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.
I have a sure-fire way to tell if you’ve gone off the rails.
Hypothetically, you find yourself erasing and starting a… uhhh… let’s say monthly music column, or something, for the seventh or ninth or twentieth time, over-caffeinated in public, and you find yourself furiously googling ‘Antartica from Space’ because some screaming head in a thirty-five second TikTok video made one of the absolute dumbest arguments you’ve ever heard and you wonder why you can’t hear yourself mouth the best sick burn “Oh yeah, think nobody will let you pass the great Ice Wall that binds us to the end of the world so you can gain the ultimate knowledge and debunk the Big Globe government that’s been feeding us nothing but lies all lies all the time? Start swimmin’ dipshit!” and then you remember you’re phone has been pleading with you to turn down the headphone level for days now as Celestial Sanctuary scorches a hole in your frazzled brain and oh shit that means everyone around me just heard the twenty minute wormhole of getting furious at how fuckin’ dumb Flat Earthers are on the internet because that was definitely out loud and probably ought to erase all of that and start again.
So yeah, hypothetically, that’d be going off the rails, I reckon. From what I’ve heard, at least. From friends.
Judging from the number of news sources that picked up an article about walking, I’m going to guess it’s pretty rough out there across the board. Joke or not, having the USA Today tell me to cut the shit with my phone was pretty sobering. The intense pull to mindlessly thumb through screaming podcasters and skateboard fails to avoid interacting with the soul-scorching void of ‘outside my house’ is irresistible. Needing to be reminded to breathe air and listen to birds by the People magazine of newspapers? It’s terrifyingly wild because it’s a legitimate need!
I’m a firm practitioner of nightly walks. It’s often when I get my best listening-as-meditation in. Lots of Burial and Oval and Danny Paul Grody, with the mellow fringes of Electric Miles filling in the cracks. I am also fortunate to live in an area that affords pretty great thirty to forty minute loops of aimless driving through the hills. There’s a stretch on 690, from Mush Run and Thompson Ridge that is so serene and overgrown with trees that my aimless driving is, more often than not, aimed at this mile long stretch.
It’s pretty crazy that we’ve reached a point where walking without a podcast is a radical idea, that a thirty minute walk with no email is somehow equivalent to the Odyssey. It’s wild to me both that this made the news and that it is painfully relevant to remind people to chill out sometimes, to take a deep breath and let the remnants of rage that stupid country song filled you with crumble away.
Long story short, this article is way late because I lost the plot. I should throw my phone in the river and play more guitar.
The Psych/Metal California/Bay Area of the mid-2000s was a large part of my listening back then. I was way into the self-titled Mammatus album, a little less so but it was close on The Coast Explodes, and then I guess I failed to catch Sparkling Waters. Probably why it took me so long to catch up to this year’s Expanding Majesty (Silver Current), a mistake for sure. Expanding Majesty is a four track, seventy minute pillowy cushion of mathy progressive psych goodness. Each track could be its own album, but if you’ve got the time this is a thing of beauty start to finish. And don’t think it’s not heavy, that pick slide seven minutes into the title track proves the doomy, repetitively crushing bonafides. Because Psychedelic has lost most of meaning, being tossed around far too liberally, it’s sometimes difficult to sell people, but this album goes beautifully hard into the textural Space Rock Psychedelia, the kind that effortlessly takes you up a half dozen epic plateaus before soaring even higher into layered harmonies on top of harmonies. Not a bum note here, but c’mon, “Foreveriff” is just fucking incredible. Pairs well with driving to Dayton, you can get exactly two listens in and this shit was made for the open road, goddamn. Go buy the whole Bandcamp page, it’s all good. Album of the year.
That Horrendous isn’t the lede says a lot about that Mammatus, because Horrendous don’t miss. For being just under thirty eight minutes, there is a whole bunch going on. There is a dizzyingly high level of musicianship here, both in playing and compositionally, so Ontological Mysterium (Season of Mist) never feels disjointed as the whiplash of Death, Progressive, Jazz, and Van Halen (I mean, “Exeg(en)esis”…c’mon!) assaults you. There are spots all over that bring to mind Thrash from my youth like Forced Entry and Wrathchild America, bands that pushed Progressive musicianship to the forefront, but this is foremost a Death Metal experience. There is something here for everyone, and probably just as many things that will put people off. A concise, sophisticated, bludgeoning affair, Ontological Mysterium is uniquely Horrendous, and they don’t miss. Outstanding.
That Urne aren’t the lede reflects how strong the pool is going into the fall, cause I have been getting a lot of milage out of A Feast On Sorrow (Candlelight Records). Equal parts Post Metal, Thrashy Hardcore, and Death Metal, A Feast On Sorrow balances aggressive tension and technical execution perfectly, and chunky riffs abound. This style can easily veer towards sterility, but for as clinical as these songs are, there is emotional heft to spare. Gets deeper with every listen. Very into this.
I’m a simple man. I really only need bands to ripoff old Entombed records to catch my interest. That’s not to say Celestial Sanctuary rips off Entombed. Not at all, but those buzzsaw guitars weren’t born from a void. Insatiable Thirst For Torment (Church Road Records) is Grade A guttural Swede-esque Death Metal. Opener “Trapped Within The Rank Membrane” is a good barometer for your enjoyment, it has it all. This is one hundred percent my sweet spot, full disclosure. One of my favorite Death Metal records this year. A song like “The Lurid Glow Of A Dead, Burning Body” has no right to swing that hard. Probably one of my favorite album covers this year too.
I can’t say the last Godthrymm stood out. I remember liking it, but not much else. It only takes that riff at two and a half minutes into opener “As Titans” to drop in for Distortions (Profound Lore) to immersively kick my ass for the next hour. Featuring former members of My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Vallenfyre, you should expect a beefed up Peaceville Funeral Doom feel, and boy howdy does Godthrymm deliver here. A dense listen full of dynamics, this is crushingly good stuff. A little usually goes a long way for me in this style, but I’m all in on Distortions.
Spirit Adrift has been pretty hit or miss for me. Divided By Darkness (20 Buck Spin) still does it, but for whatever reason, nothing else has stuck quite as hard. The problem is all mine. Unlike mindlessly listening to Death Metal for background ambience, I have to really be in the mood for this style of Trad Metal, and the little things that blemish the listening experience stand out way more. Believe me, I always root for bands to make me eat shit on my dumb opinions, and lo, Spirit Adrift have served up heaps of repentance with Ghost At The Gallows (Century Media). There is more swagger per song than the rest of their catalog combined here. That breakdown half-way through “Barn Burner”? Yeah, that’s good shit. When it comes back in at the end of the song? Absolutely pummeling. Lots to love here. “Death Won’t Stop Me” didn’t hit me as a single, but totally rules mid-album, and the title track smokes as a closer. Ghost At The Gallows is a nuanced powerhouse in Spirit Adrift’s discography, a discography I will certainly be revisiting.
On the metal adjacent front, Dead Neanderthals return with another collaborative slab joined by Scott Hedrick, he of Skeletonwitch and soundtrack fame. If Ghosts was the sound of some friends chasing an idea (a very good chase), Specters (Utech) is the sound of riding that idea into an angry Krautrock drone void. Kudos to René Aquarius and his stamina, the drums are the propulsive backbone throughout. This is a much heavier affair than Ghosts, all tense sheets of building chords and pummeling rhythms, until the sweet, sweet release of “Banishments” tail end. Highly recommended, and absolutely perfect for brain-wiping walks in the neighborhood. And while you’re there, dig into the Twin Sister, also a phenomenal slice of drone rock that has been a constant driving companion for the last year or so. So thick, so drone, so good.
Can’t say I enjoy Necrophony (Nuclear Blast) in its entirety, as Exmortus peddle a clean, Neo-Classical brand of Thrash that I can only handle in small chunks, but they are insanely talented dudes and “Masquerade/Mask Of Red Death”, “Prophecy”, and the title track are firmly wedged into more than a few playlists, so you should check it out. On the flip side, Graveripper play the type of Thrash that would do you dirty in a bar fight, then buy you a couple rounds while they help stitch you up. Non-stop ripping thirty two minutes of capital T Thrash. Wise Blood is taking this Summer Of Thrash thing pretty seriously, man, so maybe you should too if they keep dropping winners like this.
In more adjacent news, the Emo retrospectives keep coming, this time in the form of Grain‘s We’ll Hide Away: Complete Recordings 1993-1995 (Solid Brass). 90s Post-Hardcore from Cleveland? Oh yeah, my shit right here. There’s a new Cryptopsy, and if you’re into them, As Gomorrah Burns (Nuclear Blast) is chock full of Cryptopsy. Likewise, there’s a new Blut Aus Nord and you really should give Disharmonium – Nahab (Debemur Morti) a listen because they are on a different fuckin’ level, man. I get the hub-bub around the Agriculture record. People don’t like it when you fuck with the formula, and Agriculture (Flenser) totally fucks with the Black Metal formula. There are some genuinely weird moments during those first few spins, but this is an intriguing album worth diving into.