Stream New Septic Mind Album

By: Dan Lake Posted in: featured, listen On: Friday, October 31st, 2014

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Any fan of majestic extreme doom should make (geological) time to get familiar with Russian label Solitude Productions.  If you like four-minute songs just fine, but your salivary glands kick into overdrive for tracks that leave the eleven-minute mark in the dust, you’re the target market.  It’s easy to get lost in to celestial movements dragged into being by bands like Waters of Lethe, The Howling Void (not be confused with Ryan Lipynsky’s Howling Wind project), and Abstract Spirit.  This music’s not for everyone, and probably not for anyone all of the time, but at the right moments that slow darkness is simply devastating.

I’ve been a fan of Septic Mind’s gruesome crawl since a fellow music writer turned me on to The Beginning back in 2010.  Without my foreknowledge, the band heaved out their third record, Rab, just a few weeks ago, and I’m in love all over again.

Rab includes just enough of that haunting crush to be recognizable as Septic Mind, but there’s a new thrust to the record – in the middle of “Blizost’ Kontakta,” all up in the guitar tones of “Na Poroge Peremen” – that redesigns the band’s sound and places it well beyond simple funeral doom boundaries.  As their Bandcamp page suggests, Septic Mind’s new work includes, “tempo variations, passages from meditation to fury, from canonic funeral doom metal to avantgarde psychedelic experiments.”

Happy Halloween, freaks.  Here’s your treat.  Doom on.

Taking on the Internet: Interview with FunFunFunFest’s Graham Williams (Part II)

By: kevin.stewart-panko Posted in: exclusive, featured, gnarly one-offs, interviews On: Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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Earlier this month, I re-introduced you to Graham Williams, the man essentially responsible for procuring the across-the-board talent for FunFunFunFest, the annual party that’s taken place in Austin each year of the past eight. Not only is Williams a prolific promoter/booker with a seemingly inexhaustible knowledge of what the hell is going on in every scene from extreme music and indie rock to hip-hop and stand-up comedy, the guy is probably the best sport of anyone who’s ever sauntered across the face of the earth. This, because as part of my interview with him this time around (you’ll recall I originally interviewed him about the origins of the festival last year here) he was gracious enough to directly address the variety of complaints that I culled after about 17 seconds of skulking around the FFFF Facebook page.

It’s like brides-to-be-on-their-wedding-days refuse to believe: no day will ever be 100% perfect; something is bound to go wrong at some point on any day. The same thing can be said when you plonk what amounts to the population of a small town into a confined space for a three-day weekend and try to satisfy everyone with four stages worth of varying musical and comedy acts and some alcohol. Add to that the public forum the internet provides for (un)warranted complaints and, well, we all know how these things work. Williams didn’t have to do this; he could have told me to fuck off, stop being such a negative Nelly and gone back to working on trying to convince Ice Cube to do a special and exclusive Predator/Death Certificate/AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted set for next year’s fest, but he took to the time to tackle some of the issues that the public have with the fest. So, let the games begin!

There were a number of complaints about the sound at the Black Stage last year, and while I didn’t do my bitching on-line, I gotta say the sound was really spotty at times.
Sound is a constant struggle, but I think we do a pretty good job. We hire a really good sound company and most of the bands sound really great. There were a few bands – it seems like there are a few bands every year – that didn’t sound so great and I don’t know if it’s the sound person or if it’s an issue with the sound company, but it gets brought up at 10:01pm each day when we’re emailing the sound company going, “What happened? Why did it sound like this? What can you do to fix this for tomorrow?” You definitely notice it when it happens and it’s really frustrating, but also sometimes you have to deal with the city. Last year, there were a few mistakes made on their end where some of the sound enforcement folks came down and were talking to some of the sound people without the correct information, but that was sorted by the next day. They were probably coming by and telling people to turn it down when we weren’t actually over the decibel limit. That kind of stuff happens, but you take note of it, work through it, try and plan around it for the future and take our meetings with the city and sound folks and make sure we’re all on the same page for the next year. But it’s tough and there are those moments throughout the festival where things drop off and sometimes there are reasons, sometimes there aren’t. More often than not, there’s a touring sound person who isn’t used to doing festivals; they’re more used to mixing in a club or small venue and then they’re on a festival soundboard and they don’t know where they can push it and everyone’s looking at the festival, but we can’t control what a touring sound person does for any one band and that’s why you’ll notice major differences between one band and the next band because there will be two different sound guys.

So, is the side-by-side stage set up with bands playing back-to-back dead in the water?
Yeah. That was for a few reasons, mainly production. Essentially, I liked it: we could fit more bands; it kept the flow going back and forth; and there were shorter breaks between bands. But, a lot of the bands started having issues with it and we just ceded to them. Basically, what happened was we had a really short set changeover and if a band plays for 45 minutes, the band coming on next has 45 minutes to set everything, but they only had a quick little five minute window to line check everything and get started. So, if there’s a mistake or an issue or the wrong equipment is set up, there’s no time to fix it. If a band ended up throwing things off by 15 minutes that would throw off the entire rest of the day because there were never breaks between bands to catch up. So, there were times headliners or bigger bands in the middle of a bill got cut short. We decided it was in the band’s best interests to give everyone long set changes. Now, we have one stage and everyone has 20-30 minutes to get everything broken down, set up, sound checked and it just makes it easier on everyone. Like I said, I liked the back-to-back stages. I always played in punk and hardcore bands growing up and we never had any time to set up, but now we’re sometimes dealing with bands who are used to their own soundboards or bands who’ve flown in from Europe or wherever or bands who are used to having an hour to set up before they even check a note and you’re trying to rush them in five minute windows and it’s not really possible for a lot of bigger bands. In the end, it’s worked out. I mean, we got rid of one good thing, but everything’s runs a lot smoother since we did that and the bands are a lot happier.

There was a lot of commentary about the price increase. I mean, I get it: no one likes to pay for anything, but you need more money to attract names and that money is primarily going to come from admissions.
We raised it a little, not a lot. If you do the math, it was something like 10% or something small like that. I think it was $179/$180 for a weekend pass last year, and this year it’s $195. So, we raised it $15, which is less than 10%, more like 8%.

What’s the business model behind a price increase?
For us, it always hasn’t been so strategic. To be honest, we actually haven’t raised it in years when we probably should have. When we first moved to the new park, we were like “We don’t want to raise it because it’s going to be at a new park and everything is going to be a shock to everyone.” We added a third day, so there was that increase, but it increased proportionally per day. The next year, it was the same thing. We rolled in all the taxes and fees so there wouldn’t be any hidden prices so when you go to check out that’s what you pay; it’s all-in pricing and what you see is what you get. We actually didn’t raise it for three or four years, but this year we were so far behind. Most festivals raise them every year a little bit and we never did. I think it was because there were so many changes and we didn’t want the die-hard fans to feel taken advantage of, but in the end we were like, “We’re going to spend a whole lot more money this year on talent.” We want to get bigger bands, everyone wants to see bigger bands and everyone asks for bigger bands. Every year no one says, “You really should book this obscure band no one’s heard of whose split 7” I have ‘cuz that’s all I want to see.” People are always like, “Dude, when are you going to book Judas Priest?” Well, Judas Priest costs five times what the headliner cost two years ago. But, like I said, it’s a pretty nominal increase. The single-day tickets went from $75 or $79 to $85 and the weekend pass went up $15. That little amount times thousands of people adds up to enough to get bigger acts and this year across the board we booked bigger bands. The money just goes into bigger talent which hopefully sells more tickets, but we never know until the day of the show if we achieved our goal.

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This next point doesn’t apply to me because I don’t drink, but there were a few negative comments about the beer selection and people also complaining about long beer lines. I personally don’t care about beer in the slightest, so I wouldn’t know about any of this, but have you heard this complaint before?
No! That’s actually surprising and almost hard to believe! I don’t know, that’s crazy and it’s crazy how short the lines are with our system. There might have been a few key bars that were busy during certain peak hours. I do know that Shiner tried to do a craft beer thing and it was really small. Maybe that had a line? The generic bar lines and pop-up tents that are all over the festival have iPad systems and tons of bartenders who aren’t just random people; they hire bartenders from all over town who work at venues, so they are people who work pretty quickly. But, there were probably some moments like before a headliner where everyone goes during the half-hour changeover to get their beer so they don’t lose their spots. I would imagine those times had some peaks. Typically, every year we’ve gotten better and if there are a few moments where, say, they notice a problem on Friday, things are run pretty tight and the next day they get eight more people for that bar so they don’t have the same line-up problem the next day. But if someone complains about it, it’s on the internet forever, even if that person is happy the next day. Beer selection? We’re pretty stoked about it and on social media people have been really, really happy. In the past, people have been kind of stuck with whoever sponsors the festival and we’ve had some sponsors in the past that some people aren’t into. I also don’t drink, so it doesn’t matter to me, but I hear people’s complaints. We had Heineken sponsoring for a couple years in a row. This past year we have Shiner which is a super popular Texas beer and is kind of crafty in itself and is locally made. Having that, everyone – the drinkers anyway – was excited about because they didn’t get a cheap beer or a beer they would never order, they got something they like. So, we’re pretty happy about that and the people who work at Shiner are really cool; they like cool music, they like what we do, the head guy of their marketing team is super into metal, so he’s always stoked about our Black Stage and are always down to do fun, promotional things to help spread the word.

The next complaint is also something I don’t have any experience with, but there was some complaining about the VIP area “not being worth it.” I’ve never taken part in any of FFFF’s VIP experience, but what say you about this?
VIP is tough because we’re not dealing with your typical VIP people. At other festivals, they’ll charge $1000 for a VIP ticket. We can’t, in our good graces, do that and our customers won’t pay it anyway. We just don’t feel comfortable doing it. Other festivals will do it and they’ll have lounge chairs and guys giving massages and free salad imported from France or some shit. For a thousand dollars a ticket, you do get what you pay for. For us, we’re only charging people not even double what a regular ticket is and literally every penny of the up-mark goes back into the experience. So, it’s like we’re offering it so people have a choice, but it’s not something we make money off of. But we do a lot of stuff for the VIP/backstage area and the idea is there are more places to sit, there are no lines for food or beer or bathroom; it’s kind of the area you can kind of get away and have a better experience. There are view decks so you can have a special area to watch the band and you don’t have to fight through the crowd. The biggest complaint last year, which was very understandable but something we had pull back on, was that we used to do free beer. Financially, it didn’t make sense. We were killing ourselves giving away alcohol to everyone. It started as a small thing, like, “We’ll do a couple hundred VIPs and put our friends there.” Then, everyone started buying because, obviously, it’s free beer and as long as you drink enough you’ve saved money by the end of the weekend. We couldn’t keep up with it, but more importantly there were a lot of legal issues we found out about with giving away alcohol and selling a ticket that includes free alcohol. You have to do a different licensing thing with the way the liquor laws are and the only other option was to get rid of liquor at the festival and only do beer to be able to do it, but we’re one of the only festivals that sells liquor and that’s always been an interesting bonus. So, we decided it didn’t make financial sense and we didn’t think that’s what the festival was supposed to be. It’s supposed to be this fun event and if you want to pay a little bit more to have a nicer experience, we’d love to give that to you, but that was the one thing we had to cut out and we were also at the point of breaking the law to a degree; or there was some grey area and we didn’t want to keep pushing it and end up not being able to do the festival properly just so people could have free beer in the VIP section. For me, I’ve always not been sure even if we should do VIP. I don’t like the idea there’s a separate area for anyone; that’s not what our festival is about and our VIP section is totally different than the Lollapalooza VIP section. Every year we add new things and I think this year people will be happy with it. We’ve come up with a lot of ideas that we think VIPs will be happy with. Every year, even though there are complaints – and I understand the no free beer thing – we sell more than the year before. Those are just the loudest voices, which I understand because rarely do people go online to talk about how great anything is. They’ll always going online to complain about stuff, which I do too. I never go online to a restaurant I like and say, “You guys make the best nachos and I appreciate it” but I would if the nachos were terrible and the guy was an asshole.

Next, a bunch of complaints about the Comedy Stage/Tent: where it was placed; the sound bleed from the main stage; the actual size of the tent.
Yeah, that was a major fuck up on our part. Basically, we had always done it in a different section, but as it was growing, it wasn’t possible to fit in that area. So, our production guy did some measurements and tested out some sound proofing stuff he saw at Coachella and some other festivals and thought it was possible to do it in that one big giant area that we weren’t using and it didn’t really work. Also, the comedy acts we booked last year were too big to accommodate that tent, which we couldn’t really do much about. We got every big act who was playing to do a night show – Tenacious D, Sarah Silverman and everyone else – to offset if you couldn’t get in, you could go to the clubs, but even still…this year, we kind of booked more around the size with John Waters, Fred Armisen, Jello Biafra and tried to do as many comic and spoken word acts that we thought could fill that. The placement has definitely been on our minds. This year with the new location, I’m pretty confident it’s going to be a lot better; it’s not longer across the stage; it’s to the side of where all the stages are, so we don’t think there’s going to be any bleed. There might be some, but it’s tough when it’s spoken word. You’re always going to hear some drums and bass in the background somewhere, but it’s going to be better than before. Last year, we tried something different to accommodate the audience, but there was way too much bleed and we had to learn the hard way.

Something I’ve always wondered about was the a screen behind the comedy stage: why not get a camera and project the comedian on the screen during his/her routine?
Yeah, we talked about that too. The projection was more for certain comics who needed it as part of their bits or some of the bands – there are always bands after the comedy ends – to use. It’s more of a functional thing. This year we had talked about having a single camera so anyone in the back can still see the comic. It sort of depends on how we set it up this year, but I think that’s a pretty good idea and I don’t really see any reason not to. You’re already fighting against music and trying to get a single voice to be heard for an entire crowd, you might as well make it so you can at least see them. It’s not too much of a cost to bring in a camera person and do that, it’s just a matter of making work.

And lastly, I noticed that Volcom is redesigning the skate and BMX area. Was that the result of complaints from the skaters/riders/fans?
Not really, it’s more that it started out with a guy we knew who had a skate shop was like, “Can I bring my ramp and some of the dudes who work here will skate it?” and we were like, “Yeah, sure.” Every year it got bigger and now it’s fucking massive and pros are being flown in from all over, but there’s no sponsor, we’re paying for it out of pocket. It’s not like you’re buying tickets to see Christian Hosoi, you’re buying tickets to a music festival and the skate and ride is a hugely important part that we’ve really embraced, so we wanted a partner who could really take it to the next level and do something for us that we admittedly don’t know as much about. We’ve had this local partner, Project Loops, a non-profit that helps with some of the riders and some of the design. They’re great, but it’s not a big company. We wanted someone who could really get behind it where we have our limits. We know a lot about music, and some of the guys who work here know a lot about skating and riding, but Volcom literally has an entire skate team and department. They used to have a label and some of their bands have played and they have had their tents set up. I think they wanted to get more into the festival world and promoting their clothing and we really like what they do – they want to do a special t-shirt series around some of the acts that are playing, which no one really does – and we’re really happy to have someone in that world be a part of it.

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FunFunFunFest 9 runs November 7-9. For info and tickets and all that sort of thing, check out www.funfunfunfest.com

Encrotchment With Eddie Gobbo From Jar’d Loose: Week 8

By: Eddie Gobbo Posted in: encrotchment, featured, nfl 2014 On: Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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Favorite Horror Movie: The Haunted Mask II

Favorite Horror Movie Actor: The kid from The Haunted Mask II

Lions for Lambs

As we sat in the backstage area of Chicago’s Cobra Lounge this past Friday, Steve Colca, lead singer/guitarist of Austin, Texas’ Destroyer of Light, gave me an overview of their treacherous tour schedule. They’re in the middle of a month-long run, which included hitting the highly touted Southwest Terror Fest in Arizona a couple weeks back. These dudes absolutely crush! Very Pentagram-esque with a High on Fire tinge.

I met Colca years ago at Chicago’s DePaul University, while we were getting our bachelor degrees in metal (I minored in avant-garde sports column writing). We went to see Lamb of God on the As the Palaces Burn tour together. On the train ride to the show, I vaguely remember talking football with Colca.  He expressed his love for the Detroit Lions, a very ballsy comment from even a Michigan native, considering the Detroit Lions were one of the consistently worst teams in football at the time.  Bad QBs, bad defenses and bad coaching led them to the record-breaking 2008 winless season. I made Steve recall the horror-scene that was 2008:

“We don’t like to talk about that. [Laughs] Hey man, sometimes it takes something embarrassing to make a team better.”

Football fans might remember a guy named Matt Millen during that era. He was an ex-player, and the Lions GM for the worst stretch in their franchise’s history. He’d attend every game. When the Lions would blow a game, often in Three Stooges fashion, the camera would focus in on Millen with tombstones in his eyes. In high school, my friends and I would laugh every Monday at how sick Matt Millen looked after the Detroit loss the day before. He was mercifully fired in 2008. If there is one dude that Lions fans scapegoat for their Hell Tour, it’s Millen. Colca’s thoughts on him are no different.

“Screw that guy. First off, I can’t believe they kept Matt Millen on the Lions staff for so long. He made horrible decisions, time and time again. And then, obviously, the winless season. I am glad that we can put those years behind us.”

And put those years behind you can, Lions fans. The Lions are 6-2 this year! I’d actually say they’re arguably the most balanced team in football. They can beat you in a shootout. They can beat you in a defensive battle. Most importantly, they are winning the close games that they’d normally lose. Case in point, the last two weeks. They came back and won games against Atlanta and New Orleans that any other season, they would have accepted defeat in and probably start fighting the other team. Colca attributes the sea change to maturity.

“I think the team has finally matured and grown to handle pressure situations better. Also, I think the coaching staff has a lot to do with [the change].”

Behind new head coach Jim Caldwell, who you may remember from such teams as the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, post-Tony Dungy, they are way more collected than under previous coach Jim Schwartz. Good news for all you Michiganders who stuck by your Lions through all the crap. Now go blast some Ted Nugent from your Gran Torino and get out of my sight!

Check out Destroyer of Light here. And catch them on tour in the southeast through November. Stoked on these dudes!!!

Lynching Yourself to Live

I am furious right now at Marshawn Lynch, who is officially my least favorite player in all of sports.

He pissed me off royally this past May when he stayed home from the team’s congratulatory trip to the White House. He just “didn’t want to go.”  Like a kid who doesn’t want to go to church on Christmas and just open his presents. Dude, you play American football. Have enough respect for your country to spend a day at the White House. It’s not like you’re trying to make a political statement like Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, unless your statement is laziness (which actually, now that I think about it, may be a political statement). Moron.

Then there was a heavy rumor that when Percy Harvin was traded to the Jets two weeks ago, Lynch refused to get on the team bus to head to the airport because he was upset. Regardless of that rumor’s veracity, he DID in fact take to Twitter to say how upset he was over the trade. Your job is to play, Marshawn, not to analyze the coaching staff and management of a player who was the disruptive crybaby Frack to your Frick.

It was announced on Sunday that neither the Seahawks nor Lynch expects Lynch to be on the team next season, with years still left on his contract. This shouldn’t be a distraction for the rest of the year, should it? Seattle fans: Welcome to first-round playoff loss upset land. I can’t wait ’til this guy plays for a crappy team, makes less money, and/or is out of football. Hopefully all will happen next year.

The Raid 2: Directors Cut

What if the Raiders beat the Seahawks this Sunday? Hmmmmmmmm…

Brokeback Cowboy

Dallas/Fort Worth saw their lives flash before their eyes this past Monday when Tony Romo fell and couldn’t get up after taking a sack in the third quarter against the Skins.

Luckily, it was only a back contusion, not related to last year’s season-ending back injury. Jerry Jones in an interview with 105.3 The Fan (Dallas) yesterday said that, “If Tony Romo can withstand the pain, he could play Sunday vs. Arizona.” Something tells me he’ll start this Sunday and will aggravate his back even more.

The Cowboys next three weeks are vs. Arizona, at Jacksonville, and then their bye week. DON’T start Romo this weekend against the Cards (a game I’m certain they will lose even if they did start him). Sit him the next game against Jacksonville (a game they can win without him), have him not play golf on his bye week, and have him poised for healthy run a month from now, you lose

Are You There, McCoy Family? It’s Me, God.

Did you guys go out for ice cream after?

Gone Guy

Remember the movie Breakdown with Kurt Russell? Well, this is the real-life version, except the man abducted himself. This week, a man named Peter Kitterman went to the Broncos/Chargers Thursday night game with his stepson. When his stepson went to the bathroom in the second half, he came back to see his stepdad gone. I’m sure this is a dream for most people with stepparents, but this kid actually liked his stepfather.

Five days later, they found this dude, in a Walmart parking lot 100 miles away from the stadium.

His response when they inevitably asked him “What the Fuck?!” was essentially, “What???” like it wasn’t a big deal. Mark my words, this guy gets divorced within the year.

My dad once left me at a game: Thurs., Oct. 2, 2008, Cubs/Dodgers playoff game at Wrigley Field. He got bummed after Carlos Zambrano gave up five runs in the second inning and stormed out of Wrigley Field. I was 24 years old.

Johnfire

And finally this week, my friend, and the only Jets fan in Boston, Rozamov’s Tom Corino, sent me this website he probably made called firejohnidzik.com. Why Tom would want the lead singer of Goo Goo Dolls to lose his job, I have no idea.

Pick of the Week

New York Giants +3 over Indy

STREAMING: Project Rogue – TITANS: “Decimator”

By: Chris D. Posted in: featured, gnarly one-offs On: Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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Few projects are as ambitious as Project Rogue – TITANS. Featuring 25 artists from Fear Factory (ex), System of a Down, Lamb of God, Cannibal Corpse, Cynic, Revocation, Napalm Death, Obituary, Static X, Charred Walls of the Damned, and many more, Project Rogue – TITANS aims to bridge the many metals into one sonic force by using unconventional approach to marketing and distribution of a metal record. That is: crowdsourcing.

“We want the fans to be as connected as they can be on this project,” says Rogue Records America proprietor Dean Martinetti. “We really want them to be just as excited about this as we are and to connect even closer to the artists they love so much. Besides the mobile app we are thinking of YouTube streams, location visits for fans, etc. Every artist that has come on board has done so because they want to have that connection with their fan base.”

“This song ‘Decimator’ was written a few years back for a video game project we were doing and it turned out that the extra music wasn’t needed after all,” adds drummer Raymond Herrera. “So, I kept it in the ‘vault.’ The song features myself on the drums and Wayne Static on vocals. This is the first song we ever worked on together.”

To date the following have committed to Project Rogue – TITANS:
Raymond Herrera – Ex-Fear Factory/Arkaea
Shavo Odadjian – System Of A Down
Chris Adler – Lamb Of God
Rob Barrett – Cannibal Corpse
Christian Olde Wolbers – Ex-Fear Factory/Arkaea
John Boecklin – Devildriver
Paul Masvidal – Death/Cynic
Richard Christy – Charred Walls of the Damned / Ex-Death / Ex-Iced Earth
David Davidson – Revocation
Sean Reinert – Death/Cynic
Jon Howard – Threat Signal/Arkaea
Mitch Harris – Napalm Death
Jed Simon – Scar The Martyr/Strapping Young Lad
Frank Watkins – Obituary/Gorgoroth
Wayne Static – Static X
Pat Lachman – Damageplan
Logan Mader – Machine Head/Soulfly
Tommy Vext – Ex-Divine Heresy / Snot
JD Schmidt – Nociceptor
Robert Luciani – Means End
Vincent Zylstra – Synthetic Breed
Andrew Zink – Akeldama
Connor Reibling – Akeldama
Boris Bonillo – Letum Ascensus
Freddy Contreras – PRO-FE-CIA

** Project Rogue – TITANS is currently being crowd-funded through Pledge Music. The project is currently 13% funded and needs your help. A variety if options are available for metalheads eager to become part of (even Executive Producer) Project Rogue – TITANS. Click HERE for details.

A Very Heavy Halloween: Alice Cooper DVD Contest!

By: Shawn Macomber Posted in: contest, featured On: Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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Alice Cooper famously refuses to even broach the idea of maybe someday retiring and if there’s one thing the ridiculously epic mash-up of career-spanning fist-in-the-air anthems and grandiose dark carnival theatrics so exquisitely captured on Raise The Dead — Live From Wacken makes clear it’s that there’s abso-fucking-lutely no reason on earth he should pull the plug anytime soon.

In honor of this week’s orange and black festooned holiday we’ve got a copy of the twenty-two song DVD/CD digipack to give away to the reader who makes the most entertaining case, either in the comments section here or on Facebook, for the Cooper song they believe should be declared the official soundtrack of All Hallow’s Eve.

There are obviously a lot of potential winners in the man’s back catalog — but don’t spend too much time mulling it over. We’ll pick a winner before close of shop tomorrow.

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Decibrity Playlist: Bastard Feast

By: zach.smith Posted in: featured, interviews, listen, lists On: Thursday, October 30th, 2014

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We have a lot of love for Bastard Feast around these parts. Adrien Begrand lauded the band’s latest album, Osculum Infame, in his Sucker for Punishment column, Dan Lake interviewed the quintet earlier this summer and the Oregonians snagged a local spot opening for Carcass and company on this year’s Decibel tour. Now with the group set to hit the road for a month starting tomorrow, guitarist Taylor Robinson passed along a list of tracks that he and his bandmates spin in the van. Hopefully they won’t be sick of listening to any of them by the time they reach Oakland. After you’re perused their selections, pick up a copy of their sophomore LP here.

Beastmilk’s “Red Majesty” (from 2012′s Use Your Deluge EP)
First song is Beastmilk, being that as soon as all five of us found out about this band, we were absolutely hooked. It sounds like a mix of Killing Joke and the Misfits with hints of death rock. Everything I’ve heard so far has been solid.

Electric Wizard’s “Witchcult Today” (from 2007′s Witchcult Today)
From our first tour when we were formerly known as Elitist ’til a week ago, I have heard this song blasting in our van. Almost as soon as we light up a cigarette or joint, we start listening to the Wiz. I believe this band and album will always be a favorite of ours.

YOB’s “Burning The Altar” (from 2009′s The Great Cessation)
Hometown heroes, nicest guys around. Same thing as Electric Wizard, we have listened to YOB for so many years that it seems like a band that we have constantly put on to keep heavy rhythms flowing through the van. We try not to drown ourselves too much in heavy stuff, since when we leave for tour it’s what we see live every night, but this band has a special place for all of us.

Plague Widow’s “Malignant” (from 2013′s This Black Earth split)
We toured with these guys in July. Our longtime friend had recently joined this band and when we finally got around to checking them out, [we were] blown away. We love the heavy Portal-esque death metal that is surging. Keep it dark and heavy. This will definitely be getting jammed while we travel and throw ourselves around the country.

Ascension’s “Open Hearts” and “Grey Light Sibling” (from 2010′s Consolamentum)
Ascension…enough said.

Vallenfyre’s “Splinters” (from 2014′s Splinters)
Just got into this band not too long ago and have realized there are new levels of pushing the heavy boundaries. Glad other bands are catching on to this instead of rehashing the same old. Fast and crushing or slow and crushing, these guys are doing it right. Excited to see them on the next Decibel tour.

Rome’s “Das Feuerordal” (from 2008′s Masse Mensch Material)
Rome is incredible. [This is] one of my favorite songs right now. Can’t…stop…listening…to it. In the weird fantasy-like world I live in, I think that our bands would be able to play a show together. Pfft.

Lowlife’s “Permanent Sleep” (from 1986′s Permanent Sleep)
Fuel for the fire to bum everyone the fuck out. We all love sad depressing shit to some degree. Some of us more then others, but fuck it, it’s fall.

Depeche Mode’s “Policy Of Truth” (from 1990′s Violator)
One day we will do a Depeche Mode cover and it will probably melt our faces to accomplish it. Been listening to this band since we were young lads. Will be listening to this band on our deathbeds.

Pantera’s “I’m Broken” (from 1994′s Far Beyond Driven)
Our last one to leave this with. Phil Anselmo rules everything around me. If you hate Pantera, fuck you.

*Order a copy of Bastard Feast’s Osculum Infame here

**Bastard Feast tour dates:

10/31 Sacramento, CA @ Starlite Lounge w/EYEHATEGOD, Power Trip, IRON REAGAN
11/2 Phoenix, AZ @ 51 West Venue
11/3 Albuquerque, NM @ Sister
11/5 Austin, TX @ Red 7
11/6 New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
11/8 Tallahassee, FL @ Pete
11/10 Miami, FL @ House Show
11/11 Jacksonville, FL @ The Shantytown Pub
11/12 Savannah @ The Jinx
11/20 Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie
11/21 Pittsburgh, PA @ Camp Clark
11/23 Indianapolis, IN @ The Melody Inn
11/24 Chicago, IL @Grandbar
11/26 Denver, CO @ Barbar
11/28 Laramie, WY @ House show
11/29 Salt Lake City, UT @ The Shred Shed
11/30 Las Vegas, NV @ The Adrenaline Bar
12/1 Fresno, CA @ Chinatown Youth Center
12/2 Oakland, CA @ The Metro

***For past Decibrity entries, click here

Thou’s Heathen: Studio Report Outtakes

By: justin.m.norton Posted in: featured, interviews On: Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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In early 2013, Thou vocalist Bryan Funck sent us wonderful responses on the writing and recording of Thou’s 2014 album Heathen. The issue: we only had enough space for our customary studio report and had to cherry pick details. As people begin to consider their best-of lists Heathen will doubtless be one of the albums that makes short lists. We decided to dust off Funck’s responses and give them a proper airing on the Deciblog. You can get in touch with Thou here.

Is there a working title yet? Release date?

The title of the record is Heathen. We haven’t really set a release date. Maybe sometime this summer. Maybe a little sooner. It depends on how soon I finish the vocals. We also need to get Emily McWilliams to come down and record vocals over one of the tracks. Then get James Whitten to mix everything. Then deliberate over the mixes for a bit. Then Adam Tucker for mastering. We’re kind of taking our time, since we’re not rushing to get it done for a tour or anything. But we’re all pretty excited about the record, so I think we’ll get it out as soon as we can.

What kind of progressions are you looking to make from Summit?

It’s more expansive than Summit in some ways, but maybe that’s just because it’s almost twice as long. We also wrote some small pieces that will bridge the songs together, trying to make everything flow from beginning to end without that kind of start-stop between songs. The sound is somewhat similar to the Summit stuff—very heavy on melody. A lot of the celebratory elements from Summit are also there with this one, though the songs still have that melancholic quality.

Any themes or ideas you are working with in particular?

Nature worship, living fully in the present, physical gratification, physical pain, anti-intellectualism, the celebration of ego and all of the senses. Heathen and Magus (the next full length on the agenda) explore some of the ideas from Summit from the viewpoint of two extremes: the corporeal and the esoteric. Thematically, the ideas in these three records are vaguely similar to Kierkegaard’s three stages of life but without the imposed hierarchy.

Any challenges yet in writing the new material?

Mainly time and physical constraints. In August 2010, we started going out on tour every month through January 2012 and then we did some smaller jaunts in April and May and then a European tour in June. We would have a little time between tours, but being together so much wasn’t really conducive to us putting a lot of effort into making time for writing, especially when we were usually using practices to work in more songs to play on the next tour. And everyone was also in and out of town with other bands or doing personal stuff. We wrote one of the Heathen songs as far back as August or September 2010, knocked out the second song sometime before the Europe tour, got another three done after Europe, and then finished the other three just this past December.

We also have some geography issues we’re dealing with. Andy moved to Oakland this past August. He came out to Baton Rouge to visit his family for Christmas, so we used that time to finish writing Heathen, work on some other new songs that weren’t gelling with the full length, write that EP with The Body — and then record everything.

Lots of splits were released in the runup to this record — did this affect writing of the new material at all?

No, I think we only had a few splits between Summit and Heathen — the stuff with Cower, Hell, and Kowloon Walled City. We recorded all of those songs in one quick session. It didn’t really keep us from working on this record. After we did Summit and To the Chaos Wizard Youth, we wanted to do something fun. We started working on a Fiona Apple tribute record, but it didn’t come out quite like we envisioned, so we dropped that, and the thing with Cower came up. We went through some different permutations with those songs, trying to write more straightforward, “hardcore” ish material with Andy playing drums and Josh playing second bass. That didn’t work out super well, so we just wrote like we normally do salvaginga few parts from the earlier writing.

We had one song too many from that batch, so we decided to hit up Matthew Williams about doing the Hell split. And we recorded the Soundgarden cover for the Kowloon Walled City split at the same time. We went to Europe with Moloch right after finishing this stuff. It wasn’t really until we got back that we started working on new ideas for a full length, though it was pretty soon after that Matthew Thudium had the first song pretty fleshed out, which more or less dictated the direction we wanted to take the sound of Heathen.

Death Mask Dawning: Exclusive “Metalhead” Clip!

By: Shawn Macomber Posted in: exclusive, featured On: Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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The buzz, my friends, is justified.

Metalhead, the “dark, intense drama of loss, faith, redemption, and heavy metal” from acclaimed Icelandic director Ragnar Bragason, is a gorgeous, harrowing, touching, and, despite its black metal grim moments, ultimately, uplifting piece of tour de force filmmaking with a soundtrack that previously only existed in the dreams of trve-ly cultivated headbangers.

Check out the exclusive clip below and full trailer. And then go here for a FREE ticket to the upcoming Brooklyn screening.

METALHEAD – Pressclip – “Black Metal” from Cinelicious Pics on Vimeo.

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Seeing Priest With My Dad

By: Dutch Pearce Posted in: featured, live reviews On: Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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“Oh, watch the lightning strike

Feel the powers of the hammer’s pounding on

Take it to your heart and understand

What must live on from father to son”

-“Father to Son” by Quorthon/Bathory

One thing my family always jokes about is how my dad was caught crying at the end of The Last Unicorn. It’s since been decades, and many other weepy movies, songs and moments therein, but my dad still gets embarrassed, tries to deny it, tries to deny that he cries at all, let alone often. So, when I saw him, in my periphery, remove his glasses and wipe his eyes during “Turbo Lover,” I thought to let it slide. For here was the man who had locked us in his truck when I was only five, maybe six, because “Iron Man” came on the radio and I had to hear the entire song before we could go inside. “This is important,” my dad said, turning it up, way up.

So, how to repay my dad, the man who introduced me to this wonderful underworld? Despite his being a metalhead since the genre’s bloody roots days, my dad’s never been to a proper metal show. Between family, work, barn and yard chores, town council meetings, and all the other pressing matters that life throws at adults, he just never had time. Though he was always happy to give me a little scratch and send me on my way down that infernal road. For years, he lived out his metal life vicariously through me. What’s changed now is that he’s near retirement; the company needs him more than he needs it and he can make his own rules.

On Friday, June 13, 2014, Priest dropped “Dragonaut,” the premiere single for their new record, Redeemer of Souls. I texted my dad immediately after hearing it. He’d heard it that day, too, on Ozzy’s Boneyard, his favorite Sirius station. It was decided then and there that the new Priest was not only mandatory, but would be exactly what its title claimed to be: a Redeemer.

A few weeks later I saw that Judas Priest was playing the Pitt campus on October 18, and knew exactly how to repay my dad for his years of TOTAL SUPPORT.

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Fast forward to the day of the show and, thanks to Decibel, my dad and I are going to see Priest. We were getting in some crucial pregaming at Franktuary, a local gourmet hot dog joint with chi rho/Paul Chain-logo bearing chairs, and my dad was retelling his favorite live show stories. There was the time he saw UFO at the Stanley Theater and they were so loud that the ornate plaster ceiling rained down on the audience. He’d seen the Stones sometime back in the early ‘70s when the band was infamously joined on stage by an inflatable penis that Mick Jagger was wont to ride. And the time he saw Queen and Freddie Mercury strutted out wearing green spandex with a red rose in his teeth like a tango dancer. Stories I’d heard a dozen times before, at least, but were that day imbued with new meaning, for here was unfolding a new story: one I would someday tell my own child, regardless if he or she would be a metalhead.

In my dad’s truck, I drove us to the Petersen Events Center. My dad watched the city smear past, told me I drive like my mom for the thousandth time in my life; he updated his Facebook status. Apparently he was about to scratch something from his bucket list. I said: “See Judas Priest?” And he said: “See a metal show with my son.”

We parked a couple blocks away on University Drive, in front of the Physics & Astronomy Building, made our way up the hill toward the Pete, helped some out-of-towners in familiar shirts find their way; overheard some Heavy Metal Parking Lot action coming from the upper echelons of a parking garage. Climbing the hill on top of which the Pete sits, then all the stairs to reach its doors, and the several escalator rides once inside, gave me the sense of ascending to some heavenly place. A place among the clouds where age doesn’t exist and only metal matters.

My dad’s orange Under Armour hoodie was a comfort to me amid the wall of black that was the crowd out to see Priest that night. If we got separated for whatever reason, he would be easy to spot, reminded of deer hunting with him during those dark wintry mornings. We tried to find where our seats were, but the place was a labyrinth. We asked security and, after studying our tickets, they sent us back down, but toward the center of the Pete. As my dad has since explained to people: If we’d been there for a basketball game, we would’ve been seated right behind the team. True, there was seating on the court itself, facing the stage, but in fold-out chairs, and below the band, ever at the mercy of those taller and closer.

We took our seats and Steel Panther already had been playing for a while. We walked into a song whose chorus was about blowing all your money at the glory hole. My thoughts on Steel Panther: They’re not serious enough to dislike, nor are they bad enough. Sure, they’re misogynists, and they wouldn’t know subtlety if it was calling them at the crack of dawn to tell them they’ve got herpes, but they are exactly what they aim to be. Their costumes were egregiously tight, their hair well-styled. They aren’t so much imitating that bygone hair metal era as mocking it while somehow seeming also to pander to it. Though I must admit that vocalist Michael Starr squeals just like a heyday David Lee Roth, and that makes him A-OK in my book. My dad and I laughed because we were grateful for the experience, and laughing was the least we could do. They closed with a stupid, but short song called “Death to All but Metal.”

Before Priest appeared, “War Pigs” played on the PA and the just-about-filled Petersen Events Center was up in arms: singing, air-guitaring/drumming, fist-pumping, beer-spilling, horns-throwing. With the lights on in the stadium, I saw that my dad was not the only gray-haired veteran present. In fact, men and women of his age group could’ve dominated the crowd were it not for all those in mine (mid-20s to early 30s). Right in front of us, all in different Judas Priest shirts, stood a group of five white-haired old heads rocking out to Sabbath as if they were once more gathered around the Firebird in the high school parking lot. Not only did “War Pigs” wash away any remaining “blech” from Steel Panther’s set, it seemed poignant, too, that Priest’s performance was being ushered in by a Black Sabbath song.

Judas Priest took the stage amid a roar of approval and challenge. “We paid your ticket price, now give us our metal!” the audience seemed to say. Everyone was out there except Rob Halford. Ian Hill and Glenn Tipton were so close I could’ve hit them with my shoe, if I were the shoe-throwing type. Scott Travis was elevated behind the rest of the band. I nudged my dad, said: “That dude’s the main reason why Painkiller is so good.” A bold statement, but he nodded. The new guy, Richie Faulkner, envy of many axe-slayers worldwide, was leather-clad, long-haired, a worthy replacement for Downing. Then Rob walked out. He had the easy movements and confidence of a wealthy man showing us around the mansion he built with his own means. He wore a studded leather jacket adorned in hanging chains, the first of many leather jackets he would don throughout the night. Faulkner got it all started, his guitar sounding like he was revving the engine of a ‘68 Road Runner Hemi. “Dragonaut” was the spot-on opening choice, warming up the band and audience alike while removing all doubt concerning vocal abilities. Raze all naysayers and skeptics: Halford is forever!

After “Dragonaut,” they went into “Metal Gods.” I was hoping my dad would take off his hoodie to show off his British Steel shirt, but he must’ve been feeling as I did: without body, mind or direction, merely a conduit for the shreddage. At one point during the song, Rob did the Robot. It was subtle and quick, but it was the Robot, all right. Around this time, I also noticed that behind the band was a giant screen whose visuals changed to fit each song. These visuals were pretty bad, like PlayStation 1 graphics, but this endeared the experience even more for me. I thought of my dad’s semi-recent fascination with video games.

Seriously, what Priest set isn’t going to be too short? They could play for six hours and many songs would still be forsaken. They played 16 songs, managing to sneak in four new ones among all the mandatories. Rob underwent about as many leather jacket changes, ranging from a long, purple trenchcoat to a prismatic affair that had to be seen to be understood. My personal favorite Rob of the night wore no leather jacket at all, but what was underneath? A long-sleeved black button-down shirt with metallic silver leaves. It gave me a sense of how Rob might dress when he goes to his local grocery store. As we knew he would, he rode out and remained seated on his Harley for the fake closer, “Hell Bent for Leather.” He did his own thing with the vocal melodies to “Victim of Changes,” so rather than belt along, we listened and took it in. They played “Beyond the Realms of Death” very much to the enjoyment of both the old and the young. That night, Priest was mythological. It seemed the new blood of Richie Faulkner had revitalized the band, and the songs from Redeemer were some of the best of the night. Indeed, I saw as many people wearing shirts of the new album as I saw people in British Steel or Screaming or Defenders shirts.

The second encore, played just after 10 p.m., was “Living After Midnight,” followed by “Defenders of the Faith,” with the audience singing along, every lung bursting with righteous metal pride. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents and grandkids all pumping their fists, giving voice to that timeless pledge. And if it never happens again, at least it happened this one time: I saw Judas Priest with my dad.

 

Sucker For Punishment: Blinded By Fandom

By: Adrien Begrand Posted in: featured On: Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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As music writers learn when they hit their late 30s and head into their 40s, nostalgia is very powerful, to the point of being irresistible. Whenever a revered artist or band returns from a very long absence with a record that’s been hyped to the nines, you’re going to have certain critics whose attachment to the band is so strong that try as they might to provide an objective opinion on the new music, those darned blinders of fandom still get in the way. Personally, as much as I like writing about Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Rush, if you’re familiar with my work you know I’m going to be very forgiving, even if an album is subpar. In the case of Priest’s recent album Redeemer of Souls, it ranks very high on my best-of-2014 list solely because it pleases me on a purely sentimental level. It makes this guy wistful and happy because it hearkens back to an era when Priest’s music had the biggest impact on me, 30 years ago. So while I love Redeemer and will espouse its merits to anyone, for the casual listener who’s not a fan, my opinion might not feel as trustworthy as a review by someone with absolutely zero sentimental attachment to the band and the music.

Forgive me, Decibel readers, but I’m about to blaspheme a little. If there’s one thing I can say about death metal, it’s that I have zero sentimental attachment to it. I thoroughly enjoy it when it’s done well, but when the music was in its nascent stages in the late-1980s, when it built that early core audience, I couldn’t care less about it. It had zero influence on me during my formative years, so as a result I’ve always been very selective when it comes to singling out good contemporary death metal albums today. So when a band like Carcass comes along – whom I have great admiration for and whose albums I own, but whom I can’t call myself a “fan” of – and releases an album in Surgical Steel that shatters my own expectations to the point where I can declare a full year later that it ranks as one of the best metal albums of the last 15 years, that’s something worth noting. A “comeback” album that makes a non-fan a fan is as ringing an endorsement as you will ever find.

A year after Surgical Steel came along and blew everyone away, another highly influential, much-adored death metal band has finally released its fifth album. In At the Gates’ case, it’s been 19 years since the release of the classic Slaughter of the Soul, and although the band has been milking the reunion thing since 2008, what remained to be seen was whether or not they’d be able to sustain that positive momentum with strong new material once again.

The impressive thing about At War With Reality (Century Media) is that it sounds exactly what fans of At the Gates want to hear. The songs are crisp, taut, three to four-minute exercises in the straightforward melodic death metal the band helped pioneer, focusing once again on the contrast between the fluid, ornate melodies of guitarists Anders Björler and Martin Larsson and the intense vocals of the inimitable Tomas Lindberg, juxtaposed against a backdrop of thrash and NWOBHM-derived speed. It feels comfortable and good, and songs like “Death and the Labyrinth” and “At War With Reality” are instantly satisfying, wasting no time in recalling classics “Blinded By Fear” and “Under a Serpent Sun”.

However, this is where the perspective of the non-fan can become invaluable amidst all the critical euphoria. As strong as this album is, as recognizable as the music is, At War With Reality does nothing to add to At the Gates’ legacy, other than give the fans a familiar product. Part of the album’s lack of impact beyond that initial instinctive reaction is due to the fact that At the Gates spawned hundreds of acolytes who played the exact same style of music to the point of severe oversaturation. The horrible truth is that even though At the Gates still sounds better than all of the imitators, how anyone can feel over the moon about this album after 15 years of melodic death metal bands beating that dead horse over and over is beyond me. Consequently this style of music hardly sounds fresh, even in the hands of these old masters, and the cold, hard fact of the matter is that no tracks on At War With Reality even come close to equaling anything off Slaughter of the Soul or Terminal Spirit Disease. There’s a lot of good here – “Order From Chaos” and “The Night Eternal” are welcome changes of pace – but unlike Carcass’s audacious and masterful Surgical Steel there’s nothing at all ventures outside the band’s comfort zone. This is an album made for fans, those who have missed the band so much they’ll forgive any sense of complacency in the songwriting. Which in itself is a great thing for the old followers, who’ll be plenty satiated. Those with only a passing interest, though, will be left wondering just what the big deal is about, what in actual reality, is just another melodic death metal album. 

Of the dozens upon dozens of new albums out this week, here are more worth noting:

Abysmal Dawn, Obsolescence (Relapse): When a band like Carcass comes back after a very long absence with an album so strong and visionary that it renders all Carcass-derived death metal irrelevant, it can’t be easy for those bands. There they were, carrying on the tradition well, and along comes a record that immediately eclipses everything they’ve been doing. Abysmal Dawn might never be an upper-tier band on the level of Carcass, but they’re one I’ve always enjoyed, and they come through with another piece of work that strikes a good balance between catchy, punishing, and technically challenging. Unlike so many of their peers, this band’s music, while not turning the genre on its ear, still manages to stick with you after listening, especially “Devouring the Essence of God”, “One Percent Incomplete”, and a spirited cover of Dissection’s classic “Night’s Blood”.

Anaal Nathrakh, Desideratum (Metal Blade): What’s always so impressive about the duo of Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt is that for as seemingly chaotic, obnoxious, and overbearingly loud as Anaal Nathrakh’s music is, it’s never short of clever ideas. Once the initial headache of the triggered kick drums and the annoying dB levels start to subsides – I don’t know about you guys, but I always listen to this band at fairly low volumes – the strength of the songwriting takes over just enough to make the entire experience endurable. Always running the gamut from black metal, to grindcore, to death metal, to metalcore, to industrial, it’s schizophrenic but always in control, the melody always the focus. Although Desideratum might not quite be on par with the thoroughly enjoyable albums Passion and Vanitas, this nevertheless will please fans, as well as a few curious onlookers.

Atriarch, An Unending Pathway (Relapse): If there’s one thing about Atriarch, it’s that when the Portland band tones down the blackened doom and cranks up the goth, it hits the spot for me like the yummiest comfort food. And although those metal elements are as present as ever on their new album, especially the doom influence, when these guys are channeling Fields of the Nephilim, and Bauhaus, and early Swans, the music gets damn near thrilling. The best example is the sensational, primal “Collapse”, and the moody, brooding “Rot”, on which singer Lenny Smith cranks up the gothic persona to the hilt, theatrical, confrontational, and deliciously flamboyant. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Dawnbringer, Night of the Hammer (Profound Lore): If there’s one slightly frustrating thing when assessing the work of Chris Black, it’s that although he’s regarded by many of us writers – including yours truly – as a supreme, unique talent in heavy metal songwriting, there should be so many more modern musicians making music at that same level. After all, there’s not much to Black’s approach, especially with High Spirits and Dawnbringer, which is firmly rooted in the mid-1980s, a time when metal had no division, and when young headbangers owned tapes by Slayer and Ratt at the same time with no shame whatsoever. To Black, metal isn’t about extremity, it’s about projecting power in a combination of riffs, tempos, and most importantly, melody. In other words, the classic model for heavy metal that existed right up until the end of the 1980s, its best decade. That the genre has expanded greatly since is a beautiful thing, but along the way that classic aesthetic has become a not so much dying but tragically underused art, and Black remains one of the only musicians of his generation who truly understands that feeling, and how to bring it out in music to bracing, beautiful results.

Dawnbringer’s sixth album continues the project’s impressive trajectory ever since teaming up with Profound Lore in 2010, albeit with some tweaks to the approach. As usual, the music echoes the majesty of early-1980s Manowar but with a decided level of gravitas, of sadness. Hard-charging, galloping riffs are offset by mournful doom-inspired passages, as Black, whose singing just keeps getting more and more confident with each new record, weaves his vivid tale of murder, horror, and remorse with the economy and expertise of a master storyteller. The album builds tension beautifully in its first half, with “Nobody There” a foreboding slice of Saint Vitus gloom (“Change is bound to come / You will die alone / And I will die in solitude”) and the brilliant “Xiphias” which references Blue Öyster Cult musically and lyrically, but it’s the second half that pays off in the long run. The two-minute death metal coda “Not Your Night” that follows the album’s highlight “Damn You” and the Mercyful Fate homage “Funeral Child” initially stuck in my craw – my reasoning that imitation is not needed when Black’s own voice is already so strong and inimitable – but dynamically those tracks do serve their purpose well, bringing the record to a stirring climax, leading into the forlorn denouement “Crawling Off To Die”. Even as distracting as those two songs are, Night of the Hammer is still head and shoulders better than the huge majority of metal albums I’ve heard in 2014, which numbers in the hundreds. It’s just a shame that more young musicians aren’t following Black’s lead. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp. 

Devin Townsend, (Inside Out): Devin Townsend has reached a career peak with his Devin Townsend Project, and to see him continue right where the masterpiece Epicloud left off on the gorgeous Sky Blue album is an immense pleasure. He has a very good thing going right now with his immaculate blend of metal, progressive rock, and pop, with the great Anneke van Giersbergen reprising her role as co-lead singer, as perfect a foil as Townsend has ever had. And just like on Epicloud, these dozen songs are knocked clear out of the park. But, and this is one huge, huge BUT, Townsend is also one of the most manic auteurs metal has ever seen, and it’s not good enough for the man to put out Sky Blue as a single album. Instead it’s been packaged as the first half of a double album called Z², and the second half of it, Dark Matter, is a continuation of his absurd Ziltoid the Omniscient project, is as confounding as Sky Blue is beautiful. I understand what Townsend is going for with this cartoonish Ziltoid thing, which started in 2007, with the whimsical concept album feeling like Carl Stalling gone metal, but while it might be a fun indulgence for Townsend, it pales in comparison to what the Devin Townsend Project has done in the last five years. Fans will scoop up this double album, and probably gush at how ingenious “March of the Poozers” is, but in my opinion, if you can’t buy Sky Blue on its own, then listen to that album on the streaming service of your choice. It’s so worth it. Dark Matter, not so much.

Kiss, Love Gun: Deluxe Edition (Universal): The final album of KISS’s great 1970s heyday, and the final album to feature all original four members, Love Gun might not be quite a classic on the level of Alive! or Destroyer, but it’s one I’ve been fond of for decades. Of course that’s primarily on the strength of “I Stole Your Love”, “Christine Sixteen”, “Shock Me”, and the title track, but I’ve always found the deeper cuts endearing. “Got Love For Sale” is a more whimsical turn by the usually lecherous Gene, “Hooligan” works because Peter Criss sells it well, “Almost Human” is return to the heaviness of “God of Thunder”, and “Plaster Caster” will remain one of the greatest songs about ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll decadence. Paul Stanley takes things a little too far into bubblegum territory on “Tomorrow and Tonight’ and the ill-advised “Then She Kissed Me”, but they’re forgivable mis-steps. This new re-release, smartly out on CD only to compel fans buying the new vinyl reissues to shell out another 15 bucks, features a remaster that puts a little more muscle into the music, as well as a full second disc of extras. The 1974 nugget “Much Too Soon” is the most interesting of the lot, a weird little psychedelic ballad that sounds nothing like KISS. The live tracks are spirited and raw, the phone interview with Gene is pointless, and the instructional run-through of “Love Gun” by Paul just night be the dumbest reissue bonus track since the Velvet Underground demos surfaced nearly 20 years ago. In the end, it’s only a buyer if you’re a completist. If you’re not, hang on to your older versions and just give this a listen on the streaming service of your choice.

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy (Deluxe Editions) (Atlantic): Jimmy Page’s extensive Led Zeppelin remanster/re-release project continues with the two albums from the band’s absolute zenith. Enough has been written about Led Zeppelin IV already. It’s the perfect album, a true definition of a classic, in which Zeppelin hit that rarest of trifectas: creative peak, critical acclaim, and huge commercial success. Heavy, filthy blues (“Black Dog”, “When the Levee Breaks”), folk (“The Battle of Evermore”, “Going to California”), searing rock ‘n’ roll (“Rick and Roll”, “Misty Mountain Hop”), quirky funk (the underrated “Four Sticks”), and one of the greatest songs in rock history (“Stairway to Heaven”) coalesce into a shattering, bombastic, meditative, soulful 42 minute experience that feels epic, nay, mythical. The new remaster is nothing too drastic for an already impeccable sounding record, but the bottom end is more prominent, adding to the album’s already legendary robust tone. The bonus tracks are nothing to write home about, merely arranged to form an “alternate version” of the album for another perspective, which is a novel experience for anyone who knows the original album inside out.

IV might be the definitive Zeppelin album, the de facto classic, but personally Houses of the Holy will always be my own favorite. It’s imperfect, yet has some of the band’s most daring experiments, in which the heavy blues of the first four albums is scrapped in favor of something far more eclectic, progressive, and playful. However, even when it was remastered for the two box sets more than 20 years ago, its eight songs always sounded weak, lacking the force and weight the music needed, especially considering rock’s greatest drummer was behind the kit. Page’s 2014 remaster gets it all right, though, as these songs explode out of the speaker. The surreal “The Song Remains the Same” has genuine punch for the first time, the heartbreaking “The Rain Song” sounds fuller and more vibrant, the doomy “No Quarter” feels massive and ominous, “The Ocean” rocks hard, and the timeless “Over the Hills and Far Away” sounds richer than ever. Even the two throwaways, reggae wank “D’yer Mak’er” and funk jam “The Crunge” benefit greatly from the spit and polish. Again, the bonus disc is a second version of the album in alternate track form, but the real reason to buy Houses of the Holy, and Led Zeppelin IV for that matter, is to hear Page’s incredible, definitive remasters. I can’t wait for the new Physical Graffiti in 2015.

Obituary, Inked in Blood (Relapse): The first album in five years by the Florida death metal greats isn’t exactly a spirited return to past glory, just another steady rehash of everything everyone loves about them. The production is unflattering, but compared to much of today’s extreme metal, it’s actually a welcome deviation, adding a dry, somewhat filthy tone to the record, especially the “Slowly We Rot” style doom of “Pain Inside”.

Riot V, Unleash the Fire (SPV): Good on these guys for continuing the Riot tradition in the wake of the death of Mark Reale, respectfully rebranding themselves as Riot V and putting together a very respectable album of post-NWOBHM/melodic speed metal that would do Reale proud. And better yet, they’ve brought back weird seal-headed mascot Johnny! Well done, fellas.

Sister Sin, Black Lotus (Victory): Why this wonderful little band is still on Victory is beyond me, but if it’s working for them, then that’s swell. These Swedes are always good for some solid traditional metal, and Liv Jagrell is in prime, Doro-style form on this predictable but very enjoyable sixth album.

Unearth, Watchers of Rule (eOne): I just realized the last Unearth album I gave a damn about was III: In the Eyes of Fire, way back in 2006. Which I reviewed for Decibel, come to think of it. After that the Massachusetts metalcore mainstays seemed to slip into a bit of a rut, churning out the albums consistently but failing to equal the vitality of their early work. Plus it didn’t help that Unearth will always be stubbornly metalcore, playing those repetitive At the Gates rip-offs and hardcore breakdowns again and again. Although their best days are behind them, this new album actually amps up the energy for the first time in eight years. You won’t hear reinvention, but you will hear passion on tracks like “The Swarm” and “Guards of Contagion”, which for these guys and their loyal fans, is good enough.

Vesania, Deus Ex Machina (Metal Blade): At first this latest album by the Polish band helmed by Behemoth guitarist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski overdoes the symphonic death metal gimmick so much that you think it’s going to be another headache-inducing Fleshgod Apocalypse piece of crap, but as it goes on, its kookier progressive influences creep to the surface. What starts off as obnoxious turns into oddly interesting, highlighted by weirdo tracks like “Vortex” and “Scar”. If only the rest of the album had been like that.

Wizard Rifle, Here In The Deadlights (Seventh Rule): First of all, I love this album’s title. Secondly, I love how the Portland band has expanded its already appealing, manic sound. By bringing in bassist Dave Bow, guitarist Max Dameron and drummer Sam Ford now have more muscle in the Wizard Rifle sound, which not only makes the compositions Melvins-level heavy, but adds a welcome dynamic contrast to such standouts as “Paul the Sky Tyrant” and “Psychodynamo”. As good as their previous album Speak Loud Say Nothing was, this one’s even better. Don’t miss out on this one. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Not metal, but worth hearing: Don’t hate me, but “Shake it Off” aside, Taylor Swift‘s 1989 is ace, becoming the best American pop album of the year by doing something decidedly un-American: acknowledging that less is more. And Run the Jewels‘ savage, masterful RTJ2 (Mass Appeal) leaves me floored with each listen, a raucous, shattering, audacious, and – best of all – eloquent piece of work by El-P and Killer Mike, who display phenomenal chemistry and astonishing sonic daring. “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”, “Early”, and hell, the entire album proves there are plenty of fresh ideas in hip hop yet.

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