Sucker For Punishment: And then my MIND split open

As you probably know from the endless stream of obituaries, tributes, and remembrances, Lou Reed died this past Sunday morning. Interestingly, none of the prominent metal blogs have mentioned his passing, save for the odd snarky remark about how we’ll never have a sequel to Lulu now. And it’s understandable, I suppose, because Reed’s music came from a distinctly different place than heavy metal: Black Sabbath came from the grime of postwar Birmingham, while Reed was an English major from Long Island who fell in with the Warhol crowd.
However, his band The Velvet Underground would go on to be one of the most influential bands in rock ‘n’ roll history – anticipating punk rock, post-punk, noise, shoegaze, drone, and avant-garde – and because modern metal’s post-millenial breadth now overlaps into all of those forms of music, Reed’s shadow does loom over metal today as well. In fact, for all the talk about “extremity” in metal circles – Decibel is, after all, “extremely extreme” – Lou Reed was doing some of the most extreme things rock ‘n’ roll had ever seen between 1966 and 1975. With the Velvets, he experimented with atonality (“European Son”), searing feedback (“I Heard Her Call My Name”), epic blasts of rock ‘n’ roll fury (“Sister Ray”), song structure (“The Murder Mystery”). As a solo artist he accentuated glam rock with an abrasive, out-of-the-gutter grittiness (Transformer, Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal), made a full blown orchestral rock opera (Berlin), and predated abstract drone music on the notorious Metal Machine Music.

And in true metal fashion, when Reed did something, he always went all-in, whether in challenging his audiences with noise, showing an unabashed tender side, paying tribute to Edgar Allen Poe on The Raven, or, yes, making an album with Metallica as his backing band. Who cares if he failed the odd time? He went into every project with passion every time, and did it. No rock artist was ballsier than he. Two years after the metal world guffawed at Lulu, I suggest you go back to “Junior Dad”, its only meritorious song, and you’ll hear some genuine soul. Not even Metallica’s ham-handed playing could suppress Reed’s power.

So while there’s a crazy number of new albums out this week, including a few that are totally worth hearing, this week’s essential music is Lou fucking Reed. If you’re going to spend some money on music in the next few days, and are not familiar with Reed’s work, there’s no time like the present to start now. Take your pick: those wildly diverse Velvet Underground albums (White Light/White Heat is one of the heaviest, most abrasive albums of all time), Transformer, Berlin, Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, the pleasant Coney Island Baby, the lucid The Blue Mask, the wonderful, stark New York. Either way, you’ll be starting an incredible journey of musical discovery. If he’s cvlt enough for Krieg, he’s cvlt enough for you.

Here are the best new albums of the last truly crazy week of 2013:

Corrections House, Last City Zero (Neurot): The level of talent alone in Corrections house is stunning: Mike IX Williams, Scott Kelly, Bruce Lamont, Sanford Parker. For all the big names, though, the best thing about this album is just how brazenly non-traditional it is. Sludge, doom, and noise coalesce throughout its eight tracks, but are woven into something altogether peculiar, creating a mesmerizing industrial/darkwave whole that somehow avoids sounding dated. Like Vhöl earlier this year, this is one supergroup that not only emerges triumphant, but completely surprises.

Hail Of Bullets, III: The Rommel Chronicles (Metal Blade): As good as Asphyx’s 2012 album Deathhammer was, as cool as it was to see them play a devastating doom/death set this past April, I personally get more out of Hail of Bullets. Perhaps it’s because Martin Van Drunen’s WWII-inspired band is more thematically focused, or maybe it’s because his backing musicians in this band are a little more melodically refined, but either way this is another stellar album by the guys. Pulverizing in its power, yet underscored by mournful melodies that lend gravitas to the darkly themed music, it broaches the serious subject with theatricality and respect.

Inquisition, Obscure Verses For The Multiverse (Season Of Mist): Inquisition’s latest – and heavily hyped, thanks to Season of Mist – album continues for the most part the duo’s savage yet workmanlike take on black metal, but midway through the worm turns, as “Joined by Dark Matter Repelled by Dark Energy” showcases some real inventiveness in its elastic lead riff, its use of atonality, and its progressive nature. From then on things get nuts, from the throttling intensity of “Arrival of Eons After” and the measured pace of “Inversion of Ethereal White Stars”. What starts off as a good follow-up to 2011’s Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm gradually turns into something rather extraordinary. And its artwork is simply stunning. It’s been a down year for straight-ahead Satanic black metal, but this is one of a few standouts. Just try not to be distracted by the Popeye vocals.

Russian Circles, Memorial (Sargent House): Who needs words, anyway? Metal/heavy rock/prog lyrics are 90% boring these days. Russian Circles evoke more feeling and expression in their instrumental music than your average band with a singer, and on the follow-up to 2011’s revelatory Empros they’re at the top of their game. Impeccably paced, and surprisingly economical in both performance and songwriting – it’s not much more than half an hour long – the foursome is utterly spellbinding. And when the great Chelsea Wolfe makes an appearance on the heartbreaking title track, in keeping with the band’s aesthetic, her imperceptible, dreamy vocalizing packs a massive wallop. Like the film Lost in Translation, sometimes not knowing what’s said has an even bigger impact.

Sepultura, The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart (Nuclear Blast): Even five years ago I would never have thought Sepultura would be making the more creatively vital music than Max Cavalera’s Soulfly, but that’s indeed the case, as the Brazilian greats have been on a good creative roll since 2009’s A-Lex. Their 13thalbum sees them reuniting with Roots Bloody Roots producer Ross Robinson, and not surprisingly it’s the most pulverizing Sepultura record to come along in years. It’s a tough one to get into at first because of its sheer atonality, but it does settle in, turning out to be a spirited, inspired record, Andreas Kisser’s riffs propelled by young Eloy Casagrande, one of the best live drummers I have ever seen.

Untimely Demise, Systematic Eradication (Punishment 18): Unlike Toxic Holocaust, Untimely Demise’s brand of thrash is devoutly Eurocentric, and unlike Warbringer (see below), they know what they’re doing on their new record. Slickly recorded and performed and with a strong sense of dynamics as well as intricacy, the Canadian band take a big step forward on the follow-up to 2010’s City of Steel, coming across as a neat balance between Arch Enemy and Kreator. Songs like “Spiritual Embezzlement” and “Somali Pirates” are absolute scorchers, while “The Last Guildsman” and “Revolutions” showcase lead shredder/vocalist Matt Cuthbertson’s greatly improving melodic sensibility. Highly recommended. Stream it here and order it here.

Also out this week:

Ayreon, The Theory Of Everything (Inside Out): The king of the bloated prog metal opus, Arjen Lucassen is back with his most bombastic work yet, a crazed double album musical loaded with high-profile guest musicians including Steve Hackett, Reick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, and members of Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, Grand Magus, Kamelot, and more. Lucassen does have a knack for engaging vocal melodies, which help tie this four-part, 90-minute mess together, and the arrangements, as wankeriffic as ever, hold back just enough to avoid sounding impenetrable. It’s a ludicrous piece of work, but done with skill, and I’m quite surprised I don’t hate it.

Dethklok, Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem A Klok Opera Score (Willams St): People still watch this show? I haven’t seen the actual one-hour special episode of the metal cartoon, but from a musical standpoint it’s a curious one, as Brendon Small downplays his faux-death metal the kids likes so much for something a lot more self-indulgent. At times it veers toward Queen and the manic quality of Devin Townsend, but for the most part it pays homage to the sung-through musical. It had to be a monumental project for Small and his collaborators, but unfortunately, none of the songs are very engaging at all, a mess of hookless songs that tell a story that’s not very interesting to begin with.

Devin Townsend Project, Retinal Circus (Inside Out): The ultimate treat for Devin Townsend fans, this lavish DVD/CD set was recorded a year ago in London, where Townsend and his friends performed a whopping 25-song set spanning his long, eclectic career. Personally I don’t think he’s ever sounded better than on Addicted, Deconstruction, and Epicloud, and they’re represented well here. Whatever era is your favorite, if you like Devin’s kooky music you will absolutely love this set.

Doyle, Abominator (Monsterman): He might have played a crucial role as guitarist for the Misfits, but the devilocked behemoth is going for a Pantera-meets-punk sound on his solo debut. From the unimaginative riffs, to the rampant pinch squeals, to the bland vocals, nothing on this record leaves any sort of impression whatsoever on listeners, inspiring nothing but apathy. No, wait, “Cemetarysexxx” [sic] is mildly amusing. But go listen to Walk Among Us and the self-titled Misfits compilation instead.

East Of The Wall, Redaction Artifacts (Translation Loss): The daring New jersey band is back with another record that straddles multiple genres with great skill. Once again, progressive rock, noise, post-punk, and sludge metal are referenced but never solely relied on in these elastic compositions, instead turning into an adventurous, cohesive whole that blends melody and atonality well, at times beautifully. Like Intronaut, this is wholly unclassifiable music, created and performed with tremendous discipline.

Enbilulugugal, Noizemongers For Goatserpent (Crucial Blast): Two CDs, a whopping 79 shrill, pointless songs of “hyperblast blacknoise musical scum.” Todd Flanders put it best. Stream it via Bandcamp if you’re so inclined. 

Germ, Grief (Eisenwald): I won’t hide my love of black metal meshed with post-punk, and the latest album by musician Tim Yatras whets that appetite very, very well. Swirling guitars, tortured vocals, and melancholy melodies intertwine, which makes for a compelling contrast, but things get truly unpredictable when Yatras indulges his more mainstream pop predilections, as on “The Stain of Past Regrets”. And for those who dearly miss Amesoeurs, Audrey Sylvain pops in for a cameo vocal appearance on two tracks. Stream this splendid album here at the Deciblog. 

Harm Wülf, There’s Honey In The Soil So We Wait For The Till (Deathwish): This new project by Blacklisted vocalist G. Hirsch follows in the footsteps of Angels of Light, Across Tundras, USX, and Scott Kelly, delving deep into the murkier side of Americana with a series of lo-fi acoustic compositions. It feels as if Hirsch still needs to find his own identity – the Gira/Kelly influence is obvious – but this is an otherwise promising start.

Kataklysm, Waiting For The End To Come (Nuclear Blast): The Quebec death metal veterans do More Of The Same on their 11th album, an occasionally pulverizing but mostly contentedly mid-paced record that confidently balances melody and physicality without venturing too far outside that comfort zone. It’s pleasant enough, and perhaps the highest compliment I can give it is that it’s probably their strongest of their last few albums. “Dead and Buried” and “Empire of Dirt” are a couple of keepers.

Kill Devil Hill, Revolution Rise (Century Media): If Pantera is at the top of the ladder with Down a couple rungs below and Hellyeah at the very bottom, Kill Devil Hill would be comfortably in the middle. The second album by Rex Brown, Vinnie Appice, and two other guys is often lazy, wallowing in milquetoast post-grunge drudgery, but when they focus on actual heavy metal, it’s not too shabby. At least they have a firm grasp of hooks, something Hellyeah has not figured out.

Mutation, Error 500 (Ipecac): Speaking of supergroups, here’s one that doesn’t exactly work. Sure, the idea of Shame Embury and Ginger Wildheart joining forces with Merzbow and Mark E. Smith (!) might seem neat on paper, the end result is a crazily unfocused mishmash of grind and noise. Although I will say I dig the weirdo, vaguely Fall-style jam with Smith on “Mutations”.

Myka, Relocate, Lies To Light The Way (Razor & Tie): Yikes. I’m invoking the Tokyo Blade Rule on this one.

Necrophobic, Womb Of Lilithu (Season Of Mist): First of all, good for the members of Necrophobic for distancing themselves from convicted wife beater and child beater Tobias Sidegard and giving him the boot. But his vocals remain on this album, so if you’re going to buy this undeniably strong blackened death metal album, be aware you’re still putting money in this jerk’s pocket.

Noctum, Final Sacrifice (Metal Blade): The Uppsala, Sweden band are definitely on to something good with their promising Mercyful Fate-by-way-of-Pentagram style, much like their local peers in In Solitude. Despite pushing a lot of the right buttons – David Indelöf is a terrific singer – the songs lack staying power and mystique. They sound like they’re one record away from a real breakthrough. “The Revisit” is a standout, but overall, this band’s not quite there yet.

Protest The Hero, Volition (Razor & Tie): The popular Canadian prog-metalcore band can play the hell out of their instruments, there’s no question about that. For all the ingeniously manic arrangements and equally histrionic vocals, however, what matters most is whether they can keep everything from flying out of control. As usual, the instrumental wizardry is rampant on their fourth album, but only sporadically do any of these songs stick. “Tilting Against Windmills” is a great example of how good Protest the Hero can be when they streamline their music just a touch, but far too often the arbitrary feel of the arrangements fails to connect with any listener who doesn’t loiter at Guitar Center all day. Even the best prog bands know you shouldn’t make your audience work this hard to get into your music.

Sabaton, Swedish Empire Live (Nuclear Blast): Yes, I genuinely enjoy Sabaton. Their war themes do come across as cartoonish at times, but at its best their brand of power metal is bracing and fun. European audiences agree, as you can see and hear on this stunning new DVD/CD release, recorded at an outdoor festival in Poland in front of more than half a million people. All the hits are carted out (“Cliffs of Gallipoli” is my personal fave) as well as selections from their outstanding 2012 Carolus Rex, all performed with verve and charisma. Fans will love this one.

Sirens & Sailors, Skeleton (Razor & Tie): You’re using electronic gimmickry to enhance the intricate stops and starts Meshuggah invented 20 years ago. That’s cheating, kids. Go away, and stop wasting everyone’s time.

Skeletonwitch, Serpents Unleashed (Prosthetic): Another album, another collection of exuberant blackened thrash tunes by the ever-lovable Ohio band. Teaming up with Kurt Ballou was a good decision, too, as he not only gives this record his typically slick-yet-savage tone, but he helps emphasize the band’s melodies a little more than usual, and it’s no coincidence that this is Skeletonwitch’s most immediately catchy album to date.

Testament, Dark Roots of Thrash (Nuclear Blast): recroded earlier this year in New York City, this live album/DVD is a very good snapshot of present-day Testament, showcasing the strength of their excellent post-comeback albums, as well as revisiting their ‘80s classics. The band sounds even more taut than usual thanks to the great Gene Hoglan on drums, and Chuck Billy is in fine vocal form. Anyone who loves Testament – and that should be all of you – will thoroughly enjoy this set.

Toxic Holocaust, Chemistry Of Consciousness (Relapse): Joel Grind, this month’s Decibel cover star, has come through with yet another simple yet fun full-length of thrash at its most straightforward. Mixed by Kurt Ballou – but not produced, that’s the key – the album retains a lot of the filth that folks have come to expect from Toxic Holocaust, but at the same time there’s more punch in the songs, which actually show more dynamic range than Grind’s past work. It’s not the thrash album of the year by any stretch – hello, Noisem – but this is nevertheless an enjoyable record by a prolific and consistent musician.

Tribune, Tales (Corpse Corrosion): This Vancouver band is a curious one. One minute, they sound like a decent Volbeat knock-off. The next they’re doing melodic traditional metal in the same vein as Tyr. Then they’re playing harsher sounding sludge. Then Pantera riffs. They do each of those things well, but unlike fellow Vancouverites Anciients, it leads to a lack of focus in the songwriting. This thing is all over the map.

Warbringer, IV: Empires Collapse (Century Media): What happened to this band? I’ve been following Warbringer since their demo surfaced in my mailbox years ago, and have always considered their Sacrifice-style music among the best of the new generation of thrash bands, but this new album sounds lost. The band seems at a crossroads, unsure where to go next, because the entire record is torn between “extreme” metal and punk, as if the guys are bored with doing what made them so good in the first place. From the rampant blastbeats to the boring hardcore tracks (“One Dimension” is heinous), this is a waste of time. Stick to what you’re best at, guys.

Winds Of Plague, Resistance (Century Media): How fleeting is children’s metal notoriety these days? What was hilarious five years ago is now boring – and dare I say, competent – compared to a wave of even more ludicrous new bands. Congrats, Winds of Plague, you’ve graduated from “walking joke” to “irrelevant”.

Zodiac, A Hiding Place (Prosthetic): The German band plays spirited blues rock, but even if a band is charmingly stripped down and retro, it’s still nothing without personality, and that sense of identity just isn’t there. While pleasant, this album is far too generic. And sorry, guys, but Built to Spill did the best of “Cortez the Killer” of all time, and that still can’t top Crazy Horse. Don’t bother trying.

Not metal, but worth hearing:

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, Uzu (Suicide Squeeze): At first the concept behind this Montreal project seemed fairly straightforward, reflected in the name: The Asian heritage of masterminds Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B colliding with Sleep-derived doom metal. But ever since expanding to a full touring band, they’ve proven to be something even more amorphous. Their live shows were revelatory compared to 2011’s excellent YT//ST, and now the follow-up Uzu shows just how far they’ve come. Stylistically it’s all over the map – it veers from Yoko Ono abstractness, to classic prog, to doom, to First Nations music – but it segues from style to style gracefully, plaintive giving way to heavy, to menacing, to operatic. Highlighted by “Whalesong”, “Hall of Mirrors”, and the gorgeous “Seasickness” suite, art rock doesn’t get any better than this.

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(photo via Tumblr)