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Editor’s Choice March 2017

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Do you believe in love at first sight? What about first listen?

My favorite album is Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I first heard it when I was just about to be a teenager. I don’t see anything toppling it from its pedestal and maybe nothing will. When researching for a write up on last week’s Life of Agony premiere, I dug up a huge cross-section of articles explaining the stranglehold that music from our teenagers has on our brain, some more scientific, some less. These pieces of literature all agree that the human brain is in a sense primed to receive music between the ages of about 12 to 22.

In my life that window coincided with what people may remember as the golden age of music piracy, roughly between the time the RIAA sued Napster in 1999 and The Pirate Bay trial in 2009. One legal proceeding made music piracy a global, normal idea. The other began the process of dismantling torrent networks so that piracy was no longer the single easiest way to acquire music. Spotify’s U.S. launch in 2011 finished that process. These are general signposts, not definitive starting guns and finish lines, but they coincide very closely with the time I began high school and finished undergraduate college.

Why am I imposing myself onto this sort-of rough recent history lesson? For two reasons. First, because most of the 20 somethings working in the music industry now, as bands, lower level employees, PR reps and grunts, probably rode into the industry on that same wave of free music culture, and so the experience of living in the thick of Bittorrent and its ilk may have a big impact on the way people booking shows and signing bands think of music. Second, because in that time frame I adopted a quirk which, I think, illustrates a facet of the way we, as metalheads, imagine the bodies of an artist’s work.

For most of that time, I listened to discographies backward.

I’ve been doing things backward since childhood. In school, I would read the last chapters of my textbooks first and then work backward. In catechism as a young Catholic, I read the bible backward. I already knew how the bible started. “Let there be light” bored me to tears. As it turns out, opening your understanding of Christianity with the book of Revelations will make most of the rest of the text similarly boring. Schooling mostly consisted of a book, which contained the whole of the information I was expected to know, and an accompanying lecture which contained basically the same information. By knowing where the lecture was going by the end, I could read whatever I wanted in class at my own pace and still answer questions correctly. At least that was the idea. It didn’t always work in practice, but it got me through catechism and junior high.

Not long after that, I got into Metallica and absorbed Master of Puppets early on, which left the rest of their discography sort-of disappointing with the exception of Load, which I purchased in the middle of their acclaimed 80’s albums. Load was so unlike the other material that it was still exciting, but if I had heard The Black Album first, I imagined that I would not have appreciated it. After all, the Amazon reviews page tore it to shreds.

As a result, when I would download a discography, I tended to listen to the newest album first, and then work my way back to the earliest. My first Amorphis album was Skyforger. My last Opeth album was Orchid until Watershed was released. I fully digested South of Heaven before I heard Reign in Blood (this many explain some of why it sounds so boring to me).

I suspect this is why some of my favorite records come in the middle of a band’s discography (Domination) while their early fan favorites can leave me a little bored (Altars of Madness). I have no proof, of course, but this train of thought did lead me to begin working on another data project involving average review scores, which will hopefully be out there soon.

At my most cynical, I think about the relative degrees to which masses of people revere a single work of art, metal album or otherwise, and wonder if all that reverence isn’t mostly fueled by nostalgia and memory, and shaped by the mechanisms through which we experience music, not the compositions themselves.

The current era of free streaming replacing torrents might be over soon too. Spotify just inked a deal with Universal that will keep that label’s new releases exclusively available to paying users for a window of time. The next generation of metalheads will be influenced not just by what they listened to when they were most sensitive to music, but how they listened to it. How will the Free Spotify era define them?

Questions without answers, for the moment. In the meantime. Music?

Speaking of nostalgia. I love you but I prefer Sunlight Studios in 1991, and so do The Netherlands’ Entrapment, who do that most sacred of buzzsaw tones the justice it deserves. Most bands like this are content to ground and pound, but the riffs on Through Realms Unseen often carry strong melodies. Someone smuggle them over the border and into my living room, please.

When Chicago’s War Gods of the Deep emailed me, they listed Metallica and Kiss as their influences. These are high hurdles to clear, pretty much insurmountable for most. The three songs on Monsters, Magic & Mayhem go for deep early 90’s metal grooves, but marry them to the king of high Beatles-inspired harmonies that Paul Stanley was so fond of. The bones are bare, but their marrow tastes sweet.

I very much enjoyed Hello Black Hole, the post-Beastmilk project by that band’s guitarist Goatspeed Snell, but judging by the comment threads here and on Facebook, IO readers wanted a little more from that band vocally. Maybe Lock Howl will scratch that itch. The solo project of James McBain, the band evokes similar vicious and reverb-soaked lo fi post punk. McBain’s voice jumps between Peter Steele crooning and vicious black metal shrieks, much to his project’s benefit.

Continuing the goth vein, Madison WI’s V A N I S H I N G K I D S, whose name I will never type ever again, also sound like they keep one stick of black lipstick in the dashboard just in case of a party. As one might expect from a band featuring ex members of Jex Thoth, there’s more than a little 60’s psychedelia in their guitar work. Goth rock always had a hard on for Haight Ashbury, after all. The crisp synthesizers and super-steady drumming, though, come as surprises. Imagine if King Woman had Trent Reznor produce one of their albums.

Enough slow shit. We need speed. We need adrenaline. For that, we must consult Glasgow’s Man Must Die. This sort of precise and slightly melodic brutal death metal always hits the spot (must be all that Carcass nostalgia) but Man Must Die in particular have a great grasp of the genre, though their peers in aborted and Benighted achieve greater visibility. If you’ve ever blasted “Kill It Skin It Wear It”, please do yourself the favor. Their latest track, “Silent Authority” eschews some of their earlier freneticism in favor of more melody and never quite whips itself into a froth, but still has me excited for their as-yet untitled upcoming album.

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As a second, more extreme example of that style, Emeth will do. The Belgian outfit sweep-picks the style toward a more frenetic extreme than some of their peers on Aethyr. Comparisons to Aborted seem inescapable, not in the least because founding guitarist Matty Dupont played with that band for a year, but his earliest recordings were with insane and storied grind outfit Agathocles. Some of that band’s brief attention span can be seen on Aethyr as well.

Emeth share a label with Slovenia’s Eruption, who are about to drop one of the best thrash albums of the year. That may sound like faint praise, but there’s nothing tired or hackneyed about Cloaks of Oblivion, which takes the technical sonic palate of Megadeth’s seminal Rust in Peace, and roughs it up a little crossover in the same arena as Cyclone Temple. The songs could be shorter, but otherwise it’s a triumph.

Last, not enough credit goes to Finland’s Tuomas Saukkonen, who for the better part of a decade has been a prolific and consistent songwriter. Neither of those things are good talking points. Consistency leaves no room for the peaks and valleys of a press narrative, and prolific releases means it’s hard for anyone to digest them all, especially when those songs were spread out between bands like Before the Dawn and Black Sun Aeon. Saukkonen has more focus now. He’s disbanded all of his projects except Wolfheart, a band I’ve been meaning to cover on this site for years but just never quite found the space to do so. I never find the space because there’s not much to observe in his work besides it’s quality. No other songwriter in melodic death metal is so consistent. I can listen to any of his records and just enjoy them. I can’t honestly say that about anyone else except Nile and Bolt Thrower. Wolfheart doesn’t have the legacy of those bands, but it’s not a huge stretch to say that Tyhjyys is maybe the best example of the subgenre it resides in since maybe Surgical Steel

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