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.

At The Gates-The Nightmare of Being

Damn. I’m always impressed when a band really goes for it. I mean, for the most part, bands that have been around for 20+ years tend to get into a groove with things. It’s not necessarily that they get stuck in a rut or that they recycle similar ideas. But, there’s usually a formula for things. Album to album, especially in the latter era years of many bands, things may not seem as fresh or as daring as they were in their early days. Hell, that’s just life, ain’t it? We get comfortable. We slow down. We cease to grow. And that’s fine. It’s expected.

So, it gets my juices going when a long time band just tries some new shit out of the blue. At The Gates broke up in 1996 after releasing the landmark Slaughter of the Soul album. They reunited in 2011 and released two albums prior to this latest one. These two post-reunion albums were both very solid releases and really felt like the picked right up from where the band was in 1996. They were very listenable albums, but didn’t really break any new ground.

So, it was a surprise to hear some pretty creative and innovative stuff happening on post-reunion album number three. I would really love to know the backstory to the creation of this album because it feels like such a departure from any of their prior albums. What prompted the band to go out on a limb this time? I mean, it still sounds like At The Gates. It’s not that radical. But there’s a deliberate attempt at changing things up. Lots of clean guitars. Multiple songs with an almost spoken-word type delivery by Tomas Lindberg. Hell, they even jumped on the becoming-ever-more-prevalent-use-of-a-saxophone on one song. It honestly feels like a good portion of this album could be viewed more as a post-rock/metal type album than the traditional Swedish death metal sound that At The Gates helped establish.

There are probably fans out there that won’t like this album due to its different sound. I, for one, think it really works and is a breath of fresh air for the band. This album brought excitement to me when I first listened to it because it just wasn’t what I expected. It’s always a gamble to stray from the well-tread path. But, as At The Gates has shown, rolling the dice can sometimes result in some magic.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Darkthrone-Eternal Hails……

Man, not to go all Strunk & White on their asses, but were six ellipses really necessary? I mean, I hate to get all critical on artistic choices, but those things just kind of hang there going on and on and on……………………. Hell, maybe that’s the point. See, they’re Eternal Ellipses.

So, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are back and they’ve seemingly regressed in regard to sound production on this one. That is the very first thing that you’ll notice on this one: It’s back to sounding like they recorded this in some deep cavernous void located in some remote frozen fjord. Just like the classic old days. I don’t know. I guess it is a stab at nostalgia, but it just doesn’t work so much. They have used better production on past albums. We know they know how to put a bit of a polish on their sound. Frankly, in the end, it just takes away from the songs in my opinion. Both guitars and drums just sound like shit. The songs are fine. They’re nothing spectacular, but I can’t help but feel that they would have benefitted a bit from moving away from the unfrozen caveman schtick.

In the end, I have to get all critical on the artistic choices going on here. It’s my job. It just feels like a case of a band sabotaging the work they put into these songs by attempting to remain “Trve” to their black metal roots.

3 flip flops out of 5

Esa Holopainen-Silver Lake

Usually when a guitarist drops a solo album, the expectation is that you’re going to get a shred album. Something where the dude can simply lay down some insane leads to draw the proverbial line in the sand to all the other hotshot guitarist out there.

This is not that album.

Esa Holopainen, guitarist for melodic death metal lords, Amorphis, has crafted a fairly laid back affair for his first ever solo release. This album feels more like a singer/songwriter type album in a way. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not an acoustic guitar and a dude singing. It’s a proper band-centric album that features a multitude of different singers. The music varies from folk metal to pagan metal to a spoken word song performed in Finnish. Hell, he even recruits Amorphis’ vocalist, Tomi Joutsen, for one song that could have been included on the next Amorphis album. Minus this one song, everything on here feels like it differs enough from Amorphis’ sound to warrant the creation of this solo release. I just found it interesting that the focus of this album isn’t on the guitar at all. Sure, his playing is what you would expect from him, but it feels like he left the focus more on the songs and, in some instances, more on the vocal performances. I think that’s why I got a very singer/songwriter impression from the album. I just found it to be a very interesting choice to take for this album.

3.5 flip flops out of 5