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.
Cassette tapes were introduced into the world in 1963, a gift to humanity from Lou Ottens and a little ol’ Dutch company called Philips. Originally designed for dictation machines, the compact, portable design all but assured a swift dominance in the marketplace. The first home recorders were introduced in 1964, the first pre-recorded albums released in 1966, and by the mid-70s, cassette decks were becoming ubiquitous in automobiles.
The true game-changer came in 1979, when Sony introduced the Walkman. I mean, I was five, so it wouldn’t be a personal game changer for another seven or eight years, but I think those of a certain age can unanimously agree, the Walkman was as essential as air. A much more convenient way to avoid listening to the radio, unless you happened to be super dedicated.
Anyway, we all know how that worked out. CDs came along in the mid-80s and POOF! went the cassette’s popularity. Blanks stuck around thanks to the eternal cool of a good mix and CD burners being a rich man’s game, as well as the blown out beauty of 4 track recorders, but pre-recorded cassettes didn’t stand a chance.
There’s been a bit of a resurgence as of late, what with Adele tanking the pressing plants (not entirely her fault, but goddamn is that shit funny), and it reminds me of how absolutely essential the mound of thrash tapes were to my being who I am today. Death Angel, Metal Church, Flotsam and Jetsam, Hallow’s Eve, Forbidden, Nuclear Assault…all things I continue listening to thirty plus years later.
No band epitomizes the cassette era of my life quite as vividly as Metallica.
Music is a purely subjective pleasure, and there are no incorrect choices when faced with the inevitable deep-nerd “what’s your favorite _____ album?” personality quiz. I’ve softened quite a bit on my own opinions over the years, and opened myself to hearing other’s choices from a fresh perspective. I will, however, ruin both of our evenings should you consider anything but Ride The Lightning sitting on the Metallica throne.
If my Walkman left the house, nine times out of ten Ride The Lightning left with it. To this day, it’s probably the album with the most lifetime listens, from the band that – fully aware of the cliche but using it anyway because it’s true – changed my life. I will certainly hear arguments for Kill Em All, Master Of Puppets, …And Justice For All, and probably even Garage Days, all albums I fucking love to death and have also listened to hundreds of times. Nothing compares to the visceral raw complexity of Lightning, however, so I’ll wait until you’ve made your point before I tell you you’re wrong.
Which has made the last thirty or so years pretty painful. I’m pretty sure you can figure out where it all went wrong for me, which is coincidentally the first Metallica album I bought on CD. As dearly as I hold those early albums to my heart, it’s extremely difficult not to shit talk from Load onward.
And I’m hardly an all-or-nothing-at-all guy. I jumped off the Slayer ship long before they threw in the towel and whooboy, don’t get me started on the hot mess that is studio Megadeth. There are a few bands that have kept the torches burning, Testament and Anthrax come to mind as consistently delivering listenable albums, but who can expect these bands to stay evil and pissed forty years on?
However, much like the medium of my formative years, I dare say Metallica is having a bit of a revival. I know we’re all real sick of hearing about it, but c’mon, I write a monthly metal column, of fucking course I’m gonna talk about the new album by the biggest legacy act in the world. I’ve always played through new Metallica albums at least once. Well, except for Lulu. A full play through of that is a war crime. Not much, if anything, stuck until 2016’s Hardwired…To Self Destruct, a record that felt like the band was having fun being Metallica again instead of chasing trends or convincing themselves they were breaking some new ground. It wasn’t all good, but there were enough moments that I didn’t feel bad admitting I enjoyed being pleasantly surprised.
72 Seasons (Blackened) is very much the same. It’s too long by at least twenty five minutes, and there are some pretty unmemorable rehashes going on, but goddamn, it sounds like a bunch of dudes in their 60s having fun being in a globally huge band again. Kirk makes me wish the wah pedal was never invented and James is gonna James the shit out of some very James vocals, but there are a handful of solid tunes going on here. “Screaming Suicide” is some non-typical James both in delivery and the fact that the lyrics aren’t abysmally stupid, and it rips. Aside from the little ‘temptation’ part, “If Darkness Had A Son” is a …Justice era stomper and an album highlight.
The virtue of most Classic Rock bands being ascribed greatness is they all broke up or died before they could put out their St. Anger. You think Hendrix wouldn’t have gotten bored and started shitting out some Clapton-esque lameness? Wrong. Zeppelin was already slipping into bloated mediocrity. Those last couple Who albums? Fuck right off with those. And where are all of you ‘Clapton is God’ assholes now, speaking of bland bullshit? The fact that Metallica put out something this listenable and yes, vital sounding, forty years in is better than most old timers.
I’ve participated in my fair share of Metallica bashing cause, well, they sucked there for awhile and as personalities, they are pretty easy targets. The fact is, though, their music changed the trajectory of my being a music lover. There are a handful of albums in a person’s life that are quintessential, that life is just unimaginable without, and no shit, at least two of mine are Metallica albums.
I must be getting soft in my old age, or the last year has really humbled me – or both – but I’m pretty glad these dudes got their shit together and stopped caring about chasing their fanbase. I doubt I’ll even remember 72 Seasons came out by the end of the year, but for a bunch of old dudes, they did pretty alright.
Holy shit, this Nightmarer. I’ve said it multiple times, but we are truly blessed with the unfathomably deep well of outstanding Death Metal happening these days. Deformity Adrift (Total Dissonance Worship) pops up in iTunes (yeah, I know, get off my lawn) as ‘dissonant Death Metal’ and I have no better encapsulation to offer. Thirty two minutes of exquisitely weird and chuggy atonally awesome Death Metal perfection. I have been pretty much cycling between this and the VoidCeremony (20 Buck Spin) on repeat for the last few weeks. Hasn’t been much of a chance for other records, to be honest. Top notch brutality, highly recommended.
Speaking of 20 Buck Spin, they are on a fuckin’ tear this year. Mournful Congregation returns with The Exuviae Of Gods – Part II EP and it is stellar, forty minutes of melancholy doom beauty. Already one of my favorite things this year. Ascended Dead hits the opposite end of the spectrum on Evenfall Of The Apocalypse, laying down unhinged Death Metal precision. Somewhere in the middle, in a sensory deprivation tank filled with shrooms, is Lunar Chamber. Shambhallic Vibrations is a feast of technical, nebular Death Metal with progressive tendencies and… well, weird vibes. For as progressively technical as it is, it’s also equal parts bonkers. There aren’t many labels out there anymore where I’ll one hundred percent back the ‘buy everything’ method, but 20 Buck Spin has yet to disappoint, no matter the particular style. I dunno that I’d go so far as to say everything is essential, but it is all certainly worth a few listens, and their releases regularly end up as some of my favorites. I mean, Majesties? Ulthar? VoidCeremony? Mournful Congregation? That’s just the first half of THIS YEAR!
In the mood for some first wave thrashy Black Metal, but from now? Of The Sign… (Profound Lore Records) will scratch that itch perfectly. Spirit Possession rip through forty two minutes of shambolically precise blasphemy spitting out a shit-ton of mini-riffs into coherent songs. Quality stuff.
On the one hand, putting out an eighty three minute doom song as part one of a planned trilogy? Get the fuck outta here with that pretentious shit. On the other hand, I’ve been listening to a massive amount of ambient drone stuff since the last Bell Witch, so Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate (Profound Lore) absolutely works as an aural Zen garden. If you’re looking for something doomy to happen on your Doom journey, you’ll have to wait for part 2, I guess, but as an immersive background listening experience, there’s enough reoccurring melody and forward momentum (of sorts) to compel me through this monster a couple times now, and to give Mirror Reaper another shot with a new set of expectations.
Death Folk Country (Relapse) is a prime example of ‘titles are hard, just call it what it is’ album titles. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a Dorthia Cottrell solo album, but if I had to imagine an acoustic based solo record from the voice of Windhand, this is pretty close to what I’d land on. Spectral, yet dense with textural sound, give this one some time to unfold, there’s a lot going on in these tracks. The songs are great, the instrumentation is fantastic, and after the Death Metal pummeling I’ve subjected my ears to lately, it’s heavy in a smothering, coming-down kind of way. Definitely worth a listen. While you’re at it, there’s a reissue of the first Windhand (Relapse) with a bunch of extra stuff. Another side to the Dorthia coin and as fine a debut as any.
I kept hearing ‘Album Of The Year’ talk about the new Dodheimsgard (Peaceville) from friends and well…we have different taste. Still, Black Medium Current is some forward-thinking weirdo shit worth a listen. It’s difficult to describe Portrayal Of Guilt Devil Music (Run for Cover). The first side is orchestrally reimagined on the second side. Both are worthy experiences, and maybe you should just go in blind. Worth it, I swear. Pestifer throw down some elastic, bass-forward Sci-Fi Death Metal on Defeat Of The Nemesis (Debemur Morti) and of fucking course I am here for it. Good shit. On the 2023 Bingo card, I for sure didn’t see ‘good Dozer record’ but life is a wild ride, and Drifting In The Endless Void (Blues Funeral) is a banger. Thra got me with the illegible logo, the black and white skeletal art, and the album title. I certainly didn’t expect the abrasive post-metal part of their Death Doom, but Forged In Chaotic Spew (Translation Loss) is full of it. The ambient mellow vibes on Radien‘s Unissa Palaneet (Svart Records) were also unexpected, but allow the album to breath before it lumbers in to crush you. Finally, I know that warm weather is almost here, but if your cold, dead heart needs one more icy blast of shoe-gazey, epically frigid Black Metal, Autrest‘s Follow The Cold Path (self-released) is the one.