Category Archives: Metal

REVIEW: High on Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis

“What if Jesus had a twin who died at birth to give Jesus his life? And then what if the twin became a time traveler right then? He lives his life only going forward until he finds this scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who derived a serum out of the black lotus—which is actually in Robert E. Howard’s ‘Conan’ stories—and then he starts traveling back in time. He can see the past through his ancestors’ eyes, but his enemies can kill him if they kill the ancestor that he’s seeing through at the time. Basically, he keeps waking up in other people’s bodies at bad times. It’s kinda like that old TV show Quantum Leap. Kurt actually pointed that out to me after I told him the idea. But whatever—time travel is a killer concept.” – Matt Pike (vox & guitar, High on Fire)

That’s Pike’s laid-back, California biker style explanation of the concept behind High on Fire‘s latest head-removal tool, De Vermis Mysteriis. It’s an aptly metal theme for an album of such infinite grit. And seriously, if Matt Pike gets any grizzlier, someone’s gonna have to set some traps. Listen to his vocals on the final track, “Warhorn”, where they’re spotlighted to stunning effect. All the gnarls, barbs, and bristles in his voice are in your face, naked, calling to mind a wounded Kodiak; a battle-hardened beast bleeding out but fighting mad. Matt’s big, filthy guitar–and those RIFFS–along with Jeff Matz’s dexterous, elephantine bass, and Des Kensel’s muscular drumming bear up (sorry) that crusty howl with the force of a natural disaster.

In other words, this is a High on Fire record. Really, I’ve come to expect nothing less from these three guys, and they deliver yet again with this one. As appears their custom, they chose a new producer, going this time with Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. After the clarity and polish of 2010’s Snakes For The Divine (produced by Greg Fidelman), Ballou takes it back the other direction, roughing it up and making it more monolithic. This one is road-dog dirty, and that with the progression and growing sophistication on display here makes for an undeniably powerful combination. For my money, De Vermis Mysteriis is a strong, early contender for album of the year.

Listen:  Warhorn


Leave a comment

Filed under Album Reviews, Metal

VIDEO THRASHBACK: Voivod – Astronomy Domine (1989)

The first thing I associate with Voivod’s Nothingface is a strange girl’s home. The girl herself wasn’t strange exactly; I only mean I didn’t know her and can’t recall a thing about her. But the house…Her parents’ house…It was a beautiful, ultra-modern place in a neighborhood that will be forever cost-prohibitive to me. I’d never been in a home like it. Haven’t since. It was cavernous, filled with expensive art and kept immaculately clean. I can’t remember how I got there or who I was with other than my friend Danny, the headbangingest bastard I knew [see: Brainwashed]. The girl’s parents were away, of course, and we were spilling beer and dropping ashes all over the place, but the chick didn’t seem to give much of a fuck.

Danny threw the tape in.

I’d heard it before, but things were different this time around. This time, everyone in the room was under the influence of LSD, and “Astronomy Domine” set our minds on fucking fire. It was the early stage of a new transition for me, and I soon embarked upon a journey beyond metal into wider, sometimes weirder realms. My use of LSD had just begun, and it wasn’t long before Metallica jumped the shark and I found myself practicing full-on Beatle worship, mining the Floyd vault, and charging headlong into the then burgeoning, heavy “alternative” scene:  Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden and the like. Psychedelicized.

The trip lasted nearly 20 years. (The musical one, not the chemical one.) It was a fine excursion, and my mind was well expanded, but my return to metal a few years ago felt like a return to home. It’s good to be back. My tastes are wider than ever, but because of it, I’m way more stoked by metal now than I was before. I look at it differently than I did when the young metal me was formed, and I can now appreciate the groundbreaking and mind-bending of Nothingface soberly, but with a wizened ear. It’s a wonderful sound.

Mosh On.

Leave a comment

Filed under Metal, Video Thrashback

REVIEW: Meshuggah – Koloss

I am the great leviathan…The insatiable colossus…I am life and death…You empower me…I’m a mammoth king evolved…Conjured by your dreams…Summoned by your fears…I’m the imposing giant…Infallible dictator…My rules apply to all…You remain before me…I am life and death
I decide your fate…

The above is a sampling of the lyrical introduction to Koloss, and it definitely sets the tone. You are about to be mauled by a force much bigger than you. Stronger. Meaner. It will be surgically brutal in its dispatch of you, a puny admirer who fawns over their executioner even in the midst of the deed. You will kiss the feet of the mighty Meshuggah, and your neck will be severed before you even notice the taste of Holy Fuck on your tongue.

Here, the band has harnessed their H.R. Giger-as-proggy-death-metal-band aesthetic, condensed and disguised the skull-fuckery, and molded it into semi-familiar shapes. Still odd, alien shapes to be sure, but finessed to resemble something vaguely human. It’s brilliant. Koloss has made me a much bigger Meshuggah fan.

Listen: I Am Colossus

Leave a comment

Filed under Album Reviews, Metal

VIDEO THRASHBACK: Gothic Slam – Who Died and Made You God? (1989)

Around 1989, when I was 16 years old, the thrash metal scene was just beginning to wane, but a lot of great thrash albums were released that year nevertheless: Voivod’s Nothingface, Testament’s Practice What You Preach, and Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains to name a few. I believe this was also the year I happened upon a Gothic Slam show at this all ages metal club we had around here then called Devil’s Island. Afterward, my friends and I somehow got invited to the band’s motel room nearby. We were pretty jazzed about it, imagining rock star shit; booze, drugs and babes. At least booze. But we wound up just sitting around in a little room, bored, with this bunch of goofball, working class Jersey dudes, a few of their buddies, and a couple of other hangers-on. No booze (save for maybe a couple of six packs a few guys were sharing), no drugs, and no babes. Just some tinny thrash on a shitty boombox and me feeling awkward, disappointed, and wanting to leave.

But they were nice guys, and quite a bit better at playing thrash than they were at partying hearty. While my rock & roll fantasies went un-lived-up-to, my neck was sore the next day from the headbanging their music induced. Here’s a song from that time which turned out to be the one to take them as far as they were gonna get. The video was in regular rotation on Headbanger’s Ball for awhile, but that was that. They never released another album. Anyway, the video is hilariously terrible, and if you drink every time the titular phrase is sung or shouted (21x in 4 minutes), you’ll be assed before it’s over.

Mosh on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Metal, Video Thrashback

REVIEW: Venenum – Venenum E.P.

Oh man, this is really doing it for me. Hell yes. Old-school death of the most excellent, authentic sort. And it’s a cassette release, so it sounds all raw and extra evil, and completely amazing. A genuine, underground metal treasure. I wish I’d discovered this E.P. before posting my 2011 year-end list. It deserves a top spot. This thing has so much personality and character, it truly feels like you’re listening to some shit your big brother had his mind blown by but forgot to tell you about when you were kids. And now you’ve popped the cassette in and immediately know what he means when he says it’ll “fuck you sideways.” When Venenum gets around to putting out a full-length, I hope it sounds just like this:  primitive and masterful all at once. Like a god damned classic.

Listen: Bewitched Craft

Leave a comment

Filed under Album Reviews, Metal

Smiling Doom presents: The 20 best metal albums of 2011

You were probably just wondering, “Where’s that Doomsayer General asshole and what are his picks for the best metal albums of 2011?” Well today’s your lucky day ‘cuz I’m right here, kicking back in the Smiling Doom digs, up to my blown-out ears in great metal. The process used to determine the following is a supremely arcane one, unique to and understood only by me. Also, the order of ‘bestness’ can and will change daily depending on what I’m listening to, mood, and various other factors. So basically, these are just a bunch of sweet albums that came out this year. The order is fairly unimportant. Nevertheless, here’s a snapshot of how they stand for me at this moment, now, teetering on the edge of the tip of the end of the year 2011. Let’s get to it, shall we?


20) Elder – Dead Roots Stirring    


Kicks in like Jane’s Addiction on a seriously groovy doom kick and spins off into the stratosphere from there. Unlike many bands they share the genre with, Elder doesn’t just ape Sabbath and call it a day. These guys use their imaginations, crafting epic tunes that aren’t repetitious or staid, and deliver a stoner/doom album that’s actually unpredictable and fun to listen to.
Listen:  Gemini

19) Havok – Time Is Up    

(thrash metal)

A smorgasbord of old-school, neck-snapping riffage that’s not only fast and furious, but memorable too. Brings to mind classic stuff by Overkill and early Megadeth. If you say you like thrash and don’t like this album, you’re probably confusing thrash with something else. Your vagina perhaps.
Listen:  The Cleric

18) Anaal Nathrakh – Passion


(black metal)

(From this previous Smiling Doom review):
“…unmistakably black metal, with lots of vicious blast beats, tremolo picking, and screeching vocals, but there’s a lot more going on here:  musical trap doors, intricate bits of guitar filigree, solos, and brutal melodicism…great, tuneful guitar work and a knack for surprises…There are a lot of layers to this album. A lot of very sick, disturbing layers.”
Listen:  Volenti Non Fit Iniuria

17) Belphegor – Blood Magick Necromance

(blackened death metal)

Grandiose and monumental, this is the sort of metal I imagine a demonic, mad emperor might enjoy as, from atop his black steed, he surveys the smoldering, corpse-littered village his army has just laid to waste.
Listen:  Discipline Through Punishment

16) Battlecross – Pursuit of Honor    

(techy death/thrash from Detroit)

Battlecross chose the right moniker. They are The Terminator. They appear human, but the music that comes out of them sounds like the precise grinding of some finely tuned war machine. I mean that, in this case, as a high compliment. Plus they’re from the shitty mitten; it would be unneighborly to leave them off the list.
Listen:  Man of Stone

15) Vreid – V

(melodic, black, viking metal/black & roll)

Packed with tasty solos and memorable riffs, V is progressive and experimental without forgetting the importance of writing actual songs. And the clear, lush production is great. The particular way the vocalist screeches gets on my nerves at times, but the music makes it easy to get beyond that and recognize it as being among the finest of the year.
Listen:  Wolverine Bastards

14) Noisear – Subvert The Dominant Paradigm


Sounds like brutal space aliens making a beautiful, jagged racket. Soooo good. Best album this year to destroy your living room to.
Listen:  Life Consumed You

13) Eastern Front – Blood On Snow

(black metal)

Who knew history lessons could be so much headbanging fun? Sample lyric:

Upon the morning of December 5th 1941 / 1.1 million Russian infantry ready themselves for a battle that must be won / 600,000 German infantry stand awaiting / Shell fire turns night to day in a land God has long since forsaken.

But if history doesn’t float your boat, have no fear. This is a black metal record and you really can’t understand much of what’s being said anyway. What you will understand is the universal language of getting your fucking throat slashed by the cold, gore-caked bayonet that is this album. But these guys let up every now and then with some beautiful orchestration and acoustic guitar stuff, and break up the tremolo picking with some bad-ass slower riffing. And I’ll be damned if that ain’t a completely audible, well-played bass guitar I hear throughout…
Listen:  Battle of Smolensk

12) Vomitory – Opus Mortis VIII

(thrashy death metal)

If I could use but one word to describe this album I’d probably go with ‘Slayerific.’ So yeah, it’s somewhat derivative, but it’s probably the most exhilarating bout of Slayer worship you’ll ever hear. Hell, Kerry King and company haven’t written an album this bad-ass since 1990.
Listen:  Bloodstained

11) Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – Bloodlust

(psychedelic doom)

Blaze a doobie and summon the devil, baby. This might classify more as a doomy, classic rock/hard rock than metal, but fuck it; the fuzzed-out guitars, satanic thrill-kill vibe, and dual-guitar soloing are enough to put it in the metal category for me. Forget Ghost. They’re good enough, but these guys are the cream of the culty, throwback crop. Give this one a spin at your next ritual sacrifice, but don’t be surprised if even the grimmest of acolytes start bobbing their heads.
Listen:  13 Candles

10) Immolation – Providence EP

(death metal)

Though it’s a concentrated blast of just five relatively short songs (most under four minutes), every one is mammoth in sound and rich in pure awesome. Of all the old-schoolers still going at it, these guys are king, and this EP demonstrates why:  distinctive, highly imaginative riffing, consistently stellar songs, and bone-crushing intensity.
Listen:  Illumination

09) Skeletonwitch – Forever Abomination

(blackened thrash)

Adrenaline. That’s what this one’s about. The songs are fast, short, and savage, each just brimming with brilliant, dual-guitar wizardry. The best modern thrash band you’re likely to come across at the moment.
Listen:  Cleaver of Souls

08) Absu – Abzu

(thrashy black metal)

Thirty-six minutes of blindingly fast, absolutely vicious aggression and virtuosity. If I bought into all the dark magicky bullshit in the lyrics, Abzu would probably strike me as the work of sinister forces. It’s almost hard to believe mere men are capable of producing sounds so ferocious and so addictive.
Listen:  Skrying In The Spirit Vision

07) Sonne Adam – Transformation

(death metal)

(From this previous Smiling Doom review):
“This is low-slung death metal, grinding and churning patiently, cleverly, and conjuring Satan in the ancient desert sand; a burly beast of an album that whips up one hell of a left-hand noise.”
Listen:  Take Me Back To Where I Belong

06) Nader Sadek – In The Flesh

(death metal)

(From this previous Smiling Doom review):
“…a concept album centered around oil and mankind’s self-destructive addiction to it…It’s the sound of the modern world—of traffic jams and behemoth industry, desperation and doom—rendered with a keen ear for detail, a deep love of death metal, and a clear vision of it as an art form.”
Listen:  Of This Flesh

05) Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising

(melodic death/viking metal)

Amon Amarth at the top of their game. If you know who they are, that’s all I need to say. If you don’t, what do you care about metal anyway?
Listen:  Wrath of the Norsemen 

04) Revocation – Chaos Of Forms

(techy thrash)

This is what all the wankers are trying to sound like. All the show-off style sampling, fret-petting and wheedly-wheedly-wee shit that they shoehorn into every two bars of every song is a misguided attempt at this. This is true guitar virtuosity. The sort that knows when to whip it out and when to just let the bulge speak for itself. Wait… I don’t know where that came from. I guess what I mean by it is that all those wankers are like guys that talk a lot about how big their dick is, but underneath it all are really average at best. Revocation is a true cocksman. They’ve got nothing to prove, but when the time is right they’ll just take the damn thing out and show it to you. And–if you’re into cocks–it’s a beauty.

See, “cock” is metal and… er… You know what I mean.

Never mind.

Just Listen:  Conjuring the Cataclysm

03) Vastum – Carnal Law

(death metal)

(From this previous Smiling Doom review):
“…unquestionably pummeling, but somehow your ears don’t feel mauled when it’s over. It’s a heavy-as-all-fuck record with a deep, chunky sound, but instead of being suffocating, it’s a comfortable heft. A doomy quilt for your deathbed as you slip away painlessly, contented, without regret.”
Listen:  Umbra Interna

02) Obscura – Omnivium

(proggy tech death)

Though I’ve labeled this list the 20 best metal albums of 2011, in my mind it’s actually more like the 19 best albums, with Obscura and Mastodon sharing the number one spot. Omnivium is a mind blowingly complex and technical work that feels very organic. And it’s an album album, flowing from start to finish in a way that few do in an age of Spotify and iTunes. Truly impressive and, for me, a sure classic I’ll always come back to.
Listen:  Ocean Gateways

01) Mastodon – The Hunter

(proggy metal)

(From this previous Smiling Doom review):
“Here they’ve made their White Album in that there’s no unifying theme and a great diversity of mood and stylistic choices. Yet, unlike the Beatles’ sprawling opus, The Hunter was edited down perfectly. It’s highly focused and sounds very much like every song belongs exactly where it is. All killer, no filler as they say…Pure ear candy.”
Listen:  The Hunter


20  others deserving of a lot more than just a spin or two (in no particular order):  

Origin – Entity,  Olde Growth – Olde Growth,  Rotten Sound – Cursed,  I’ll Eat Your Face – Hot Brains Terror,  Destruction – Day Of Reckoning,  Assaulter – Boundless,  Exmortus – Beyond The Fall of Time,  Autopsy – Macabre Eternal,  Brutal Truth – End Time,  Antediluvian – Through The Cervix Of Hawaah,  Cannabis Corpse – Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise,  Goreaphobia – Apocalyptic Necromancy,  Hammers 0f Misfortune – 17th Street,  Wormrot – Dirge,  Mitochondrion – Parasignosis,  Aosoth – III:  Violence & Variations,  Sulaco – Build and Burn,  Vader – Welcome to the Morbid Reich,  Vektor – Outer Isolation,  and  Trollfest – En Kvest for Den Hellige Gral.

1 Comment

Filed under Metal

REVIEW: Mastodon – The Hunter

Mastodon began with scruffy, bludgeoning, caveman metal. A very, very good caveman metal, mind you, with an ear for hooks and intricacies that trancended stone-age thumping, but now they make cinematic metal. It’s music still befitting the band’s namesake (burly and virtually unstoppable), but refined; festooned in royal jewels as it crushes lives underfoot. A majestic and psychedelicized fury that will no doubt crush you, but has you too transfixed to even attempt to get out of the way. Here they’ve made their White Album in that there’s no unifying theme and a great diversity of mood and stylistic choices. Yet, unlike the Beatles’ sprawling opus, The Hunter was edited down perfectly. It’s highly focused and sounds very much like every song belongs exactly where it is. All killer, no filler as they say. Only two songs break the five minute barrier (barely), so every song is lean and mean, lasting only as long as it takes to drop your jaw and satisfy. Pure ear candy.

Listen: Thickening

1 Comment

Filed under Album Reviews, Metal