Sucker For Punishment: My soul, it’s breaking!

Despite a pair of albums that will be on my personal year-end list, this week is on the light side, which admittedly is a welcome breather, because it’s a mere ripple compared to the tsunami of new stuff coming out in a week’s time. Seriously, next week looms over me like Ivan Drago. But first things first, here are this week’s offerings.
This week’s essential albums:

Motörhead, Aftershock (UDR): I’ve gone on at length about Motörhead’s 21st album at MSN, as well as another magazine I probably shouldn’t mention here, but to reiterate what I’ve said then and what I’ve been blathering on Twitter for the last month, this is flat-out the best Motörhead album since 2004’s Inferno. Granted, there’s no such thing as a bad Motörhead album, but Lemmy, Phil Campbell, and Mikkey Dee sound particularly inspired on Aftershock. Lem’s full of piss and vinegar, there’s a snaggletoothed bite in Campbell’s guitar work audiences haven’t heard in years, and you can practically envision Dee having a blast maniacally pounding out those double-kicked beats. It snarls (“Heartbreaker”), it dips into the blues (“Lost Woman Blues”), it has fun (“Going to Mexico”), and even shows a little soul (“Dust and Glass”). It’s a joy, and you know with Lemmy’s recent health issues his fans will be savoring this record a little more than the last few. Of course, we’d all love at least one more record as good as this one from him, but this late-career peak will do just fine for the time being.

Ihsahn, Das Seelenbrechen (Candlelight): One of my strangest music critic adventures this year involved Ihsahn’s fifth solo album, or what I thought was his new album. No one had any idea. He was putting something out called Das Seelenbrechen – a Nietzsche quote meaning “the breaking of the soul” – and all I had to work with was a zipped file of MP3s, no background info, nothing, with two days to write a review. Was this an actual album? Studio leftovers? Either way, once I played the music, it turned out to be a fascinating little journey. It starts out in fairly conventional fashion, the kind of progressive metal he’s thrown himself into since After (“Regen” and “NaCl” are spellbinding), but midway through things get very weird as he starts experimenting with time signatures and melody to the point where that great old word “krautrock” can legitimately be applied, climaxing with the oddly pretty “Sub Alter” and the harrowing, Scott Walker-influenced “See”. It’s a wildly uneven album, but Ihsahn is clearly relishing his new role as prog metal auteur. You can understand his willingness to ride the festival circuit with nostalgic Emperor sets: make the rabble happy, then go back to Norway with enough money to fund a couple more crazy, highly creative albums, which is obviously what he most wants to do.

Stallion, Mounting the World (Sarlacc): I’m trying to figure out just why I’m so over the (funeral) moon with this EP by the German duo. Could it be that they sound exactly like the obscure melodic heavy metal bands I used to listen to on Banzai Records and the Moose Molten Metal compilations nearly 30 years ago? Or that the singer sounds exactly like the dude in the weirdo Yugoslav/Canadian ’80s band Warriors? Maybe it’s the way it veers from speed metal to full-on cock rock (“Give it to Me”). Or the song “Canadian Steele”, the best tribute to Canadian metal since Darkthrone’s tune of the same name. Or the fact that they quixotically sing, “I’m moving to Toronto,” clearly having never been to the blandest city in the Western Hemisphere. Then again, it could be the most literal album cover art ever. Either way, this music puts a big dumb smile on my face, and will warm the cockles of any metal traditionalist’s heart. Highly, highly recommended. Stream and purchase it via Bandcamp.

Also out this week:

Beehoover, The Devil And His Footmen (Exile On Mainstream): There are moments when the German bass/drums duo hint that they’re on to something on their third album, guitar-less stoner jams are cranked out, vocals are drawled, but nowhere near enough of this album makes a lasting impression at all.

Cult of Erinyes, Blessed Extinction (Code666): The songwriting struggles at times to be more than pedestrian black metal, the production might be overbearing, but for all its flaws this album is made interesting by the sheer presence of Thierry Dossogne. Performing under the moniker Mastema, the Belgian vocalist shows admirable range and charisma throughout this record, from authoritative bellows, to tortured snarls, to soaring melodies.

Death Toll Rising, Infection Legacy (self-released): Some very good things are happening in Western Canadian metal these days, and Edmonton’s Death Toll Rising have come through with a very impressive second album. While rooted in death metal, they occasionally dip into thrash groove and progressive metal technicality, which you don’t see very often, and which gives the music a good, dynamic quality. Savage one minute, intricate the next, the quality on this record is well above your average self-released album, a true diamond in the rough. Don’t miss out on it. Stream and purchase it via Bandcamp.

Def Leppard, Viva! Hysteria (Frontiers): Looking at the track listing for this double CD set recorded during their Las Vegas residency earlier this year, you can’t help but think, Wow, this sucker is stacked. But Def Lep sound nowhere near as potent as they did a quarter century ago, and despite the strength of so many classic songs, despite the good musicianship, hearing Joe Elliott struggle through them is depressing. It’s unbearable. If you want a definitive live document of Def Leppard, it doesn’t get better than the bonus live CD on the Pyromania deluxe reissue. Back then they exploded with ferocious energy, but unlike many of their NWOBHM peers who are still going strong, they’re sad shadows of their former selves on this release.

Eden’s Curse, Symphony Of Sin (AFM): Like Avantasia, the UK-based band unabashedly dish out progressive power metal at its cheesiest, and there are times, like on “Evil & Divine”, that they’re capable of some knockout hooks and riffs. But just when you find yourself enjoying it, the Genesis-tinged pop of “Unbreakable” comes on, you snap back to reality, and you reach for that Motörhead album one more time.

Lodz, Something In Us Died (Klonosphere): Combine churning post-metal with melancholy melodies reminiscent of Katatonia, and you’ve got the debut album by French band Lodz. It’s a good idea, as that gothic undercurrent makes the painfully obvious Cult of Luna worship more palatable, but these kids need more work when it comes to their clean singing, which is far too weak. Still, though, it’s a decent start.

Meek Is Murder, Everything Is Awesome Nothing Matters (Threshold of Pain): “Eight songs in the first seven minutes” isn’t exactly the strongest selling point, but the Brooklyn band combines noise and grindcore with adequate intensity, its skronks and squeals as playful as they are jarring. Kurt Ballou is behind this one again, so depending on where you stand, enjoy, or be forewarned.

Metal Church, Generation Nothing (Rat Pak): The best band of the 42 that played this year’s 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise was, surprisingly, the reunited Metal Church, who played two sensational sets devoted to their classic 1980s material. Well, it turns out Kurdt Vanderhoof and the guys decided to stick together, and they’ve now put out their tenth album. While it doesn’t measure up to Metal Church, The Dark, nor Blessing in Disguise – how could it ever? – it’s good enough to sound like a veteran band holding their heads high, honoring that classic pre-thrash sound, as opposed to losing the plot entirely.

Monolithe, Monolithe IV (Debemur Morti): Another Monolithe record, another hour-long slog through the deepest, murkiest corners of funeral doom. This music requires a ton of patience from the listener, but as they proved on the previous three albums, once you settle in the French band creates a rather spellbinding, surprisingly fluid suite.

Paavoharju, Joko sinä tulet tänne alas tai minä nousen sinne (Svart): This is by far the weirdest album to come out this week, and of course, it comes from Finland. The third album by the duo of brothers Lauri and Olli Ainala (translated as “Either you come down here or I will rise there”) takes their bizarre cut-and-paste sound and juxtaposes it with a hip hop element, which when combined with the Finnish rapping by Paperi T, actually sounds even more otherworldly. Its highly creative, dissonant arrangements will remind some of Dälek at times, and the darker side of 1990s Tricky at others, the dark, nocturnal beauty sounding like it can only come from a place that doesn’t get much sunlight this time of year.

Prospekt, The Colourless Sunrise (Sensory): The debut by the UK band is robust progressive metal in the vein of Symphony X, built around the strong tenor vocal style of singer Richard Marshall. They still have some growing to do, as the songs tend to bleed into one another, but every so often you get a good track like “Shroud”, which shows this young band’s potential.

Rosetta, The Anaesthete (Debemur Morti): One of the only post-metal bands still worth caring about, the Philly band is in terrific form once again on their fourth full-length, once again balancing robustness and glimmering beauty with a level of skill never seen often enough in the subgenre. Available independently back in August, this record been picked up by Debemur Morti, which is good to see, because the band and this album are far too good to slog it out under the radar. More people need to hear it. Stream and purchase it via Bandcamp.

Reflections, Exi(s)t (Good Fight): Good lord, more children imitating Meshuggah.

Seremonia, Ihminen (Svart): I’ve always liked this weird Finnish band, from their highly unique take on psychedelic heavy rock, to the strange, detached way Noora Federley sings (in her native Finnish, to boot), to their equally surreal live show. The follow-up to their 2012 debut tones down the doom influence just enough to let more of a garage rock in as well, which not only makes for a more dynamic record – think Horisont meets Dungen – but a more energetic one as well. You might not have any idea what Federley is carrying on about, but she keeps you transfixed.

Various Artists, Thriller: A Metal Tribute to Michael Jackson: Yep, another all-star tribute album helmed by Bob Kulick, and this one surreal. Wanna hear Chuck Billy sing “Thriller”? Corey Glover sing “Billie Jean”? A nu-metal version of “Beat It”? Chris Jericho sing a tone-deaf “Dirty Diana”? Paul Di’Anno absolutely butcher “Bad”? Yeah, these covers are every bit as dismal as they look.

Not metal, but worth hearing:

Omar Souleyman, Wenu Wenu (Ribbon Music): The speed at which Syrian wedding singer Omar Souleyman became the hottest thing in indie circles totally smacks of tokenism, but make no mistake, for all its novelty this album of dabke songs – a traditional line dance popular in rural areas of Syria – is an absolute banger. Coming on the heels of a series of acclaimed re-released recordings, producer Kieran Hebden of Four Tet creates a beautiful, lush yet minimal backdrop of percussion and synths on this new album, but for all the musical intensity it’s all about Souleyman’s rich voice, which weaves in and out of the arrangements with astonishing skill. And the translated lyrics are devastating in their romanticism. Don’t let the hipsters scare you off; this must be heard to be believed. Try it out.

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