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.
Trust me, it’s just as much of a bummer to write an intro like this as it is to keep reading them. Quite a bit has happened since my last column (life is weird, man), and you certainly don’t need me to remind you that we recently lost people like Riley Gale, or Sean Malone, or Alexi Laiho. Hell, skip the rest of this column and go rock their albums. I myself have been crushing more than a little Cynic for the couple weeks.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the passing of Marsha Zazula. Megaforce was a ubiquitous logo in the tape collection of my youth, imprinted on albums I have never stopped listening to in the ensuing decades. I can’t imagine a world without those early albums by Anthrax, Testament, Overkill, S.O.D., M.O.D., King’s X, or, you know, Metallica. Jon and Marsha Zazula certainly had a bit to do with shaping the metal lover that I am today, and for that I owe them much gratitude. To have never known The Years Of Decay is not a life I can comprehend. Rest in peace, and thanks for all the music.
So, probably the biggest hype I gave into between this and my last column had to be the Necrot (Tankcrimes) album. Pretty cool that a straight up death metal album got that much push. Mortal definitely lives up to the hype. This album cooks, start to finish. While I am a huuuge fan of mashing Voivod-y weirdness into my twenty minute space-death songs, Necrot go old school in the best of ways, ripping technical and to-the-point banger after banger. These songs never stop moving forward, even the breakdowns are tense. The solos on “Stench Of Decay” are insanely awesome. The production is nice and thick but not overly polished, so perfect? “Dying Life” and “Sinister Will” are also perfect, two of my favorite metal songs in recent memory. No doubt about it, Necrot fucking delivers.
Since I brought it up, Cryptic Shift scratch the twenty minute space-death song itch is a big way. Opener “Moonbelt Immolator” hits at just shy of twenty six minutes and covers a ton of ground, from ambience to progged-out sci-fi death metal reminisce of classic Pestilence. There’s much to love here if you like bands like Athiest and Cynic, as well. This is a little father into the progressive death realm than I like to go these days, but while they definitely let you know they can play, it doesn’t come across as total wankery. Just extreme levels of chops. Visitations From Enceladus (Blood Harvest) can start to sound like a math test you didn’t study for, but as pure escapism, I enjoy this one.
I haven’t been listening to much black metal these days, so it’s no wonder that I whiffed it on the Marrasmieli album from last year. Between Land And Sky (Naturmacht) has an intriguing cover, recalling the golden age of sunsets-over-a-frozen-river era of black metal in the late 90s/early 2000s. The album kicks off with forty five seconds of nature sounds and flutes before ripping into a pretty solid riff… aaand I’m in. I don’t have many reference points for this stuff that aren’t twenty years old, but as far as melodic black metal about nature and stuff, this album does it for me. The whole album goes by nicely, but “Karakorum” is a great example of how catchy extreme music can be.
I also haven’t given the Conan-esque swords-and-boobs realm of power metal much thought lately, but if Eternal Champion are going to drop an album, I’m going to listen. Eternal Champion sort of ruin the genre for me, as most things sound pretty toothless when compared. There are a bajillion riffs here, all great. From the slower swagger of “Skullseeker” to the gallop of “Worms Of The Earth” (which contains approximately half of those bajillion riffs), Ravening Iron (No Remorse) bring a heaviness that most epic metal bands lack. It’s tough to make this subject matter sound convincingly not cheesy, but Eternal Champion are absolutely the new standard for me.
While I prefer the Cathedral-esque crunch of their debut, I don’t think there is a bad Pallbearer album. I reach for some more frequently than others, but when I’m in the mood, any of them will do. Forgotten Days (Nuclear Blast) kicks off with the title track, and is a very good indication of where you will stand with this album. A thick doom riff, a psychedelic bit, a swirly solo, this is not the debut-crunch I crave, but without shunning them, this is the best synthesis of their classic rock leanings yet. This also feels like one of the more concise Pallbearer albums, without being much shorter. “Silver Wings” is epic as shit at a molasses twelve minutes, but Pallbearer have truly grown into their own thing over the last few albums, so time doesn’t so much matter when the clarity of vision comes through this organically. My money is on “The Quicksand Of Existing” though. I could listen to those drums all damn day.
Napalm Death need no introduction. Absolute legends. What I feel people are sleeping on is the total tear they’ve been on for the last few albums, Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism (Century Media) continuing the late career trend. It is nuts to me that these guys are still delivering at this level, with some new, industrial flavored surprises. Danny Herrera is a goddamn monster behind the kit, still one of the fastest motherfuckers in the game. If you’ve found yourself taking Napalm for granted, give this (and the last couple) a spin. As vital now as they’ve ever been.
Lots of veterans releasing stellar albums recently. Dropdead (Armageddon Label) just dropped a ripper (see what I di… yeah, I’ll show myself out, thanks). Twenty three songs in twenty four minutes get you excited? Does me. No frills hardcore done by dudes my age can be a dicey game, but this is stellar, start to finish.
Fuck the Facts is a band I haven’t thought about in awhile, maybe because of the five year lag between albums, maybe because they just got lost in the ever-increasing shuffle of new music. For whatever reason, I fucked up. Pliene Noirceur (Noise Salvation) is grind done by pros. There are some nuanced vibes going on that I don’t recall the band utilizing on earlier releases, but that’s probably just my shitty mind. Regardless, this album smokes.
As I’ve said in previous columns, supergroups can go squirrelly. I don’t remember much about the first Killer be Killed album. I had to have listened to it, considering who’s in the group, but nope. Not a whiff of memory. Reluctant Hero (Nuclear Blast) is pretty sweet, though. “Inner Calm From Outer Storms” has a great moody first half before erupting into a burner. This probably won’t win anyone in the ‘so-and-so sold out after the first cassette demo’ camp over, and sure, it is a little more commercial, but there’s some cool shit on here. “From A Crowded Wound”, “Comfort From Nothing” and “Dead Limbs” are all great, dynamic modern metal songs with a solid amount of bite. And seriously, I’d listen to Ben Koller play drums to anything, really.
Two great dudes dropped albums recently. Andy motherfuckin’ Horn screams his mighty little lungs out on Loud Night Thin Lizzy via Swedish D Beat smoker Mindnumbing Pleasure (Vinyl Conflict). I’ll fully admit I’m a sucker for harmony-laden D Beat, still, this is really good shit. Pick scrapes galore! Adam ‘MD2020’ Clemans joins Pulchra Morte (Transcending Records) for a smothering set of doomy death metal. Not doomy in the plodding sense, more in the haunted crypt sense. The production is just right, gloomy but not murky, and there are some crushing riffs, a la “In The Mourning Light”. There are some very elegant dynamics throughout. Two fantastic records, good job, my dudes!