Wolves in the Throne Room-Primordial Arcana

I hope you got your pelt cloaks washed. You want to look your pagan best for the dropping of a new Wolves in the Throne Room album.

Yep, with the dissolution of Agalloch, it feels like the Wolves are the band to carry the mantle for the Pacific Northwest vein of black metal. These guys bring a bit more mysticism and embracing of nature than some of their Norwegian brethren. This latest release feels a bit like a centering album for the band and an almost stripped down rendering of their sound. It feels like this album brings an equal level of brutal and ambiance in presenting their embrace of the primitive. Although it doesn’t possess the ambition of some their earliest work, this is still a very solid selection of songs.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Deafheaven-Infinite Granite

I’d say this album is a left turn for this band, but it kind of feels like this album is Deafheaven finally embracing who they actually are as a band. Infinite Granite sees the band finally becoming the post-rock shoegaze band that was always inside of them. The black metal sound is nowhere to be found on this album (well, maybe just a couple of nods here and there at the end of a couple of songs). The crunchy guitars have been completely replace with a clean sound. George Clarke’s distorted shrieks have been replaced by soft croons and whispers. The vocals are probably the most jarring aspect of this new direction.

As different as this album sounds on the surface, to me it’s not all that unexpected of a departure for the band. Like I said at the outset, I think Deafheaven has always been this band. That’s why they courted such controversy when they put out Sunbather with it’s glorious pink album cover. Purist could see the emo-esque shoegaze band lurking under the style of black metal these guys were peddling. Look, the Mayhem and tr00 black metal fans are going to be tsk-tsking and gloating about “I told you so” regarding this album. And, those guys were kind of right. But, honestly, the Mayhem fans were never listening to Deafheaven anyway. So, who gives a shit about them, right?

So, that being said, I don’t see this as a sell-out album. It just kind of feels like these guys were following the creative forces inside of them and this is where it led them. I have to say that I don’t really like this new direction as much as their past efforts. The dichotomy between the black metal foundation with shoegaze flourishes are kind of what made them a unique and dynamic band. By stripping away the harshness, there is just this sort of hippie fluff that is left. It’s not bad. It’s just not necessarily my cup of tea. There are a couple of decent songs and melodies on here, but it just doesn’t have that special something to make this a memorable experience overall.

High marks for the bravery in going this direction. But, not my favorite album by the band.

3 flip flops out of 5

Agrypnie-Metamorphosis

Everything on this album is a bit of a mystery. From the name of the band (no clue as to what it means or how to pronounce it correctly) to the fact that the entire album is sung in German, it’s all a bit of guesswork as to exactly what is going on here. But, here’s the weird thing. Even with all the obstacles, I have found this to be one of the more engaging releases I’ve come across of late.

I say it every year. There’s always some black metal band that I’ve never heard of that ends up putting out an album that knocks me for a loop. It seems that Agrypnie is that band for 2021. This feels like a journey album. See that dirty looking dude on the album cover. I think this album revolves around his journey into either some sort of pagan-inspired enlightenment or his actual physical manifestation into a pagan god or creature of the woods. I’m taking a lot of this from the album booklet and accompanying artwork that shows this dude having visions of a human-like creature with antlers and then follows him into a woodland journey through much turmoil and searching which culminates in him changing into the very creature of his vision. Hence, the Metamorphosis! Like I said, for not speaking a lick of German, I got an awful lot from this album. Even though I don’t know for certain my theory of what this album is about is correct, the emotion conveyed through the vocals and music are so engaging that I was just sucked into it from the get go.

This is a good one. Give a listen and see if it doesn’t speak to you in some weird pagan vibes as well.

4 flip flops out of 5

Eric Wagner 4/24/1959-8/22/2021 R.I.P.

Ex-Trouble / The Skull Singer Eric Wagner Dies of Covid-19 | MetalSucks

And we lose another one. This one as a direct hit from the covid pandemic. Wagner was the longtime vocalist for doom pioneer band Trouble and subsequent band, The Skull, which more or less felt like a continuation of his work in Trouble. Dude was probably as well-known for his Catholic beliefs and spiritually inspired lyrics as he was for his tortured sounding wail. His voice was instrumental to the Trouble sound and there weren’t really any comparable singers from that time that captured the anguish that he brought to the mic. As Wagner aged, his vocal style became less reliant on the high register he was known for the 80s and he seemed to fall into a more relaxed and natural delivery. In many respects, his embrace of this style in his older years reminds me a lot of how Robert Plant has aged (hell, they even look a lot alike in their old age). It was as if he simply embraced the ravages of age and the style of vocals he brought to The Skull just worked. Wagner was a unique voice and another that will be missed. I’ll admit that I was a bit late to the Trouble bandwagon and never got to see them play live, but I did get to see Wagner with The Skull before the pandemic shut everything down. I had planned on seeing them at what would have been one of his last shows when they played in Austin back on Aug. 8. I ended up passing due to the covid Delta surge and the fact that the show was taking place in a very small club. Now, I kind of wish I had just risked it to see him play one last time. But, hell, who knows…he may have contracted the infection at the Austin show. Just sad at any rate.

Megadeth, Lamb of God, Trivium and Hatebreed, Germania Insurance Amphitheater, Austin, TX 8/20/2021

So, I did a dumb thing Friday night. This was a rescheduled date for a show that was intended to take place last summer, but was cancelled due to the pandemic. When they rescheduled this date for August, I was all excited because it was looking like things were finally starting to turn in the right direction. Hell, the punk rock wife and I had gone out to dinner in a fancy sit-down restaurant and even saw a movie at a theater. And then the shit hit the fan in the name of Delta. Things have not been looking good here in Austin for the past month or so. If I’m being honest, this is not a show I should have gone to. But, I, being a fine American, gave into short term pleasure over long-term consequences. So, feel free to yell at me. I am definitely part of the problem. Now, full disclosure: I am fully vaccinated and this was an outdoor show. I did wear a mask when I had people anywhere near me. But still, it was probably a mistake in judgment going to this show.

Was it worth it? I suppose so. The reality of feeling that energy and connection that comes from a live show was sorely missed. Hearing the drums pounding through your body and hearing blistering guitar riffs so loud they nearly sear your head off was truly amazing. It felt like coming home. I had really missed the transitory nature of a live show. It’s a one time special moment shared between the artists and the audience never to be replicated. It will only live on in the memories of the people in attendance that night. In that way, it does feel like it was worth it.

On to the musics. First up in the evening was Hatebreed. Dudes went on a 6:00 and I’ve never been the biggest Hatebreed fan. So, I didn’t exactly bust my ass to get out to the venue after work (yes, believe it or not, this blog thing doesn’t pay my bills…I have a real job). I did get to see the last song of their set and it was fine. Jamey Jasta seems like a nice fellow.

Trivium was up second and put together a nice tight set that focused mainly on their latest couple of albums. Trivium is one of those bands that I always have felt should be a bit better than they actually are. Matt Heafy is just an effortless shredder on guitar and the other members of the band are all extremely proficient. Fine band and fine set. Just fine.

On to the main attractions: Lamb of God and Megadeth.

Lamb of God is just a machine. Seriously, they are my favorite band of the 2000’s. I just can’t get enough of these dudes. This was the first show I’ve gotten to see with them and their new drummer, Art Cruz. I’ve got to say that it is still a bit sad that Chris Adler is no longer behind the kit, but the band really hasn’t missed a beat sonically with Cruz manning the drums. The biggest surprise of their set this time around was the addition of FIRE! Lots of pyro punctuated their set and simply added to the awesomeness of their show. The set was a nice balance of material of their latest self-titled album and many of the classic cuts. These guys are simply everything a professional metal band should be.

And then there was Dave. I mean, that’s kind of what Megadeth is reduced to. Sure, the supporting cast of characters that he has assembled for the 2021 version of Megadeth are more than capable. Guitarist Kiko Loureiro simply stepped into Marty Friedman’s shoes and just effortlessly hit every note in every solo perfectly. Dirk Verbeuren is just a machine on the kit. His level of play has really racheted up the overall sound of the band by laying down a massive back line upon which everything else is built. Dave was, well, Dave. Dude is showing his age. Granted, his guitar playing doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all. He was nailing all of the classic riffs and solos with ease. But, dude’s voice, never the strongest, sounds pretty well shot at this point. I always loved his sneering delivery, but he really sounded like he was struggling at points during this show. Granted, this was the first night of the tour and maybe he is not quite in playing shape yet. Still, it was nice to see a legend play again. At the rate we are losing our metal heroes, it feels like we all need to take advantage in every opportunity we have to see them in a live setting.

It was a lovely night of metal. I hope we can get to a point where we can do this sort of thing more often in the future. Get your fucking shots, people!

Lamb of God-Walk With Me in Hell

Lamb of God-512

Megadeth-Mechanix

Megadeth-Holy Wars

Lantlos-Wildhund

If you’re going to say that this doesn’t look much like a metal looking album cover, you would be correct. And the album contained within is not very metal either. You’re probably wondering why this album is being covered on a metal-centric blog such as this. Well, let me explain.

So, let’s go back a bit here. Lantlos was the brainchild of a German boy named Markus Siegenhort a/k/a Herbst. This project began as a bit of a mixture of black metal and shoegaze and had a very prominent DIY work ethic on its first few releases. Siegenhort recruited Neige of Alcest to take over vocals for the project in 2010 and he appeared on the next two Lantlos albums. In 2014, Lantlos released Melting Sun and that album simply blew my mind. Gone was the blackgaze sound and in its place we were treated to an expansive, lush and progressive masterpiece. The breadth and depth of this album simply floored me when it came out and if memory serves me, I believe it ended up in my Top 5 albums of that year.

So, here we are seven years after the release of Melting Sun and Lantlos has finally dropped the follow-up. To say my expectations were high would be a bit of an understatement. So, how did they do? Meh. Man, this album just never takes off. It feels as though he had ditched a bit of the progressive nature of the sound and has settled into more of a post-rock bent. It’s not bad, but there is just nothing that stands out. The riffs feel generic and the songs just seem to run into one another without much differentiation. The resulting album is just flat and listless. After the lofty heights of Melting Sun, this is simply a bit of a disappointment.

Also, word of warning. The album comes in deluxe edition with an extra disc entitled Glitchking. I can’t recommend buying this version of the album. Glitchking feels like a compilation of dude just fucking around in the studio. There is nothing of merit on this bonus “album”. If you’re going to lay some of your cash down on this thing, just get the standard version.

3 flip flops out of 5

Sun Crow-Quest For Oblivion

When I first saw the name Sun Crow pop up on the release calendar, my first thought was, “Sabbath.” I didn’t even see the album cover or know what kind of band this was, but the name just screamed doom and gloom and everything heavy.

Well, I am a soothsayer. Because this debut album from Seattle’s Sun Crow indeed kneels at the alter of Iommi, Butler, Osborne and Ward. The riffs are thick and slow. The grooves are massive. The wails are tortured. What these guys miss on originality they more than make up with a total buy-in to delivering this sound and style of metal in a perfect form. This is one to crank. So, fill a bowl, find an easy chair to fall into and let this one wash over you in a blanket of sound.

4 flip flops out of 5

Scale the Summit-Subjects

Scale the Summit announce new album 'Subjects' with guests vocalists - The  Prog Report

Scale the Summit has gone for something a little bit different this time around. The long standing prog instrumental outfit (basically the Chris Letchford project at this point) has enlisted a group of guest vocalists to join the fray. While I appreciate the attempt at changing things up, the resulting project doesn’t quite work 100%.

Ultimately, this feels like an instrumental album upon which vocals were simply wedged in at the last moment. As a result, the songs don’t feel cohesive at all. I believe Letchford knew this going in as evidenced by the fact that there are two versions of the album included on this release: one with vocals and one without. I’ve listened to both versions a couple of times now and, if I’m being completely honest, you should just chunk the vocal version. It just doesn’t work. The instrumental version of the album is fine and is basically what you would expect from a Scale the Summit album. It has all the proggy guitar wankery you could possibly want. Hell, the reason you’re probably buying a Scale the Summit album is to hear that wankery. Shoehorning vocals onto these tracks simply takes away from what is clearly the showcase of the album: the guitar work. There are no natural settings for the vocals in these songs. When the vocalist is delivering their performances, you can just hear Letchford tweadling away madly underneath. The vocals simply don’t work here and take away from Letchford’s performance. And that’s not a slam on the quality of the vocalists involved. The performances are fine and the vocalists should be applauded in trying to fit vocal melodies over some of these prog wank fests. But, ultimately, these songs just don’t work well for vocals.

Look, I like the idea. But, if you’re going to have a vocal focused album, you’ve got to write the songs with those vocal harmonies in mind. The instrumental flash is going to have to take a bit of a backseat if this is the route you are going to go.

Ultimate verdict: Instrumental good; Vocal bad.

Instrumental version: 3.5 flip flops out of 5

Vocal version: 1.5 flip flops out of 5

Dusty Hill- 5/19/1949-7/27/2021 R.I.P.

Dusty Hill, bassist for iconic rock group ZZ Top, dies at 72

Lousy few days for musicians. Dusty Hill’s death wasn’t nearly as shocking as Mike Howe’s, but it’s not anymore disheartening.

I’ve always had a soft spot for ZZ Top for two reasons. First, they were from my home state of Texas. Second, ZZ Top was the first concert I ever attended. I was lucky that my friend’s mom and boyfriend agreed to let him and I tag along with them to see the Top in 1983 when they were touring on the blockbuster Eliminator album. I remember them taking us to Threadgill’s for a pre-game chicken fried steak the size of my head. A person’s first concert is always a formative experience and I was always kind of proud that ZZ Top was my first. ZZ Top was in their 1980s over-the-top MTV excess era complete with their spinning and fuzzy guitars. As a pre-teen burgeoning metalhead, my mind was completely blown and I credit this show as starting an obsession with live music that continues to this day.

Billy was always the focus and frontman of ZZ Top. Whereas, to me, Dusty was always the soul of the band. His understated bass licks laid down a solid foundation upon which Billy could lay down his trademark tasty blues riffs and leads. His clean and higher range backing and sometimes lead vocals gave the ZZ sound a rich layer. I hear that ZZ Top is going to follow through with their current tour plans and I guess its nice that it will be a celebration of ZZ’s music. But, the proceedings just aren’t going to be the same without him. Drink a beer and raise some hell for our fallen brother. You’ll be missed.

Mike Howe- 8/21/1965-7/26/2021 R.I.P.

Mike Howe dead: Metal Church star and Badlands singer dies aged 55 | Metro  News

Just a gut punch. Mike Howe was a giant in the metal underground and he had one of the more recognizable gravely roars in the metal world. Metal Church probably wasn’t a household name as some of the other thrash metal bands of the 80’s, but those of us in the trenches knew how solid of an act these guys were. Mike started his career out in the criminally overlooked Heretic and then took over the vocal spot in Metal Church in 1988. Not only did he possess a distinctive vocal style, he brought an energy and charisma to the stage that was very infectious. By all accounts, he was a generous and approachable guy off the stage.

I was lucky to see Mike and Metal Church live in 1988. They were touring off of Mike’s first release with the band, Blessing in Disguise, and they were the opening slot for an Udo-less Accept and W.A.S.P., who was touring off of their The Headless Children album. I was 17 years old at this show and it was one of the first shows I went to at a smaller venue in Austin (the old and long defunct Austin Opera House). I was super excited and got there really early. I ran to the front to secure a spot on the barricade. Metal Church hit the stage and Mike was an absolute dynamo on stage and just let lose some banshee type screams. During their opener, Fake Healer, he ran over to the side of the stage where I was standing and he reached right over and gave me a super enthusiastic high-five. For an impressionable 16-year-old, this absolutely sent me over the moon. When you’re that age, a simple acknowledgment from a metal hero can mean the world and it is a memory that I will always hold onto. Guitarist Craig Wells also threw me a guitar pick as well. Just a really cool show. That’s probably how I will always remember Mike. Luckily, I got to see Mike with Metal Church again after he rejoined the band and before the pandemic shut everything down. Even though he had cut off his hair, he looked and sounded exactly the same as he did in the 80s. I think that’s why he death was such a shock. He looked to be in great shape.

My condolences to Mike’s family and loved ones. He was one of the special ones. It’s a shame he was taken from us too soon.