Words by Andrew Lampela
Andrew Lampela was an employee and eventual co-owner of the 40-year old institution, Haffa’s Records in Athens, Ohio, just outside of the dark woods from which Skeletonwitch emerged. Over his years there he has played in a number of bands ranging from rock to noise to metal and has taken his lifelong knowledge of music into contributing to a number of publications.
Now, I’m not a professional by any stretch, so I’d be wary of taking my word as gospel if I were you. As someone who has written their opinion down and fool-heartedly released it out into the world, however, I think I’m on some solid ground here when I tell you that if you take up enough stances in the purely subjective world of music, you inevitably will eat shit on one that you may or, more likely, may not remember making. A few kind words in this very column about the Vale and Consummation albums last month prompted several friends to remind me that I’d most certainly uttered the words, “Dude, black metal sucks now.”
I’m not too proud as to think that this wouldn’t happen. I’ve absolutely been a dick about music. Working in a record store for a long period of time will do that to a person. Hell, I was a dick about music I liked! But this one rings true. I was pretty into it all, up through the end of the first wave of American stuff. It’s when it became ‘a thing’ to put out your band’s music on a cassette run of twenty, with all lettering resembling a pile of dried-out twigs, that my interest started to wane. As with any genre gaining some semblance of popularity, the truly laughable garbage seriously outweighed the good and, unfortunately, black metal slowly turned into a punching bag for my opinionated bullshit.
It’s been a gradual shift, but my first instinct of, “You know what? I should tell strangers why this record sucks!” has tapered off. I’m too old to hold petty grudges against twig-font I can’t comprehend. If grown men want to slather their faces in complexion-destroying greasepaint and get stupid about evil shit, who am I to deny their passion? Besides, with work and life and the resignation that there is so much music out there I’ll never be able to hear it all, an idea that sends teenage Andrew into spasms of rage, I could certainly choose to rant about all the ways the new Cro-Mags EP is hot fucking garbage, but then I’d have to listen to it more than once, and even at six minutes that’s simply asking to much these days. Why not fill your ears with albums that compel you to keep coming back?
As fate (well… Gilead Media, actually) would have it, a healthy chunk of my listening has been black metal lately. Gilead has a trio of new ones dropping, all exceptionally fine listening experiences. False delivers polished Norwegian-inflected goodness on Portent. Three songs and an outro in forty minutes, these rippers have some serious twists and turns. Melodic, inventive and ferocious, Portent shows the American wave of black metal hasn’t slowed down a bit. Falls Of Rauros take a slightly chillier approach on Patterns In Mythology. They blend in some great atmospheric passages that really allow these songs to breathe, making the melodic bits stand out that much more. Very good, earthy stuff. And boy oh boy, the lo-fi goodness that is Yellow Eyes. Rare Field Ceiling isn’t lo-fi in the recorded-with-mics-under-a-pile-of-dirty-laundry way, more in the smothering punk-edged raw way, and if I had to pick out of the three, this has a better than not chance of being my fave on any given day. So sure, I might not be the hardcore black metal listener I used to be, but even opinionated dicks can be wrong every once in a while.
Another problem with grown men prancing around is spiked out collars and platform boots is the very real chance of becoming a parody of yourself. Immortal are awesome, and I spent just as much time as anyone back in the day laughing my ass off at just how incredible those videos are, but watching Abbath crab-walk around is just a bit too much for me anymore. His first solo album was entertaining, in a ‘I’m bored, I guess I’ll listen to this’ way. Imagine my surprise, then, that Outstrider (Seasons Of Mist) is vastly superior. It sounds like a more cohesive band effort than just Abbath and some dudes, and it benefits greatly. Probably won’t be atop any year end lists, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
Another old school group that seems to have righted the ship is Memoriam. It bummed me out that I just couldn’t seem to get into their first couple. I mean, it’s Karl Willets from Bolt Thrower, backed by a pack of ringers! They were just kind of meh. Requiem For Mankind (Nuclear Blast) is exactly what I was hoping for, though. Crusty political death metal by a bunch of metal lifers. I’m a total sucker for this style of 90s European groove death metal, and this is top notch stuff.
Smoulder also take me back. The Toronto band seriously dials in the reverbed-out doom of my late 80s cassette collection (before it was cool!) on Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring (Cruz del Sur). It sounds like, and my apologies to vocalist Sarah Ann even though I mean this in the best possible way, Budgie ripping through the Candlemass catalog. The production is spot on 80s, and while there is nothing I would call groundbreaking here, the band comes up with six winners here that have kept finding their way into the mix. Good stuff!
One thing that never gets old is seeing good dudes continuously get better. Parkersburg, West Virginia’s Horseburner are some of the best guys you meet, and The Thief (Ripple) is a huge leap forward for a band that was already bad ass. Touchstones would include the thunder of High On Fire and the melodic guitar harmonies of Baroness, but Horseburner really come into their own on The Thief. The dynamics are much deeper, the songwriting is more ambitious, and from start to finish, the album is a truly engaging experience. Well done, fellas.
So, you know, it’s okay to grow. You should take your hobbies seriously. They are, after all, what ostensibly brings joy to your life. It took a long time for me to give up the obsessive opinions I’d spent almost two decades honing behind a record store counter. I’ve even come around to admitting out loud, to other people, that I don’t mind some Brian Eno stuff. I ate a lot of shit for that one, and you know what, that’s okay. We’re all in this together. There’s plenty of music out there for everyone to enjoy. Life is short, there are no guilty pleasures. But, yeah, I’d probably skip on that new Cro-Mags. It sucks, dude.