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.
Here’s a little glimpse. When I’m baked and putting shit off, I will literally watch any music doc the algorithm offers up. All four hours of the Eagles? Yup, and I fucking hate the Eagles. It All Begins With A Song filled that gap when I was putting off writing… uhh… ’something’ recently, and while I can’t be bothered with modern radio country, there is always something to be learned from watching pros demonstrate their craft. I will also watch pretty much any sort of interview with latter day Garth Brooks. He seems like a good guy, but goddamn he hasn’t touched reality in decades. Can’t say many millionaires seem very grounded, but Garth is just a weird fucking dude. Like, I can’t imagine how awkward it would be to ask him a question and have to sit there while he melodramatically leads you through his truth. Probably hella awkward, but fascinatingly so.
Anyway, it got me to thinking about the ways I listen to music, how different songs hit me, and why some of us throw Peter Brotzmann records on to unwind (an absolute gem of free jazz). Luke Bryan records are like splinters, they won’t kill me but I would really rather not experience them. However, dude has tapped into something that not only works for him, but also for a million times as many people then will ever hear my songs. And that’s cool. Plenty of room in this world for songs about trucks and shit, if that’s what you’re into.
Me? I’m absolutely ecstatic about there being a new Iceburn album in my possession. Asclepius (Southern Lord) is the band’s first new music in twenty years and oh man is it glorious. Full disclosure, I’ve been a fan since the double dose of Hephaestus and Poetry Of Fire ripped holes in my brain back in the 90s, and Asclepius leans more to this aspect of their sound, rather than the full-blown jazz side. When “Healing The Ouroboros” drops into that riff at 2:20? Whoo boy, the very essence of heavy to me. I was already in to Jazz when I discovered Iceburn, but tended towards the Wayne Shorter and Mingus and Rollins and McCoy Tyner side of things. Iceburn were my bridge into the beautiful fucked up world of Brotzmann and Sanders and Charles Gayle, so the insanely long and, to some, maddening harmony runs on “Ouroboros” are sweet, sweet music to my ears. “Dhalia Rides The Firebird” is where you want to go for a little more gallop and a lot more guitar solo goodness. That’s not to say Asclepius is a jazz album, as it is as heavy as anything I’ll write about in this column. However, these guys have the chops such that their improv is tighter than most bands and they really stretch things out. It’s difficult to separate how intensely psyched I was to hear this with how objectively fucking awesome it actually is. Documentaries like the above always get me wondering why I think two seventeen minute plus skronked-out jams are most certainly on one of my albums of the year. I have no answers.
I love albums that serendipitously end up in my playlists that I have no recollection of hearing about. Most of them aren’t worth the three seconds it took to save them, but sometimes an album like Gas Lit (Invada) lands in the middle of a fourteen hour slog and I remember why I keep playlists like these around. I didn’t look much into Divide and Dissolve until I had listened to their mostly instrumental album a dozen or so times, so my enjoyment was purely in the music, which I’m sure people will throw words like sludge and doom at. Those words don’t really do it for me. There is enough buzzy agitating grit to songs like “Prove It” that scratch the same cathartic itch as vintage Godflesh for me. The Melbourne-based duo of Takiaya Reed and Sylvie Nehill have imbued these songs with a much deeper meaning, however, in the fight for Indigenous Sovereignty, making Gas Lit all the more powerful. They are at their best when gauzily smearing layers of beautiful noise over the slow, grinding songs, but this is another standout in what is becoming a pretty stacked year of great releases. Highly recommended.
20 Buck Spin continues their domination of my ear holes with two more absolute bangers. Witch Vomit absolutely kills on Abhorrent Rapture, eighteen or so minutes of gross, blistering death metal. Cerebral Rot go for a murkier brand of gross blistering death metal on Excretion Of Mortality. Calling bands like this Old School Death Metal is a cheap way out, as they both are breathing new life into the genre, but it’s a cheap way to maybe get some of you stodgy purists to listen to something that doesn’t have dust from the 90s on the jewel case. I absolutely love both of these bands, and all of their albums are permanent go to listening pleasures. I’d currently have to give the edge to Witch Vomit, as far as number of plays, but these are both high quality death metal albums that instantly get my head nodding. Not everything has to be profound to have a heavy effect, and if I could read the liner notes in the cassette, I’d be willing to bet “Necrometamorphosis” is not the most profound song out there, but Witch Vomit (and Cerebral Rot) consistently remind me why I enjoy the genre. Riffs and grooves, motherfuckers, riffs and grooves.
I feel like a butthole for even trying to review At The Gates. One one hand, they have nothing left to prove. They are synonymous with Swedish melodic death metal, and if they feel like dropping an album, I say why not? Their legendary status is sealed. On the other hand, the brand of melodic death metal they are synonymous with has been played the absolute fuck out since before the clutch of second-wind records they’ve put out in recent years, through no fault of their own. I have been bored to tears with the style for some time now, and as a result, haven’t given At The Gates albums much more beyond a few cursory listens. Honestly, I didn’t expect The Nightmare Of Being (Century Media) to even make this column. There are some amazing little moments on this record, though, that remind me of how much there is to offer in watching masters at their craft. It doesn’t all work, but “The Paradox” rips, and “Garden Of Cyrus” opens into some fusion psych before majestically stomping your face. “The Fall Into Time” also busts into fusion territory, and it is these weirder moments that really shine. Not a masterpiece, but The Nightmare Of Being has convinced me I need to give those last few albums another chance.
I know Tim already covered Luminol (The Flenser) over in his column, but Madeline Johnston has put out one of my favorite heavy records this year with Luminol. Midwife, I should add, is not a heavy band, but Johnston’s solo synth drone-pop project, and goddamn is it good. “2020” is catchy and smothering and heavy as fuck. “Promise Ring” builds to a majestic crescendo, and is perfect. “God Is A Cop” gives me the deep sads, and is also perfect. So again, not a metal release, but Luminol is heavy in a multitude of other ways, and I have faith that you, my dear readers, have enough breadth of interests to very much enjoy this album. Absolutely one of my favorites this year.
I would be remiss not to mention King Woman‘s Celestial Blues (Relapse), although I don’t feel like I’ve absorbed it quite enough to talk about it. Every album involving Kris Esfandiari has been evocative/provocative, and Celestial Blues is no different. I’ve been playing this more and more, and it is a great album, but the nerves are raw with this one and I’m hesitant to start talking in reductive review speak, as the emotional heft and visceral nature are only now starting to really crush me. It’s also very dumb to extol that this is the artist’s best work yet, because that’s the idea, but this is King Woman’s best, most unsettling work yet. I foresee this one garnering plenty of end-of-year attention, and rightfully so. Highly recommended.
Whether you’ll enjoy a new Darkthrone (Peaceville) album depends on one question, do you like new Darkthrone? If so, you are in luck. Same for the new Mayhem (Century Media) EP, which is cover song heavy. Like modern Mayhem? You are, as they say, in luck. I found both to be entertaining. Sallow Moth dropped a blazing ripper of an album. As did Craven Idol (Dark Descent). Vouna dropped a deep, dark doomy pit of an album. Thy Catafalque dropped and hour long what-the-fuck-is-going-on genre hopper of an album. I am here for all of it.