Monday, November 30, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dude, Where's My Decade?: The Ten Best Metal Albums of the 2000s

So here's an exercise that I've been wanting to do that will keep me from continuing my studies for another hour or so. It's weird that we're at the end of a decade when I distinctly remember the moment when 1999 became 2000. What this decade really gave me more than anything else, though, was metal, and a musical identity. For that reason, I'm making this a top ten metal albums of the 2000s list. Fleet Foxes, Tegan and Sara, Clutch, The Decemberists, and Flogging Molly would likely have had spots on this list but I decided to go the metal-only route. So here goes:

10. Immortal- Sons of Northern Darkness (2002)

My introduction to Norway's grimmest didn't come through their frostbitten black metal roots but from their epic blackened thrash maelstrom, Sons of Northern Darkness. Vastly underrated by purists, this album represents a perfect marriage of the corpse-painted fury of the early 90s and a very modern, well-produced heavy metal edge. Key tracks: "One By One", "Sons of Northern Darkness", "In My Kingdom Cold"

9. Halford- Resurrection (2000)

It's impossible to overstate how important this album was in my development as a heavy metal fan. Every song on the album is a winner, and the Metal God sounds better than he has since 1990. When it comes to pure heavy metal, there isn't a better album this decade. Nostradamus was cool, but this album will make you pine for Halford's "Breaking the Law" days. Key tracks: "Silent Screams", "Resurrection", "The One You Love To Hate"

8. Mouth of the Architect- The Ties That Blind (2006)

My love affair with this album started with some admitted home team bias. Mouth of the Architect are Dayton's biggest metal export not called Night Ranger, so naturally I had an affinity for them. But the more post-metal I listened to, I realized that this, one of my first post-metal records, was the best thing the scene produced. Syrupy riffs, shouted-from-the-next-room vocals, and a real prog rock sensibility (ex-guitarist Greg Lahm admits Yes, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and King Crimson were a constant presence during writing) make this one of the best albums of the decade. Fun fact: I'm getting a tattoo loosely based on this album art this coming summer. Key tracks: "Baobab", "No One Wished to Settle Here", "At Arms Length"

7. Iron Maiden- Dance of Death (2003)

It wouldn't be a heavy metal list without the greatest heavy metal band of all time on it, and the second album recorded after Bruce and Adrian rejoined the band is the best thing they've done since the Golden Era. This album is the least plagued by formula of their post-1992 output, too, and a youthful energy oozes out of the songs. And I do apologize for republishing the worst album art of all time. Key tracks: "Paschendale", "Journeyman", "Rainmaker"

6. Opeth- Blackwater Park (2001)

Every Opeth album is damn good, but on Blackwater Park literally everything went right. This is just a tour de force of prog metal awesomeness. The mellow parts are beautiful, the death metal parts are crushing, the transitions are seamless, and the songs are generally among the best that Opeth has done. Key tracks: "The Leper Affinity", "Blackwater Park", "Bleak"

5. Mastodon- Blood Mountain (2006)

If Leviathan got Mastodon off the ground in terms of popularity, Blood Mountain pushed them through the stratosphere and made them quite possibly the biggest band in metal. Which is fine, because the tunes back it up. This is also the crowning achievement of Mastodon as a musician's band, with all the members firing on all cylinders at their respective instruments. Key tracks: "Sleeping Giant", "Colony of Birchmen", "Siberian Divide"

4. Between the Buried and Me- Colors (2007)

In the hands of less capable bands, this album would have been a disaster. Essentially, Between the Buried and Me took as many riffs and genres as they could think of, threw them in a blender, and called it Colors. Regardless, this is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the decade. The band comfortably fuses all of its influences in a perfect storm of an album that I doubt they'll top. When Tommy Rogers screams "We will be remembered for this" in album closer "White Walls", he's fulfilling prophecy. Key tracks: "White Walls", "Foam Born", "Ants of the Sky"

3. Cobalt- Gin (2009)

Heavy. That's the best way to describe a black metal album this fucked up. An audio tribute to Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson, this is the soundtrack to getting wasted in the woods in a rainstorm, alone, and trying to build a shelter for the night. It's a terrifying, sexually frustrated journey into the mind of its creators but also into the minds of all of us. While "black metal meets Tool" is a fair description of the sounds, it really has to be heard to be believed. Key tracks: "Gin", "A Starved Horror", "Arsonry"

2. Cynic- Traced in Air (2008)

This is an easy target for people who hate cold, calculated prog metal with lots of effects and crisp production, but what I've been struck by the hundreds of times I've listened to the album is that beneath all that, it has a lot of soul. Paul Masvidal's spiritual lyrics contribute a lot to that, but so does his soulful croon which has all but replaced the robot voices and death metal growls that dominated their 1994 debut. Unlike a lot of comparable prog metal albums, Traced in Air knows when to stop, and you're left wanting more when it ends. Key tracks: "The Space for This", "Adam's Murmur", "King of Those Who Know"

1. Mastodon- Leviathan (2004)

Well, here it is. The best metal album of the 2000s in my opinion. It's not a shocking choice, as it's probably the most critically acclaimed metal album of the decade as well, but there's nothing on it that doesn't rule. It's a solid slab of greatness, beginning to end. From Neil Fallon and Scott Kelly's guest vocal appearances to Brent Hinds' flirtation with his rockabilly background, from Brann Dailor's inhuman fills to Troy Sanders' inhuman shouts, and from the simple beauty of acoustic instrumental "Joseph Merrick" to the biggest, most epic piece the band has ever done, "Hearts Alive", this album is perfect. If you somehow haven't heard it yet, please do so. Key tracks: "Hearts Alive", "Blood and Thunder", "Iron Tusk"

What are your favorites from this decade? Let's start a debate here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

CD Review: Nile, "Those Whom the Gods Detest"

Nile's Karl Sanders has given the people what they want on the death metal trio's latest full-length and has provided the extensive liner notes that were so integral to the band's output early in this decade and so sorely missed on 2007's Ithyphallic. Reading through the booklet for Those Whom the Gods Detest may take an hour of your time, but it's well worth and it demonstrates Sanders' vast knowledge of his chosen subjects of Egypt and Lovecraft.

Musically, the album is also a return to form. Whereas parts of Ithyphallic dragged from an occasional lack of interesting melodies to drive the slow parts and a lack of coherence to the fast parts, every part of the new album feels meticulously planned. Album-opening one-two punch "Kafir!" and "Hittite Dung Incantation" gives the listener everything they might look for in a Nile album in two songs. There's Middle Eastern melodies played on acoustic instruments, clean Qawwali-inspired vocals, menacing groove riffs, light speed solos, and some of the best death metal vocals this side of, well, Death.

The refrain of "Kafir!" is among the notable highlights of the album: "There is no god but God / There is no god but the one true God / There is not god but the hidden God / There is no God / There is no God" is somewhat uncharacteristically anti-religion for Nile, but fits perfectly into the theme of the album, which can be summed up, more or less, by the title. Sanders elaborates more on the theme in the aforementioned masterful liner notes. "Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend to the Underworld" is the token fast song, and easily matches its predecessors "Lashed to the Slave Stick" and "Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is In the Water".

What really makes this album special is the clear dedication Nile have for their craft. The meticulously collected liner notes and album art and lyrics all tying into a theme serve to enhance the formidable death metal that they adorn. This might be the best album of the year in terms of purely non-musical criteria. That isn't to say the music isn't terrific, but it does give the album some bonus points.

Karl Sanders has apparently never been to Egypt. Hearing this album almost makes me want to open a PayPal donations link to send him there. The resulting album might end up being the greatest death metal record of all time.

Concert Review: Between the Buried and Me with Veil of Maya, Last Second of Silence and Animals As Leaders

It's always to a band's credit when they bother to learn the majority of their back catalog so they can march out totally unexpected set lists. Last night, I saw Between the Buried and Me for the third time, and every song they played marked the first time I'd seen it. The venue and crowd conditions were unideal for the band's progressive sound, but the performance was tremendous.

Several local bands played a side stage and we didn't catch them, but Animals As Leaders, a Behold...the Arctopus-esque prog-jazz-shred instrumental quartet took the stage soon after our arrival. They were pretty much terrible and had no sense of what a song is. Then came Last Second of Silence, and they played Attack Attack music, whatever that is. It was awful. Then came Veil of Maya, who despite presumably naming themselves for Cynic's lead track from their world-changing debut Focus, sounded instead like a hyper-deathcore version of The Faceless. They were terrible, but their set was entertaining thanks to a huge group of karate-kicking straight-edge high school kids. They were serious; it was hilarious.

Then came Between the Buried and Me, and they never disappoint. They blasted through a 75-minute set containing songs from every record except the covers album, and like I said before (the color keeps fading), I hadn't seen any song they played the other two times I'd seen the band. That's impressive. The karate-kicking continued, but BTBAM made it tolerable with their flawless performances of tracks like "Sun of Nothing" and "Mordecai". Simply put, you need to see this band if you have any interest in their music. They are a thing to behold in a live environment, flatbill-capped hardcore kids notwithstanding.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

CD Review: Slayer, "World Painted Blood"

Metalheads, perhaps more than fans of any other modern genre, have a reverence for history and tradition, and Slayer’s first five albums, a streak running from 1983 to 1990, are all undisputed classics. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how the devolution of their career that has occurred since comes as a slap in the face to aficionados.

World Painted Blood, the thrash quartet’s eleventh full-length, continues the downward spiral. The album-opening title track starts off promisingly enough, the riffs are good and the vocals don’t try too hard, but with just a minute left in the six-minute track, frontman Tom Araya ruins the song with some spoken word verses that, when laid on top of the “beats” drummer Dave Lombardo provides, sounds suspiciously like rap. “Beauty Through Order” is a serviceable, mid-paced track and doesn’t offend the eardrums. The rest of the album is pretty much terrible.

“Playing With Dolls” gets special mention as the worst Slayer song ever recorded. Headbangers won’t forget when Slayer were great, but it’s clear that fond memories are all they’ll have.

This review will appear in Thursday, November 12th's edition of Weekend, Indiana University's source for entertainment.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Concert Review: Jucifer with Push-Pull

If you know me, you know that Halloween mostly means one thing: free Chipotle. Unfortunately, it means the same thing to most of Bloomington, so I missed the first two bands waiting in line for a burrito. From what I've come to understand, this was no big loss. I arrived at Rhino's and shortly afterwards Push-Pull began playing their brand of indie punk nonsense. It was alright. Then there was Jucifer.

Ho-ly shit.

On paper, what I just saw was experimental metal duo Jucifer performing songs that were presumably from their last two records, If Thine Enemy Hunger and L'autrichienne, for about an hour. In reality, what I saw was perhaps the most emotionally raw performance I have ever witnessed.

In reality, I saw a man dressed as Jesus Christ punch his cymbals and drums with bleeding knuckles. I saw him break a drumstick in two and launch it skyward with a maniacal scream. I saw him scream and spit at his wife, pointing his drumsticks at her like weapons meant to kill. I saw him pretend to commit suicide by no fewer than three methods (hanging, throat-cutting, and gunshot to the mouth). I saw in his eyes a combination of evil and anger I'll never be able to forget.

In reality, I saw a woman dressed as Cleopatra perform incantations to the devil with a guitar and a microphone. I saw her slam her body against the floor, against the amplifiers. I saw her crawl around on her hands and knees, unintelligibly humming and yelping, summoning demons with her words. I saw her abuse her instrument and her body simultaneously. Hell, I probably saw God.

In reality, I heard an hour-long ruckus of alternating doom metal dirges and breakneck grindcore passages. I heard two people make more noise than it would seem an army should be capable of making. I heard drums and cymbals crashing into heavily distorted chords from a guitar covered in duct tape. I heard the simplest symphony I'll ever hear, and I won't hear much else for the next few days.

In reality, I witnessed pure sonic evil and beautifully raw human emotion in an hour of unbelievable metal performances put on by a married couple that are either absolutely perfect for each other or will end up in the newspapers as a murder-suicide.

But on paper, I guess it's kind of hard to explain.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

In the Streets on Halloween There's Something Going On: 5 Essential Metal Songs for 10/31

October 31st, regardless of its origins as a holiday, has come to be a night associated with evil. Heavy metal is also a place where Lucifer is typically lauded, so the two have converged with some awesome tunes over the past forty years. What this is that stands before you is a list of the five greatest Halloween heavy metal songs of all time, because top five lists are fun and easy to wrap your head around.

5. Slayer- "Altar of Sacrifice" (1986)

4. King Diamond- "Halloween" (1986)

3. Iron Maiden- "The Number of the Beast" (1982)

2. Mercyful Fate- "At the Sound of the Demon Bell" (1983)

1. Helloween- "Halloween" (1987)

My apologies that the Helloween song is the lame video edit, check out the thirteen minute version as well. And I'm leaving out lots of songs, since there's plenty of awesome metal songs about grim grinning ghosts and satanic rituals, so call me out on it. What songs would you have included?

Friday, October 30, 2009

CD Review: The Red Chord, "Fed Through the Teeth Machine"

As a word of warning to death metal bands everywhere, you should never make your second album a masterpiece that blurs genre lines and leaves critics and fans alike simultaneously scratching and banging their heads. It just makes it that much harder to get the accolades you deserve when your later releases don't live up to your own high water mark.

Such might be the case with The Red Chord, whose 2005 record, Clients, found a balance between old-school technical death metal, the then-just emerging deathcore sound, and moments of sheer melodic beauty. They shoved these influences into what were actual songs, not just parts put next to one another. So when Prey for Eyes was released in 2007 and wasn't one of the best albums of all time, it was a bit of a disappointment. Sure, there were great tracks like "Dread Prevailed" and "Bone Needle", but the effort as a whole fell short of the standard set by Clients.

The brand-new Fed Through the Teeth Machine surpasses its predecessor in terms of consistency and memorability, but still falls shy of 2005's slab of gold. But that shouldn't matter, and the more I realize that, the more I come to like the new record. "Hour of Rats" might be the best song the band has ever recorded, and the entire album has a very cohesive sense of vision about it. There's a sense of subtlety that even Clients tended to lack, and the result is a very enjoyable and easily stomached listening experience.

The Red Chord have always had certain songs on their records that fulfill a certain archetype, but it's been a slap in the face sometimes how obvious that was. The title track from Clients and "Film Critiques and Militia Men" were straightforward, short, heavy songs. So is "Demoralizer", but it's less obvious that that's what's going on. Similarly, unlike the huge, melodic epics "He Was Dead When I Got There" and "Seminar" from previous releases, "Mouthful of Precious Stones" and "Sleepless Nights in the Compound" are sneakier and more clever in their delivery of the massive goods.

Lots of factors contribute to why this might be the best record the Red Chord will ever make not entitled Clients, and it would be in your best interest as a listener to check it out with an open mind.

Monday, October 26, 2009

CD Review: Between the Buried and Me, "The Great Misdirect"

It's not easy to follow up a masterpiece. In 2007, North Carolina progressive metal crew Between the Buried and Me unleashed Colors, which was one of the finest moments in the genre's history: a whirling melee of melody and aggression; beauty and brutality. Two short years later, metal's most challenging band have come to pick our brains once more with the six-track, hour-long odyssey that is The Great Misdirect.

The fear that BTBAM have settled into a formula rears its head during the first track, "Mirrors," which is an entirely cleanly sung, melodic song, not unlike "Foam Born: The Backtrack" from Colors. The approach is completely different however, and when the band launches into the ten-minute lead single "Obfuscation" all trepidation disappears. Angst-ridden verses weave in and out of melodic guitar leads and keyboard histrionics and help build to some well-placed gang vocals and a shredding guitar solo at the song's climax.

The album wears on in typically spectacular BTBAM fashion with plenty of metal and plenty of curveballs until we come to "Desert of Song," which is by far the most unique song the band has ever done. It's begins as an American folk song that wouldn't sound out of place if Woody Guthrie made a guest appearance from beyond the grave and evolves into a mellow Pink Floyd number, complete with a melodic Gilmour-esque solo. Despite its strangeness, the song still has a very Between the Buried and Me vibe about it. It's worth it to hear the record for this song alone.

The album closes on an appropriately epic note with the most ambitious (and longest) BTBAM song yet, "Swim to the Moon". It would be redundant for me to tell you how epic and fantastic it is. Needless to say, they haven't lost even half a step since Colors. It's prog nerd metal at its finest, and as an archetypical prog nerd, I feel safe saying that BTBAM is becoming one of my favorite bands. Don't miss this.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Have Yourself a Metal Little Christmas

A quick Internet search will reveal that the new solo record by the Metal God, Rob Halford, Winter Songs and the new Trans-Siberian Orchestra album, Night Castle, both in stores next Tuesday, have leaked. Rather than review these discs in the traditional manner (both are serviceable, neither are great), I thought I'd do a wildly season-inappropriate blog post sharing my five favorite metal Christmas songs of all time. It's somewhat surprising that a list like this can even exist, since the holiday celebrates the birth of Christ and the genre often celebrates his crucifixion, but who am I to complain? Baby Jesus and Satan alike would approve of all of the following jams. (Sorry for the lousiness of some of the clips. Look up the real songs if you like.)

5. "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" by Twisted Sister (2006)

4. "We Three Kings" by Halford (2009)

3. "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" by Savatage (1994)

2. "Old City Bar" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra (1996)

1. "No Presents for Christmas" by King Diamond (1985)

Are these rad? Do they suck? What are your favorite metal Christmas songs?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CD Review: Russian Circles, "Geneva"

Making instrumental post-rock is a delicate art. There's lots of risks involved. If there aren't enough heavy parts, it'll be boring. If there's too many, it won't be beautiful anymore. If there's too little experimentation, it will demand vocals, and if there's too much, it will be interpreted as "trying too hard." On the first two albums by Chicago power trio Russian Circles, Enter and Station, all of the relevant balances were struck perfectly and veritable classics of the genre were unleashed. On their new record, Geneva, however, the band falls just shy of maintaining their superiority.

The elements are all there, but there's the overwhelming sense that the best parts have already been done, and better (and indeed done better by Russian Circles themselves) and that the new parts are mostly without merit. The title track, for example, starts as a beautiful piece of music, certain to erupt in an Explosions in the Sky-esque crescendo, but instead incorporates an obnoxious bass line and ends with a bizarre drum pattern that sounds utterly manufactured. All would potentially be forgiven if the beautiful intro wasn't notably less beautiful than the beautiful parts of songs on their previous records.

There are some truly enlightening moments, though. "When the Mountain Comes to Muhammad" features a couple of firsts for the band. It opens with lonesome guitar line draped over sample, presumably from some sort of religious broadcast, the first sample that Russian Circles has used. As the song builds and builds and eventually crescendos, beautiful melodies from the guitar and bass weave in and out of melodies played on trumpet and trombone. This is an example of integrating unusual instrumentation into a common song structure to a meaningful end, and many post-rock and post-metal acts could take notes from it. But these wonderful moments are less evident on this album than on the previous two.

Geneva is a pretty good post-rock record, and "When the Mountain Comes to Muhammad" is the finest post-rock song of the year, but for someone looking to get into the genre, there's better starting points, including the back catalog of this very band. Hopefully Russian Circles' members recall how to write songs like "Death Rides a Horse" and "Harper Lewis" by the time they set out to record again.

Friday, October 16, 2009

5 Trends in Metal That Need to Stop Immediately

As long as there has been heavy metal, there have been forces working to take it down from within. In the 1980s, it was glam metal, which sought to convince mainstream America that it was somehow "heavy" to wear profuse amounts of makeup and spandex while strutting around Los Angeles like a bunch of male prostitutes. In the early 1990s, a group of dirty, drug-addled Seattleites thankfully killed this movement, but with Kurt Cobain's suicide and the collapse of most of the other heavy hitters from the era, grunge gave way to rap metal and nu metal, which marked a new low for the genre at large. It didn't take long for Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park to become Slipknot and Disturbed, and suddenly the new standard for angst-ridden music was made even more obnoxious. In this decade, metalcore was born and brought to metal's forefront for a time, and its heavy hitters like Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying were even worse than Slipknot. In 2009, it's easy to become complacent. None of the aforementioned trends are very strong. But it doesn't mean there isn't awfulness in metal; it's just better disguised. What follows is a list of five "next big things" that the metal community just doesn't need. Let the flaming begin!

5. Irony: I shouldn't have to tell you that irony is the lowest form of comedy, lower even than the pun, and that it has no place in metal. Unfortunately, it's a very real side-effect of the hipsterization of our beloved genre. Examples of irony's infiltration into metal include listing "hilarious" genres like crunk and afrobeat on your MySpace page, penning "hysterical" song titles, recording "priceless" cover tunes, doing "funny" photo shoots that make you look like children, and mass-producing too-tight t-shirts in every color of the rainbow. Worst offenders: Iwrestledabearonce, The Devil Wears Prada, A Day to Remember, the entire Rise Records roster

4. Tough guy stage presence: This only really applies to the live environment, but since bands that participate in this tomfoolery tour this country like a cancer, it's dire. Because I'm a nice guy, I'll give some tips to heavy metal frontmen who feel the need to engage in macho posturing. First of all, if your music was worth moshing to, the crowd would mosh. Telling them to is lame and annoying. Secondly, your audience is guys who got off at the factory early and want to get out some rage before they go home, put on a wifebeater, and inevitably beat their wife. And that's fine. But stop touring with good, sophisticated bands and hitch a ride with Lynyrd Skynyrd when they're in town. Their audience would appreciate your Neanderthalic chest-pounding a lot more than most of the people you insist on playing for. Worst offenders: Lamb of God, DevilDriver, Dååth, Demiricous

3. Extremely guttural vocals
: I shouldn't have a problem with straight up, honest-to-God death metal, but sometimes I do. To bands who feel the need to gargle thumbtacks before they hit the mic, I implore you to listen to your forefathers. Chuck Schuldiner, Jeff Walker, John Tardy, Chris Barnes, and Tomas Lindberg did not vomit while trying to say words and call it a vocal performance, so quit trying to out-brutal one another and find a vocal identity of your own. Worst offenders: Dying Fetus, Job for a Cowboy, Godless Rising, most bands with illegible logos

2. Traditional folk instruments:
For some reason, the current "pagan metal" movement is being critically lauded and dominating the U.S. tour scene. In the early days of the scene when bands like Finntroll and Moonsorrow mostly stood alone, I wouldn't have had much of a problem with it, but it's becoming an excuse for a lack of musical vision. "Oh, we're from Scandinavia! We can just play Grandpa's music and scream over top of it!" News flash: it is possible to pay tribute to your heritage without compromising your testicular fortitude. Just ask Amon Amarth. It's even more annoying now that bands with no pagan heritage insist on playing pagan metal. If you're from any state with the possible exception of Minnesota, your heritage is not strong enough to justify a hurdy-gurdy. Mark my words, this faux-Viking crap will be an embarrassing memory within a year or two. Worst offenders: Turisas, Ensiferum, Tyr, Eluveitie

1. Breakdowns:
It should come as no surprise that breakdowns take the top spot on a list of what's wrong with metal today. The so-called deathcore movement has taken the one element of thrash and death metal that could ruin otherwise good songs and made an entire genre out of it. I can barely justify listening to anything that makes prominent use of the breakdown, and there's nothing you can say to convince me that they have value. I don't have words for how awful deathcore is and how immediately it needs to die. Worst offenders: Suicide Silence, Bring Me the Horizon, Winds of Plague, Animosity

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CD Review: Skeletonwitch, "Breathing the Fire"

There doesn't seem to be much consensus in the metal world on exactly what subgenre Athens, Ohio quartet Skeletonwitch belongs in, but classification shouldn't really matter as long as the music is this awesome. Breathing the Fire, the follow-up to 2007's top-notch Beyond the Permafrost, is stylistically identical to its predecessor but has even better riffs, solos, demonic vocals and horns-in-the-sky, Satan-hailing lyrics. This album is, if nothing else, incredibly goddamned metal.

Things start off a little weaker than the incredible one-two punch of "Upon Wings of Black" and "Beyond the Permafrost" from the last album, but once the record kicks into gear it's a thrashing good time, and it's clear that this is beer metal in the purest sense of the term. Tracks like "The Despoiler of Human Life" and "Crushed Beyond Dust" storm into the room, take no prisoners, and leave sword-filled corpses and crushed PBR cans in their wake. This is music that the listener is almost required to bang your head to, and if that was Skeletonwitch's only goal, then the album is a runaway success.

That said, this band could still stand to tighten the screws a little bit. Very few of the songs feel fully fleshed out, and the album feels somewhat incomplete as a result. Skeletonwitch seem to have a handle on the riff-writing and solo-writing processes, but are still eluded by the songwriting process. Still, there's a lot of promise for the future. The brilliantly titled "Repulsive Salvation" is an honest-to-God song, with a beginning, middle, and end, and there's no compromising of intense riffs and shredding solos as a result. That song is the obvious highlight of this disc, and the 'Witch should try to recreate what they did there (as well as on "Baptized in Flames" from the Beyond the Permafrost album) in the future.

I've sold this album somewhat short by complaining about its shortcomings, because it's still a solid thrash record with a nonstop barrage of riffs and no shortage of moments that demand headbanging. I'm just hoping that the next time Skeletonwitch release a full-length, the awesome riffs and solos evolve into awesome songs somewhat more often. It's not as if I'm going to stop worshiping the 'Witch in the meantime.

Friday, October 9, 2009

CD Review: Baroness, "Blue Record"

The second full-length release by Savannah everything-metal quartet Baroness is a lot like the artwork that graces its cover. It was painstakingly created, it is unparalleled in beauty, and you're bound to notice new things each time you sit down with it.

After guitarist Brian Blickle famously departed to be replaced by Pete Adams, questions hung in the air about whether the band was capable of another record as strong as 2007's Red Album. The sonic result achieved on Blue Record should put those questions to bed. This could be the band's masterpiece.

The effect that the new album has isn't as immediate as that of past records by the group. There's no riff like the attention-demanding intro to "The Birthing", nor is there a two-minute pure metal attack like "O' Appalachia". Instead, Blue Record is the sound of evolution, progression, and a band coming into their own.

Everything that was great about the band's earlier music has been amplified and carefully balanced on the new album. The riffs aren't as immediate, as I mentioned, but they're better. Frontman John Dyer Baizley has finally come into his own as a vocalist, his honey-sweet shouting draped elegantly over complex chord progressions and cymbal patterns that are an anomaly in music this heavy and groovy. Baizley and Adams almost sound like they could become full-fledged guitar heroes, too, with the Mastodon-esque leads in songs like "War, Wisdom and Rhyme" and "Jake Leg". Even the pure beauty has been turned way up. Interludes "Steel That Sleeps the Eye" and "Blackpowder Orchard" make great use of acoustic guitar and provide perfect complements to the heavier tracks.

Perhaps the most significant thing about this album is the fact that there are now songs that sound like Baroness songs. Even in their finest hours prior to this record, it was easy to point out which parts of songs were Mastodon parts, which parts were Kylesa parts, which parts were Melvins parts, and so on. But the instant classics on Blue Record like "A Horse Called Golgotha" and "The Gnashing" sound like Baroness songs, plain and simple. The band is in its own category now, and it's only a matter of time before reviews of young upstarts start to feature the phrase "Baroness worship".

This can only be seen as a good thing for the band, and by the time the inevitable Green LP and Yellow Full-Length are released, I wouldn't be surprised if they're regarded as one of the finest bands in modern metal.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Majoring in Metal: Q&A with Parker Jameson

Unless you're GWAR or Venom, there's nothing terribly metal about going to school. It's a place that typically frowns on the disregard for societal norms that makes metal so attractive to so many kids, and as a result they're stuck wearing their metal shirts, blasting their headphones between classes, and learning about subjects that some old white guy in a suit says are important.

Through Indiana University's Individualized Major Program (IMP), however, students are allowed to choose to major in anything their mind can conceive, so long as they get a faculty sponsor. Parker Jameson, a sophomore at IU and the guitarist for Bloomington death metal act Ballistika, decided to channel his love of metal into a course of study. Interview follows.

Tr00 Media: What is the official name of your major?
Parker Jameson: The registered title was "The Art Of Metal Music" but when you are in the program, it can change multiple times over the course of your studies. Mine is currently taking a more cultural approach to the study and understanding of metal and its people. So probably something along the lines of "The Culture of Metal Music." I'll have to think of something with a little more zazz to it though.

TM: What made you choose this unique major, and what influential figures or events helped inspire your love for this subject?
PJ: I honestly did not want to study anything, and college seemed ridiculous to me. Then I read up on the IMP, and when I learned I could major in practically anything I wanted to study, I knew I could seriously pursue my passion for metal music. I was obviously influenced by my love for the metal genre and how musically it is my favorite thing to listen to. My progression in musical life, from a saxophonist playing jazz and classical in 4th-8th grade, to then guitar from 9th till present, along with my transition from rock, to 80s, to hair metal, to metal, and then touring with my own metal band happened in a short period of time. I was quickly drawn toward metal from a sonic aspect, and it resonates with me. I just wanted to be able to study and pursue a career relating to something I am so passionate about.

TM: What special classes does your major require, and are there any special requirements to get into this major?
PJ: You have to go through all the classes and such and plan out your entire college career, which was a little stressful, but since you know your major, you know what to look for. Obviously, majoring in metal, you look for music related courses, cultural things, and the people who run the IMP program help you with all that. It was recommended that I take classes like Modern Scandinavia and the Baltic States, to better understand the situations of countries where lots of influential metal comes from. They also made recommendations on intensive writing courses, to aid with possibly getting a job writing for metal websites/magazines, and that sort of thing. Taking a class on critiquing poetry was not something I would have initially thought pertained to metal, but with the IMP I looked at it as a lyrical analysis type of thing. You also get to design your own courses. Currently with Mark Deuze I am studying and tracing the causes for the formation of the metal fanbase, as in, why American youth was able to so quickly and firmly grasp onto metal culture. It's a lot of reading and making connections between different books and different authors' theories, but later I'll be conducting plenty of interviews with bands, fans, parents, and a lot of people - and that is something I never would have thought a regular college course could offer.

TM: What role has your sponsor played in the program you've chosen?
PJ: Andrew Hopson was my intro to recording teacher, and I loved his course. We shared a common ground on musical interest, so we had talked a bit about my aspirations. He offered a realistic outside view on my goals, and helped me shift the focus to more of a study, more of a major, than a loosely connected bit of things I related to metal. Andrew Hollinden is another co-sponsor, and he was just a really cool guy who was enthusiastic and encouraging about everything. After beginning my work with Mark I'd like to add him as a sponsor. Your work with them can be as personal as you need it to be. If you're stuck with studies or don't know what direction to go in they're there to help you along.

Welcome to Tr00 Media!

Image courtesy of Peter Beste

If you're reading this and you don't know me (awesome!), my name is Brad Sanders and I'm a journalism major at Indiana University in Bloomington. As you can probably tell by the outstretched arms of Ringmaster Abbath a few inches north, this is the first post of my new metal blog. I decided to call it Tr00 Media as a play on New Media, if that isn't immediately obvious, and this was only after convincing myself that "Scream Bloggy Gore," "Bonded By Blog," and "Blogshyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)" were terrible names for a metal blog.

So what exactly will this blog be used for? Well, a lot of things, I hope. The goal is to do no less than one album review a week, a concert review every time I go to a metal concert (which unfortunately is not terribly often given my current geography and money situation), interviews with interesting metal people as the opportunities arise, along with the random link-sharing and soapbox-whining that blogs usually entail. Of course, this entire operation is just a front for the Heavy Metal Year-End Spectacular that I plan to unleash over two weeks in December, but you'll have to wait for that.

We're gonna have some fun together, reader. I'm going to get to write about heavy metal, and hopefully you're going to comment and argue with me about it. If you like what you're reading, please share this blog with your metal friends and metal family, and we'll get a groovy thing going in no time.

I'll leave you today with the words of the grim and frostbitten man who still looms above: "Come taste a tide/Where demons play the mind/On the wind-rippled steps/The everflowing streams of our enemies' blood run cold."

Please, come taste a tide.