The Month In Metal – November 2020
Alright, some housekeeping: Our 2020 Top 10 is going to run next month (obviously) and will take the place of our normal December column.
In other news, at the time I’m writing this, I’m dealing with some health problems. To the person who cast the curse that has haunted my body: Congrats, you did it. I wasn’t able to line up a guest intro-er, so here’s a shorter column. For the sake of whatever remains of my ego, pretend to be disappointed. This particular intro was cut for space back when we did a fake mailbag to cover for the fact that a few other intros disastrously fell through. It…has been a year. Hopefully, we’ll get back to some typical in-depth nonsense in 2021.
Diamond Head released Lightning to the Nations 2020 on November 20. “We thought it’d be great to re-record the debut album with this lineup and the modern technology available,” said sole original member Brian Tatler in the accompanying PR copy.
In the great listicle I keep in my head and desperately hope people ask me about but they never do because most people care about actual important things and oh god why I am like this, the original Lightning to the Nations, which turned 40 in October, is an all-time classic. Even the super cringe TAS-TAYYYYYY horniness — complete with a fake orgasm bridge that would embarrass Jane Birkin — can’t derail it. There’s a reason why Metallica has covered four Diamond Head songs to date. The early stuff rules. “The Prince.” “Am I Evil?” Two absolute epics of NWOBHM smoldering with a proto-thrash energy that makes the prog peregrinations sound extra kinetic. Rules. If you can snag Metal Blade’s Diamond Nights compilation that combines the debut with the early singles and demos, all the better.
But, Diamond Head hasn’t been good since, let me check my notes here, 1982’s “Dead Reckoning.” I mean, points for keeping the band going, I guess. Making a living off metal is like squeezing blood from Earache, so if you can do it and avoid overdraft fees, by all means, do your damn thing. And, hey, maybe Tatler’s new crew has pulled out of the tailspin. Last year’s The Coffin Train was, apparently, the best reviewed Diamond Head record in decades. What do I know?
I like to think that I know that re-recording or, ugh, “re-imagining” your classic record(s) after a significant chunk of time is a monumentally bad idea.
I get it. I do. I wish I could re-record my entire life. I also write the same intro every month. “Oh boy, you know what’s weird, guys?!” And I suppose that there are legitimate reasons to rewind. One-time Trad Belt holder Anthem recently re-recorded old songs for its Nuclear Blast debut as special howdy to the European market. Seems fine. Peter Tägtgren went back and fixed the notorious Hypocrisy flop Catch 22. Hey, it doesn’t sound worse. To that end, Necrophagist’s second take on Onset of Putrefaction, the one with realer drums that don’t sound like someone pushed an Amiga down a flight of stairs, is a thumbs up. Add in erasing bad contracts and resetting shady royalty deals, and you have a handful of justifible cases for strapping into the wayback machine.
I searched Encyclopaedia Metallum for albums with “re-record” in the additional notes field. I got a lot of hits, but most of them seemed too fresh. Albums re-recorded within a year or two of the source material aren’t the ones we’re looking for. Hmmm. I need to narrow this down. What’s a famous example of redoing something with “the modern technology available”?
Right. Return of the Jedi hit theaters in 1983. The “Special Editions” made the rounds in 1997. Let’s say bands are in the George Lucas Zone after 14 years.
In order to find albums similar to Lightning to the Nations 2020, I only counted albums that were “true re-recordings” in that the re-recording was either album-to-album or an EP expanded into an album. I didn’t count compilations like Amorphis’s Magic & Mayhem – Tales from the Early Years, Testament’s First Strike Still Deadly, Jag Panzer’s Decade of the Nail-Spiked Bat, or Gamma Ray’s Blast From the Past. Conversely, because In Flames recently made an EP out of re-recorded Clayman songs, I didn’t count that, either.
How many made the George Lucas Zone cut, then? 23. Huzzah. I have summoned Washington Wizards Michael Jordan.
In order to make sense of the results, I pulled the RYM score for the original album and the newer edition. (In the case of an album like Anacrusis’ Hindsight: Suffering Hour & Reason Revisited, I took the average of the two original albums.) I then compared the two scores. If the newer edition scored higher than the original album, I considered it a success. Any new album that got within 5 percent of the original was considered to be “eh.” Anything worse than that was classed as a mistake.
Okay. I would like to drop in my usual disclaimer that I am not a statistician and am, in fact, an idiot. Here we go:
My mind is blown. Huh. Did I die from my illness? Is this purgatory? People actually like some re-recorded albums?
Alright, let’s talk about the juicy stuff first. I don’t think Vader’s Dark Age is…that bad? I’d say the rest of the mistakes are justified. Some of these were meant to be fun fan-pleasers and stocking stuffers and not, you know,albums, but it’s true that none of them manage to sniff the originals. By the way, the worst all time might be Bethlehem’s A Sacrificial Offering to the Kingdom of Heaven in a Cracked Dog’s Ear (original 3.52, new: 1.84), but the 11 years between recordings meant it wasn’t in the George Lucas Zone. That unearthly wail you hear that sounds like a whale stubbing its flipper is Rainer Landfermann breathing a sigh of relief that he wasn’t on that one.
The successes, though, are…something. That is to say, they are all oozing with caveats.
First up, Ewigkeit is the solo project of James Fogarty (In the Woods.., Old Forest, among others). While these two successes look like marginal improvements per the limits of the exercise, recognize that neither rennovation has many ratings. Granted, not many saw fit to judge the originals, either.
Moonspell’s Under Satanæ is more legit in the sample size department. Many ratings. Ratings on top of ratings. However, it’s technically a comp of redone early tracks. It probably shouldn’t count. But, it contains a full take-two of the MCD Under the Moonspell, so I allowed it. European mall goths, rejoice.
I don’t have many feels for Ewigkeit or Moonspell, to be honest. However, Sweden’s Armageddon is more in my wheelhouse. True, the band also suffers from the Ewigkeit issue: Its mulligan sports only 12 ratings compared to the 101 measuring the worth of the original. But, it’s harder to ignore the success of the overhaul. The Christopher Amott side-project “revisited” its debut, Crossing the Rubicon, after 19 years, turning a 3.37 into a 3.72. Is it legit? You make the call:
There you go. According to RYM, there are a few (dubious) success stories. Will Diamond Head be another?
So, yeah, don’t do this. Don’t re-record your old albums once you’re in the George Lucas Zone. However, if you have a lost album that you want to finish recording, I’m all ears. –Ian Chainey
Dead And Dripping – “Etched Into Depravity's Slab”
Location: New Jersey
Subgenre: death metal
Judging by the promo pics, I’m going to assume that Evan Daniele is youngish. At the very least, younger than your author, a wrinkled lump of grayness. So, it’s pretty impressive just how closely Dead and Dripping, Daniele’s solo project, nails the mid ‘90s exploits of North American death metal. Taking a whiff of this festering nastiness, one gets notes of Immolation, Suffocation, and Cryptopsy. That third comp is going to be particularly notable here. I mean, yeah, did you notice the band name? But there’s also the vibe. Profane Verses of Murderous Rhetoric, this project’s first full-length, is full of moments I remember Doug calling “feeling yourself riffs.” What is a feeling yourself riff? Check out how prime ‘topsy opens up “Lichmistress.” Just a real “fuck it, here’s what we’re doing” type of riff. Daniele’s feeling-yourself flip is a show-stopping slowmo churn, especially when the bass is brought up in the mix so it can twiddle all over everything. “Etched Into Depravity's Slab” fits in a couple of these pummeling sections and Daniele delights in taking his time. They all sound like someone put their thumb on a spinning Here In After record and they all feel great, like getting punched in the face during a hockey fight feels great. Killer. [From Profane Verses of Murderous Rhetoric, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Houkago Grind Time – “A Manual of Ways to Occupy Oneself While Waiting in Line for Limited Edition Merch”
Location: San Jose, CA
Making good on a promise, here’s Houkago Grind Time. I can tell you three things about this band:
(1) The brain behind the grind is Andrew Lee. Lee is having a hell of a year, recording stuff with, deep breath, Archaganini (neoclassical grind), Azath (Malazan-inspired thrashy death), Emphysematous Excretion of Gangrenous Debridement (gore goop with frequent Black Market citation Hagamoto), Ripped to Shreds (Bolt Thrower + Entombed chuggasaurus), and Skullsmasher (death/grind for driving recklessly). In addition, Lee has done mixing, mastering, and/or production for Hag Graef, Yxxan, Draghkar, and Nyctophagia. Not a bad way to spend your pandemic.
(2) Bakyunsified (Moe to the Gore), Houkago Grind Time’s debut full-length, has guest spots from Dave Callier (PLF), DeRek (Brain Corrosion, Fake Meat), Leon del Muerte (Impaled), T. Warrior (Death Fortress, Massive Retaliation, Altar of Gore, etc.), Brandon Corsair (Azath, Draghkar, Lee’s doomy Serpent Rider), and the aforementioned Hagamoto (we’d be here for awhile). Colin Marston did the mastering because of course he did.
(3) If that didn’t seal the deal, here’s this: I’m pretty confident describing these 16 tracks as what Dead Infection would’ve done if it managed to get a fourth album out (RIP, Cyjan). All of the goregrind-y prerequisites are here: the blasts, pitch-shifted roars, mince-y groove parts. But, you can tell Lee workshopped the heck out of these riffs. Similar to Dead Infection, the juds, juns, and wums have an uncluttered swing to them that increases the catchiness. And Lee can play, which is a huge bonus in this space. Goregrind is usually the domain of idiots like me who can barely string together consecutive power chords. Lee, on the other hand, can shred. And one of the underrated elements of his arsenal is his drumming. It’s powerful, generating that important bit of extra oompf, making good on his stated sources of inspirations: Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Bet you never thought you’d see those names here.
But, when it comes down to it, this works because of the songwriting. Like the best stuff in this vein, Lee takes absurdly out-there elements – gurgles, high BPMs, corrosive guitar tones – and mushes them into hook-laden nuggets. I mean, obviously I’m supremely damaged and wasn’t hugged enough because I think early LDOH could’ve been on the radio, but it always kind of amazes me how listenable the good goregrind tends to be. In that sense, Lee is a prime practitioner. In a year bursting with rad grind, that allows Houkago Grind Time to stand out.
Here’s what I can’t tell you about this band: anime references all the way down. My Googling suggests the band name is a play on “Houkago Tea Time.” Okay! The rest of it, whoosh, way over my head. I know as much about anime as Rudy Giuliani does law. But the fact that I’m still jamming out to this despite that says a lot. And, hey, now you can dunk on me for being mystified by a niche fandom that’s nearly impenetrable to outsiders. [From Bakyunsified (Moe to the Gore), out now via Outrageous Weeb Power Productions.] –Ian Chainey
Illkynja – “Sæti Sálarinnar”
Subgenre: black metal
The Icelandic black metal wave has been crashing against foreign shores for almost a decade now, delivering a fiery volcanic take on a traditionally cold genre. Illkynja, who released Sæti Sálarinnar back in July (and we missed it), certainly fits in amongst their compatriots. But there’s an even more fiendish sound at play on the solo-project’s debut, which digs deep into the island’s black soil to find strange warped horrors. Minor tones bend and break with Boschian flare, straining the laws of reality at will. The disturbing journey is narrated by a monstrous subterranean growl that croaks and gurgles, a center of gravity amidst the warbling guitars that flicker at its edge. It’s dark stuff, and the kind of thing most people will want to listen to with the lights on. [From Sæti Sálarinnar, out now via Goathorned Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
Sadness – “Holding...”
Location: Oak Park, IL
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
A new release from Sadness, the solo atmospheric black metal project that melts hope, anguish, and longing into searing monumental works, isn’t to be missed. “holding...” is the latest in a long line of deeply moving masterpieces from Damián Antón Ojeda, who brings the world crashing down from Oak Park, Illinois. There are cathartic explosions throughout this song, the title track of the EP out this month, interspersed with moments of quiet reflection. One of Sadness’s specialties is to bring in an earnest, youthful choral passage amidst the sonic fireworks, and on “holding...” it is deployed to awesome effect — it rings like a cinematic plea for a lifeline amidst the chaos, and it isn’t easily forgotten. It’s remarkable that Sadness has, over the course of more than two dozen EPs and albums, produced so many jaw dropping moments. For those new to the project, a trove awaits. [From holding, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Blue Noise – “World Of Love”
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Subgenre: post-black metal / screamo
I guess it has been a bit since I tried to flex in a metal column that I own Portraits of Past records. Blue Noise is one of many solo projects of Maya Chun, who readers may already know as a past collaborator with Serpent Column. To me, and this is going to date me horribly, Blue Noise reminds me of a modern update on bands like To Dream of Autumn that specialized in a searing style of energetic and cathartic O.G. skramz that not only utilized a quiet/loud dynamic, but found a way to mix melancholic desperation and blinding fury together in equal measure. What sets Blue Noise apart is the production and timbres that push World of Harm, Chun’s second full-length under this banner, into Wyatt metal territory. (Sorry for creeping into your space, Wyatt!) Even Blue Noise’s Bandcamp tags seem to acknowledge it: “ok a little black metal.” And I guess a little black metal was enough for Encyclopaedia Metallum, too. Blue Noise is now the third band with “screamo” as one of the genre tags to be included in the database, joining last year's AOTY recipient Haunter and Damián Ojeda’s Life. (Here’s Big Ian’s bet of the week: I expect Pušča, a new Ukrainian band that sounds like Daïtro with trems, to be the next one up.)
Anyway, as someone who has nerded out considerably over both black metal and screamo, this recent stretch of cross-pollination has been particularly gratifying. Blue Noise might be the best of the crossovers. What works for me is just how hard a lot of this goes as it prefers to let loose with acidic howls and a symphony of layered guitars instead of relying on hackneyed Envyisms or meditative post-whatever buildups that Funeral Diner already mastered 20 years ago. “What a Shame,” maybe Harm’s best song, definitely adheres to the screamo blueprint, deftly moving from crescendos to hushed ruminations. But it just sounds so titanic. The last time I remember a band of this ilk sounding this big was Capsule and that doesn’t approach the megatons of power exerted here. No, Harm has that blown out, universe-big largeness to it that the better atmo black bands can pull off. The key, though, is that that spaciousness is kept from sprawling thanks to the skramz-y immediacy. You end up with something that’s best of all worlds, free of the stuff I find irritating about modern screamo (fragile tweeness and clean singing) and post-black metal (pointless grandiosity and sleepy songwriting). It doesn’t hurt that there’s a lot of other stuff here, too. “Before God” has a Virus-y intro and a darkly lysergic sway to its dreaminess. I, on the other hand, am going to pitch you “World of Love,” a depressingly gorgeous strummer that just feels like it grows and grows and grows. Have fun getting that one out of your head. If none of this works for you, may I recommend Chun’s AUTOEROTICCANNIBALISM, which sounds nothing like any of this and slams real good. [From World of Harm, out now via Zegema Beach Records.] –Ian Chainey
Ardente – “Derrière Les Remparts”
Location: Rennes, France
Subgenre: black metal
Ardente’s blazing castle metal rips headlong from one triumphant moment to the next, casting aside despair and parting ominous clouds in its path. That largely turbulence-free trajectory gives “Derrière les Remparts” a steady, satisfying ease and brings to life the Medieval legends that pulse in every riff — these are songs that begin within the keep and end in distant lands. The heroic bent opens the door to the offerings of Secret Corridor, the small record label (seemingly based in castle-rich Rennes, Brittany) that publishes the works of the musician Vöghräth. On offer are several black metal records informed by turrets and trebuchets alongside a collection of dungeon synth projects dealing in mysticism and fantasy, such as Songs in the language of mushrooms by Filicophyta, Potions and Rusty Chainmail by The IXth Key, and Lost Songs From The Fog Kingdom by Royaume des Brumes, among others. [From Derrière les Remparts, out now via Secret Corridor.] –Wyatt Marshall
Potion – “Crocodile Tears”
Uh. What? I feel like we could end the blurb there. Why even read what I’m going to write about this. It’s not going to do it justice. Every statement feels like a lie because it just can’t sum up the totality of whatever the heck this is. I mean, look at this: Potion is a grind band from California. The constant is Hunter Petersen, a multi-instrumentalist genius who harnesses every bit of his prodigious powers to make this bugfuck ruckus. In June, Potion recorded a split with Those Darn Gnomes, which tells you everything about this band’s potential to utterly bewilder you. “Crocodile Tears” is the middle track in the set of three that opens the six-song EP. It features Cammie Berkel on vox and Quade Ross (Antarctica, Car Made of Glass) on drums. It’s...the normal one? Yeah, this is the normal one. In 40 seconds, Potion lays waste to most of the inferior annoycore bands of last decade by just dropping bomb after bomb of guitar weirdness. Dissonant leads crash into choppy micro lurches and delightfully textural string noises. The drums somehow keep up with all of it. The screech owl séance wails are the cherry on top. I’m featuring this song because I don’t want to spoil tracks four through six, when not only do you have all of the above, but you get a heaping helping of, like, surfing with the alien G3 fusion ditties...you know, if Satriani invited Gridlink to be strapped to a torture rack. I love it. Stop reading. Play it. [From Cemetary, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Arkhtinn – “Astrofobi”
Location: Parts Unknown
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Arkhtinn, the master of grandiose yet bleak electronic space black metal, returns from the void nearly two years to the date after the project’s last album, 最初の災害. Those who know Arkhtinn know the drill, but should expect a harder hitting, higher frequency, more magnificent, and even more engrossing journey than what’s come before. For new initiates, strap in; Arkhtinn takes all the best elements of cosmo-centric black metal — the otherworldly sounds of of alien bleeps and bloops, deep space phenomena, first contacts, and black hole emanations — and arrays them against a regal, and often maniacal, operatic backdrop pulsing with dark energy. Sometimes it sounds like the soundtrack to an abandoned spacecraft, sometimes it sounds like a transmission from a craft crossing an event horizon, sometimes it sounds like the ravings of a mad king in a distant galaxy. However you envision it, it’s wild, strobing with menace and neon-hued nightmares. [From Astrophobioa, out now via Amor Fati Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
HWWAUOCH – “Eternalism”
Location: Parts Unknown
Subgenre: black metal
Once again laying waste to the deadlines of print magazine year-end lists is the Prava Kollektiv. November 18 was all hands on deck, apparently, as we got new releases by the aforementioned Arkhtinn in the form of a split with Starless Domain along with serious smokers from Voidsphere, Mahr, and Pharmakeia. All of them are good. This one, though, is on another level. HWWAUOCH, not just the sound a dog makes when it eats too fast, but a nasty blast of thrillingly horrifying grimness. Protest Against Sanity, the anonymous entity’s third full-length in three years, is like someone played Blut Aus Nord and Silencer records at the same time through a harsh noise artist’s PA. I think I’m going to call this stuff wind tunnel black metal. Seriously, the gale this thing generates is impressive, putting it on par with last year’s Mylingar and this year’s Pari´sya. And for much of Protest, that’s how HWWAUOCH huffs and puffs, blowing out speakers with in-the-red guitars and spectral howls. Check out “Distorted Perception” if you don’t believe me, but make sure you've locked the doors before you do. That said, I’m pleased to report that HWWAUOCH is also getting weirder. “Eternalism,” the album’s closer, opens with a disarmingly straight forward arpeggio before slowly morphing into a demented psych track, like something Acid Mothers Temple might make if it lost control of an Ouija board. [From Protest Against Sanity, out now via Amor Fati Productions.] –Ian Chainey
Wake – “Beyond Empyrean”
Location: Alberta, Canada
Subgenre: blackened death metal
Wake’s “Beyond Empyrean” is, at first, an awesome slab of crisp, bleak rage delivered with enviable style. It blasts forth from the get go, abuzz with dizzying and disquieting riffs, and it would be an exciting song if this were the extent of it. But the cavernous drops, expansive pullbacks, and passages of quiet bubbling violence that subsequently follow take “Beyond Empyrean” into entirely different territory. The narrative arc, filled with unexpected twists and turns, is told with an economy of notes and measures — there’s no fluff, here, and Wake accomplishes in 6:30 what many bands draw into ten-minute-plus monsters. So while tightness is an element of the style, so too are cool, somewhat understated lead tones and a tendency to contrast these comparatively bright melodic highlights with dark, heavy undercurrents. It makes for an engrossing listen, one that is surprising at first blush and increasingly rewarding with repeated spins. [From Confluence, out now via Translation Loss Records.] –Wyatt Marshall