2022 Best of Metal: #12 My Diligence-The Matter, Form and Power

Release date: 5/23/2022

Origin: Brussels, Belgium

Personnel: Cedric Fontaine-vox/guitar, Francois Peeters-guitar, Gabriel Marlier-drums

My Diligence is another one of these bands that I had never heard of prior to listening to this album. And I’m firmly a supporter of their cause. I know virtually nothing about these guys except that they are a three-piece and they hail from Belgium. Their sound in an interesting mixture of Torche’s brand of post-punk and Intronaut’s blend of post-metal. Very much a “post” sort of release…whatever the hell that means. At any rate, the guitar sound is very warm and inviting and the songs are simply catchy tunes that will worm their way into your brain.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

12. My Diligence-The Matter, Form and Power
13. Blind Guardian-The God Machine
14. Ghost-Impera
15. Jungle Rot-A Call To Arms
16. High Command-Eclipse of the Dual Moons
17. Soilwork-Overgivenheten
18. Messa-Close
19. Ty Tabor-Shades
20. Lamb of God-Omens

2022 Best of Metal: #14 Ghost-Impera

Release date: 3/11/2022

Origin: Linkoping, Sweden

Personnel: Papa Emeritus IV-vox, Nameless Ghouls-guitar, bass, keys and drums

I don’t really understand why these dudes (or dude) are so divisive. If you strip away all of the theatrics, costumes and over-the-top concept, you’re basically left with Blue Oyster Cult. I’ll admit that I didn’t really see them reaching the heights they have managed over such a short period of time. I figured that the overt Satanic themes running through their lyrics would have left these guys a little more than a cherished cult band. But, for whatever reason, the public at large has embraced the whole package. Hell, ten years ago, I remember seeing them open for Mastodon and Opeth at a dingy little club in San Antonio. Now, they are headlining arenas that hold more than 10,000 people. Impera feels a bit like a righting of the ship for Ghost. I was a huge fan of Opus Eponyous and Infestissuman, both of which felt like damn-near perfect albums. Their follow-ups, Meliora and Prequelle, felt a bit aimless. I believe the band had a bit of a lack of focus upon their new found stardom and the massive turnover in the ranks of Nameless Ghouls. This new album isn’t exactly on the heavy side, but it is simply chock full of imminently catchy and danceable tunes. I’ll be honest that there is part of me that wants to join the cool kids in heaping scorn on these guys because they aren’t Trve Metal, but dammit, good is good. These guys are fun and they seem to have found their songwriting footing again.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

14. Ghost-Impera
15. Jungle Rot-A Call To Arms
16. High Command-Eclipse of the Dual Moons
17. Soilwork-Overgivenheten
18. Messa-Close
19. Ty Tabor-Shades
20. Lamb of God-Omens

I’m back.

Hey there! How have you been? It’s been quite a while since I’ve touched base with you grubby little headbangers. I hope everyone is doing well.

I had to step away from this thing for a bit simply because it was starting to feel a bit more of a chore than a fun side activity. I’m not getting paid for this gig and am simply doing it because I love sharing and discussing metal. After doing this non-stop for a few years, it started to feel like the whole thing was getting a bit stale and I felt like I had started repeating myself on the reviews and such. Hell, there are really only so many different ways you can describe a guitar riff. Plus, earlier in the year I busted my arm up and ended up getting the covid. Both of those events kind of knocked the first half of my year off kilter.

Anyway, I’ve still been listening to all of the new shit that has come out this year and am still dragging my weary old ass out to shows. So, I’m basically back to share with you a doozy of a year end list. During the next year, I’m going to try and get back into a regular posting schedule on here. I’m probably not going to be as prolific with the posts as I was in the past just to try and stave off any burnout.

Anyway, metal had a fairly eventful year in 2022. Lots of solid releases from both big established bands and, as always, a whole slew of new bands making noise. Big news was seeing Judas Priest inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. Yeah, I know. Who cares, right? One of the reasons we listen to metal is its anti-establishment bent and its underground nature. But, I’m not gonna lie. It was fucking awesome seeing Halford and crew up there on stage. It’s nice to see our little bunch of hooligans get acknowledged for their contributions to the rock world at large. It was also fucking cool seeing KK on stage with them again. Maybe this will lead to him rejoining the band. We also got to see the return of one of my all-time favorite bands in King’s X with their first studio release in 14 years. There was also the Pantera reunion/celebration shows which were kind of divisive. Honestly, I think it’s kind of cool the surviving members are getting together to play those songs live again.

On the live front, I got to see quite a few shows. Highlights were Iron Maiden, Pain of Salvation, Rivers of Nihil, Elder, Carcass, Katatonia/The Ocean and the Bay Strikes Back Tour with Testament, Exodus and Death Angel. I got to see two bands that I wasn’t sure I would ever get to see perform live again in King’s X and Porcupine Tree. I’m hoping both of these bands just keep it going into the future. I got to finally see Roger Waters and Meshuggah live. I never got to see Pink Floyd live, so it was cool to see Roger before he hangs it up. And lastly, I got to witness the whole Rammstein experience live. What a goddamn ridiculous spectacle that thing is. If you’ve never seen them, add it to your bucket list. To put it in perspective, I saw Iron Maiden the same week I saw Rammstein. The Rammstein stage show and inferno display was so gigantic and impressive that it truly made Maiden’s show look like a high school talent show. It was just staggering at how over-the-top their show is.

And finally, we lost another slew of our heroes over the past year. Cheers to Burke Shelley (Budgie), Jon Zazula (Megaforce Records), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), Trevor Strnad (The Black Dahlia Murder), Steven Grimmett (Grim Reaper/Onslaught) and David Andersson (Soilwork) for all the awesome music and memories. There were more than listed here, but these were the big ones for me in the past year.

Anyway, let’s fucking rock. First entry in the Top 20 Best of Metal for 2022 drops on Monday. I hope you come back for the ride to finish out the end of the year.

Burke Shelley-4/10/1950-1/10/2022 R.I.P.

Burke Shelley, Singer and Bassist for Budgie, Dead at 71

Well, of course, the first post of 2022 is regarding the death of another one of our pioneering metal heroes. Burke Shelley was the voice and bassist for early influential Welsh rock trio Budgie. I’m guessing that most of you are probably more familiar with Metallica’s cover version of Budgie songs, Breadfan and Crash Course in Brain Surgery, than you are with the actual music of Budgie. Hell, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t introduced to Budgie through those Metallica versions as well. But once I went back to the original Budgie albums, I discovered a wonderfully eccentric and thoroughly original band. Burke’s almost effeminate voice was a key component to their quirky sound and his trademark glasses were just in keeping with the nerdy aspect of this band. Budgie always seemed to be more of one of those bands whose influence on more famous bands was greater than the reach their music actually had on its own. Which is a shame because these guys just had so many really great songs. They could rock with the best of ’em and they could crank out some of the most tearjerkingly tender ballads. Burke, you’ll be missed. Thanks for all the great tunes.

Thoughts on 2021

Damn. This year really slipped on by. Not quite the shitshow of 2020, but still quite a few bumps along the way. But, we made it through once again and now it’s time to look back and see how we did.

First and foremost, live music became a thing again, albeit in a limited sense. The whole live music enterprise still feels a bit fragile at this point with band and crew members still coming down with the virus and tours/shows being cancelled or postponed. Still, it was nice to get to see Lamb of God, Megadeth, Trivium, Hatebreed, The Sword, Zeal & Ardor, Mastodon and Opeth do their thing live this year. All of these bands helped remind me of how special a live metal show is and how much we missed in 2020.

We lost a ton of good people in the past year. Some due to the virus, some to old age and some more more tragic reasons. Here is the time to pour one out for Dusty Hill (ZZ Top), Mike Howe (Metal Church/Heretic), L.G. Petrov (Entombed), Eric Wagner (Trouble/The Skull), Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones), Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), Joey Jordison (Slipknot), Jeff LeBar (Cinderella) and Marsha Zazula (co-founder of Megaforce Records).

For those of you still with me and still give a shit, I’m going to start rolling out the 2021 Best of Metal list starting on Sunday and will culminate the list with the awarding of the Golden Flip Flop on New Year’s Eve. This year was a mixed bag on the quality of metal released. I would have figured that the material would have been stronger given the imperiled state of the world these days. It feels like the environment should be ripe for musical inspiration. While the quality overall was a bit down this year as compared to years past, there were still enough good albums for us to celebrate. This year’s list is populated by old classic bands and band releasing their debuts. There are some old favorites of mine and some new surprises. I can’t wait to get started in sharing these albums with you over the next couple of weeks or so. Hopefully you will enjoy the journey as much as I do. Hell, maybe you’ll find a new favorite album or band for yourself. That would make the end of my year very happy.

I’ll see you on Sunday. Stay metal and Up The Irons!!

Opeth, Mastodon and Zeal & Ardor at ACL Live at Moody Theatre, Austin, TX 11/26/2021

Every time I go to a concert, it still kind of feels like I’m getting away with something that I shouldn’t be doing. I guess this is just the mindset of nearly two years of dealing with this stupid virus. At any rate, we snuck out of the house this past Friday and were treated to an amazing triple bill of Opeth, Mastodon and Zeal & Ardor.

Zeal & Ardor was up first as appetizer for the heavyweights to come. I had seen these guys play once before and, while impressed with that first show, I was kind of curious as to whether they could continue to push their mixture of slave-era spirituals with black metal to new avenues or if the formula would start to feel stale. Count me impressed because these dudes are channeling rage and sorrow from the past BLM protests regarding George Floyd/Ahmaud Arbery and police brutality/overreach into gospel-tinged protest songs. Feels like an interesting take on ground covered by Rage Against the Machine and N.W.A. It’s starting to feel like these guys have carved out an interesting niche for themselves and I’m curious to see what they do in the future.

Mastodon held down the second slot of the evening and are out promoting their latest platter, Hushed and Grim. I haven’t had a chance to supply a proper review for this album yet, but it provides another solid notch in the band’s catalog. The album continues to see drummer Brann Dailor taking on more and more of the lead vocal duties and it also has some of Brent Hinds most innovative and searing leads. The new album was obviously showcased during their set along with some very choice older cuts thrown in for good measure. Highlight was definitely seeing them roll out The Czar from Crack the Skye, which is one of my favorite of theirs. Overall, this was probably the best I’ve seen these guys perform live. Sometimes they have a tendency to get a little muddy with the sound. This time around everything was crisp and tight.

It was kind of funny seeing Opeth again since they were the last band I got to see before the pandemic shut everything down in 2020. These guys are always worth the risk of contracting a deadly disease. They haven’t put out any new music since that last show, so technically they are still touring on 2019’s In Cauda Venenum. They did rework the setlist to focus a little more on a retrospective from throughout their career. Sadly, this night’s version of Opeth saw them without longtime drummer Martin Axenrot, who left the band due to a “conflict of interest”. I’m having a sinking suspicion that dude wouldn’t get the vaccine in order to go on this tour. Sucks because he was a good piece of this band. Replacement drummer Sami Karppinen of Therion filled in ably, but there was something a bit muddy sounding on his kick drums that kind of drew a bit away from his performance. Still, it was an impressive display of Opeth’s status as one of the pinnacles of prog metal. Mikael Akerfeldt once again confirmed his status as one of the best frontmen going. His deadpan humor should be experienced by everyone once. An example: On their last tour, Mikael was sporting a stylish, if very non-metal hat. Between songs, someone in the crowd asked him where his hat was. He responded, “My hat is on the bus. I didn’t want to end up being a ‘hat guy’. Slash is a ‘hat guy’. Nothing against Slash….but, he’s a ‘hat guy.'” I guess we’ve seen the last of the hat.



Zeal & Ardor

Quicksand-Distant Populations

Well, second time we’re dipping our toes into the Quicksand pond here in as many weeks. First, we saw them play in person and now we’re going to do a quick looksee at their new album.

Quicksand is back with their follow-up to the reunion album Interiors. As stated in the previous Quicksand post, Interiors was one of the pleasant surprises of 2017. Distant Populations hasn’t made the same kind of impression on me as the prior release. It is fine in many ways and contains a good chunk of feel good pop and hippy-influenced punk songs. However, it feels like there is a bit of a lack of heft and depth on this one that keeps it from reaching the heights of Interiors. Even though it isn’t quite to the level of the last one doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend that you seek this one out. As stated, there are still some very solid songs on here.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Quicksand at Mohawk, Austin, TX, 10/21/2021

So, I went to a big show a few months ago and now I’ve made it to my first club show since everything went to shit. Being back in the sweaty, dark and dirty Mohawk was kind of weird at first, but I’ll admit, it was nice being back in downtown Austin seeing live music. There were days when I didn’t think this was ever going to be a thing again. Credit to the Mohawk folks for checking vaccine status/negative test results and keeping the capacity for the crowd down. Things didn’t feel as shoulder-to-shoulder as this place can sometimes get.

So, first club show back was New York’s sort of post-hardcore band Quicksand. I’ll admit that I completely missed the first iteration of these guys in the 90s, but I’ve been a really big fan of their post-reunion output. 2017’s Interiors was one of the pleasant surprises of that year for me. Even though they record as a three-piece, they brought out Cave-In/Mutoid Man’s Stephen Brodsky as an additional guitar player. They pulled off a really tight set with songs sprinkled from throughout their pre and post-breakup periods. All-in-all, this was a pretty cool little show to start back on the club show horse. Even though, it really seems like a bad idea to start up mosh pits. Smashing and sweating all over each other is still just a poor decision.

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-Holy Wars