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 haven’t been very in touch with popular culture this year. That’s not meant in the bragging I-don’t-DO-things-people-LIKE way. Life comes at you fast, and sometimes dropping out of the loop is the best way to try and get your shit back together. Or, you know, so I’ve heard…
Obviously, then, the internet is out. It can be a very useful tool to regain a sense of belonging or to demystify the stigmas surrounding mental health struggles, but it’s also a cesspool of dumb shit that exacerbates a lot of those same problems. I’m as guilty as anyone of staring at my phone for hours, but I’ve been trying my best to limit my exposure to pages pertaining to hobbies or music instead of veering into the abyss of comment sections where a nine year old is more likely than not to tell you die in a house fire because you like a movie.
As with life, however, bad shit finds a way to encroach no matter how vigilant you are with boundaries, and the internet is as bad shit as bad shit comes, I’ll tell you what.
Stranger Things is a fun, innocuous way to pass a weekend, full of predictable suspense and reverent nostalgia. Metallica changed my life some thirty plus years ago, and while I never find myself reaching for anything past Justice, I don’t begrudge them their success.
OF FUCKING COURSE I’m clicking on that headline.
Imagine being some middle-aged dick mad at kids for discovering their favorite band because of a TV show. And we’re not talking about Stranger Things dropping a Minor Threat or Possessed song in, we’re talking one of the most popular metal bands of all time. What a bunch of gatekeeping assholes. You don’t see all the theater kids pissed about Kate Bush catching on. Nope, they’re thrilled to finally have people to share shit with!
Don’t get me wrong, I worked in a record store, I have a Masters in being a dick about subjective taste. I also realized early on it takes a wide variety of tastes that aren’t mine to pay the bills. My college years involved people literally turning their backs on Jawbreaker at shows, fans angry a Jawbox for signing to Atlantic. Jawbox! The nicest people ever.
I came of age as a metal head, and yes, I’ll repeat it til I die, Metallica had a very large hand in changing my life. I understand the desire to claim a band as your own, to cling to an identity and community as a place to escape the crowd.
But why in the world wouldn’t I want my favorite band to be able to do what I enjoy them doing as a way to make a living? Yes, I lived through people shitting on their favorite bands for signing to major labels, but I also lived through bands sincerely TRYING to sound like Hot Hot Heat so they could sell their songs to Volkswagen. You better believe I judged you as you shelled out for The Bravery on CD. I didn’t talk shit until you left, but…
Besides, most of the neckbeards bitching discovered Metallica the old fashioned way, through the ultimate sellout engine of brainwash MTV rotation. Metallica surely doesn’t need my help in defending their honor, but having some rando butthole that’s the living embodiment of the “Wherever I May Roam” lyrics call anyone out for discovering music through popular culture will piss me off every single time.
I say we retroactively throw some Tomb Mold songs in Friends reruns. Liberally sprinkle Enslaved into those Game Of Thrones repeats. Sync up some Escuela Grind to your 53rd rewatching of Rick And Morty.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but as you flip your way through the latest Decibel or scroll through Invisible Oranges while you poop on the clock at work or even breeze your way through articles on this very site, these authors are actively trying to help the bands your reading about sell out. I want bands I love to be able to continue to make the music that helps my life not suck. Metal heads are some of the craziest fans in the world, buying every variant and back patch and branded weed grinder out there, but sometimes you gotta dial it back, guys. It’s a big ol’ wide world out there, how someone gets around to having their brain liquified by “Master Of Puppets” is less important than the fact that they get to experience hearing that motherfucker of a song for the first time, an experience I truly envy. Shit is no joke.
Anyway, fuck the internet, go take a walk or something instead.
Can’t lie, had a big list of stuff to catch up on covering and well, Russian Circles dropped a new one. I’ve been a fan since I first heard “Death Rides A Horse” and would be tickled pink if Netflix threw money at every song in their discography. Memorial is as perfect as an album can get, just absolute godhead perfection, with Empros not far behind. To say the bar for Gnosis (Sargent House) is impossibly high is an understatement. There are no bad Russian Circles albums, but after the grandeur of Memorial, the last two were merely great. The world of instrumental post-rock is tricky, and maintaining a creative peak within that world even trickier. So what does Russian Circles do? They drop the thickest, heaviest slab of their career. Seriously, Brian Cook is absolutely smotheringly thick throughout. And check out those Turncrantz blast beats on “Vlastimil”, will ya? There is a dark vibe to these forty minutes, and this is definitely some of the heaviest material the band has recorded, but Mike Sullivan always comes through with a melody, a la the outro on said “Vlastimil”, to spike the proceedings with hope. The brief respite that is “Ó Braonáin” kicks into the crushing highlight of “Betrayal”, a song that is both incredibly inspiring and also makes me want to burn every instrument I own because goddamn. There are no bad songs here. The thundering “Conduit”, the slow building title track, the beautifully affirming comedown of “Bloom”. Gnosis truly unfolds and sinks in the more you listen, so get busy. Easily one of the best records this year, the full range of depth that make Russian Circles one of the best bands going is on full display here. Absolutely beautiful stuff.
Whatever bits of listening time fell around the edges of crushing Gnosis on repeat there happened to be were amply filled by the seventeen minutes of rippage on Fugitive‘s debut EP Maniac (self-released/physical 20 Buck Spin). Featuring Blake Ibanez (Power Trip), Seth Gilmore (Skourge), and Lincoln Mullins (Creeping Death), you should be kind of aware of what you’ll get, but this is a dirtier Cross-Over Thrash/Death affair, and goddamn is it good. They don’t fuck around in Texas. You get an intro (because fuck yes you get an intro), three originals, and a ripping cover of Bathory’s “Raise The Dead” and then you get it all again when you hit repeat ten times because seventeen minutes goes by super quick when it sounds this good. A full length can’t drop soon enough. Is it essential? If you like shit that is awesome, the answer is yes.
Wise Blood Records has been on a bit of a tear recently. I enjoy a label that’s hard to pin down, and I’ve enjoyed more than a few of their cassettes, like Turian, Sundown, and Krigsgrav. It’s pretty fun to pre-order a tape like Vela and have it randomly show up to scramble your day. Blasted Heath are just as hard to pin down. There’s more than a bit of the teetering-on-the-edge classic Darkthrone going on, but throw in some unhinged thrash and sci-fi psych weirdness and you’ve got a real gem on your hands. Hope this one doesn’t fly under the radar for too long, it’s definitely worth a few listens, and that orange cassette is fuckin’ sharp. Get fuckin’ weird!
Another big factor in not catching up is how stuck on this Chat Pile record I am. God’s Country (The Flensner) is bleak, claustrophobic, and at times atmospherically almost shoe-gazey. There isn’t much else like this in my rotation. It’s a beautifully industrial downer of a record, and I can’t quit it. Have you ever had ringworm? I DON’T WANNA LIVE OUTSIDE!
Same goes for the Scarcity album. Aveilut (The Flesner) keeps providing new microtonal layers of awesome with every listen. A richly textured vision of Black Metal, I haven’t been able to shake this record, and my brain is all the better for it.