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.
It can mean only one thing. The oppressively low-hanging grayness, horizon to horizon. Wet leaves trying to maim me on every pitch black morning walk to work. Rotting slime slicks of pumpkins that didn’t make it past the tenth of the month stain every residential intersection because some people suck and ruin fun by vandalizing fruit art for no good goddamn reason.
Halloween? Nah, not my thing. I’m an adult, with one of the few perks being I can eat candy for lunch any time I want, although the reason for the season is nearly upon us. By the time you read this, peanut butter pumpkins will be HALF OFF MOTHERFUCKERS!!! [editors note: almost half off – patience is a virtue]
The last few months of the year signals a brief respite from the relentless PR avalanche. At one point it was a bit of a pipe dream, but I honestly can’t fathom having to do this for a living. It may seem glamorous, just sitting around, shooting the shit about new music, but… well, it’s pretty cool. I don’t get paid to do it, though, so I don’t have to waste synonyms on trying to convince anyone I made it more than two minutes into a Trivium record.
Being in PR is even more unfathomable to me. Consider the amount of time and effort that goes into a brand new Cradle Of Filth (Nuclear Blast) album. Practice, writing sessions, recording costs, producers, engineers, promotion. Likely costing more than I’ve made in the last two years. All for some doofus (yeah, me) to breeze through it on ten dollar headphones and pass some sort of judgement before moving on to the next hopeful content hit. (Honestly, not as bad as I envisioned. They’ve never been my thing, and as much as I realize the keyboards are the point, I hate the keyboards. But hey, still better than I thought it would be.)
A monthly column doesn’t particularly lend itself to being on point. I often feel like I’m behind on the praise. Besides, most people spend less than the cost of one new CD a month to have access to a gazillion new albums a week right in their pocket, so the idea of writing about popular culture is a funny thing to consider on multiple levels. Magazines were a lifeline in my teen years. RIP and Metal Maniacs were a couple of my best friends, the only possible way for a kid like me to hear about bands like Coroner or Hallows Eve back in the desolate wasteland of pre-internet Southeastern Ohio.
It’s a shame online life demands the visceral onslaught of same day shit-talk. I’m lucky that my esteemed editor allows me to write about whatever, as long as there is a glimmer of conviction behind it, although I’m starting to think he’s a little more lenient on that ‘glimmer of conviction’ thing. [editor’s note: we all have our days] I work with some amazing PR people, and I feel bad when I can’t fit coverage of their releases in before they have to move on to newer releases I also probably don’t have room or enough hours in the day for. Not sure what Dave’s word limit would actually max out at, but I am positively sure mine would hit the ceiling well before his.
So I’m usually pretty thankful to hit the end of the year, column wise. There’s only so much one can hope to absorb when the hits just keep piling on, so best-of-list season is a great time to catch up on things I missed, or just didn’t have time to get to, or to allow a few golden oldies like Oathbreaker (Deathwish Inc) and Falls Of Rauros (Gilead Media) to make their way back into heavy rotation. And the Succumb (The Flenser) album continues to dominate everything. I pick up new little bits of mid-90s weird-ass Napalm Death every time I play it, and I am absolutely into it EVEN MORE. Unrelenting scorcher of an album, firmly wedged into rotation and not likely to be usurped any time soon.
Fortunately for lovers of all things heavy, this month is particularly jammed with new stuff, some of which defies the immediacy of the PR cycle. For instance, Ward Of Roses (Gilead Media), the debut album by The Silver. Admittedly, this was on my ‘excited’ radar. Gilead is a great label, and Enrique drums for one of the best modern doom bands out there in Crypt Sermon. Add in the Horrendous brothers and buddy, I’m fucking in. I am, however, glad I didn’t have to rush a review. While the album possesses many of the extreme elements I wanted, it defies expectations in how they are used. There is a progressive edge to the extremity here, the sublime guitars adding spaciousness to the underlying blasting blackness on “Breathe”, with a maelstrom of clean and harsh vocals creating textural dynamics all over. “Gatekeeper” is a wild, fantastic ride that I could describe to you, but ultimately fail to convey the depth of. They’re not the same thing, but Ward Of Roses very much puts me in mind of Morbus Chron’s final masterpiece Sweven. The harsh vocals are used to great affect against the grandeur of the compositions, and both albums attain something beyond the genre. You gotta really settle in to some weird shit here, but this album is a deep pool of time well spent. Fantastic bass playing, knotty songwriting with purpose, and a unique perspective on where heavy music can go make this an adventurous, rewarding album worth sinking into.
My love for 20 Buck Spin should be well known if you’ve read any of my past columns, and you get a double dose this month, as they’ve had an unbelievable run of releases this year. On one end of the spectrum, we’ve got the technical math-death of Atræ Bilis. I’m fairly picky with the style, as most progressive technical death metal is just so mechanical and crammed with unnecessary notes per minute that it’s just no fun to listen to. Apexapien is, I assure you, fun to listen to. Atræ Bilis pile on the dexterity and crazy shit, but there’s so much room for these songs to breathe and have a soul amidst the flurry of notes. Within an incredibly stacked year for the label, Apexapien in blasting its way to the top of the pile. The other end of the spectrum is submerged face down in fetid bog/bong water, held under with Worm’s crusty boot firmly on your neck. There are four or five spots during my initial listen to the opening title track that I caught myself mumbling out loud “oh shit, this is good”. Admittedly, this probably has a narrower audience than Atræ Bilis in terms of crossover, but if you are in any way into old school, slow as fuck, smotheringly bleak death metal, this shit is AWESOME! Some of the double time bass drum parts hit so perfectly you can’t help but head bang, even if you are in the hippie vegan aisle at Kroger mid-day. “Empire Of The Necromancers” is as perfect a funeral doom-death song as there is. Foreverglade is the shit, man. I try not to get too excited for things these days, but I will blindly pre-order anything 20 Buck Spin throws my way. They’ve earned every bit of trust with a full slate of stellar releases this year, and their cassette packaging has been a high point of giddiness in an unquenchable dumpster fire of a world.
I keep expecting the current Death Metal wave to crest at some point, and month after month bands like Apparition drop an album. I don’t need a band to constantly reinvent the wheel, and I don’t find anything particularly groundbreaking on Feel (Profound Lore), but they do this stuff really, really well. Like, really well. First of all, six songs in thirty five minutes? Perfect chunk of time for this style, if you ask me, and Apparition don’t waste a note. I’m pretty sure “Nonlocality” is currently my jam, but there are some twists in “Perpetually Altered” that are a blast, and then the exquisitely rendered journey that is “Entanglement”. This is, as they say, also the shit.
I tend to get most of my headphones time in during my post-work walks. These knees are not cut out for that hip jogging shit, but keeping these old bones mobile takes a bit more than it used to, I’ll tell you what. Alda‘s A Distant Fire (Eisenton) has been pairing well with the nice-into-bleak two weeks we Ohioans call ‘Fall’. The production is, shall we say, pretty crowded and thick, but I enjoy the claustrophobic feel of the Black Metal parts. The folk bits are clearer, and flow very nicely. I get whiffs of Post-Rock, particularly “Drawn Astray”, but more in underlying intent than actual sound. I know I just said that short albums rule, but all sixteen minutes of the title track are essential to mood. Definitely a grower, and worth exploring.
Feral Season take a more traditional approach as their core, launching off the second wave before spacing the fuck out on “Methuselah” and going off-script into some fantastic drone headspace. Rotting Body In The Range Of Light (Profound Lore) is unmistakably a Black Metal album, but where it excels is in the drones and repetitions. The production gets pretty heady in the nuances, and the expansive space these sheets of riffs occupy is very soothing, in a Black Metal sense. Another grower, and equally worth exploring.
You ever need some good old fashioned echoey Swedish-inspired Death Metal to punch you in the brain after a long day? Creeping Death have you covered with a new EP, and it is a solid punch. Kowloon Walled City is pretty far from the noise rock sound I expected on Piecework, but that’s more than fine. Slow, deliberate tension works too. I can’t remember if I ever covered this Abyssal album back in the before times, but the unrelentingly violent squall is really clicking with this weather. The passage of time is irrelevant inside these songs. Realms Of Eternal Decay is top shelf gold in my book, so anything Outer Heaven drops is a shoo-in, especially a ripping EP of covers. Monolord have become the go-to for stoned out doom rock, and they certainly don’t disappoint on Your Time To Shine. I get the backlash to the the meandering ride-two-riffs style, but these guys have branched out enough that if you’ve got nowhere pressing to be for forty three minutes, this album slow-crawls in for the win.