Sucker For Punishment: Grumpy Old Men

Just as much as metal needs its forward thinkers, it also needs its defenders of the faith. Traditionalism in heavy metal is equally as important as progression, and in this day and age where young bands foolishly mistake “extreme” one-upmanship as being the most important tenet of the genre – sorry kids, power is paramount – upholding true metal tradition is more important now than ever. While a good percentage of the genre falls through that rabbit hole of overt dexterity, vocal laziness, and inept songwriting, it’s reassuring to know there are still bands out there that stay true to heavy metal’s roots.
Perpetually uncool and stubbornly unwavering, Slough Feg have been doing their thing in the Bay Area for nearly a quarter century now, churning out record after record with regularity, gleefully following the lead of Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy every time out. Typical of any band, some albums have been better than others; 2009’s Ape Uprising! was their best since 2002’s Down Among the Deadmen, while 2010’s The Animal Spirits felt less inspired. This time around, though, the band, led by frontman/philosophy professor extraordinaire Mike Scalzi, has returned after an extended absence full of piss and vinegar and, typical of that traditionalist bent, sporting an album called Digital Resistance that wastes no time taking shots at modernity. With song titles like “Analog Avengers”, “Laser Enforcer”, “The Luddite”, and of course the title track, the overall message of this record is clear, and those themes are backed up by some of Slough Feg’s most impassioned and fiery arrangements yet.

Things get off to an auspicious start with the befuddling and funny “Bertrand Russell’s Sex Den”, its Celtic melodies and time signature leaning a little too far towards Medieval minstrelsy for comfort for some, but it’s a mere red herring, as the rest of the album gains in intensity with each subsequent track, building to an immensely satisfying climax with “Laser Enforcer”, “The Price is Nice”, the instrumental “Curriculum Vitae”, and closer “Warriors Dusk”. Of course, no new ground is broken, the band resolutely sticking to those tried-and-true gallops and twin guitar harmonies, but like the best comfort food, it goes down easily, and simply feels right, genuine, and true. There’s still plenty of room for creative genius in metal – see Gridlink below – but the efforts of the old guard should never be dismissed. Thank the metal gods for Mike Scalzi and Slough Feg.

Digital Resistance is out now on Metal Blade.

Also out this week:

Artificial Brain, Labyrinth Constellation (Profound Lore): When a new death metal album compels you to reference Gorguts and Voivod, that’s a very, very good thing. The debut album by the New York band is loaded with clever ideas, offering unique perspectives on technical death metal, constantly toying with structure, melody, atonality, and dynamics, creating a ferocious yet at the same time playful sound that’s a lot less impenetrable than skeptics might assume. If there’s one fault to be pointed out, the lead vocals fail to hold up their end, a pointless, generic grunt amidst such staggering musical talent, but even so, it’s a mild distraction from the creativity at hand. Aided greatly by producer Colin Marston, who smartly retains a sense of density while providing enough space for the music to breathe, this is a wonderfully audacious piece of work. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Ass To Mouth, Degenerate (Selfmadegod): This is actually some good, punk-infused grindcore, but this band’s name is still Ass to Mouth.

Benighted, Carnivore Sublime (Season Of Mist): This is the kind of crystalline sounding death metal I can actually get behind, that is until Julien Trachan starts in with his squealing, oinking vocals. Which is a shame, because the other four guys sure know how to write a ripping good song. Instead, this gets a regrettable but vehement thumbs down. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

Cripple Bastards, Nero In Metastasi (Relapse): The Italian grind veterans impress on their bazillionth release, a typically hostile, 18-song offering that initially grabs you by the collar with its confrontational menace, but truly wins you over with its surprising variety, highlighted by the stupendous nine-minute brooder “Splendore E Tenebra”.

Cynic, Kindly Bent To Free Us (Season Of Mist): The most difficult thing about writing for a print magazine is forming a clear, convincing, informed opinion of an album two months before the release date, usually with just a few days’ notice, and being confident enough to back that assessment up the rest of the way. That’s where you earn your stripes as a critic. Anyway, my opinion of Cynic’s third album has not wavered: it’s a good progressive rock album, with plenty of merit, but it’s also a case where the metal aspect of the band’s signature sound is sorely, sorely missed. Since I wrote 475 words about Kindly Bent to Free Us for the current issue of Decibel, it’s probably a good idea I point you in that direction and urge you to buy a copy to read the whole thing. But as a caveat, this is one album you absolutely should sample before buying.

Flotsam and Jetsam, No Place For Disgrace: 2014 (Metal Blade): Flotsam and Jetsam’s 1988 major label debut was never in the same league as the great Doomsday For the Deceiver, but it’s still a much-loved thrash album, which begs the question WHY IN THE NAME OF FLOTZILLA WOULD THEY RE-RECORD IT? The fact that the original album remains out of print – it’s not even on iTunes – makes this idea so very wrong, wrong, fucking wrong in every sense of the word.

Gridlink, Longhena (Handshake): Bringing creative new idea to grindcore seems impossibly difficult to a layman like yours truly. You not only have to be a musician, but a technician of the highest order to make this not only work but stand out among everything else, and this apparently final album by Gridlink is such a marvel, capable of being so intricate and wildly inventive within such a strict, limiting framework. To cram so many ideas into songs that are 30 seconds, one minute, 90 seconds in length is worthy of adulation, but to do so and still retain a sense of musicality and melody amidst such jarring cacophony is so rare in grindcore, yet pulled off here with astonishing ease. If that wasn’t enough, vocalist John Chang contributes lyrics that are startlingly poetic, daring to display a little soul, offering a strong contrast to the unrelenting, challenging music. If this is indeed Gridlink’s swan song, it’s a superb, classy way to go out. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Junius, Days Of The Fallen Sun (Prosthetic): Nearly three years after the release of the marvelous Reports From the Threshold of Death, the Boston band is back with a four-song – with four interludes – EP that reasserts their status as one of the only “post-metal” bands worth giving a damn about today. Capable of colossal sounds that rival Cult of Luna yet able to display the sensitivity of Deftones at their best, these new tracks are a very significant improvement over the band’s past work (“A Day Dark With Night” is phenomenal) which should make anticipation for their next full-length even greater.

March 15, Our Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre (Svart): Oh, I get it. Reference one of the most famous rock songs in history, and counter it with a barrage of screeching, repellent, arbitrarily arranged noise. The irony!

Sahg, Delusions Of Grandeur (Metal Blade): Originally released last October in the rest of the world, Metal Blade has finally put out Sahg’s splendid fourth album in North America, which is great to see. The Norwegian band is a longtime favorite of mine but always seems to only attract minimal attention, especially on this continent. Delusions of Grandeur is an intriguing departure, and the deeper into this record you delve, the more apt the title seems. It’s an ambitious change of direction, bringing in more sludge and progressive influences this time around. Sometimes it works, as on “Slip off the Edge of the Universe” and “Ether”, and sometimes it stumbles, as on the painfully Mastodonian “Then Wakens the Beast” and the attempted psychedelic epic “Sleeper’s Gate to the Galaxy”. Despite its lack of consistency – Sahg 2 remains the best Sahg album – the vocal hooks by Olav Ivarsen are still very strong, miles above most bands today. This is one band that’s better off not thinking outside the box.

Sammal, No. 2 (Svart): Kind of like a Finnish answer to Swedish greats Dungen, Sammal happily wallow in the progressive rock sounds of the early-1970s while singing in their native language. For Finns, this might seem like the most natural thing in the world, but for the rest of us who don’t understand Finnish, the language adds an alien quality to the already vibrant and groovy music, lending it more mystery than some English sop singing about Tolkien and snow geese. This is a tremendous, not to mention economical second effort by a rare prog band that knows when to say when.

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