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.
Man, I catch a lot of shit for my eternal love of Duran Duran.
I’m far from immune to the wonders of a well-crafted pop song. Shit, throw a bridge in there and I’m not immune to mediocre pop songs. The only difference between “Iris” and twenty straight albums of the same Motörhead song is the fact that I used to be ashamed of knowing every nuanced lyrical inflection of a goddamned Goo Goo Dolls song.
Spending roughly six thousand days slogging away in a record store tends to melt the shame away. Anyone having spent considerable time in such an environment will be more than willing to share stories about the period they revolted against all things popular, my own being immersion in the formless void of free noise, a structureless world made from white-hot sheets of fuck it.
As much as I love a good pop banger, experimental allowed participation without the pesky need to ‘get better’ at ones instrument so much as an understanding of where turning a few knobs will take you. One wrong turn and that fade out suddenly roared back into eternally delayed-out existence, not that anyone really notices. There are millions of people that can write a verse-chorus-verse song better than I will ever be able to, so I’m cool with making buzzy little worlds of droney loops. Keeps me out of jail.
Pop song structure works so well, in fact, that the form itself can become redundantly, horrifyingly bland. I don’t spend much time with what would be considered popular music. Tie me to a chair and force a weekend of top forty radio on me, and I can guarantee I won’t be able to name more than a dozen songs from the last ten years. I’ve always had a propensity towards the more fucked up end of the pool. I have, however, spent the last decade or so trying to reconcile the two worlds. Layering twenty minute drone tracks is fun and all, but sometimes you’ve got to do your soul a solid and bounce around the living room to all-timers like Nothing Feels Good.
No matter how much I love it, however, Metal falls victim to redundancy-in-form more often than not. For every band that nails it, there are a couple dozen mediocre locals ready to sleep on your couch for a few nights too many. As exciting as it was to hear some pretty decent riffs on that new Megadeth, it was still a new Megadeth. Variations on a well established, unwaveringly well-worn theme.
Which is why I fell so hard for Vital. All the joyous noise of improv wrapped in little nuggets of songs! Conventional band structures with unconventional tonal choices! I enjoy all of their albums, but BIG | BRAVE really came into their own sound-world with Vital. Crushing, lumbering songs smothered in deep layers of guitar texture, Robin Wattie’s vocals a raw nerve atop it all, simultaneously spacious and claustrophobically heavy. In the few years since its release, I have played the absolute shit out of Vital, always finding new tonal discoveries in the familiar.
Needless to say, my expectations for nature morte (Thrill Jockey) were reasonably high. I don’t mind putting undue pressure on, say, a new In Flames record. There’s a precedent for where it will land in the spectrum of In Flames records, and it’s still an unwaveringly well-worn In Flames (four words I never thought I would say about In Flames ever again – it didn’t completely suck!).
BIG | BRAVE have shown an unflinching willingness to grow with each release, and as such, my expectations were more of the ‘how all-consumingly badass will this be’ variety. The album is a direct continuation of Vital’s sonic palette, colored with expansive new songwriting depth, seemingly indebted to their fantastic left-field folk collaboration with The Body.
Opener “carvers, farriers and knaves” takes the oppressive drone of Vital and adds a number of jarring-yet-cohesive twists, Wattie and Mathieu Ball’s guitars cleaving sounds out of the overdriven rumble atop Tasy Hudson’s thunderous kit. It’s a perfect encapsulation of BIG | BRAVE’s ability to create riffs that have no riff to them, just raw chunks of memorable sound. The absolute heart of the album comes in the form of “my hope renders me a fool” into “the fable of subjugation”. Five minutes of undulating, yearning guitar feedback leads into nine textural, tempestuous minutes that stand as one of the finest songs in their ever-growing catalog. Honestly, though, this is an album that flows so cohesively, so effortlessly, it’s best taken as a whole. Do it. Resist the urge to even look at the track list on your first half dozen listens. Just sink in. DO IT!
BIG | BRAVE tread on the boundaries of so many different sub-genres, it would be very easy to slip off the rails of any one of them. Functional improv and spaciously adaptive song structures are tricky. Couple that with the delicate, emotive core at the center of these thunderous songs, and double the trickiness of pulling it off. With nature morte, the band resides so successfully in their own world of sound that I’m already very excited for their next evolution. Until that drops, I’ll be in the weird end of the pool, absolutely crushing the shit out of this one. A total stunner from a uniquely singular voice in heavy music, I cannot recommend this strongly enough.
It took forever for those Obsequiae albums to click. Dunno what my problem was. Not so with last year’s Inexorum. I’ve about worn that tape in half. So I wasn’t really sure where to peg my expectations for a collision of one-man bands. Wherever they ended up, holy shit does Majesties destroy them. Vast Reaches Unclaimed (20 Buck Spin) is a melodic Death Metal tour de force. Mind you, there’s nothing exceptionally different about their brand of melodic Death Metal. Two guitars ripping, lots of double kick, pained vocals, all present and accounted for. However, the level of absolute perfection these dudes are playing at puts this ripper solidly atop the pile. I have no suggestion on which song best encapsulates the experience, all I know is when the forty minutes is up, I hit play again. The subtle keyboards and the optimistic-leaning lyrics are a very welcome reprieve within the genre. It’s pretty early in the year, sure, but I don’t see the sheer pleasure of this album diminishing by the inevitable year end roundup. Flawlessly executed, a must if you’re a Death Metal fan.
It’s fun to watch the young’uns dig into all the cheesy metal for influences and cut out all the, y’know, cheesy stuff. Case in point? This insanely perfect new Hellripper album. I mean, just look at that sepia green cover. A warlock riding a goat? Fuck yeah. Hellripper is one James McBain, and across Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (Peaceville) forty three minutes, McBain gets it. Blackened Thrash? Thrashy Black Metal? Fuck, who cares, this is super fun, extremely well-executed blasphemy. As much as I love the rippers like “The Nuckelavee” and “The Cursed Carrion Crown”, moments like the title track dropping a mid-tempo bomb and the creepier textures of “Mester Stoor Worm” really stand out. Reverential to the source material, irreverent in actualization, this record totally smokes.
Acid King have two all-time classics under their belts with Busse Woods and my personal jam III, so who would blame Lori S. if she just sat back and rode those to the occasional fest-supplied paycheck? She’s obviously not down with that idea. I was pleasantly surprised by the psychedelic bent of 2015’s Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere, both a return to form and an expansion of the core. Eight years later, and thirty years deep, we get Beyond Vision (Blues Funeral), another solid notch in the discography and a deeper dive into doom-heavy psychedelia. As I’ve said many a time, too many bands equate hammering a riff to writing a song. However, there’s something to be said for people that know how to hammer riffs into a heady zoned-out experience, and Lori S. most definitely takes you to the zone here. This is the good shit.
20 Buck Spin was gracious enough to drop not one but two new Ulthar albums on us. I’ve spent more time with Anthronomicon as its divvied up into more easily digestible songs, but the two track, forty one minute behemoth Helionomicon is truly a wondrous achievement. Between the BIG | BRAVE and the Majesties, I simply haven’t had the time to immerse myself in these two ugly Death Metal beauties, but I certainly intent to rectify that soon enough.
Kruelty peddle in Entombed-leaning Death Metal-infused Hardcore and it is messy and nasty and fucking awesome. Untopia (Profound Lore) is a bruiser, and I am very much here for it. Wise Blood Records continue their streak of fun-loving rippers, this time in the form of melodic Viking Death Thrashers Ardent Nova. Extremely tight riffs and blazing solos galore! Not being familiar, I went into Sandrider‘s Enveletration (Satanik Royalty) with the internet-backed assumption I was in for some Stoner Desert rock. That is partially true, I suppose? This is far more pummelingly propulsive than I was expecting, and I am not in the least bit upset.