriously fun rampage through horror-obsessed thrash metal. Loaded with weird tales, macabre music, and loads upon loads of palm mutes and d-beats, this is an old-school blast. Jeff Treppel premiered the album here yesterday, so be sure to give it a listen.

Revocation, Deathless (Metal Blade): The talent in Revocation is undeniable, and was so obvious when the Boston band started making serious waves five years ago. Dave Davidson is arguably the best metal lead guitarist of his generation, and he has a knack for combining melody and aggression better than most of his peers. Five albums in, though, Davidson and Revocation still have yet to create that one album, hell, that one song that can galvanize audiences and lift this band into the upper tiers of the genre like so many of us expected to happen. Instead, this new album serves up more technical exercises and milquetoast attempts at melody that might please Guitar Centre loiterers but make no effort to win over the casual listener. They’re so close, too. The reaction to this style of music should be immediate; no one should work this hard to find merit in the songs. This isn’t a prog record. Where’s this band’s “Laid to Rest”, “My Last Serenade”, “Blood and Thunder”? But no, we’re left with another album with plenty of chops but with lame attempts at hooks that feel more like lip service than inspiration. I was among the writers proclaiming Revocation would be the next big thing, but a half decade later it’s time to file this band among the long list of modern American metal bands that showed huge initial promise but always failed to produce anything but ordinary, wasting everybody’s time in the process.

Scar Symmetry, The Singularity (Phase 1 – Neohumanity) (Nuclear Blast): The Swedish band has always been made fun of for embracing pop-derived melodies and incorporating them into their brand of melodic death metal, and the fact that I cannot help but hear Winger in this new sixth album won’t exactly help things. But while Winger is commonly thought of as a typical “hair metal” band from the late-‘80s, they were actually anything but. Underneath the lasciviousness and power balladry was a band with incredible musical chops that had an uncanny knack for smartly combining pop music and progressive rock. With this new album – the first in an apparent trilogy – Scar Symmetry similarly finds an even balance between melody, dexterity, and yes, brutality. Because the music is so hook-oriented, so much more than anything the band has done in the past – which is saying something – it will be greeted with scorn by those who claim metal should only be ugly and not “trite”, but this band deserves praise for going all-in, and coming through with a flamboyant yet, oddly enough, subtly extraordinary album.

Follow me on Twitter at @basementgalaxy