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 topography of musical fandom often finds an album intrinsically tied to a static memory, an aural touchstone that floods the neural nostalgia basement no matter how many times you’ve heard them.
The sun scorches down on a yellowing lawn as I huddle on a small sloping bulge in the field off to the side of my childhood house. I strategically execute yet another victory for G.I. Joe, with some rando Star Wars figures in the mix, Duran Duran’s Seven And The Ragged Tiger playing on my red Playskool single-speaker cassette player. Not my favorite Duran Duran (the forty three minutes of absolute pop perfection that is Rio claim that title by a country mile), but indelibly tied to a care-free childhood summer day.
Coming home from school to find a BMG package waiting for me in the mail. There was only one CD player in the house, along the back wall of my mom’s sewing room. I plopped down on the floor, pulled the headphones tight, and after absorbing the stone classic that is Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime, I began tracing the dots in the ceiling panels as Nothing’s Shocking disassembled my brain and put the pieces back wrong in the right way, as close to what I pictured scarfing drugs meant as my teenage mind had gotten.
Walking through the motionless side streets of Athens just before dusk, a blanketing snow falling, and Belle and Sebastian finally made sense to me as the clean-cut little brother to all those Kinks records that also took me forever to understand. It could be a million degrees out, and If You’re Feeling Sinister will ice me to the bone in the most perfect way as my memories cut down Ohio Avenue.
Memories like these are a treasure as I get older, a reminder of distinct moments in my time here that music transcended the periphery and rerouted my neurons. There are those rare bands, however, that with just a mention of their name have me scurrying through the archeological ruins I call my life, dusting off entire eras, dated not to year but around what college shit-hole rental I happened to be living in.
The smart move, after Chris and I loaded our far-too-big-for-the-backseat-we-crammed-them-into amps, would be to head up the highway, a ten minute shot, then cut across to band practice.
We were not smart.
That summer, I learned the exact backroad speed it took to crush a six pack of talls between us, bar the occasional getting-lost-as-fuck emergency rations of dipping into the case on the floor. I had played music with people before. Not well, mind you, but the cheap P bass I had picked up was as good as gold amid the sea of guitarists and drummers in those days. This was my first real band, though, with people that treated me as an equal, that introduced me to the idea that, as gangly and young as I was, I could throw down amateurish Death Metal well enough to know EXACTLY how I wanted to squander the potential of my twenties.
It’s also the summer that Obituary‘s World Demise got lodged in the cassette deck of my quickly deteriorating Plymouth Acclaim. For months. Months. I’m probably in the minority, but on any given day, I’ll throw it down as my favorite Obituary, and a seminal slammer in the genre. You could actually understand John Tardy! And Donald Tardy emerged as a great fuckin’ drummer on this album. I don’t know that Obituary could ever do anything to usurp the power of World Demise. Every bludgeoning riff, every unmerciful groove, every guttural barf sound, represents a summer spent learning what friends truly were, and the all-consuming magic that playing my stupid songs absurdly loud in front of less-than-enthused crowds possessed.
Chris is no longer with us, gone nearly a decade now. I don’t know what advice he’d be good for, but I’m sure he’d tell me to shut the fuck up while simultaneously ripping a thick, suffocating room clearer, and I miss that pretty damn often. We shared a metric fuck-ton of music, him getting me deeper into Death Metal, me steering him to the fury of Free Jazz, and Chris Johnson is forever bound to so many firsts in that fertile discovery period of my growth, but few albums give me the warm and fuzzies like World Demise, a time machine to the mid-90s, and simpler, less complicated days.
And that is why I will forever have love for Obituary.
Admittedly, it’s been a long time since Obituary has been a regular staple of my diet. That’s on me, though. I gave up on metal there for awhile, getting my depressive kicks elsewhere. Obituary has kept it down, and with the help of Decibel’s fine book (Decibel Magazine) offerings kicking me back into the zone, I gotta say, those early albums still absolutely rip, in a smotheringly slow, swampy beatdown way. It also doesn’t hurt their cause that since their reemergence in 2005, these legends keep dropping solid as fuck albums. Dying Of Everything (Relapse) continues that trend, thundering out of the gate with “Barely Alive”, then settles in to good ol’ Obituary Death groove. I don’t understand how John Tardy hasn’t shredded his larynx a million times over, but he sounds great. The whole band sounds great. More importantly, it sounds like they’re having an absolute blast doing it. Too many bands are just riding the wave, and while I totally can’t fault them for finally making some money, what the actual fuck is Morbid Angel with only one original member? Obituary sound every bit as vital as they did soundtracking those backroads twenty five years ago.
Traditionally, January is a catch-up month around these parts, but goddamn if there isn’t an avalanche of good stuff heading our way. It’s a month too early to really dive into them, but holy shit I cannot stop listening to Big | Brave and Majesties (20 Buck Spin). Actual reviews next month closer to release, but both of them will also show up in this column come December best of season. Yeah, I know it’s January. Yeah, I know what I just said.
Along with Majesties, 20 Buck Spin wastes no time proving they are a glorious fucking label. Full disclosure, more than a dozen listens into Tribunal‘s The Weight Of Remembrance, inexplicably, I still can’t get into opener “Initiation.” A ‘me’ problem for sure, so fear not if it doesn’t grab you at first. The slow, somber churning crawl “Of Creeping Moss And Crumbling Stone” really launches this album into the stratosphere. Well, more like the cavernous depths, but whatever. You try coming up with forty or so new synonyms every month. I’m a sucker for cello anything, so I am the target market, but it really lends some aesthetic space here that sets these songs apart from the pack. I can’t quite place exactly what they remind me of, but Soren Bourne’s clean vocals have some deeply 80s Metal Blade vibes in all the best possible ways. The Weight Of Remembrance is a smotheringly-paced affair, with perfectly placed chugs. Not what I expected from 20 Buck Spin, which is totally why I love them. Good shit.
Wise Blood is also not fucking around this year. I’m absolutely in love with smaller labels not only documenting their scene, but doing so by releasing records all across the spectrum. After several shred-fests and one of the best doom records in recent memory, Veilcaste cues up forty two minutes of riff-heavy Doom sludge, a toe in both the Yob-esque melodically emotive and the pessimistic Electric Wizard repetitive whuppin’ ends of the pool. I don’t really believe in coincidences, because it’s all in my bias, but I get some nihilistic Godflesh churn as well, particularly in “Drag Me Down” and “Relapse In Reason”. I’m deep in the Godflesh weeds these days, and I’m probably just lookin’ to feel the cold, cold embrace everywhere. It’s certainly not a bad thing. The word cosmic comes up quite a bit with these guys, and it’s not wrong. Not all cosmic music is about external galaxies, however. This is an album focused on pummeling the internal space just as much as soaring into the riffs. Buy this shit so Sean can put out more awesome records!
I’m sure I checked out the first Tithe record, but I’ll be honest, I cruise through so, so, so much to alert you, my dear reader, to the best, that my broken memory has no recollection of it making a mark. Inverse Rapture (Profound Lore) may be an indication that I fucked up. Black Metal structures, Death Metal heft, blast beats galore, I’m really enjoying this. Ripping this intensely, even at just a half hour, runs the risk of extremity over everything else, but there are some very cool, memorable guitar riffs throughout that allow these ferocious proceedings to split themselves into songs. Nothing feels forced for the sake of just grinding, and these dudes manage to infuse it all with enough dynamics to make it interesting. I find myself going back to this one quite a bit.
Do you miss Bolt Thrower too? Are you aware that Karl Willetts continues to crush with Memoriam, now on album number five(!!!)? Rise To Power (Reaper Entertainment) probably won’t open any new creative doors for you, but much like Obituary, this is quality old-school Death Metal that scratches the itch tenfold. I’ve dug every album, but Rise To Power is one of the better ones, for sure. Those chugging double kicks are my zen.
My tastes don’t tend to skew towards the ultra-violent, tongue-in-cheek, super slammy end of Death Metal, but I gotta say, Sanguisugabogg fuckin’ got me with Homicidal Ecstasy (Century Media). That snare! Those perfectly placed bell hits! Slams for weeks. It took me a hot minute to get why these dudes were catching on, but I totally get it now. Goofy but serious, full of pit ragers, and drums that perfectly straddle Hardcore and Death that I have no problem zoning out on cause they’re awesome, this is a good time. That official video is pretty fucked up, though.
I’m always down for some new Ahab, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the opener’s whiplash blasting to turn into an Emo Doom Pavarotti jam. The Coral Tombs (Napalm Records) is ambitious even for these guys! Likewise, I’m always a sucker for Katatonia. I know the Emo vocals are probably a deal-breaker for some, and they’re a long way from their Doom roots, but Sky Void Of Stars (Napalm Records) is a pretty strong entry in their latter catalog. Oozing Wound is back, and like every record, We Cater To Cowards (Thrill Jockey) is a filthy ride worth taking. I know it’s a few months late, but -(16)- is back, and I would be stupid not to try to get you to check out Into Dust (Relapse). An absolute master class in violent sludgy noise rock. Same with the new Elder. Missed it with my last column, but Innate Passage (Armageddon Shop) is just next level, in their own class shit, so better late than never. And as if all this isn’t enough, All Out War have dropped a total ripper three decades into their career. Celestial Rot (Translation Loss) is the no bullshit Blackened Hardcore stomper I expected, only somehow even better.