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 had a snappy little anecdotal segue-way-to-review story all teed up. I’ve told it dozens of times, so many that I consider it an unassailable piece of a rather blurry decade, but ‘my brain said so’ is hardly the basis for an accurate, true story full of facts. Unless you’re in America. So I threw on some Dirty Girl Kanape’ while catching a light buzz and jumped online, where every single fact you could possibly want to know awaits you.
It was the end of 2004. Leviathan had just come out, and Mastodon had a night off from the Slayer tour they were on, so no shit I borrowed a car and a group of us headed up. My memories are so sure of themselves because this was the first show I’d gone to directly after Ohio passed the state-wide smoking ban. My memories are so vivid because several of us almost made ourselves sick chain-smoking on the sidewalk out front. These memories are fucking bullet-proof because the point of the story is never how lethally tight and powerful Mastodon was, it’s purely a set-up to describe the visceral, physical wave of farts and pits and crusty denim and drunk sweat hair that nearly dropped me as we entered the venue.
That’s when I lost three hours to the pitch-black void of the internet ghosting my past.
Athens banned indoor smoking in December of 2004. Check it, story is a slam dunk. Columbus didn’t fully ban indoor smoking until 2006, so…huh. There is also no listing for a one-off Columbus show at Skully’s, despite there being several extensive databases for this exact type of fact. The internet is a bizarre place. Two potential Slayer off nights, however, and you guessed it, 2004 and 2006. The latter was after Blood Mountain, the absolute shittiest link in the Mastodon chain, and I wouldn’t have gone. How do people have their shit together enough to write autobiographies?
Time embellishes, memories become lore, and nobody gives a shit what year it happened when you’re telling this ‘good old days’ stuff anyway. It shouldn’t bother me, but the stench of my fellow metal fans abrasively touched my soul that night. If Athens passed it first, I would go in knowing full well what a bar full of my friends would smell like. I spent three days coming up empty as the internet forsook me in my time of need. I mean, I’m SURE my brain remembers it like it was yesterday…
Anyway, it was a humorous attempt to set up that I remember when it was safe to rips farts into smothering clouds of second hand haze at shows with impunity and also when Mastodon used to absolutely crush. Crack The Skye is awesome, but the launch to slick arena-prog boogie hasn’t really engaged my interest more than a few casual week-of-release spins of the last handful of albums.
What I need a Mastodon album to do for my day have obviously changed, because Hushed And Grim (Reprise) has crept into regular rotation. Well, a good chunk of it. It’s a pandemic and the world is a racist trash fire, I say put out all the double albums if that’s what you gotta do, but an hour and a half is a lot. I mean, a lot. I’m not the biggest fan of the Southern boogie that has (very rightfully) worked its way into their songs, and a few spots on the album disjointedly meander for me, but the forty seven minute chunk I’ve had on repeat are some of the best Mastodon songs I’ve heard since Crack The Skye.
Make no mistakes, these dudes still lean very, very hard into the slick arena-prog here. “Teardrinker” is just a heavy Asia song, and a pretty fucking good one both despite and due to that bass solo. Just how easily these guys weave through riffs is brought into focus when “Pain With An Anchor” bombs you with the sludge at the 3:45 mark. “The Crux” is packed with quintessential Mastodon riffs that are just goddamn cool. “More Than I Can Chew” is easily becoming one of my favorites in their catalog, and truly shows the depth and control they’ve mastered. “Gigantium” is a fantastic comedown. And a huge shout-out to knowing their tones, because there are glorious solos ripping everywhere.
I certainly never expected a current Mastodon album to hit me so squarely. I didn’t expect the internet to spiral me into existentially questioning every ‘check this out’ I’ve ever used hand gestures to perform, either, but I’ll be damned, here we are. Taken as a whole, Hushed And Grim’s exploration of grief requires a bit of stamina to maintain interest, but there are songs here for every type of fan, and I’m sure the band wouldn’t mind you culling your own forty seven minute album. Mine has become a pretty solid go to these days, and aside from Blood Mountain (still trash, sorry not sorry), has me enjoying the last few albums as well. Much respect, gentleman. Now just stop letting Hinds talk.
I am never not excited for a Converge album. The band has always pushed themselves, continually redefining the very concept of what a hardcore album can sound like. The addition of Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm, and Stephen fuckin’ Brodsky? Oof, sign me up. I’m very aware I’m failing at the one job I’m tasked with here, but I’m not telling you anything about this record. I’d feel like an asshole for ruining the bountiful surprises that await you. All the artists present are capable of pushing boundaries, but I am truly jealous of everyone hearing this album for the first time. “Blood Moon” landed somewhere near my expectations, but around 2:15 into “Viscera Of Men”? Buckle up, cause I most definitely didn’t see that coming. And there’s crazy shit like that multiple times IN EVERY SONG. This album is truly an undefinable artistic statement that transcends all expectations. If your a fan, I urge you to avoid reviews and just dive in, it’s an unbelievably enjoyable experience. If you’re looking for a banger of a Converge record, well, maybe come back around to this in a bit. If you’re looking for a sprawling, absorbing experience that continues to offer nuance with every listen, by artists in absolute peak form, I cannot recommend this enough, absolutely stunning.
Tide Turns Eternal, the debut album from Dream Unending, is the perfect capper on 20 Buck Spin‘s year. Dream Unending is Tomb Mold’s Derrick Vella and Innumerable Forms’ Justin DeTora exploring some vibes outside the confines of their main bands. This type of of atmospheric death doom will always get a few unavoidable nods to the early Peaceville sound. Rightfully so, because that shit rules. Dream Unending takes that influence and runs with it, adding gothy, almost Cure-like sensibilities to the dreamy crush of “The Needful”. The subtle guitar harmonies at the 3:50 mark of the title track only last about fifteen seconds, but they absolutely nail me every time. “Tide Turns Eternal” seamlessly melds progressively atmospheric guitars to thick, melancholy doom, the final three minutes a melodically crushing end to a great album. The details that emerge given time really set this album apart. Excited to see where this collab goes in the future.
While not quite the insta-classic essential their last album was (one of my faves!), the new Outre-Tombe is a filthy, echoey death metal ripper of the old school Swedish variety, and I fucking love it. Rebreather exist in that undefinable sludge-pop niche, and hopefully a bunch of people catch on soon because they are extremely good at it and should be huge-ish. I know I’m supposed to love Khemmis, but I’m still trying to deal with the vocals, man. The majesty is finally starting to grow on me some, so I’m trying. Dudes, listen to Chainsword, because it Bolt Throwers like a motherfucker. Mortiferum have this death metal shit down, for real. Look, I love the other two as well, but can we never stop talking about what an absolute stone classic Magic Circle laid down? It’s an every fall/winter album for me, and it’s fucking perfect. I also forgot just how perfectly Inter Arma can rescue a trash day. What a record!