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 was a little over half-way through my college experience in 1999. Yeah, I started in ’92, it was a pretty long ride, but I digress. This was, to the benefit of my point, the year of The Matrix. I was already middle-aged at twenty five, as far as life was concerned, having already blown through the escalating pyramid of ingesting. I hit the point where I thought “sure, I’ll smoke five pieces of Drugs the size of salt grains” was a solid idea because that was a weird decade. That was it for me. I didn’t need to forget how to stay alive while also falling through the every level of panic a million times all at once for two minutes in order to have a good time. I also never need to see that bendy bullet-dodging animation bullshit ever again.
For the better part of two years afterwards, however, it became an immediate red flag at bars. “Hey, man….you see The Matrix yet?” meant that you were about to indulge in some pre-Joe Rogan ‘deep shit’… but what if we are?
I mean, I absolutely cannot imagine a more fucked up world right now. NASCAR is a progressive voice in the world and the author of Harry Potter is a horrible piece of shit. Surely, we as people can’t be this fucking stupid. Because every time I look at the news, it seems like we’re this stupid. George Floyd murdered. Oluwatoyin Salau and Victoria Sims found murdered. Breonna Taylor murdered. Rayshard Brooks murdered. Elijah McClain murdered. And fuck, we’re all focused on if some bird-shit covered, rusted out shape you walked past a million times without even noticing represents some heritage you can’t point out on a spreadsheet that is, in reality, two simple columns.
One column that contains people that are absolute pieces of shit, that baffle me in their belief that this country is in any way headed in the right direction, that give so little fucks about anything that the very Earth around us melting away triggers no warnings, that the systemic targeting of minorities is deflected by “well, we have to look at their past…” and “fuck that, should’ve just done what they said” racist nonsense.
And a column that contains the rest of us.
I won’t lie, I have no idea how to process all of this. Systemic Racism is very real, as is the targeting of minorities by an overly militarized police force. It takes some real hate-filled balls to say anyone peacefully protesting the needless deaths at the hands of police “deserves the pepper spray.” I really wish all the idiots protesting the Covid 19 shutdown hadn’t been ninety nine point nine percent angry white people, because taking a rubber bullet to the dome because you believe in something, even if it is as stupid as going to Applebees, might have knocked some fucking perspective into a few of them.
I’ve voted in every election since I turned eighteen. I’ll vote in the next election. And certainly not for the first time, I will have little faith that voting will work towards doing much to change anything. The class war has divided things so deeply that there are like, forty rich white guys that are ruining the world, in plain sight, and all most of us can say is “well, I guess I’ll vote for Joe Biden, he’s not as bad…” while binge-watching The Office for the nineteenth time.
I am far from the smartest person here. I was forty five years old when I learned about Tulsa (or March of this year). And I read a lot. If it’s one very hard-earned thing I can share, it’s that it is perfectly fine to admit you don’t know something. In fact, learning about new shit is pretty cool. It turns out, you don’t need that bird-shit covered lump of green to teach you about some racist white dude. There are books! And people who’s experience it is very important to listen to right now! Because America is pretty fucking broken right now, and if we have any chance of bringing this back from the edge, we’ve got to shut the fuck up and listen. Because Black Lives Matter.
And if you don’t understand why Black Lives Matter, then you are being an obstinate piece of shit. If you use the internet to bitch about the shitty service at Texas Roadhouse on a Friday night, you sure as hell can do some basic research.
I’m willing to go out on a limb, too. I don’t believe everyone is a shitty racist. People can learn, people can change. However, there are an awful lot of you assholes out there not changing. Remember, the internet is forever, and when you post really heinous racist shit, people see it and believe me, we’re all ready to help you figure out what free speech and consequences are. As has been tweeted a million times, you certainly knew what defunding was when it was the schools, or Planned Parenthood, or PBS. I don’t recall PBS murdering countless people in broad daylight just because of the color of their skin.
I’m from small town Southeastern Ohio, I’d be lying if I said anything until college prepared me for this conversation. I’m learning every day. I’m also overwhelmed that we as a country are even having this conversation again. And again. And again.
I certainly have no answers. I don’t think anyone has answers. I do know that the time to listen is long, long overdue. If you’re more pissed that your racist ass flag isn’t flying while cars go in an oval than over people getting murdered in the street because they’re black, you have a lot of soul searching to do in that bigoted, hate-filled heart. If soul searching is not for you? Then go fuck yourself.
Black Lives Matter.
Anyway, I’ll be honest. This whole ‘White Pony turns 20’ thing has me pretty shook. I am… I mean… I’m fucking old now. It has me on a Deftones kick that almost rivals how hard that surprise Hum record took over. I’m still not sure about the S/T album or Saturday Night, but there are some overlooked jams between them because, lets be honest, Koi and Diamond are the back to back winners, ten out of ten times, and I have ignored certain pockets in the catalog because of that. Aside from Gore, there isn’t really a miss in the catalog. So, there’s the last couple of weeks.
Living Gate is only a ‘super group’ if you get excited about some dudes from Yob, Oathbreaker, Amenra, and Weigedood, but probably not some of the dudes you were thinking of. Doesn’t matter, though, because this is some top shelf raw, technical, old school flavored Death Metal. “Roped” is unreal, and “Heavens Ablaze” is an album closing face-melter. Not a bum second on Deathlust (Relapse). Eighteen of my favorite minutes this year.
I don’t know what I expected, but Sweden’s Horisont get the prize for blind-siding me. It definitely took me a few listens, but “Pushin’ the Line” sounds like the Hellacopters if they were into Kansas and not the MC5, and boom. I’m hooked. Sudden Death (Century Media) is not the metal I expected, but the slightly prog-rock-ish butt rock that I needed. There’s a lot of this 70s chooglin’ shit going around, and I do the Matrix spine-cracker dodge to get out of the way in most cases, but Horisont is fucking great. There isn’t one second of “Standing Here” that should work for me, on multiple levels, but here we are. My god, the harmonies…
-(16)- has been vaporizing people for a long, long time, and it’s no shock that Dream Squasher (Relapse) is an unrelenting burner. Noisey sludge-rock? Sludgy noise-rock? Irrelevant. This thing absolutely torches the genre. A pummeling master class in aggressive, scummy rock. As is Pyrrhon’s Abscess Time (Willowtip). Pyrrhon bring a whole lot more death metal in with them, but man this is dirty stuff. Tons of grooves, thick layers of dissonance, and a metric fuck-ton of anxiety-inducing aggression, Abscess Time hurts in the best way.
I’m late to the Kohti Tuhoa fan-pile, but Ihmisen Kasvot (La Vida Es Un Mus) has been a constant for the last couple of months. It’s easy to describe, because it’s a very classic strain of punky hardcore, but impossible to convey how awesome this shit truly is. Majestically raw and to the point while still having more ripping parts per song than almost everyone, this is one hundred percent in my wheelhouse. While certainly not metal, this has consistently been my go-to loud-as-fuck ripper since I first heard it. One of my favorite records of the last decade. It’s absolutely perfect.
Covers can be tricky. It’s super fun busting through an INXS cover at practice. Hell, it’s more fun to hit those ten or fifteen people that actually show up for the opener with it on a wild Thursday night. Putting it out to the world? There are some things to consider. I literally can’t think of a more appropriate artist for a set of Danzig covers than Elvis. Having made it through Sings Elvis twice now, I can’t imagine I’m going to throw this thing on much more. Cool that it exists, I suppose. Khemmis kind of fucks up by choosing the iconic “Rainbow In The Dark” to kick off Doomed Heavy Metal (Nuclear Blast). There is absolutely no way you’re going to add anything to the Dio version, although Khemmis puts in some good effort. “A Conversation With Death” is a spin on “O Death” and, again, good effort but just a bit off the mark for me. “Empty Throne” and the live cuts are pretty great, though. Inter Arma fucks up by being pretty awesome at everything. The Ministry and Nine Inch Nails covers have me wishing for a full industrial set, and while I’m sure everyone will be focusing on the adequate Neil Young and the pretty alright Tom Petty covers, the real conversation here involves their blast beat cover of Husker Du, a real treat. “Purple Rain” is too iconic to touch, yet Inter Arma somehow doesn’t fuck up the choice, instead absolutely launching off in the last half. Garbers Days Revisited (Relapse) is a keeper.
Album art has gotten crazy in the metal world. How many ways can you make a skull look bad ass? Definitely not as many times as bands have tried. Barishi’s Old Smoke (Season Of Mist) cover popped out, and I’m much better for it. Long, repetitive songs that have both a Southern notey-prog feel a la Mastodon and a mid-tempoed European Death metal feel, there isn’t much in the way of innovation here, but there doesn’t need to be when things are this solid. It might get a bit long-ish to some, but I find myself coming back to this one fairly often these days. So less apocalyptic murderworld cover art and more weird deer skull trees with wings, guys.
Considering the label, I expected Excerpts From A Dread Liturgy (Translation Loss) to be way more pillowy, and don’t get me wrong, atmospherics abound, but Drouth are very much about Black Metal. I’m sure purists would call me names, but I listen to shit because I enjoy it these days, more than anything, and I very much enjoy Drouth.
Winterfylleth has lurked on the periphery of my listening habits for a long time. Always solid albums, but for some reason or another, they’ve never stuck with me. “Absolved In Fire” is a mighty piece of songwriting, however, and The Reckoning Dawn (Candlelight) might just be the one to finally do it. I’d suggest a few casual listens, then one or two attentive sit-downs to crack this one open. I’ve been at it pretty regularly, and I’m still wrapping my mind around some of these songs. There’s a lot more going on than just black metal with some folky dashes. This is a complex set of songs richly deserving of your attention.
Monolord put out instrumental versions of their last two albums, and they are zoned-out awesomeness. Power Trip dropped Live In Seattle (Power Trip/Dark Operative) and even though it doesn’t have “Lake Of Fire” on it, it’s pretty fucking fun. Speaking of Winterfylleth, singer/guitarist Chris Naughton get his doom/death on with Atavist (Candlelight), almost overshadowing the heavy parts with some insanely tasty string passages. What can I say, I’m a total sucker for some sad bastard cello. Sorcerer’s Lamenting Of The Innocent (Metal Blade) is big, dumb power metal, and I like it more than I should. Amalie Bruun finally goes full traditional-instrument folk with Myrkur’s Folkesange (Relapse) and honestly? I’m enjoying this maybe a bit more than the black metal albums. Finally, I haven’t had time to fully immerse myself in Paysage D’Hiver’s Im Wald (Kunsthall), because who has two hours to sink into frosty, desolate black metal in one sitting, but I’m really looking forward to keeping this in the rotation. Oof, this is good.