This turned out to be a big year for me discovering new music, some of which was actually new, and some of which I had just neglected to check out. I think I bought more albums this year than any year since 2004 or so, and thus for the first time in many years have reflections on music beyond “Yup, rEVOLVEr is still great”.
(First reflection: The Haunted has become a very standard-issue thrash/death band with the loss of Peter Dolving, and although Ola Englund is a fun YouTube presence and very good guitarist, he doesn’t add enough originality to the band to make up for it).
What follows is a list of albums of note that I listened to over the past year.
I like the first 3 Ghost albums. I love the first and third. Unfortunately, the fourth album Prequelle makes the previous albums retroactively worse by telling where the band was really heading with those uncannily hooky songs – a type of cheese that is self-aware in the same kitschy way as a sitcom reboot (rather than reflective on past metal but with the pretense of unironic dedication).
The single below is one of two songs on the album I don’t usually want to skip.
Oldie but goodie
I bought 2 albums (Miasma and Nocturnal) from these guys while I was still in Japan, not coincidentally while I was undergoing a bit of a renaissance in gaming (they sound and name their songs like they spent a lot of time playing Castlevania 3 as youngsters). They still present the auditory equivalent of being in a wind tunnel, and now have a creative, Marty Friedman-like shredder on lead guitar.
Sounds oldie, actually newie
I’m actually very happy that a band is making music like this in 2018. Yes, the singer sounds like Robert Plant reborn (from still being alive), but how is that a complaint?
Also, I am fully on board with the trend of bands trying to recreate the 70s (The Sword, Clutch, pioneers The Darkness), complete with SGs and Plexi amps.
The song below is not even recognizable as metal until about 2:00, and not as any “extreme” metal until 6:00. It turns out that at 39, this is just the kind of music (loud, technical, well-paced, reminiscent of the 90s in guitar tone) that placates all of my identities. After I had listened to this album for a good 2 weeks straight, I went out* and bought the previous 2, and they are just as full of surprising moments. My new habit of leaving on Banger TV on YouTube while I grade homework paid off, as it was one of their reviews that led me to this band in the first place.
By the way, this is the 2nd album on this list to prominently feature saxophones. Enslaved does it with less winking tweeness than Ghost does, but I can’t hear sax in a metal song without thinking that the band is going out of their way to flash their Pink Floyd fan club membership cards.
*switched over to the iTunes app at a traffic light
Discovered too late
Well, I don’t know exactly what made me check out a band for the first time in 2018 that most metal fans put in the same class of relevance as Metallica, but I’m glad I did. The prog death genre as a whole is pretty new to me, but it’s refreshing to listening to something that I like while having absolutely no understanding of.
For example, none of the opening of the song below makes sense to me, and I’ve been trying to play it myself at least since summer. Why start with that drum solo, why end the first riff (E phrygian, which I understand fine) with C# minor, and why not take that catchy riff in A and build a whole song around it instead of quickly moving on (and why into such a wrist-achingly fast bit)? As I said, I enjoy all of this song, but I have little idea why any of it works.
Gojira’s last 4 albums (along with the first 3 Ghost albums) were almost all I listened to between January and April. A lot of their riffs are just strings of repetitive 8th notes (or sometimes 16ths or triplet 8ths) in unison on every instrument, but this being metal, that is not a mark against them. In fact, their rhythm playing is so in the pocket that it recalls Dave Mustaine’s playing, but instead of being the focus of the entire song, it sets the stage for what actually sound like songs rather than riffs strung together. You wouldn’t think this type of riffage would qualify as “easy to play, hard to play right” in the same way as most Pantera or Van Halen riffs, but just try looking up covers of Toxic Garbage Island and compare how they sound to Gojira, live or in the studio. Their performances show the difference between the kind of heaviness that weighs you down and the kind that sits around you like a thick wool blanket.