AOTW: Ghost – Infestissumam (2013)

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Ghost is certainly a one of a kind band, especially in the modern Metal scene. They are both an acquired taste and the band that everyone loves, they are modern, yet also true to Heavy Metal traditions.

I’ve stumbled upon Ghost serendipitously when YouTube suggested their 2015 Grammy award video to me. The band members had a pretty unusual look, but they also presented a good sense of humour and they could definitely laugh at themselves. I also watched an interview with one of the Nameless Ghouls where he said something along the lines of ‘Hey, we like Black Metal as much as the next person, but we convey a similar message in a different wrapping’. Indeed, if I recall correctly he referred to Ghost’s music as a Satanic ritual with a good vibe (as opposed to Black Metal’s dark and depressive approach).

They do have a point, you know: just because the music doesn’t sound like it’s coming from the depths of hell, it doesn’t mean it can’t convey an anti-Christian message. After all, if the music is accessible to the masses, then the doctrine can be delivered more effectively. Note that Ghost uses the Satanic imagery and lyrics as symbols only, in fact this is the case with most bands that have anti-Christian lyrics. It wouldn’t make any sense to reject one deity as a false authority only to accept another one, from the same mythological framework too!

The accessibility of the music was a majour turn off for me in the beginning. It wasn’t as heavy as the stuff I was listening to at the time and it just sounded plainly odd. I had to put the band on hold for a bit until I was ready to indulge in its light-heartedness. The funny thing about Ghost’s music is it gets stuck in your head, you might dislike it at first, but you keep going back to it. That was my experience, at any rate. I also found it worked best if I listened to the entire album rather than shuffling the songs – it does seem like the band put careful thought into arranging their songs.

Infestissumam, is the album that I initially liked the most out of the 3 full-length efforts. I still find Opus Eponymous and Meliora to be a bit inconsistent, but more on that later. The record starts with a brief intro that shares the name with the album, followed by Per Aspera Ad Inferi, which is one of the best songs on the album.

Oh Satan
Devour us all
Hear our desperate call

Next comes Secular Haze, the heaviest piece on the album. This song that did not strike a chord with me right away, but that changed after seeing it performed live.

Jigolo Har Megiddo and Ghuleh / Zombie Queen are two slower songs, allowing the listener to catch a breath. Year Zero erupts, a true Satanic anthem and another high point of the album, where the band showcases a darker approach to lyrics.

Since dawn of time the fate of man is that of lice
Equal as parasites and moving without eyes
A day of reckoning when penance is to burn
Count down together now and say the words that you will learn

Body and Blood is a staple live performance song, where the ‘sisters of sin’ make an appearance. Idolatrine is another great upbeat song with witty lyrics.

Profaner of the vices, a simple charlatan
Inflaming puerile minds with the guilt of sin
Imaginations fed to children, it has served me well
That the bowels of the earth hides the pits of hell

Depth of Satan’s Eyes is a song that would struggle to stand on its own, but fits in rather well at the end of the album. Finally, Monstrance Clock comes in and fills the listener with an eerie feeling. This is another staple live song, typically performed at the end of the show.

Come together, together as a one
Come together for Lucifer’s son

Amen to that.

Infestissumam is a great piece of Heavy Metal. The only complaint one could have is strange production: that bass is way too over driven and the drums are a bit too high in the mix. However, whatever the albums lacks in production, it more than makes up for in song writing and musicianship. The vocal performance by Papa Emeritus, the keyboards and the choir work are, without doubt, praise worthy.

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AOTW: Darkthrone – Hate Them (2003)

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Hate Them is certainly an interesting piece of work and might seem like an odd choice for a Darkthrone album review. It just so happened that the circumstances were right for me to listen to this album when I did.

During early 2016 I was going though a bit of an identity crisis – I was spending very long hours at work and didn’t have much energy for anything when I came home. The looming deadlines and a plethora or interesting yet difficult projects put me under quite a bit of pressure. Instinctively I started searching for an outlet in music, but nothing that popped up on YouTube or elsewhere was very satisfying.

I felt in need of something very raw and ugly, something to match my rotten mood and the miserable March weather in Toronto. By this time I’ve only listened to 2 Darkthrone albums – Transylvanian Hunger and Hate Them, and I wasn’t even sure if I’ve ever listened to the latter in full length. I forgot to mention I’ve also heard Dark Thrones and Black Flags, but that album went completely over my head and was promptly forgotten.

So I took Hate Them for a spin and it hit the spot. Starting with the grim intro and the mid-paced build up in Rust, I knew this was the right music for the circumstances.

I come from a land
Of systematic erasure of optimism and positiveness
You don’t want to encourage me

It’s no secret that Fenriz, the drummer and the lyricist of Darkthrone went through a lengthy spell of depression some time between the release of Panzerfaust in 1995 and the recording of this album. This resulted in Darkthrone putting out a few lackluster albums and losing some of their relevance in the Black Metal scene. Hate Them was a sort of bounce-back album for Fenriz, where the lyrics reflected on his internal struggles during the preceding years, but also introduced a new topic – a discussion of the contemporary Metal scene.

Fucked Up and Ready to Die is a song whose title speaks for itself, it also happens to be one of the best songs on the album.

Half my life in your name
Fucked up and ready to die
Death just takes a moment
Suffering is forever

This song is significant for another reason: the ending has an unmistakably Punk-ish feel to it. This is true of most other songs on the album as well – Hate Them is a crossbreed – it has sonic qualities of Black Metal, but the song structure and the general attitude on the album are very much Punk Rock. It was with this album that Darkthrone began their experimental, ‘freestyle’ period.

The first ever Darkthrone song I’ve listened to, called Striving for a Piece of Lucifer, is also from this album and to this day it remains one of my favourites. This might also be the only pure Black Metal song on the album.

Let’s see who stands when the smoke clears
Keep kicking that litter our way
We ain’t about to throw the fight here
We all shall die

In the end Hate Them is not an album for everyone, and I would speculate that most Darkthrone fans don’t like this album much. Perhaps I am being skewed by the sentimental value of this album since it was my first exposure to Darkthrone and the Norwegian Black Metal sound some years ago. However, I do think this album stood the test of time, at least for me. Listening to this album after all the years prompted me to explore the rest of Darkthrone’s music and, most importantly, take a deeper look at the 80s and early 90s Metal scene. I think it would be fair to say that without Hate Them there wouldn’t be this blog.

Best Metal Albums of 2016

I’ve recently watched Banger TV’s program dedicated to the best metal albums released over the past year.

Here is the list they’ve come up with (in no specific order):

  • Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones
  • Vektor – Terminal Redux
  • Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
  • Gojira – Magma
  • Khemmis – Hunted
  • Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
  • Korn – The Serenity of Suffering
  • Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us
  • Rotting Christ – Rituals
  • Devin Townsend – Transcendence

I cross referenced this list with a few other places and, other than a few differences here and there, this is it – you behold the cream of the crop in Metal in 2016. Despite hearing of most of these bands, I was not familiar with their music. The exceptions are DsO and Korn, but I haven’t been following their new albums so all of the music on the above list was new to me. Now, as a general comment, if you’ve got Korn on your best of Metal list, it’s either you don’t understand the first thing about Metal or something is very amiss in the scene today. Sadly, it’s the latter that’s true in this case – I wasn’t able to get past the first song on most of these albums. Here is my take on these works:

Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones

DsO used to play a raw and primitive form of Black Metal with a very heavy Darkthrone influence. This sounds simplistic, but the band managed to create some very good music: Inquisitors of Satan and Manifestations 2002 are some of my most favourite albums in Black Metal. But then came along Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice. where the band started changing their approach and I’ve never bothered to check out the subsequent releases.

The Synarchy of Molten Bones is an experimental album where the band mixed Black Metal and Mathcore. The result is a horrific pile of incoherent filth; on top of that, the production is an absolute joke for any Metal album, never mind Black Metal. One might argue that the album was meant to have an incoherent, chaotic feeling, but no – listen – check out The DEP’s Calculating Infinity and you will notice that it the most coherent collection of songs you’ve ever heard despite the dissonant sound. It takes real talent and a bit of insanity to make this type of music. This is the reason why there are so few good Mathcore bands and so much worthless garbage. Calculating Infinity was released 17 years ago in 1999 and it is still the best album in Mathcore.

Vektor – Terminal Redux

I’m no expert on Thrash Metal, but this album sounds fairly generic to me, it is certainly no match for the likes of Kreator, Sodom or Slayer in their prime. I think only the most devoted Thrash Metal fans would appreciate this.

Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake

A lame album with a lame name. You can listen to the title track on Youtube – it’s extremely generic with that modern production that robs music from any identity whatsoever. I will need to listen to the band’s earlier albums as they are supposed to be quite good.

Gojira – Magma

This album sounds absolutely terrible, it’s nothing else but Nu Metal disguised as some progressive bullshit. I’ve only heard bits and pieces of Gojira’s earlier albums and they sounded a bit better than this. My guess is this band has reached its selling out point.

Khemmis – Hunted

This is the first album where I did not want to vomit after the opening 30 seconds. In fact, I think the album is quite good. Unfortunately for me, Doom Metal is not my cup of tea, so I will have to accept that this record is simply not for me. I would not rule out going back to this band at some point in future.

Insomnium – Winter’s Gate

My understanding is that some people were upset in 1995 when At the Gates released Slaughter of the Soul, where they switched to a much simplified approach compared to their earlier works. Some people described the new sound as ‘instant gratification’, the term I disagree with, but what is usually implied is the music lacks in terms of song writing and structure. Having said that, many many more people preferred this new simple Melodic Death Metal approach. Fast forward 20 years and we have this joke of a band, Insomnium, spewing out an even more simplified and pussified ‘opium for the masses’ music.

Korn – The Serenity of Suffering

Remember my comment at the beginning of the post about Korn? Yea, the sad part is Korn’s 90s albums were probably better than most of the stuff on this list. What’s more, modern Metal bands like Gojira and Insomnium have absorbed this Nu Metal influence in their music and in doing so justified Nu Metal’s inclusion in the Metal genre as a whole. This is what happens when musicians only look at their contemporaries for inspiration and can’t be bothered to look back at what the ones before them were doing. This is evident because it’s impossible to create such horrific discharge if one were to get their influences from Motorhead, Venom, Bathory, Slayer, Kreator, Darkthrone, Dissection and other notable bands from 80s and 90s.

As far as Korn’s album goes – it’s terrible, as expected, just like everything they released since Issues in 1999.

Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us

Finally comes an album that jibed with me. Having said that, about halfway through the album, the music got a bit irritating. Not sure if it’s the result of production or that I haven’t listened to Grindcore in a bit. The album is only about 20 minutes long though.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: there is not a single Metal riff on this album. It is exactly the way Grindcore was meant to sound: an extreme version of Harcore Punk, played at the fastest speed possible. While it is ridiculous that many metalheads consider Grindcore as a sub-genre of Metal, it is understandable. After all, if you look at the pioneers of the genre, Napalm Death and Carcass, the former started incorporating a lot of Death Metal elements into their albums once they’ve improved their musicianship and the latter switched to a technical variation of Melodic Death Metal altogether.

At any rate, I don’t really care where Grindcore belongs and I do not wish to limit myself to any specific genre. Nails is a good band and I will be listening to their earlier stuff as the time and resources permit.

Rotting Christ – Rituals

Not sure what to write about this album as I wasn’t able to listen to it for very long at a time before turning off. The only observation is that the whole record sounds like one very long and boring song. The production here is a joke for a supposedly Black Metal album. Stay away from this putrid pile of trash.

Devin Townsend – Transcendence

People usually talk about Devin Townsend in the context of experimental music. Despite having heard quite a bit about Devin Townsend in the past, this is the first time I’ve heard anything from him. While there are some interesting moments here, that actually manage to create an atmosphere of something grandiose and epic, it’s all ruined by the pathetic signing, guitar work and plastic production. It doesn’t take long to realize that this is another glorified Nu Metal ‘creation’.

Now, this blog post would be useless if it didn’t end with something positive, so here are some releases from 2016 that might actually be worth checking out:

Exalt – The Shape You Took Before The Ache

This album actually came up in the Banger TV video above. I feel apprehensive recommending this because of it’s basically a Nu Metal album, even though it also borrows heavily from the 90s Metalcore. The production is quite good for a change. In the end, I don’t think I will come back to this album, but it wouldn’t be a bad starting place for someone new to Metal, if they insist on listening to modern stuff. The music is accessible enough to draw in a large audience and has enough good qualities to push people in the right direction.

Having said all this, if you must listen to recent albums, stick with Ghost and go see them live – you will not regret it.

Cough – Still They Pray

Somehow none of the websites I checked listed this album in their Best of 2016 compilations. This album had me banging my head from the first riff. This band plays the most divine (in the most Satanic way) Stoner/Sludge/Doom music and was a real gem I accidentally discovered this year. Give this a listen, if you dare.

Still They Pray was my best 2016 album, but, to me (and I could be very wrong), this is not Metal by the strictest of standards because despite having a Doom Metal framework, Stoner Rock and Sludge are integral parts to this album. By the same argument I wouldn’t pigeonhole Electric Wizard into the Metal genre, but I know a lot of people will argue otherwise. My opinion is that Stoner/Sludge/Doom triad deserves its own category, but most often you see the 3 styles treated as Metal sub genres.

On that basis, my Best 2016 Metal Album nomination will go to:

Destroyer 666 – Wildfire

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From the opening riff and that classic, Mercyfull Fate-like falsetto howl, this album drags you 30 years back into mid-80s where it wouldn’t feel out of place with the likes of The Day of Wrath, Seven Churches and Show No Mercy. The album possesses that raw, dirty, Blackened Thrash/Speed Metal sound that was common to the first wave of Black Metal bands. To my shame, this is the first album I’ve heard from this group, but now I’m very curious. If this was the only record I had to listen to in 2016, I wouldn’t be too disappointed.