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.
I caught myself staring out the window the other day, asking myself the hard questions. What ever happened to that whole impending WWIII thing? Didn’t that happen? What about the koalas? Did I just dream that the entire continent of Australia went up in flames in one of the largest disasters of my adult life? How the fuck was that only a few months ago?
I’ve never been one to believe that calendar units have any power, or that planets do weird things to the mojo when floating just right in the vast expanse of space, but hoooooo-ly shit, man, this has been a rough year. Just focusing on the gist of this column, this has been a crazy couple of months. The passing of such luminaries as Neil Peart (you bet I’ve got a two liter of Shasta and my all mix Rush mixtape), Sean Reinert of Death/Cynic, Reed Mullin of Corrosion Of Conformity, Sacred Reich’s Jason Rainey, and Josh Pappe of D.R.I. hit me pretty hard. All of them have been a huge part of my life for the last thirty plus years, and all have left a huge void in the world of heavy metal.
The metal world certainly isn’t the only one that’s been affected. This year has been tragic for music lovers across the board. Andy Gill of Gang Of Four, drummer extraordinaire Bill Reiflin, Cori Bishop aka Elyse Weinberg, 4AD visual artist/legend Vaughan Oliver, drumming legend Clyde Stubblefield, member of the immortal Arkestra Danny Ray Thompson, Dave Roback of Opal/Mazzy Star, jazz trumpeter Wallace Roney, Adam Schlesinger, and two absolute titans of their game in John Prine and McCoy Tyner have all passed in the last few months, ensuring that I’ve mostly been sad-listening to my record collection when I’m not balled up on the floor trying to make the ringing in my head stop. My neighbors probably thought I got rid of every record I own except for COC’s Blind (seriously, those drums are just as wild to me now as they were thirty years ago!) and Coltrane’s Sun Ship (as heavy as any metal record, and one of the greatest quartets in history) for a hot minute there.
And, as I’m sure you’ve heard, there are a few other things going on out there. The news cycle is mentally pummeling, but impossible not to refresh every fifteen minutes. Every two minutes brings another shit sandwich. Honestly, I have a hard time even gauging how fucked I should feel about some of the bigger stories. Nearly every story about our president one-ups the last, and remember that continent that caught on fire? Here, hold Covid-19’s beer…
Even sitting down to write this column feels super weird. A large part of the population left the small college town I live in for spring break and just…never came back. A huge percentage of my friends are unemployed. I don’t see how most of the small businesses that have drastically reduced their hours, if not completely shuttered, are going to survive, and consequently, how this town will manage to pull through. This is some scary shit, man, and that’s just on my local level. It seems pretty pointless to rag on some metal records when the whole world is spiraling out of control. The last three or so weeks have felt like an eternity of watching what I assumed were mostly together-ish people across my social media devolve into conspiracy-spouting anarcho-hoaxers, with a dash or two of casual racism.
And I really wish I had some profound, inspirational point that I could crescendo into about right now. I do not have one of those. I don’t think anybody does right now. Politics is stupid. The internet is mostly stupid. Opinions are getting pretty stupid, this one included. I’m just trying to do what I can to keep as many people safe as possible. If that means coming straight home from work and holing up, so be it. Six feet away and a mask? No problem! It seems pretty easy to take precautions to hopefully limit the spread. If you think this is some conspiratorial plan to take your rights away, then by all means, go lick all the doorknobs you want, just go back home and fucking stay there afterwards.
I’ve seen my community respond with compassion and intelligence, so don’t think that it’s all doom and gloom. These are indeed crazy fucking times, and the thing that is truly important is to focus on one’s mental health. What better way than to listen to some crazy apocalyptic metal records, right? I mean, just because Nuclear Assault turned out to be soothsayers doesn’t make The Plague any less of classic ripper, right?
With so many notable metal musicians from my record collection passing recently, Testament’s new album is almost a comfort blanket. I’ve been listening to them for almost thirty five years now, so I’ve always got time for a Testament record. There’s nothing mind-blowing here, but if you’re a fan of the last few, you’ll find plenty to like on Titans Of Creation (Nuclear Blast). There’s a song about the Heaven’s Gate cult, one about the Night Stalker. Season Of The Witch is about…well…witches. And WWIII? You guessed it. The album is definitely front loaded, although Curse Of Osiris is a late album ripper, and everything goes on a bit too long for its own good, but there are riffs aplenty, and even if you just focus on the rhythm section of Gene Hoglan and Steve Digiorgio, there are some bangers to be found.
Another comfort blanket of sorts is watching your friends rule. I’ve known most of the dudes in Columbus, Ohio’s Unchipped for a long while now, so I might be a little biased, but their debut is one of my current faves. Abrasively heavy, they have a metallic industrial edge to their AmRep meets grind sound, and it’s cool to actually hear what Pat’s saying. They’re a fantastic live experience, but the crisp production really takes these songs to another level, and the CD packaging is beautiful.
Maybe I set myself up, but I’ve been looking forward to Sweven’s debut, The Eternal Resonance, for a couple months now. Named after Morbus Cron’s final album, Sweven finds Robert Andersson continuing right where his former band left off. He has transcended any sort of death metal tag, taking the music into jazzier, moodier directions, but the style is unmistakably his. There are a few moments I’m still cozying up to, like the aforementioned jazzier parts and the operatic vocals that close the album, but The Sole Importance and Mycelia are worth it alone. I’ll be enjoying this album for some time to come.
One album I didn’t see coming is Raspberry Bulb’s Before The Age Of Mirrors (Relapse). It’s difficult to reconcile “features members of Bone Awl and Rorschach” with just how silly the band name seems, but the music is the shit. There’s enough of a black metal vein running through these songs to warrant that focus from the press, but the lo-fi angularity reminds me of a more fucked up, occult Murder City Devils trying their hand at metal, and I mean that in the best way. I had no expectations for this record, and it’s becoming a favorite.
I know it’s hard to believe, but I definitely find comfort in Internal Rot’s twenty-three minute beat down on Grieving Birth (Iron Lung). Unrelenting death-grind with weird Napalm Death-y breakdown grooves across twenty two songs. This shit is fantastic. Same with Caustic Wound’s Death Posture (Profound Lore). It feels strange to hit this up when lyrically, it is probably a little too close to reality, but you can’t tell what these guys are gurgling, and the music aggressively cathartic as only grind can be.
Midnight have always been great at what they do. In on the joke, but deadly serious about their metal, they continue to prove they’re one of the best bands going with Rebirth By Blasphemy (Metal Blade). Unabashedly ripping through the classic sounds of Celtic Frost, Venom, and the like, listening to Midnight is a good fucking time. Heavy metal is the law.
There have been a ton of other releases that have caught my ear for a minute. Molder give off an “Obituary if they were more a hardcore band” vibes on Vanished Cadavers (Rotted Life Records/Goat Throne Records). My Dying Bride (The Ghost of Orion – Nuclear Blast) and Godthrymm (Reflections – Profound Lore) both put out pretty good classic English doom albums. Fluisteraars do black metal on Bloem (Eisenwald) just different enough to really stand out. Solothus (Realm of Ash and Blood – 20 Buck Spin) is creeping up the playlist with their doom sludge whatever. The Human Impact record (Contact – Ipecac) is the welcome return of Chris Spencer (Unsane), and while it took me a minute to adjust, is pretty solid. I finally get Obsequiae (The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings – 20 Buck Spin). Bask put out a great album (III – Season of Mist) late last year that keeps popping back up into the rotation.
I really doubt things are ever going to snap back to normal. Maybe, though, this is just the worlds way of hip-checking us. Look at all the insane ways the environment has cleared up in a few short months. Maybe this is just what we all need to finally realize that politicians and billionaires don’t give a fuck about us, and it’s probably high time that we stop giving a fuck about them until they listen to what people want. Despite pockets of dumbfucks voting against their own interests, I truly believe that we all want the same thing. Happiness. Stability. A reprieve from the soul-numbing feeling that debt will always crush us. Just a little bit of health care that won’t end up costing fifty years worth of wages. And while this election cycle already looks like a wash, who knows?
I just hope that any of you that have made it this far are doing okay. Remember, it’s perfectly fine to unplug for a day or three. Facebook is hot garbage and really, fuck the news. If anything important happens, you’ll find out, I assure you. I know I’ve said it here before, but now more than ever, we’re all in this together. Who knows what life will look like in a few months, but this whole tragedy has certainly made it easier for me to tune out the idiots and focus on the well being of the community around me. Be well. Stay safe. Check on your friends. Wash you hands.