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.
Even with the absurdist tragi-comedy bingo card that has been the last two years, nobody could’ve envisioned a scenario where this very column would thread its way through connecting Trevor Strnad, Naomi Judd, and the need for mental health awareness.
Here we are.
I’ve often felt hesitant using this space to regale you, dear reader, with the woes of my life, but if recent events have taught me anything, it’s that we are all going through some shit. Likewise, the last handful of years have taught me that being transparent and vocal about said shit is not only cathartic but seemingly relatable enough to provide a lens for others to reach out and maybe realize that they aren’t alone in struggling. You are not.
For the record, I’m not implying that you should listen. I still have no idea what the fuck is going on, or how I manage to stumble my way through one day to the next. I’d be lying to both of us if I told you I wasn’t familiar with the urge, at least as a tickle on the fringe of my mind. Life can truly suck, to the point of smothering even a glimmer of hope in the present.
It doesn’t help when someone so seemingly together as Strnad passes. I never met him, but the circle of mutuals we had are some of my nearest and dearest, and by all accounts, he was one of the truest dudes to walk the walk. His command of the stage was amazing, his commitment to promoting underground metal was boundless, and his compassion for his friends and fans genuine. The metal world lost a giant. My heart goes out to his family, friends, and the legions of fans that found solace in his art.
Mental health has long been stigmatized as a problem for the weak or people pre-disposed towards being crazy, and goddamn it truly sucks that it takes Strnad’s death, or Naomi Judd’s, or opening my laptop to write this and finding out about Daniel Cavanagh of Anathema’s struggles, to really drive home how tenuously any of us are holding on.
Check on your friends. If you’re struggling, reach out. I full-well know how difficult that sounds, and how extremely difficult it is to actually do, but I guarantee, your friends will absolutely thank you for it. As shitty as things can be, you have to trust that it can and will get better, and your friends would most assuredly rather have you around to find that out.
Facing your feelings is painfully difficult and leads to some pretty bleak places, but these self-realizations and perseverance are how we grow as people, how we fully become the individuals we are meant to evolve into. If it ever gets too dark, I implore you to reach out. A friend, a co-worker, a family member…shit, I even considered AA meetings at one point, and if you know me, that was some last-ditch type shit right there! But I know somebody in one of those meetings would’ve listened, and understood the darkness, and sometimes that’s all you need to pull yourself through. If it’s that dire that you even entertain the thought, hit me up and I will do everything in my power to convince you otherwise.
Before we dive in to another month of releases, cue up some Black Dahlia Murder and throw the horns for Trevor, gone far far far too soon. Rest in peace.
As difficult as it is to talk about tragedies, I’ve often had just as much trouble finding the words to convey a band’s resurgence after catastrophe. It was hard enough trying to tell you about the last Cave In album. How does one approach an album as exuberantly massive as Heavy Pendulum (Relapse) without feeling at least a little pang of… something weird. It’s absolutely the overthinking anxiety guilt in my head, as Nate Newton (Converge, Doomriders) is as organically perfect a match for these guys as you could ask for. From the opening riff, this is exactly what I want from a 2022 Cave In record. J.R. Conners weird-ass fill timing, huge chords, Adam McGrath’s instantly recognizable effects tone, and glorious, glorious songs. It’s all good, but the slower stuff here is what really punches me right in the Cave In receptors. The title track is where the record becomes enormously huge to me, with “Waiting For Love” and the massive twelve minute closer “Wavering Angel” beautifully destroying me on the back end. Granted, Cave In have been pretty constant listening for over twenty years now, so of course I’m going to say it, but this truly is some of their best work. If pressed, my only minor quibble is, at seventy minutes, there’s a shit-load of Cave In to absorb here. It is all worth your time. This has dominated my listening as of late, and is a perfect reminder to me of the cathartic joy I find in music. There’s only so many notes, and that four dudes can hammer out fourteen tracks that can affect me so positively is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Blut Aus Nord take the ‘only so many notes’ idea to claustrophobically gnarly depths on Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses (Debemur Morti). Churning rhythms, vocals that blur into the topography of sound, leads of the unsettlingly psychedelic variety, this is ostensibly Black Metal, but stripped of any of the mundane trappings. Blut Aus Nord aren’t very accessible for the genre, but are truly a unique sonic entity, unwavering in their pursuit of artistic statement. If that sounds overly academic, don’t worry, this shit will still scare your friends.
Look, I know most of the 20 Buck Spin isn’t top-tier, end-of-year-best-of shit, but goddamn if they haven’t put out an incredible string of some of my favorite albums to throw on. This month has two absolute bangers in Tzompantli’s Tlazcaltiliztli [editor’s note: this album is gigantic and I love it] and Predatory Light’s Death And The Twilight Hours. Tzompantli are a “crushing war march built on a bedrock of Native/Indigenous themes, rituals and history, illuminating the splendor, brutality and despair within” and goddamn it rules. Death Doom with a few moody interludes, the riffs chug over Death metal double bass for a crushingly good listen. Predatory Light do the thing where riffs are less about riffs and more about propulsive, repeating flurries of notes and goddamn it also rules. It puts me in mind of why I love the Suffering Hour album so much, the guitars twist and elevate my expectations of what the Black Metal genre can do for me, sounding very classic lo-fi but with modern technicality and ambitions. Both of these records are fuckin’ great, you should check them out. I didn’t get enough spins with the Mournful Congregation album, or it would be included here. Next time!
On the non-metal peripheral, I’ve been gorging on a bunch of hardcore I missed out on, kickstarted by Scowl’s excellent How Flowers Grow (Flatspot). GEL’s Violent Closure (Atomic Action) rips, as does Tørsö’s entire output. Ekulu hit all the right palm mutes on Unscrew My Head (Cash Only). Gotta respect the classics, and Xibalba’s Hasta La Muerta (Southern Lord) is a beat down. And I will never, ever stop singing the praises of Kohti Tuhoa’s Ihmisen Kasvot, because it fucking rules.
UFOMAMMUT set the controls for the spaciously dense center of the universe on Fenice (Neurot), and succeed in melding Hawkwind vibes to modern Doom paranoia. Always good stuff. Sadistic Ritual’s The Enigma, Boundless (Prosthetic) suffered from too much other shit coming out this month, so I didn’t get to spend much time with it. Worth checking out, though! Speaking of Suffering Hour, they just dropped Time’s Withering Shadow (Invictus Productions), a split with Malthusian, and while I haven’t spent much time with the Malthusian part, the Suffering Hour songs are getting a workout because they are fucking great.
Again, take care of each other out there, and more importantly, take care of yourself. Don’t be scared to reach out, there are a plethora of resources if you’d rather seek help anonymously. Life is fucking hard, and it doesn’t always seem like things will get better, and shit, maybe they won’t get that much better right away, but never lose hope. Reach out, check on your friends, let’s all make it through this together.