This has been the scenario for thousands of shows I have seen. Maybe 6,000 plus shows that I have attended or performed in since I was a small child. The final bow, thunderous applause, and the blinding lights of the house coming on, our shared experience ending as we gather ourselves to go to the bar, or home. Except this was different. This was the last time I would ever see Slayer. It was definitely hitting me, long before the final notes of ‘Angel of Death’ rang out and the final jets of pyro screamed across the top of the band in a way that would excite Beavis and Butthead to no end. Continue reading →
Getting close! The Very Best of the The Very Best of 2014 as brought to you by Ghost Cult. Coming up are albums ranked 5, 4, 3, 2 in the Official Ghost Cult Albums of the Year… You’ll have to wait just a little longer for the unveiling of our number one!
5. SóLSTAFIR – Ótta (Season of Mist)
Shaking off any last vestige of Black Metal from their sound, Sólstafir somehow managed to take 2011’s incredible Svartir Sandar and improve on it. Vocalist Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason has stepped up to join the rest of the band at the level they’d previously set and, with elements of Wild West flirting in and out of their gorgeous Sigur Ros flecked post-rock, Ótta is simply a wondrous album. Taking beautiful emotive post-metal, folk, goth and intelligent indie-rock and telling the story of the changing moods and emotions of the different phases of the day, Sólstafir take their place as one of the modern day leaders of great music.
“Ótta, the latest album from Icelandic musical vagabonds Sólstafir is one of the most uncompromising and challenging records that you are likely to hear this year; it is also one of the most compelling. it sounds uniquely Sólstafir and Sólstafir don’t sound like anything else you have heard. Admittedly, you might be able to detect echoes of other bands, of other singers but not delivered with this verve, guile and eccentric charm. Second, Ótta is an aural experience like no other: this is an immersive, emotional and evocative album, multi-layered, nuanced and brimming with pulsating and invigorating ideas; it is music for the head as much as the heart.”
The biggest band in our realm of Metal were up against it. The tragic loss of Paul Gray, the personal decision to part ways with key songwriter and distinctive drummer Joey Jordison, and a scene that had picked the carcass to the bone of everything Slipknot had left them in terms of influence and had moved on in their absence. Yet the Iowa giants didn’t just come back strong, they smashed it out the park with their strongest release since the seminal Iowa. Diverse yet unmistakeably Slipknot at every turn, The Gray Chapter paid tribute to their departed brother in a style he would only have been proud of.
“.5: The Gray Chapter is an album of some significance, a statement of intent, a mountain-strong collection of hate-anthems to stand with Slipknot’s best. All Killer, No Filler, And then some. .5 punches hard, deep and long, undeniably their most consistent album since 2001’s Iowa. The Slipknot sound has long been established, their influence is inherent, but what .5: The Gray Chapter achieves is unity – a pulling together of all the relevant bits of Slipknot into one tribute to their past, and to those that passed. Nine may have become seven, but if you’re five five five, then they’re (still) six six six. As I said before, .5: The Gray Chapter is an album of some significance.”
3. MACHINE HEAD – Bloodstones & Diamonds (Nuclear Blast)
There’s something about Machine Head that it seems like every time every time they come to a new album, they have to prove themselves all over again. And every time they unequivocally deliver. From the moment Through The Ashes Of Empires repaired the damage of the misguided and substandard Supercharger, through The Blackening (all Roadrunner), perhaps the mainstream metal album of this century, this has been a decade long comeback of sensationally high quality, as a post-Adam Duce revitalized fighting machine led by The General, Robb Flynn laying down a marker. Machine Head bring the thrash, the groove, the blood, the sweat, the tears and above all, the songs.
“All the elements the band has been working with for most of the last ten years, as well as their classic sounds are all intact, with a few new twists and turns. Tons of grooves, chill-inducing dynamic shifts, and of course, those head-nodding riffs galore are heard. Many bands have started out hot and fizzled out badly or had trouble staying relevant over time. Machine Head is perhaps the greatest American metal band right now, because they have a sense of purpose about their writing that above all makes you care what they are saying lyrically, and where they can take you musically.”
A theme of a number of the Ghost Cult Top 50 albums of the year is that of refinement on past excellence. Of a standard and a sound being set by a predecessor before the perfecting of the modus operandi in 2014, and it’s an approach that applies to Mastodon. The Hunter was a great album, a simplifying and a commercializing of the trademark quirk, groove and buffeting the ‘don had unleashed previously. Once More ‘Round The Sun takes The Hunter’s approach, and improves on it. For ‘Curl of the Burl’, read ‘The Motherload’, as anthem after anthem is spat out by the Atlanta quartet who, with this album, defiantly prove they belong at the top.
“When the band said earlier in the year that this album was a continuation of 2012’s The Hunter, they weren’t kidding and there are a ton of catchy prog and stoner grooves on this album to satisfy. The evolution that Mastodon began almost fifteen years ago, continues in 2014 as they prepare to drop their newest album. Along the way there have been few easy roads taken, and any battles won were well-earned on their climb to success. Certainly no one who started out with the band in their early days would have predicted where they would be today as a major international headliner, but this is where they are. As the band has grown they have picked up some new fans along the way who seemed to click with the newer, psychedelic rock vibes of their last few albums. If you have followed their entire oeuvre from the start and stayed, or came in as of late, this album has your name all over it.”
The countdown to the Official Ghost Cult Magazine Album of the Year for 2014 continues. Please consume and enjoy the results of our 2014 Writers’ Poll. We hope it will introduce you to some of the incredible works of art you may have missed that we have had the immense pleasure of listening to and writing about this year.
In our third installment we bring you albums 30 through to 21
30. CASUALTIES OF COOL – Casualties Of Cool (Pledge/HevyDevy)
“Casualties of Cool is an intriguing experiment from a man who excels in making left-field music. Go in expecting massive a prog-metal exercise will only lead to disappointment, but having an open mind will result in a rewarding experience” DAN SWINHOE 8/10 Full review here
29. ANATHEMA – Distant Satellites (KScope)
“One of our world’s most understated bands, despite the plaudits they get, Anathema have once again showcased their knack for penning both forward thinking and emotionally driven music which oozes real human character and sentimentality”. CHRIS TIPPELL 9/10 Full review here
28. DOWN – IV (Part II) (Down Records)
“When we look back on this part of their career, we will likely understand that these are less like regular EPs that other bands release, and much more like a mini-opus, in pieces. Down clearly realizes their collective vision, no matter who is in the lineup, every time”. KEITH ‘KEEFY’ CHACHKES 9.5/10 Full review here
27. VALLENFYRE – Splinters (Century Media)
“Sadistic and aggressive with endless moments of bleak reflection Splinters is a leviathan unleashed upon unsuspecting listeners and a release surely destined to grace many year end lists” ROSS BAKER 9/10 Full review here
26. AGALLOCH – “The Serpent and the Sphere” (Profound Lore)
Like a massive-antlered stag glimpsed amidst a wintry landscape, breathtaking, elusive and hard to pin down, The Serpent and the Sphere looks set to continue their elegant and ever-evolving legacy JAMES CONWAY 9/10 Full review here
25. THOU – Heathen (Gilead Media)
“A storm manifest as a piece of music, as devastating as it is awe-inspiring, Heathen is varied and compelling for the entire runtime”. TOM SAUNDERS 9/10 Full review here
24. septicflesh – Titan (Season of Mist)
“Sharp, buzzing riffs and symphonic keys, strength and brutality amongst moments of pomp and beauty, bloody entertaining and another show of form” PAUL QUINN 8.5/10 Full review here
23. PYRRHON – The Mother of Virtues (Relapse)
“The Mother Of Virtues doesn’t just challenge what is “extreme”, but calls into question whether some of what is produced is actually even music. Completely and utterly impenetrable, and exceptional with it”. STEVE TOVEY 9.5/10 Full review here
The countdown to the Official Ghost Cult Magazine Album of the Year for 2014 continues. Please consume and enjoy the results of our 2014 Writers’ Poll. We hope it will introduce you to some of the incredible works of art you may have missed that we have had the immense pleasure of listening to and writing about this year.
In our second installment we bring you albums 40 through to 31
40. JOB FOR A COWBOY – Sun Eater (Metal Blade)
“Evolution from deathcore to a more compact, yet technical, death metal… complex and melodic structures accompany a diversified approach” DIOGO FERREIRA 7/10 Full review here
39. AGELESS OBLIVION – Pethos (Siege of Amida / Century Media)
Marrying both technical and atmospheric forms of Death Metal, Ageless Oblivion create their own brand of chilling yet punishing aggression, presented in a show of impressive progression.
38. KILLER BE KILLED – Killer Be Killed (Nuclear Blast)
“Cavalera, Puciato, Sanders, and Elitch put their stamp on this recording, making a memorable, political-flavored, heavy album that certainly lives up to the hype” KEITH ‘KEEFY’ CHACHKES 8.5/10 Full review here
37. AEVANGELIST – Writhes In The Murk (Debemur Morti)
“If you’re able to get past the initial disorientation and look inside, you’ll find an album that follows its own perverse ambition flawlessly, with not a shred of compromise, dilution or failure” RICHIE HR 10/10 Full review here
36. FEN – Carrion Skies (Code666)
“Fen are the rawer, rockier, more achingly human cousin to Tombs’ Neurosis-driven thunder, and among the richest and most emotionally expressive Metal albums of 2014” RICHIE HR 9/10 Full review here
35. JUDAS PRIEST – Redeemer of Souls (Epic/Columbia)
“Judas Priest has released a retrospective that nods to their career, recalling everything that has made them genuine legends of our metal world, Redeemer Of Souls has a beautifully warm and classic Priest feel”. STEVE TOVEY 8.5/10 Full review here
34. COFFINWORM – IV.I.VIII (Profound Lore)
The phrase “Doom” doesn’t do justice to the ugly, polluted, measured sludgy bludgeon of IV.I.VIII; a beautifully horrible record of nihilistic malevolence, that dissolves doom, death, black and sludge in its fetid path.
33. TRAP THEM – Blissfucker (Prosthetic)
“My advice? If you have never listened to Trap Them, get on this bandwagon before these guys run you over with it”. TIM LEDIN 8/10 Full review here
32. YOUNG AND IN THE WAY – When Life Comes To Death (Deathwish Inc)
The hardest of hardcore punk fused with the blackest of Darkthrone’s black metal offspring, creating a crusty hell in aural format.
31. AGAINST ME! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble)
The gutsy pop-punk outfit release a cathartic biographical concept album of frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s experiences for their sixth album.
Goatwhore conjures a musical sound to mind the minute read their name or say it aloud. You know what it stands for, before the words roll off of your tongue. Few modern bands have the grit and the greatness to remain consistently heavy in the face of rising popularity. They are in many ways the Motörhead of their musical generation: without compromise and weakness…. a band that can do no wrong for fans across all of metals fiefdoms and cliques. Certainly there are no Goatwhore haters, only people unaware of them, yet. Maintaining the balance of their message and the quality of their songcraft is the likely secret to their success, beyond some sacred pact with dark forces. Every album is different from the last, yet they never went soft or sold out like some others have. On Constricting Rage of the Merciless (Metal Blade),their sixth album in their 16-year career, Goatwhore rolls up their spiked-sleeves and smashes you in the mouth once again. And you will love it!
Where 2012’s Blood for the Master was a little more nuanced and throwback focused, Constricting Rage of the Merciless kicks you with jackbooted foot and maintains the savagery all the way through. The new album has more than a pointed step towards their blackened death metal history, but also carries with it the continued evolution of the sound of recent releases. Opening track ‘Poisonous Existence in Reawakening’ will crush your ear holes with extreme prejudice. Unrelenting blastbeats, deathly sick riffs and the masterful vocals of Rev. L. Ben Falgoust III will make you smile, unless you are dead. In typical fashion for this act, most of the tracks are tight, average under four-minutes each, and have zero B.S. about them. The majestically brutal ‘Unraveling Paradise’ has no less than four different riffs in the song, all of them amazing. Sammy Duet doesn’t rely as much on thrashy pedaling this time around, coming up with some inventive licks and whirling motifs, all that would shame some of the best tech death bands by the way.
As was the case on the last album, drummer Zack Simmons demolishes expectations and his kit on every song, inspiring much headbanging and fist-banging. If you have seen the band live, you know Zack is a machine who plays equally well on wax. Tracks such as ‘Baring Teeth for Revolt’ and ‘Reanimated Sacrifice’ are a drum fanatics wet dream. ‘Reanimated…’ as on several tracks herein, sees Rev. Ben switch up his style and make use of different parts of his register vocally. Impressive stuff. Also chipping in with a great chopping riff and a slick, short solo is Duet once again, who continues to enthrall listeners year after year.
The bleak and harsh ‘Heaven’s Crumbling Walls of Pity’ flexes the bands black metal muscles again, with a little extra something grim on top. It’s almost like a proggy black metal song you might expect from Ihsahn’s solo work. The ending stanzas are full of cool chords and grooving beats. ‘Cold Earth In Dying Flesh’ is another in a litany of standout, mid-album cuts. It has an eerie intro to set the mood. Not unlike a horror movie soundtrack theme, this slow to simmer beast machine of a song is a great change of pace. Falgoust again just bellows with some of the best vocals he’s ever done. It’s also the longest track on the album; not an epic in length, but with high quality grooves more associated with their other swampy NOLA brethren. When it finally launches into breakneck death thrash territory mid-song, it takes the track to another level without losing the story.
‘FBS’ was first played live on the Behemoth tour this spring and is a typical, circle-pit inducing song if there is one on this album. Full of rawness, with two more sweet solos from Sammy. It’s almost punk without being punk, or punk without too much crust. ‘Nocturnal Conjuration of the Accursed’ continues the trend of heady lyrics, and heavy on the evil sounds that is the bands trademark. There is even a little classic metal fun of galloping riffs and thematic soloing. ‘Schadenfreude’ is another gruesome masterpiece. Black metal, death metal and thrash all come together, but in a sensible way you could almost call it American Blackened Thrash. As a style, this would be a worthy counterpart to the Death `n Roll of Scandinavian bands, but much, much more brutal. ‘Schadenfreude’ is also a lyrical masterpiece, with the title defined as enjoying the suffering of others, in this case those whom most deserve it. The album closes with the fitting ‘Externalize this Hidden Savagery’ and sums up the entire album’s intent quite well before its final notes ring out.
Goatwhore has made an album nearly worthy of the best work of their career, even though it’s on the short side at under 40 minutes. I doubt you will find a more righteously hostile, fun, and well made album from another heavy band in 2014.
Since 1995 Down has been the leading lights of metal. When the super-group released their debut NOLA (Elektra) it was an amalgam of the best of the best members of Southern influenced metal. Despite the great names among their ranks, they were almost an underground band, with little fanfare, that did a few short tours and then little else, at first. However, their fanbase grew over time, almost willing the band into full-time existence. Ever since 2001, the band has been regularly putting out fine releases, and passing on the torch to a new generation of other bands. With the release of the throwback feeling Down IV- Part II (Down Records) the band continues to cement their legend. Senior Editor Keith Chachkes chatted with the ever humble Jimmy Bower (EyeHateGod) about the evolution of the group.
We started off our chat with Jimmy by immediately addressing the departure of founding member Kirk Windstein from the group last fall. Whenever Down has lost a member in the past, it seemed to always be from within the Down extended family, and this has held true with Bobby Landgraf being chosen as the new guitarist:
“Kirk left the band last year. He wanted to concentrate on Crowbar full time. So on this EP, we introduced Bobby. He was our stage manager for five years. It was really cool and made sense to get Bobby into the band. The first Down EP had a couple of songs left over from our other records. This EP was all new stuff. This was one of the smoothest records we have ever made. Like you touched on, it kind of gets back to the basics of Down.”
“If you really think about it, you have to spend 24 hours a day with this person. You have to have the same influences. You have to know Down well enough, to know how to write a song with us. With Bobby, he’s been our stage manager for five years. He understands the Down sound and how we work. He is like family. He is family. We really like and respect his guitar style. He comes from the band Honky, which is really like a ZZ Top-style, Texas rock band that we dig. Like I said, you have to be able to live with this person. It was a really easy decision for us.”
Since this series of releases has been in the works for quite some time, we asked Bower if there were going to be any leftover songs from the Kirk era on future releases.
“Kirk wanted to do Crowbar full-time. We completely respected that. But the cool thing about this EP as well, is all these songs are brand new. I don’t think any old riffs of Kirk’s or anything like that are going to be used or anything, just out of respect. Because he might want to use some of those riffs in Crowbar someday. Besides, riffs are too easy to write! (Laughs)”
Although some eyebrows were raised at the time two years ago, the decision by the band to release a series of shorter releases instead of just a couple of full-length albums has proved to be an inspired choice. Jimmy went into detail about the concept, and how it evolved once Landgraf came into the fold.
“The whole idea behind the EPs was that each EP should reflect a different style and sound that Down does. We’ve got heavy stuff, mellow stuff, trippy stuff. Since Kirk left the band, we decided on this EP to just write a record with Bobby, you know? Just to have a fresh start. I’m sure the next EP will definitely reflect a different style. For this one, it just made sense with Bobby just getting in the band, you know, “let’s just write a good Down EP”. All the songs are brand new. It was one of the easiest records Down has ever made. All the riffs are brand new. Bobby came in with some riffs, everybody wrote riffs for this one and contributed. It’s great and it feels like a fresh start.
Several members of the band have long floated the notion that they band would make a mellow, acoustic album at some point in the future. Will this come to fruition soon? Bower reveals this as the possible direction for the next EP:
“It will be more reflective of songs like ‘Jail’ on Nola and, like Down II. You know, Down II was really kind of an experimental record for us with a bunch of different styles. We’ve already started talking about that actually, and everything like that. That was the whole point of these EPs, to represent all the different styles of the band. We are back on track with that.”
Down is currently out on the Revolver Golden Gods Tour with Black Label Society, Devil You Know, and Butcher Babies. We asked about the challenges of not being the headline band for a change:
“We are going out with Black Label. The only mis-fortunate thing about that tour is, we are only getting an opening slot. So I don’t think we are getting more than an hour. With that said, the plan is to definitely play songs off the new EP on the tour. At least three of `em. We’ve been practicing, and we’ve got three and have `em down pretty good. We’re just looking forward to people hearing the new stuff too. We’re really excited about it man. Again, the new material sounds really fresh to us, so of course we will be playing some of it live.”
2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the NOLA album, and almost 25 years since the band was formed. Jimmy mused about the spark of friendship that helped created the band, and what his feelings are today about the group:
I remember when Down first got together, I thought the idea was amazing. We were all friends and it was a very influential time. We’d always hang out and listen to anything from Soundgarden to Sabbath to (Saint) Vitus or Witchfinder (General). It felt good for us as friends to get together. We’d all hang out, get drunk and listen to Vitus, Sabbath or whatever. It just made sense that Down was created. I am just honored to still be in it. We always told ourselves when we started Down, that this was the kind of band we could all grow old in and jam. I say this all the time that Down is really one of the biggest opportunities I’ve ever had as a musician, and it’s just a really cool thing to be involved in. And for it to still be going on, like you said, next year will be 20 years. It makes me feel old, man! (laughs)
“We haven’t been doing any interviews, so it’s a miracle it’s been getting out there at all. Europe seems to be latching on to this record, so that is good.”
These are the first words Stavros Giannoplous said to me concerning the just released final album from bleak black metal super-group Twilight, III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb (Century Media). In addition to Stavros, the group is made up of underground metal luminaries like Wrest (Jeff Whitehead, of Leviathan, Lurker Of Chalice) Imperial (Neill Jameson) (Krieg, N.I.L.) and Sanford Parker (Corrections House, Minsk, Nachtmystium, Buried At Sea) and alt-rock legend Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth, Chelsea Light Moving). Steve was on tour with his main band, The Atlas Moth, but took time to chat with Ghost Cult back stage at The Sinclair, in Cambridge MA. He talked about the difficulty in finishing the album, some drama going on in the band, the idea of a whether a super-group can really work in this day and age, and working with Thurston Moore.
Right off the bat, he first touched on why Twilight is ending:
“The reason this is the final record is with all the negative shit that’s going down with Blake (Judd), I think it’s just best. Me and Jeff, Sanford and Neill are all really close friends. I have seen everyone, all but Jeff on this tour and we wanted to continue to make music. But at this point we are just mired in bullshit. Also before we started this band, before I even became involved with it there were no movies with sparkly vampires (laughs). Shit’s changed and it’s for the best. I was in Philadelphia just 48 hours ago and we were talking about doing something else eventually, so there is always a door open to work with Neill, Jeff, and Sanford again, just not under this name. We definitely won’t call it Twilight. I wouldn’t say its the total end of the band, but the end of this chapter with this band. We we very adamant about cutting the ties. Especially since Blake isn’t even on this last record.
Pulling no punches, Stavros gave us an inside view of the events leading up to Blake’s departure from the group and the aftermath of trying to finish the record without him:
He brought in a couple of songs, but once everything went down, that was it. It was two songs and they made up a very short amount of the record. We were just, not wanting to deal with this anymore. He had pulled some really backhanded shit, and I won’t go into the details. The songs he brought in, we got rid of them and made it known that this was it. He’s got problems. Unfortunately at some point or another when you end up in a scenario when you are constantly getting shit on, whether it’s on purpose or not, or just happenstance, it doesn’t matter that someone is just fucked up. At some point or another, no matter how much you care about a person, you can’t deal with them business wise. When I met Blake, he was not as nearly as fucked up as he is now. People change that way. I absolutely wish him the best, and good luck to him.
We mused about the notion that by nature super-groups are not really meant to last. Stavros argued that it depends on the collection of artists in question:
“Look at even Down, right? That band put out one of the best fucking records I have ever heard in my entire life to this fucking day, and what did it take, 7-8 years before they ever put out another record. It was a while. It kind of all depends on the timing, I guess. With this particular group, there isn’t a live presence to our band, nor will there never will be. So I just can’t see it being in the forefront in out minds. See Imperial does stuff all the time. Sanford does production all day long, and also he has Corrections House now, which is almost like a full time band now. This is something like the flip side with a so called super-group where Corrections House can work. That is one of those things for instance for Bruce, where Yakuza and Bloodiest don’t work all the time. Sanford doesn’t have a full-time band. And both EyeHateGod and Neurosis tour limitedly. So these guys, that is the other side of coin of the super-group story. Like “Oh! Something like this works, because we had some free time.” Or we happen to have some free time. So for Twilight, particularly for our group, inevitably it would get longer between records, or maybe even never have another one. You never know.”
Since most of the remaining members of the group live far from each other in some cases, we asked about the creative process and how the tracking was all done: “Jeff was living in Chicago at the time, so he and I wrote the bulk of the record together. Actually all the guitar riffs that weren’t Thurston’s, were written by me and Jeff. And you know…we just added on top of it and added on top of it, and added on top of it. It’s much different than a band that is just in one studio. Thurston came in and did his parts. We could do all kinds of looping and other crazy shit. All of the sudden someone is banging on a jug of water, which is cool. The two records that we did together, we just settled into a certain vibe. That is just how it works. That is how we write music for that band. It kind of showed. The song structures definitely vary throughout any of the Twilight records, and we were pretty loose form wise, and we definitely got experimental with the writing.”
Century Media is doing a very nice, limited digipack release of the album along with other formats. We asked about the value of limited edition releases, and if other versions will be forthcoming.
“The vinyl is out. You know honestly as far as I know, there will only be the digipack and the vinyl forever. Because I didn’t do any more layout work than that. At the time everything was going down with Blake, everyone was mad at each other, not particularly us at each other, but more all of us at Blake. really. And so when that started happening, everyone stopped giving a fuck. And then our relationship with the A & R guy fell apart, so I had to take control of everything business wise and then I got busy with some other business opportunities too. I really didn’t have much help. And I didn’t really want to take the time to put together a booklet for a record that everyone had checked out on, since everyone was so mad. So there is not going to be more a limited release than there is now, but knowing Century Media, they will keep it in print anyway.”
Sometimes in the business of music the challenges come from outside of the band too, as Stavros learned: “I’ve always done all the business for The Atlas Moth. But this is like a machine. It’s the five of us, a well-oiled machine working together, grooving together and sharing the responsibilities together. I am not running the show here by any means. We’ve all worked our way up together, so we know how the inner workings of the band goes. But all of the sudden when it comes to being voted in as the guy to handle stuff, someone already had their hands in the pot mixing things up before me. So I was the guy that almost had to come in and clean it up. It was definitely a bit much for me, and I was already dealing with a ton of crap. The Atlas Moth will always be my first and foremost priority. So I was doing countless, worthless hours dealing with bullshit, doing stuff for a record no one seemingly gave a fuck about. I’m really happy everything came together, and we are all really proud of it. But at the same time, under the circumstances, you can hate something! (laughs) The things that bring up memories from the record, man, that could really piss you off. But in hindsight we are all still really stoked on it now that we’ve gotten a little hindsight. It’s been almost two years since we recorded it.”
One of the real bright spots of the record was working with Moore. Not only did the mainstream media latch on to the notion of him joining the band, the band was equally intrigued about working with him. A seemingly random sequence of events led to their collaboration:
“He came in for the second half of the session. We did two sessions and he came in for the second week. The Sonic Youth sound guy worked with Sanford in his studio in Chicago. He told us Thurston was really into black metal. This was around the time of the second record. And we said “Send some of this stuff to Thurston Moore and see what he thinks about it. And see if we wants to do a record with us.” And he did! (laughs) And I was like “Well I’ll be damned!” (laughs) “We’d better write a brand new Twilight record!” He was incredible. He was super rad to work with. He was totally mellow and great to work with. He totally knew his black metal. It was fucking awesome to be able to write a record with that dude. And also to watch him play and get that much closer to someone with a unique style, it was awesome. He was super awesome to work with. We talked about including him for future sessions, which I would love. He is just a music library. He is fucking incredible. I don’t know how that guy puts it all together in his head. He’s something else man!”
At this point in Cynic’s illustrious career, it is unlikely they are going to do anything but follow their own muse. If you are living in the past, and only care about a seminal release like Focus, then you miss the point the band made with that bold musical statement, all those years ago. Granted, every band in this business is measured against their “best” and most popular work. Old-school fans always talk of the pedigree of the principles as members of Death, as if their development as writers should stay frozen in Carbonite forever. However, if you have followed them, you are aware of the hiatus the members took away from the band, and the phenomenal comeback that was Traced In Air. Cynic is a band free of conventions and certainly lives to satisfy their own passions, nothing more. Along the way they have influenced everyone from Opeth, to Between the Buried and Me, and even Animals As Leaders. If you care about the path of an artist, and the transformational power that art has, then this band is still one you ought to study.
Kindly Bent To Free Us (Season of Mist), is a unique experience unto its own. The chemistry between Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert and Sean Malone is an undeniable combustion of deft progressive rock and metal sensibilities, with clever songcraft. Kindly Bent… is catchy, uplifting and musically intricate in ways Cynic has never been all at once before, but always were capable of. It is a mature album, written from real life experiences to pull from, and less of the angsty, strained attempts at prog mastery some of the modern bands get bogged down in.
The opening sound of ‘True Hallucination Speak’ is a harsh, jarring screech; an alarm which is a portend of things to come. A real awakening is coming, ready or not. The ominous clean picked guitar tones that bring the track to life in a wash of tension soon reveal its gift with a swelling, modulated vocal sample. When the bass and drums come in with a climax, the track lifts off, and it totally sounds like a Cynic record ought to sound. From Reinert’s syncopated beats, to Malone’s bristling bass, the track, they compliment the cool riffs. Masvidal’s singing, which has really become a powerful instrument in its own right. The chorus soars musically without being over the top, and the triple-tracked guitar solo is a triumph. Like a speech from Dr. Timothy Leary or Carl Sagan, some tripped out knowledge is coming your way, and it’s up to you to willfully dodge it, or sit still patiently and absorb it. A great way to kick things off.
The most surprising track on the album is ‘The Lion’s Roar’, with its ebb and flow dynamics and poppy chorus. It might be a turn-off to people looking for something more brutal with their morning coffee, but it is going to be hard to ignore those toe-tapping grooves and sweet melodies for long. Next follows the title track, which is a prog-rock masterpiece of the highest order. With heady sonics and heavy emotions, the track is a gem. The urgent interplay of the band just pulls and pushes the song in all kinds of directions, until the mellow refrain returns again and again like mantra. ‘Infinite Shapes’ is another chameleon-like track that undergoes a lot of changes. Fans of Masvidal’s axe-work should take note of his solos, especially his synth-guitar solos on this album. They are a throwback to the likes of Alan Holdsworth, Adrian Belew, and Andy Summers and other legends from progressive music history.
‘Moon Heart Sun Head’ and ‘Gitanjeli’ are a little more on the other side of the introspective spectrum, but both have some deep moments in them. ‘Moon Heart Sun Head’ could be mistaken for a lost Tool song over several verses, and certainly those guys are influenced by Cynic too. Masvidal’s glorious vocals sitting in the pocket are allowed to actually carry the song for a spell, quite the feat against this backdrop.
‘Holy Fallout’ is the finest track on this offering. Starting out with that familiar vocoder-treated sound and some chiming guitars, the track grows and grows more fierce, yet stays restrained in the moment of each second. The song just comes at you in waves of mini-movements, building out slowly over almost seven minutes. A stellar guitar solo, easily one of Paul’s best ever, caps things off before shape-shifting again. Also, if Cynic ever wanted to write its ‘Pink Floyd’ tribute part, they did so with the elongated outro. ‘Endlessly Bountiful’ closes out the album proper with a lullaby of jazzy, calming notes. Kindly Bent To Free Us is a journey of the self, and towards self-awareness. This is a message more people need in their lives, looking forward, as they reflect inward.
Distinctly disturbing and beautifully harsh are words that best describe Chicago’s blackened death metal upstarts Immortal Bird. Although their debut release Akrasia (Closed Casket Recordings) has a scant four songs on it, the songs take the listener on an icy veined adventure to the soul. Running the gamut from classic black metal tropes, to modern death metal writing skills, a touch of thrash and some other impressive musical avenues too.
Masterminded by vocalist/drummer Rae Amitay (Thrawsunblat), she co-wrote all of the songs on guitar too, showing off her versatility in stepping out from behind her drum throne. Many times with projects like these, you get the impression the music is a foil for a singular vision, but the tight recording and strong performances of guitarist Evan Berry (Wilderun, Replacire)and bassist John Picillo sound like a true band. The production team of Jeff Ziolo, Kurt Ballou mixing at Godcity Studios, and mastering by Brad Boatright definitely eschews the no-fi tactics of most of the genre. The first track ‘Spitting Teeth’ exemplifies this approach with an unsettling guitar riff which gives way to a maelstrom of beats and screams. There are some great riffs and exciting tempo changes in this track that might be lost with lesser production values.
‘Ashen Scabland’ is just a hellish track. It definitely has an ebb and flow to it, with some mellower parts blunting the caustic slam of the thunderous drums. Fittingly the lyrics are equally as rough as the track, perfectly melding thoughts of regret and rage as much as the music does. ‘Akractic Seminar’ might almost be classified as avant-garde- blackened thrash and doom. The song kind of sneaks up on you with a discomforting tone. You get lulled by some discordant guitar work and a slight bit of clean singing, before getting your ears and your ass stomped in again. ‘The Pseudoscientist’ not only brings back the lyrical intellect, but being the shortest track on Akrasia, it has a sick urgency to it. The harrowing scream of pain at the halfway mark will curdle the blood of the toughest kvlt brood. The first flight of Immortal Bird is a bleak, but pleasing one.
Compared with last year when I had already started January off with five shows in three weeks, 2014 started rather quiet. These days as Ghost Cult’s chief editor, I simply don’t get out as much as I used to. So you know I wouldn’t brave the (over-hyped) Polar Vortex conditions and hazardous roads for just any show, but I did for Chimaira. It has been well documented that a lot of other bands would have quit in the face of adversity ten times over after what these guys have been through. Still, what keeps me interested as a journalist and earns my respect as a fan is their dedication to take every negative and turn it into a positive, and in the most hostile way conceivable musically. So with a planned set list “Celebrating the Chaos” of their career, and on the strength of another tour supporting the excellent Crown of Phantoms (eOne) release, I was all in for this.
With my buddy and photog for the night Chris Small in tow, we got the the Palladium early in time to get in and mingle with some of our local metal brethren. Beers and Happy New Year’s greetings out of the way and we were ready to get hopping. Starting things off was Reflections, who played a pretty typical bunch of screamy death-core. I was immediately shocked by how bored to tears they looked on this, the first night of the tour. Their emotionless faces, except for the front man James Foster, put me off in a big way. I just couldn’t figure out why. They have enough potential musically for me to say I will give them another shot down the road. Second openers Fit For An Autopsy could not be more different in how they set it off from their first notes. I have seen these guys grow steadily more and more impressive over time and they are definitely coming into their own. Straddling the tech-death/traditional death metal horse with an occasionally fierce breakdown, it was hard not to be amped up for every second of their set. See this is what an opening band should do, be a cool warmup act, and provide a hint of what is to come the rest of the night.
Oceano is one of those bands for me, that it really depends on the day or the show how I feel about them. They have made some killer songs and there is no denying their ability to pump up a crowd and throw down in the death metal/deathcore style. You could also single out their fans in the house on this night by who looked like they were their to punch people, and not really there to watch the show. I’d feel bad about per-judging some of these pit ninjas, but for the most part, I was proven right by the end of their set when about 25% of the crowd left. On the plus side, Oceano is over that entire we’re quitting/we’re back phase and they are just out for blood right now. Front man Adam Warren was all over that tiny stage, imploring the crowd to get violent and trying to drum up their energy. Based on the crowd response during ‘Contagion’, that energy was high. Warren also had some compelling things to say about being a hungry band with a new record out, (Depths on Earache) that not a lot of people know about.
Iwrestledabearonce is in a good place in the penultimate spot in the line-up on this tour. They confound and anger the battle-vest wearing set with their wry sense of humour and mashing-up of sub genres. Seeing all of the day glow shirts, booty shorts, and tons of core kids, outside opinion doesn’t matter tonight as the band came out and crushed it. Playing a short (for them) set of their hits plus a few recent tracks from Late For Nothing (Century Media), the band made the odd choice of having some of their typical production value from their headline set. Strobe lights and amp covers/banners seem a little out of place on the tiny stage when no one else had them, but it is part of their schtick I guess. Courtney LaPlant has really risen to the challenge of coming into a popular band and replacing a popular singer and she has killed it on every level, ever since. Her stage persona makes for the perfect master of ceremonies, and she slays all the material in case you still had doubts. Closing with ‘Tatses Like Kevin Bacon’ is a reminder why this band made it in the first place. These guys are still growing I think it will be exciting to see where they take it next.
The front line gear was removed for a very simple set up as the remaining crowd filled in the front of the stage. I watched from a perch in the balcony, in relative safety, mindful of the the many brutal Chimaira mosh pits I have been tossed around in. The change over was quick as the fans were ready for the final music of the night to ring out. The band took the stage and immediately launched into ‘Cleansation’ and it was pure bedlam in the pit. The band was tight as usual, and as usual on the side of the pit was a group of Eli Werstler worshipers. Watching Eli shred and abuse his guitar is worth the price of admission alone, and he has absolutely carried the mantle of great guitar work in the band. Of course Mark Hunter is front and center in the midst of the chaos. He is always focused, connecting with the crowd and really seems to enjoy his job with an evil relish. The set list was carefully crafted showing the greatness of the bands history, as well as the recent albums too. Sean Z helps take the music to another level with his terrific backing vocals. People forget sometimes that Sean fronted his own, worthy band in Daath not too long ago.
Like a well-oiled machine the band cut through the set list of hits and deep cuts. Mark smiled and cracked jokes between songs, and then menaced and scowled appropriately to the material such as ‘Crown of Phantoms’, ‘Pure Hatred’, and ‘Power Trip’. Simple, Brutal, and tight describes the relentless performance, more akin to a boxing champion than a metal band. ‘The Dehumanizing Process’ for years was a great choice as a set opener, but here towards the end of the night it proves the strength and talent of the band. I finally shed my fear and ran down to the floor to Eli’s side of the stage, of course, to finish out the night. Not quite an encore, but more like an extended ending ‘Resurrection’ would have been a fine choice to end the set. However, the band stayed on stage to play the song that is their new video, ‘Wrapped In Violence’. Proving how strong their last album as with this bruising cut, and hearing everyone left in the venue screaming their lungs out, was killer. What a way to start what promises to be a great year of concerts.