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 comic ads of my youth sure knew how to instill a sense of dread regarding the unavoidable onset of “adult”. Buff dudes kicking sand in my eyes at the beach, the paranoia of everyone being able to afford a pair of X Ray glasses, rampant quicksand, the soul-shattering lie that Sea Monkeys were a cool pet, it’s no wonder us old fuckers have anxiety these days. Well, that and the real-world hellscape that somehow keeps escalating on the daily.
I guess my young mind should have absorbed the lessons in the actual comics themselves, although the compounding interest of grappling with loss probably wasn’t something I would have been attuned to dealing with, despite the mandatory rite of passage that was the elementary school Old Yeller book report.
Loss comes in many layers, depending on what we get attached to. The death of family and friends, the crumbling ruins of relationships, Taco Bell discontinuing the Mexican Pizza, Taylor Swift dating some talentless hack, Greta Van Fleet still existing… they all take a toll on the soul, each one a different sized anchor dragging happiness down.
Endings are an inevitability. As we get older, the loss itself never gets easier. The existential acceptance that endings are the only given in life, however, becomes a bit less frightening to lean into through unfortunate experience, and unless you’re a heartless monster, it’s hard not to feel empathetic for the family and friends of those who’ve left us.
Still, there is only so much in the mental tank before it becomes detrimental to invest yourself too deeply in, say, mourning the Queen’s passing like she was an old friend. It’s one thing to feel sadness as an artist leaves us, it’s quite another to allow the passing of someone you know only through their art to crush you on a personal level.
The Spring of 97 was a rough one. A brutal break-up, busting a lease by moving all my shit while nobody was home on my day off, fumbling my way through college classes that couldn’t possibly mean less to me, and my first real go-round with alcoholism (that honestly was my only go-round, as it didn’t stop for another twenty or so years) all collided. My friend Emily had an open room, and it was the first time I lived with people I didn’t know. It wasn’t like I was home much anyway, my budding drinking tolerance required copious practice at the bar.
I was into some weird shit, musically, but Emily’s future husband Dan had been enlightening me to the finer points of Electric Miles and, rather casually, slipped me a dubbed cassette of an album called The Dried Rat Dog. And that, my friends, is how Dan Prince created a monster.
It wasn’t long before I managed to track down a handful more albums by this crazy German fella by the name of Peter Brotzmann. Machine Gun, For Adolphe Sax, Fuck De Boere, all early career walls of blistering Free Jazz skronk, just absolutely brutal, ear-bleeding workouts. Volume as a weapon, intensity as a means to break through the senses, all the notes all the time to weed out the normies.
I was hooked. Pure catharsis, an ever-shifting, always expansively searching bed of the noisiest shit I had heard up to that point. The entire FMP scene captured my imagination, my ears, my very soul. It is simply impossible to entertain the idea that anyone has heard even a quarter of the man’s obscenely massive recorded output, but I gladly threw money at whatever I was able to lay my hands on over the years.
All friend groups are made up of varying degrees of ‘that guy’, ready to pepper the conversation with “sure, you like metal, but have you heard this one man troo kvlt Black Metal rager recorded inside a dead tree in Siberia?” or “yeah, you like music, but have you heard all six hundred Guided By Voices records from this month?”. I’ve had many a ‘that guy’ phase. Acid Mothers Temple (La Novia on Youtube, go get some), Six Organs of Admittance, Voivod, I’ve preached them all over the years as music that will change you.
The most asinine thing my brain thought that people needed to hear, however, is the Peter Brotzmann catalog. “Oh yeah, Brotzmann too much for you? You’re weak!” Working in a record store warps your sense of acceptable recommendations, but if people could just hear the beauty in later albums like Little Birds, his towering Octet/Tentet recordings, the absolutely stunning Never Too Late, or his stretch of awesomeness with Heather Leigh, maybe I wouldn’t seem so much like a ranting psychopath.
Peter Brotzmann will, however, always reside in the ‘aquired-taste’ category for most, but for those brave souls willing to suffer a bit of hearing loss? The world of Peter Brotzmann’s music is a towering, vast, all-consumingly powerful place, one deserving recognition in the same conversation as Miles, Coltrane, Shorter, Coleman and the like, as a fellow traveller that transcends the limiting idea of genre. Jazz is merely a launching point when considering Brotzmann’s catalog, and his music changed me on a molecular level, opening neural possibilities in my own howlingly noise-drenched home recordings.
I certainly didn’t know Peter Brotzmann. As loudly as I preached the gospel, I was never lucky enough to have life align in such a way as to ever see him perform. His music has nevertheless permeated my life for two and a half decades now, seeing me through many waves of change and growth, and for that I am eternally thankful. As crushing as it is to know that he has passed from this world, his rich body of work stands as a testament to the restlessly creative spirit he was and will live on eternally. Rest in peace, good sir, you were truly an inspirational soul.
Speaking of wildly influential, impossibly deep discographies, Justin Broadrick continues to be one prolific motherfucker. Several projects, like Final and JK Flesh, have newer releases, but it’s the new Godflesh that has my attention. In my nascent metal days, with the internet still a mere dream, it was not uncommon to buy things on the spot because of the label, and Earache had me dialed in. Even so, by the time I blindly plopped down my cash for Streetcleaner in ’91 or so, I was not prepared for the abrasively repetitive beatdown my ears were to experience. Absolute classic. Anyway, the man could’ve built his legacy off of a handful of Godflesh releases, but that just wasn’t enough, so he’s also responsible for an impressively deep Jesu catalog, and a dozen or so other projects that warrant attention (I have only recently gone deep on the JK Flesh catalog and goddamn, I say, goddamn).
I’m just saying, he doesn’t need to be dropping Godflesh albums as vital as PURGE (Avalanche Recordings) this late in his career. We are all the better for it. PURGE feels a bit looser than the previous two reformation albums, 2014’s excellent A World Lit Only By Fire and 2017’s also excellent Post Self. Broadrick and B.C. Green return to the less rigid hip hop inspired beats without becoming less rigid, somehow. “LAND LORD” is as crushing as anything the band has done, with a brain-burrowingly repetitive guitar line. By contrast, “PERMISSION” is damn near danceable. The last third of the album, kicking off with “THE FATHER”, starts to add a bit more textural ambience, and really takes things home in style with some of my favorite tracks on the album.
It honestly feels weird to be, for lack of a better term, ‘reviewing’ a Godflesh album. At this point, you have already listened to this thing a dozen or more times or you somehow are unaware of the glory that is Godflesh. I suppose I understand some misguided aversion to Industrial in your metal, or somehow aren’t attuned to the more Dub leanings, or have some antiquated idea of what you think Godflesh sounds like. Get over it. Godflesh have put out three stunning late period albums in a row now, solidifying an already concrete legacy. PURGE is fantastic, yet another deeply satisfying display of Godflesh’s greatness.
Holy shit, there’s a new Will Haven album! Been a fan since I dug the El Diablo promo out of a Revelation order twenty six years ago. They fit right in with the Coalesce/Acme ‘fuck melody’ phase I was going through at the time. VII (Minus Head) keeps up the pummel. There are some whispers of melody going on, but for the most part, these dudes keep the riffs heavy and thick and mostly just beat your ears up. Will Haven instantly transport me back to that weird period of metallic hardcore in the late 90s without ever sounding dated. This record crushes in the here and now. I’m totally biased and not ashamed to say it, these guys are great, and if this catches your ear at all, work your way back through the catalog, something to be had on every release.
How’s that for a stacked month that Creeping Death isn’t the lead? I was a little worried about this one. I don’t know if it was because I was so into Specter Of War or what, but 2019’s Wretched Illusions ended up being merely really good to me. Rest easy, as Boundless Domain (MNRK) fuckin’ rips. Death Metal seems to be ‘the thing’ right now, what with the flood of great bands happening, and Creeping Death deserve their spot at the forefront. I burned this on the same CD as the Will Haven for my car, and they are the summer jam combo for sure. This record is stacked, but it’s the latter half starting with “Cursed” that really hammers my brain and gets real groovy. Lincoln Mullins being in multiple bands has certainly upped his game, as the drums are ripping start to finish. Thirty seven minutes of blistering goodness.
Wise Blood has promised a Summer of Thrash, and if Bloodletter’s A Different Kind Of Hell is any indication, I am beyond stoked. Bloodletter’s Blackened Thrash approach scratches all my itches. Thrashy but melodic, evil but just the right dash of campiness, and holy shit those guitars. They’re all jams, but if you still have reservations after “Blood Is Life” you simply don’t like metal. Absolutely shred-tastic. There’s a riff behind the last solo in “The Last Tomb” that’s to die for, and riffs like that are goddamned everywhere on A Different Kind Of Hell. This is classic enough for the purists and modern enough to be far more than an homage. Summer of Thrash, you say? Fuckin’ stoked.
Cloak is another band I was worried about. To Venomous Depths was such an outstanding debut that The Burning Down didn’t really stick for me. So I had my reservations concerning Black Flame Eternal (Season of Mist). Opener “Etherial Fire” didn’t do much to quell those reservations, but let me tell you, when “With Fury And Allegiance” kicks in full force sounding like a muscular Satyricon, I am all the way in. “Shadowlands” gets a little atmospheric with the guitars and with that – three tracks in – I am all about this Black Flame Eternal, a dynamic record that knows when to back off a little and when to cut loose with a good old fashioned rock riff. “The Holy Dark” and the title track are also standouts. A fantastic modern take on Thrashy Black Metal.
Okay, I know I said Death Metal was ‘the thing’ right now, but Black Metal rules supreme this month, this time from Texas. What is in the water down there? Anyway, Necrofier take a bit more traditional approach on Burning Shadows In The Southern Night (Season Of Mist). You’ll hear no complaints from this guy. The production is thick and clear, but still somehow just as rough as you’d want this style to be, with buzzsaw guitars and cacophonous drums. Nothing fancy or atmospheric here, just guttural go-for-the-throat viciousness. That’s not to say there aren’t small moments of breathing room, but this album is at its best when it’s laying siege to your hearing as on “To The Wolves” sonic assault or “On Wings Of Death We Burn The Sky” or the crushing closer “Burnt By The Sacred Flame”. An incredibly solid, highly enjoyable Black Metal experience, with enough little surprises to make it interesting.
Before I run down some other great things this month, I’d just like to mention a few things that, while covered in past columns, have truly blossomed into gems. Nightmarer dropped Deformity Adrift (Vendetta) back in May and has grown into one of my absolute favorite records this year. Dissonant Death Metal at its finest. Enforced‘s War Remains (Century Media) has done the same, except it’s Crossover Thrash at its finest. War Remains is so good the band’s whole catalog is back in the rotation. Lastly, I know it just dropped, but scoring an early copy of Krigsgrav‘s Fires In The Fall (Wise Blood) sure makes it feel like it has been out much longer. Anyway, Fires is a deep record that just keeps getting better and better with every listen.
Unchipped are one of the best bands going right now, and Systematic Deletion (self-released) is a total banger. They also have amazing merch. I foresee this Snorlax album hanging around the rotation, as The Necrotophic Abyss (Brilliant Emperor) is the dissonant Death Metal that I crave. I’m gonna have to keep coming back to Hive Mind Narcosis (Dark Descent). Thantifaxath don’t make understanding their songs easy, and a handful of listens in, I still don’t have my mind wrapped around some of this stuff, but it is compelling and wildly original, so worthy of space to grow. I’m also not sure what to do with this Pupil Slicer album. Some days I think I like Blossom (Prosthetic), some days I wonder why I think I like Blossom. Either way, I keep coming back, because it’s pretty wild. It snuck out on me, so I haven’t gotten to spend much time with it, but based on how much I enjoyed the last Divide and Dissolve album, I will be spending some quality time with Systemic (Invada). And lastly, Profound Lore just dropped an Altar Of Plagues vinyl box that I can’t quite afford, reminding me that they remain one of the best / to ever do it.