Staff Picks 2014: James Conway’s Top 5 Disappointments in Metal



When I got the word from my editor that he was planning to publish individual staff lists to finish off the year in suitable retrospective style, I have to admit that my heart sank a tiny bit. Now, while I am an obsessive list writer, carefully ranking everything from my favourite underrated horror films (the merits of Halloween 4, 5 & 6 far outweigh the flaws) to potential holiday destinations based on a seemingly endless list of variables, I felt that yet another top 10 where I enthuse over a set of albums that everyone knows are great, from the writers to the readers would be superfluous.

So instead, in a diabolical attempt to ruin the spirit of Christmas for everyone and a reminder that music writing is at the end of the day just the highly biased opinions of one, quite possibly bitter and twisted individual rather than the role of sycophantic arse-kisser that some labels and fans would prefer, may I present the five albums that have left me cold and unimpressed this year. All attempts have been made to give each album a fair hearing, but considering some of the dreck on display below, it hasn’t always been possible. Merry Christmas!




Burzum – The Ways of Yore (Byelobog Productions)

Where to start with this steaming heap of orc shit? Once again ditching the guitars (not Aryan enough or something) in favour of flimsy, drippy ambient that would have been rejected by the makers of a late 90s RPG for being too nerdy, the latest collection of odes to some completely imaginary European pre-historical past was toothless tripe worthy only of utter scorn. Don’t get me started on those hideous, slurred vocals either.



King 810 – Memoirs of a Murderer (Roadrunner Records)

If you thought that metal had become soft, the preserve of weak-armed bearded hipsters who sing about abstract concepts rather than the tough realities of life on the street, then your prayers were answered by King 810, four swaggering hoods from Flint, Michigan wearing their convictions for assault like badges of honour. Unfortunately, the childish and derivative sub-deathcore served up alongside oh-so predictable macho posturing and woe-is-me lyrics that you hoped had been consigned to the nu-metal dustbin proved again why metal is often viewed as music for the terminally dumb. If you want street-smarts, do yourself a favour and listen to Sick Of It All instead.


babymetal - apollo - 3


Babymetal – Babymetal (BMD Fox Records)

Look, I’m not a joyless curmudgeon. I’ve occasionally laughed at light entertainment. My heart melts when I see a cute animal and I still visit my Grandmother, despite her views on immigration. But there are some cultural phenomenons that bring out my inner Pol Pot and leave me angrier than a French child denied their lunchtime wine. I’ve mentioned the name once (actually twice because the album’s self-titled, eugh!) and that was bad enough. Others may disagree but this was the worst thing to happen to metal, nay music, nay the Local Interstellar Cloud in 2014. Kill it with fire.


In Flames – Siren Charms (Epic Records)

Why you do this to me Anders? Huh? Was it something I said? I stuck by you through thick and thin. When you flirted with nu-metal eleven years ago I brushed it off as teenage experimentation. When you collaborated with artists of dubious merit I thought it was just a cry for help. I even forgave you wearing that ridiculous shirt and tie get-up. But this was beyond the pale. Do you even want to be in a metal band anymore? Where were the riffs? Where was the power, the bite, the passion? ‘Monsters in the Ballroom?’ Dollar signs in your eyes more like. I’m sorry Anders but it’s over. We have irreconcilable differences and I’m giving up on you and this whole, sloppy mess forever.


Arch Enemy – War Eternal (Century Media Records)

Humans are strange creatures. We blow each other up because we can’t decide which imaginary friend to believe in. We wilfully inhale poisonous smoke into our lungs on a daily basis. We watch The Big Bang Theory en masse; meaning new episodes of it get produced and shown on national television. In the case of Michael Amott, we decide not to record a new album with Carcass, but opt to return to making über-generic melodeath that promises so much yet delivers so little. How a recording like War Eternal, which has so much going on, which presses so many of the right metal buttons manages to stay so utterly dull and unlikable is a mystery which will surely puzzle our most learned scribes for decades to come. Oh and a word to the new vocalist; blue hair doesn’t make you rebellious, it just makes you look silly.



Behind The Veil – Wolves In The Throne Room on Nature

WITTR Band shot - Copy

Since their inception, Wolves In The Throne Room has made black metal music concerned with the natural world. The band has in the past referred to this as a primal, spiritual aspect to your music. In Part II of Richie H-R’s interview with Aaron Weaver, we learn what this means to him and his brother Nathan:


Our music deals with the unseen world – the world behind the veil. I think all music does to a degree, but we do so very explicitly. It’s on the top of our minds when we make music, and of course that realm doesn’t have the same concepts and ideas and tropes and limitations that the regular world, the everyday world, does.”

To what extent is this “unseen world” an allegory, and what to extent is it objective truth?

Well, it’s both. We’re modern people. Of course we can’t deny the reality of the scientific method, and we can’t deny the reality of the laws of physics; this is how the world works, this is the lens we have to look through. But for us as individuals, we also see another reality. We also see a world of energies, entities and spirits that’s just beyond. Shift your consciousness a little bit and this whole other vista opens up, this whole expanse. Think about an experience like… a lot of people today are experimenting with Ayahuaska, the South-American psychedelic brew. When people have these experiences they encounter entities, spirits and forces that feel very much outside themselves and it creates a really powerful ontological question – are there entities, are there spirits out there that have their own existence, their own agenda, or are these things just projections of our own psyches, things that are inside of ourselves, and we’re just looking inside at aspects of our consciousness projected? The answer is both. Or, perhaps more accurately, it doesn’t matter. Trying to pin it down, trying to say it is this or it is that, that’s not a useful stance for me. The important thing to me is experience, whether it’s a musical experience or going out and having an experience in the forest, living life, just being with it and taking it for what it is, letting it take you where it will.”


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Wolves Unlike Us – Aaron Weaver of Wolves In The Throne Room

Wolves in The Throne Room new album cover - Copy


American Black Metallers Wolves In The Throne Room have always been a band with a far greater commitment to atmospherics and ambiance than their peers, but with fifth album Celestite (Southern Lord) they’ve left Metal behind to fully embrace Electronic ambiance. Aaron Weaver, one half of the core duo, spoke to Ghost Cult about spirituality, striving for perfection and how they’re not ready to turn their back on Metal.


Celestite represents a significant change from your previous work, in that the Metal elements have been left behind. Do you consider this an abrupt change or a gradual one, and would you say that your musical direction has altered?

Musically, the finished result feels very congruent with what we’ve done before and clearly exists in the same universe. It has the same energy to it, the same spirit to it. When I listen to it, I experience the music as a landscape, a soundscape, to move through, and it feels just like a Wolves In The Throne Room record, like everything we’ve done before. Making it was very different, though. The aim of the record was to put us in a different musical position, to take the aspects of song-writing and record-making that we were comfortable with, the instruments, guitars, drums, vocals, song structure, methods of writing songs, to take all those things off the table and force ourselves into a recording process that was very alien to us.”


How much of a challenge was it to express yourself musically without those familiar structures, to write music closer to the paradigm of Dark Ambient than Metal?

Yeah, we didn’t have verse, chorus, bridge, all that kind of stuff. Our Heavy Metal song structures are pretty abstract, pretty sprawling, but we still think about it in terms of a song. With this album we didn’t have that so much. But there is a structure, there is movement from beginning to end, which is different to a lot of Dark Ambient music. A lot of Dark Ambient music, or Ambient music in general, just delivers the listener into an open space that might mutate, might transform, might pulsate, but it doesn’t move – literally – from one place to the next, there’s not a beginning and an end necessarily. On Celestite we do have that, there is a sort of narrative flow throughout the songs and throughout the whole album rather than just having an expanse of sound like you would on a true ambient record.”


You’ve previously referenced Tangerine Dream as an influence – would you associate the music on Celestite more with Kraut Rock, then, than with Dark Ambient?

Kraut Rock was a big influence on this album just in terms of the equipment we used, equipment from the 70s and 80s rather than the more digital stuff that you’d hear on Dark Ambient records. There are elements of Kraut Rock, or Dark Ambient music, but also more straight-forward Electronic music. I mean, the harsh, blighted soundscapes in Jeff Mills’ music, Detroit techno music, that’s a big influence on this album, and it always has been. We’ve always been influenced by electronic music, that method of creating soundscapes has always been a thread that’s run in the background of our music, but on this album it’s more to the front.”


wolves-in-the-throne-room band 2014


You are not the first Black Metal band to walk the path into more Ambient and Electronic territories. Do you feel any kinship with groups like Ulver that have gone before you?

Yes and no. I mean, there are a few good examples from Norwegian Black Metal. Burzum, of course, was infamous for that, though perhaps under duress as he didn’t have his normal instruments available to him in prison and had to crank out a Neo-Folk ambient record. Fenriz too, he had his Dark Ambient band in the 90’s, but honestly it wasn’t something that was a big influence to us. It’s something that we were aware of and it’s going to be a comparison on this album because we’re an ostensibly BM band who’ve done an ostensibly ambient or electronic album, but that’s not where our heads are at. We’re very much in our own trippy little universe.”


In previous interviews you’ve expressed a changing relationship with the term Black Metal – initially embracing it, then slowly distancing yourself from it. How relevant do you think that term is to you now?

I feel less and less connection to it, honestly, and I feel that’s purely a function of developing as a musician, developing as a person and as WITTR develops. It’s just very natural that when you’re just starting out, and this is very true for all bands, you’re a sum of your influences and you’re consciously trying to emulate the music and the art that has been inspirational to you. It’s just a natural thing that as time goes on labels and definitions cease to have as much meaning and you do your own thing. I think a band like Neurosis is a good example. They aren’t Punk, they aren’t Crust, they aren’t Doom, they’re just Neurosis and there’s nothing else like them. And though I’m loathe to put myself in that category of a band who are as important and magnificent as Neurosis, I think that’s true for us. There are not a lot of bands that sound like WITTR, or have a similar approach that we do. We’ve carved out a very unique niche for ourselves.”


Interesting that you should mention Neurosis as, having taking their sounds to an extreme position with ‘The Eye Of Every Storm’, they then seemed to go back on themselves, returning to the heavy riffs and dramatic song-writing of previous albums. Can you imagine yourselves going back to Metal?

Definitely. That’s been the intention the whole time. If we do another album in the future, we’ll definitely reincorporate guitars, drums and Nathan’s harsh vocals, because that’s really what the band is. Celestite was a necessary experiment. A way of tapping into some new energies to challenge ourselves, to challenge what WITTR can be. But if we do music in the future, we feel very compelled to reincorporate guitars and drums. Of course it won’t be like our first album – it can’t be, we’ve grown and we’re at a new point in our lives – but it’s an idea that’s exciting to me, to bring guitars, drums and the Metal elements back into our music. We’re about creating a space, a sonic space to journey in, to get lost in, and Metal is just a means to an end really. That’s so important to us, to use our music to create the opportunity for the listener to go into a different world, enter a different consciousness – that’s really what this is all about to us.”


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