Being that I work from home as a copy-editor, and am a passionate metal music fan and Spotify enthusiast, I’ve come up with a new way of generating a random playlist of eight albums to listen to every day while I work. I came up with the idea of blogging about this, perhaps even as the main focus of this blog, after starting work this morning on a new editing job for the book The Elements of Blogging, and getting inspiration to blog more regularly about what is without doubt my main niche passion, metal music, with a little added copy-editing seasoning on top of all the undoubted hyperbole that will follow!
So, in the first of what I hope is a regular feature, I present my first blog about the albums I’m listening to every day as I work on my editing. The layout and presentation is still very much a work in progress, but I hope with a little persistence, I’ll reach something resembling consistency eventually. I’m going to update at the end of the working day when I’ve listened to all of the albums, so it should really be a test of memorable vs. forgettable. I hope it encourages any readers to check out some new music, whether something that’s literally newly released, or something that’s been out for decades that they’ve never heard before.
Wednesday 18 March 2015
- Carcass – Surgical Steel
- Messiah – Choir of Horrors
- Soen – Tellurian
- D.R.I. – Crossover
- Agalloch – The Serpent and the Sphere
- Danzig – Danzig II: Lucifuge
- Pentagram – Unspoken
- Megadeth – So Far, So Good…So What!
1. Carcass – Surgical Steel
I really wasn’t all that enthused about this reunion album at all when it was released in 2013 – not because I was a disappointed Carcass fan, but actually because I’ve never really been all that fanatical about Carcass, Some friends swear by Heartwork as one of the best death metal (melodic or otherwise) records there is, but I’ve yet to be convinced. But with Surgical Steel, I’ve found that every time a track would pop up in Spotify Radio or in some shuffled playlist, I would warm to it much more. This is, I think, the first time I’ve consciously listened to the whole album from start to finish since those initial couple of mildly indifferent listens. Funnily enough, I think it might be one of my favourite albums from these guys now, and I would go to it before a lot of their other material, perhaps excluding Necroticism. Listening to it, I was reminded of this interview with Tomas Lindberg on the back of the release of At the Gates’ own comeback record, At War with Reality, where he said:
Speaking of Carcass though, Jeff [Walker] has been picking my brain about this for a long time, and we ARE on a similar journey, the two bands. And seeing them not die doing this maybe helped ease the angst a little, haha! And it’s a good album, Surgical Steel, it really is—and seeing the band live in 2013 with new songs in the set list was invigorating, but remember they had to follow up Swansong, and not Heartwork…
Surgical Steel really is a masterclass in how to get a modern metal album sounding slick and up to date without losing any of the authenticity you’d expect from one of the earliest death metal bands from that fabled 1980s Earache roster. And I struggle to think of any band that’s come out of retirement after such a long hiatus (17 years!) with something this strong. It’s just taken a couple of years to really sink in!
2. Messiah – Choir of Horrors
There must be something in the Swiss water. Every band I ever hear from Switzerland, be it Celtic Frost, Coroner, Schammasch, or Triptykon, always really impress me. And this was my first exposure to Messiah, a death/thrash metal band from Switzerland, with their 1991 album Choir or Horrors. Now, 1991 was arguably one of the strongest years for metal. In one year, there was Death’s Human, Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence, Dismember’s Like an Ever Flowing Stream, and Sepultura’s Arise, not to mention Autopsy’s Mental Funeral and Carcass’s Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious! So when I say that Choir of Horrors isn’t the first thing that would come to mind when thinking about good metal releases from 1991, you understand that this is no slight on what is still a really well executed hybrid of death/thrash metal, There’s also some of that oddball Swiss eccentricity and originality shining through, with the use of almost eerie clean guitar passages, not unlike the atmospheres that early Celtic Frost stuff managed to convey in abundance.
3. Soen – Tellurian
It’s great to see Martin Lopez plying his trade behind the drum kit again. His drumming on Opeth’s Blackwater Park is one of the many reasons why I consider it one of my all-time favourite albums. Tellurian is the second album from his new band Soen, and sounds (unsurprisingly, I suppose) like a cross between Opeth and Tool, unfortunately without ever quite hitting the heady heights of either – but what an ask that would be! Nonetheless, what you get with Tellurian is an improvement from their debut, Cognitive, in terms of more cohesive and confident songwriting. This is not an aggressive album, and in fact one could debate whether or not it even 100% “belongs” on a metal blog due to its predominantly more laid back, rock-driven sound. But then metal can’t always be of the mind-bendingly technical or brain-shatteringly heavy variety. This is well worth your time, particularly if you’re in the mood for something that sounds a bit more like mid-period Opeth than Opeth currently do! Not to mention that bizarre and somewhat hypnotic artwork…
4. D.R.I. – Crossover
Despite being really into Municipal Waste during the late 2000s “thrash revival” period in particular, I never really went back to check out D.R.I., who Municipal Waste apparently owe more than a few nods for inspiration, so I was really looking forward to hearing Crossover, which is regarded as one of the band’s best albums. The version on Spotify is the “Millennium Edition” with bonus live tracks, demos, and interviews, so what could be a more all-encompassing introduction to a band than that? I haven’t listened to this thrash/hardcore crossover style for ages (a genre coined from this album title no less), but it was really nostalgic to revisit it, albeit going much further back than Municipal Waste as a reference point. The bonus live stuff has that really energetic and raw sound you’d expect, and even the demos were interesting to a casual listener like myself. Skip the “interviews” at the end if you want to avoid massive cringe, though. “Can you tell me your likes and dislikes?” is not a great opening question…
5. Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere
Agalloch’s most recent album is one of the baffling instances where the record label or the band have chosen to withhold tracks of 10 minutes or more from Spotify, so opening track “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation” and penultimate track “Plateau of the Ages” are “greyed out” and unavailable. Nonetheless, this came up as an album to add to today’s playlist, and I am seeing them for the first time when they come to Glasgow in August, so I listened without these two tracks. It is odd listening to an album knowing that you’ve just missed out on what is no doubt a pretty epic opening track. I was a little surprised to hear more of a Killing Joke-esque post punk sound than I’ve grown to expect from Agalloch, but I will confess to being something of a novice when it comes to their catalogue. The only album I’ve listened to repeatedly has actually been 2010’s Marrow of the Spirit, which I adore, but this one definitely warrants further listening, albeit it doesn’t have the initial “wow” impact that its predecessor did. Would be even better if whoever’s responsible for withholding those two tracks would get their head into the twenty-first century and realise that it’s just putting people off listening to the album on Spotify, instead more likely streaming it on YouTube from an unlicensed upload, or downloading it illegally.
6. Danzig – Danzig II: Lucifuge
If someone tells me they don’t like the Misfits or Danzig, I instantly view them with the same suspicion that they’d get if they told me they didn’t like The Simpsons! Right back when he was at his peak in terms of vocal prowess and songwriting, and with the perfect band behind him, music doesn’t get much better than Lucifuge. I’m not sure whether this is heresy to Danzig fans, but I’ve always preferred it to the first album, and seeing “Blood and Tears” and “Her Black Wings” in his set at Hellfest in 2013 made my summer (not forgetting the 30-minute Misfits set with Doyle, of course). This is definitely a contender for one of my all-time favourite albums – it never seems to get old, no matter how many times I listen to it. Instead of going on an on about how insanely brilliant this album is, I’ll just post this photo from yesterday:
That’s right…Danzig in the studio recording a new album at last! 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth was a step in the right direction after a fairly mediocre and meandering decade of recorded output, so I’m all the more hopeful this new album (scheduled for release in early 2016) carries on in the same vein at least. If it gets anywhere near the quality of those first four classic albums, I think Danzig fans will be happier than they’ve been in a long time.
7. Pentagram – Unspoken
Thanks to some information from Metal Archives, it turns out that this particular Pentagram now go by the name Mezarkabul outside of their native Turkey to avoid confusion with the more well known American cult doom outfit, but these guys are apparently quite a well-known entity in their homeland. Regardless, I found this to be really quite bland quasi-power metal with some Anatolian elements shoehorned into the mix. Interestingly, though, it did pick up as it went along, unusually for most albums that are slow starts like this one. The latter half of the album actually did a good job of lifting it from completely unmemorable to fairly competent.
8. Megadeth – So Far, So Good…So What!
My main memory of this album is that a guy I used to chat to almost daily who worked in Avalanche Records in Glasgow (my favourite hangout between uni and going home) used to go on about how much he hated Megadeth, but that he really liked So Far, So Good…So What! This was when the reissues of the Megadeth Capitol albums were coming out, and I was actually getting into Megadeth quite a bit at that time. After Slayer, I skipped the rest of the so-called Big Four and was getting into Burzum, Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, Mayhem et al., so I ended up going back around this time and discovering that I’d missed out on some absolutely brilliant albums. While I don’t agree with the guy from Avalanche Records that this is the strongest Megadeth album (there are at least two or three I’d likely put ahead of it), it still represents a time before Megadeth just started phoning it in, which seems to be where we’re at now. The opening double hit of “Into the Lungs of Hell” and “Set the World Afire” is also about as good as album openings can get. There’s no denying that this album is certainly overshadowed by its successor, though. Nonetheless, a great way to finish the working day, amidst David Ellefson disregarding talk of a reunion of the Rust in Peace lineup:
MEGADETH in 2015, we can either go back and just recreate past glory days, which would probably sell a lot of tickets and we would probably make a lot of money. But MEGADETH has never been about just going out and making a bunch of money; it has never been about that — ever. So, to us, it’s about creatively the next chapter of our story, and that’s what you get when you go in the studio together — you get to write and create your next chapter. That is where MEGADETH is right now. That really is the page turner right now.
Only problem is, it’s been a number of years since Megadeth made a “next chapter” that anyone really cared about. The last Megadeth album that really did it for me was 2007’s United Abominations, but I think you’d have to go even further back for a host of other fans. I’d gladly settle for some “past glory days” right now. It seemed to do the trick getting Anthrax a bit more back on track.