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.
The Richland Avenue Speed Queen is deserted today.
I’m more of a Sunday early evening kind of guy, but sometimes life forces you to deviate from the path. The Saturday at noon gamble paid off, however. It is a beautiful fall day, foliage a dozen different shades of orange and red, and more than likely one of the few truly nice weekends left in the year. Couple that with the college dedication ceremony in the name of an overpaid coach that barely clawed his way to mediocre preceding a home football game, and the Speed Queen is all mine, not even the usual attendant floating through.
Still, it is an eerily melancholy feeling being in a deserted laundromat. The fluorescent glare. The questionable puddles on the floor. The concrete badlands of body hair tumbleweeds and broken quarter slots, smelling of old dryer sheets and humility. The tickle in the back of the mind that the great American promise of leisurely chipping away at that growing pile of socks from the convenience of home has forsaken me.
Not that I’m complaining. The last nine or so of the very column you’re reading have their beginnings in the uncomfortable glare of these same fluorescents, gestating under the gaze of a random four year old left free to roam, whose curious look may be for the furious air drumming, but might also be their youthful intuition piercing through my bullshit to fully judge the tenuous grasp I have on being a functioning adult. Could be either, really.
There have been many adjustments recently, as I am in the midst of what those aforementioned football fans would call a rebuild year. Buying forks. Unsuccessfully comprehending what a single serving looks like. Laundromats. Full sobriety.
One of the biggest adjustments has been realizing that, sometimes, I am the deserted laundromat. Some days, the doors are propped open only to sit idle and useless.
My favorite music writing has always been tied to the personal. I’ve always felt that a little insight into who is opining helps open the way to understanding whether or not you can believe them. A little humility and honesty and you can sell me on just about any record as long as I believe in your convictions. Still, the imposter syndrome is a mighty barrier. Who the fuck am I to dump on Greta Van Fleet, perhaps one of the shittiest things I’ve ever heard?
Sitting here, watching the dryer spin as I furiously air drum Goatwhore to no one (Zack Simmons is a motherfucker!), I have to remind myself that it is completely fine to not have my shit together. It’s one thing to wait for inspiration to strike, but man, it is something else entirely to have the melancholy wipe out feeling altogether.
Being honest with myself about these feelings has been an uncomfortably welcome new addition to life. It’s impossible to get rid of the nagging self-doubt but it’s also pretty crazy how dealing with things as they envelope your brain, while not eliminating the depression, can allow you to accept where you stand in relation to it, denying it the ability to complete sink you.
So no sweeping societal commentary from me this month, no shit-talking just how abysmally awful Greta Van Fleet is, just a friendly reminder to take it easy on yourself. Everyone feels like shit sometimes, and that’s more than okay. Also a friendly reminder that if it doesn’t feel okay, reach out. If anonymity is needed, there are an abundance of resources you can reach out to. Just reach out. At this point, I’m not sure if I can even tell myself it’ll get better, but it’s one million percent worth being here to find out. Reach out.
Melancholy is for sure the word of the month, because Mother Of Graves is everywhere. In my headphones. In the car stereo. Soon to be in my tape deck. It’s near impossible to talk about Where The Shadows Adorn (Wise Blood) without bringing up “The Peaceville Three”(Google them shits, then dig in) because… well, because. Many a band has taken depressive inspiration from those fabled bands, with mixed results. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, melding somber melodies to just the right blend of Doom and Death without sounding like a clone, as two of those three bands are still crushing it (Anathema is something else entirely now, and equally as wonderful). Mother Of Graves absolutely NAILS it through forty four perfectly paced minutes of morose Death Doom. The title track gets things going, but it’s the guitars melodically playing off of each other on “Rain” that instantly grabbed me. They don’t fully cut loose until “Emptiness Of Eyes” and the tempo shift is all the punchier for the wait. Hit the four minute mark in either “Emptiness Of Eyes” or “Of Solitude And Stone” for crushing galloping perfection. “The Crown” has all the moods, and “The Caliginous Voice” is as epic as album closers come. Mother Of Graves hit all of the hallmarks. Piano interludes, acoustic intros, crushing oppressiveness. The difference between a good record and a great one? Songs. You gotta have songs. Mother Of Graves have eight fuckin’ great ones here. Where The Shadows Adorn is a modern take on a classic sound, one full of passion and emotional conviction. Wise Blood has been dropping some fun records this year (Blasted Heath hasn’t left the rotation), but this shit is on another level. Highly recommended.
I’ve been singing the praises of Goatwhore since the gloriously sloppy The Eclipse Of Ages Into Black crawled its way into existence. Goddamn I love that record. Anyway, Goatwhore haven’t put out a bad record. Sure, some better than others, but all worth a listen. That said, Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven (Metal Blade) is their best in some time. Not much has changed, to be fair. Sammy still has a million riffs. Ben has some of the best evil-but-kinda-deep lyrics, and again, Zach is a motherfucker. It’s hard to get creative with a two second fill in a song that is going a million miles an hour, but his accents are some of my favorite in the genre. Dude is awesome. Still, there are some new textures here. “The Bestowal Of Abomination” and “Voracious Blood Infusion” both have riffs that come out of nowhere and nail me every time. Certainly not reinventing the Goatwhore wheel here, but this is some tight shit and it absolutely rips right in my sweet spot. Love me some Goatwhore.
Sometimes, you don’t know how much you need a record until you hear it. I know I’m late with the Ken Mode love, but I didn’t really understand how much I needed to punch my brain back into shape. Null (Artoffact) is an abysmally smothering mix of industrial noise rock and low self esteem and it is gloriously punishing. I don’t really have much else to add. Enjoy self-loathing and getting your ears bludgeoned for thirty seven minutes? This is top tier shit, if so. Absolutely recommended.
Speaking of Artoffact Records, they also just dropped the new Cloud Rat. Threshold is grindcore, sure, but Cloud Rat is from the future, I’m pretty sure, and this phenomenal futuristic shit. While you are checking out the knotty, twisting beauty of Threshold, don’t just stop there, grab Pollinator as well, because it also totally smokes. I whole-heartedly endorse getting swept up in the Cloud Rat world.
20 Buck Spin dropped three end of year ringers. First up, the minimal vibes of “Intro (Emanations)” in no way prepares you for how bat-shit the rest of Through Sheer Will And Black Magic… kicks in, and kick in it does. Daeva peddle in Black Metal, but the kind that feels completely unhinged and tight as fuck, with a million notes just in the first couple riffs. This shit is so bonkers, when they do drop into a half-time groove, it kicks your ass three times as hard. It all smokes, but closer “Luciferian Return” has it all, just epic as hell. As far as thrash-forward Black Metal goes, it gets no better than Daeva currently, one of my favorites this year. Almost exactly a year after their debut, the label kindly graces us with Dream Unending follow up. It’s been quite a year for Justin DeTore. Most people get one killer record. Following Sumerlands and Innumerable Forms rippers, he’s now on three of the year’s best. Song Of Salvation is another journey into lush, atmospheric Death Metal, but that hardly does them justice. “Secret Grief” is a moody sax soundtrack before exploding, and the bookends are both fourteen plus minute epics covering a multitude of dimensions. Two master musicians exploring a deep well of inspiration, this is fantastic stuff that will continue to unveil new layers for some time. And finally, Worm’s Bluenothing mini-album gives us two songs from the Foreverglade sessions and two new tracks to tide us over. Foreverglade was an album I thought I understood well enough until I found myself on the twentieth listen and it laughed at my hubris. Symphonic, swampy Death Metal that is in on the joke that THIS IS NOT A JOKE. One of the best labels going, with three outstanding albums.
A bit metal-adjacent compared to the rest here, but man, this new Brutus is great. Unison Life (Sargent House) has heavy moments, don’t get me wrong, but in a just world, “Victoria” hits the top of the charts, because that is one catchy song, amongst many catchy songs. Stefanie Mannaerts really brings the vocal melodies, and the production gives it a bit of a shoegaze edge. Sargent House is another of the best labels around, building a roster of challenging, artistic artists, and I can think of no better example than Brutus. Don’t sleep on this one, it’s killer.
Nothing new on Prowl‘s The Forgotten Realms (self-released), just highly enjoyable reverbed-out thrash. I just started listening to Gevurah‘s Gehinnom (Profound Lore) a few days ago, but I foresee this pummeling Black Metal ripper sticking around the playlist for awhile. Really enjoying it. Dude, there’s a new Foreseen. Cross-over fans rejoice! I really wanted to like Frayle‘s debut more than I did (Sean from Disengage!!!), so I’m happy that Skin & Sorrow (Aqualamb) corrects my finicky bullshit wants and needs. Solid goth low-end heaviness. And I know it’s old by now, but Sunn O)))’s Metta, Benevolence has been a constant reminder that sometimes, when the abyss stares back, it’s for a gentle life-affirming nudge out of the ruts.