A Fan’s Dilemma

Advisory:  This is a non-metal post.  I have personal story to tell.  It’s kind of a confessional and sort of a mental exercise of sorting out my own thoughts about the Houston Astros cheating scandal and how it has affected me and my identity as a fan.  Indulge me, if you will, but this has been weighing on me for some time and I think I just need to get it out.

I have other interests than just metal.  One of my other loves is the sport of baseball and, more particularly, I have been Houston Astros fan for most of my life.  My fandom comes from the fact that I was born in the city of Houston and the Astros ball club was always a scrappy little underdog of a team with the most amazing technicolor rainbow uniforms.  Sure they didn’t have the glorious history as the blueblood franchises like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers or Cubs.  But it was always a point of pride that they weren’t the type of club trying to throw as much money as they could at as many free agents as they could to win a championship.  It always felt like the Astros were going about it the right way.  It always felt as though they were a decent set of guys and I, for the most part, felt good about having the Astros as my team.  Sure, there were rumors of Mike Scott scuffing the ball in ’86 and you had whispers surrounding the Astros in the 90s during the heydays of the steroid scandals, especially when Ken Caminiti revealed his long term drug use.  In hindsight, it’s hard to look back on those teams and not suspect that either member of the club’s iconic duo, Craig  Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, weren’t tainted in some manner during this time especially given their close friendships to Caminiti.  However, as a fan, it was easy to look the other way during this time because the steroid and human growth hormone issue was so prevalent during this time.

I believe the first time that I really started feeling a tad conflicted about my fandom with the Astros started when they made one of their more blatant splash into the free agent market when they signed both Andy Petitite and Roger Clemens from the hated Yankees.  At the time of the signing, Clemens, along with Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, was one of the poster children of the steroids era and really represented the shitty side of professional sports (i.e. putting wining at all costs above everything else).  However, I, being the loyal fan, brushed aside any concerns about his possible cheating when the team began to win and even managed to make the World Series in 2005.  It was all awesome until it ended up coming out later that Petitite had tested positive for human growth hormone and his statement implicating Clemens as well.

So, let’s skip ahead a few years to this current crop of Astros.  You had to be a dedicated fan to be a fan of the Astros during the lean years.  The ball club changed ownership and the new regime brought in a new GM, Jeff Luhnow, to try and turn the team around.  The strategy resulted in the stripping of the club of all of its valuable parts and starting from scratch through the draft.  It was a wasteland on the field because the team was basically fielding a team made up of Triple A talent.  However, the strategy ultimately worked because the Astros had several successful drafts that resulted in a core group of young players that were extremely talented.  Sticking with the team through the lean years made it all the more satisfying when the team began to win.  And it is hard to discount how great these players seemed.  They always looked like they were having fun playing this game and it felt as though they all really enjoyed each other’s company as well.  It felt like a band of brothers in the best sense.  I got a lot of joy watching these guys play and I felt proud to show off my Astros colors wherever I was.  It just felt cool to be a fan of the Astros.  When they won the World Series in 2017, I was just beside myself with joy.  I never thought I would see the day that my scrappy little team would be crowned champions.  What made it even sweeter was that we weren’t the fucking Yankees.  We did this the right way.  Built from the ground up with a good group of dudes.

At least that’s what I thought….

I feel like I should have seen this coming.  My first sense that things weren’t as cool as they seemed in Astros land was when Yuli Gurriel made a slanty-eye gesture regarding Dodger pitcher Yu Darvish after he took Darvish deep in Game 3 of the 2017 World Series.  I was shocked and embarrassed by the gesture.  Now, for his part, Gurriel seemed contrite and genuinely sorry for the gesture and repeatedly stated that the gesture wasn’t malicious in intent.  But, c’mon, man, that’s just not something you do.  Then, in 2018, my fandom took another hit when the team traded for Roberto Osuna in 2018.  Osuna as a member of the Blue Jays had been serving a 75 game suspension from MLB after being arrested for beating up his girlfriend and mother of his son.  This was the first public face of the win-at-all-costs mentality that had gripped this team.  The Astros had a publicly announced zero tolerance policy against domestic violence by any of its players or staff.  Yet, here they were, signing a dude who was just coming off a serious suspension for a credible report of domestic violence.  It is very possible that the only reason Osuna wasn’t in jail was the fact that the victim had returned to Mexico and refused to cooperate with police in Toronto.  Houston’s management team gave lip service to doing due diligence in regard to the incident and Osuna’s off-field behavior and declared themselves satisfied that Osuna was working to change his future behavior and that there had been no further incidents since the alleged abuse took place.  It was just a coincidence that Osuna was one of the best young relievers in the game and Houston had a gaping hole in the back end of their bullpen.  Fuck our values and integrity.  We need a closer!  This really felt like a sellout by the team in my opinion.  But, they were still winning and I rationalized the move as being OK as long as Osuna didn’t get in anymore trouble.  Second chances and all that.  And from all reports, Osuna hasn’t had any off-field issues since he came to Houston.  But, I felt like shit every time he came into a game and helped them win.  It just felt dirty.  It stopped being a feel-good story.

And then at the end of last season as the Astros were attempting to win their second World Series title, rumors starting swirling about a pitching signal cheating scandal through the use of a replay camera and video feed that was located off of the Astros’ dugout.  Once again, I tried to rationalize it away.  These guys aren’t cheaters.  Look at Altuve, Correa and Springer.  No possible way these guys would stoop to cheating.

Well, I was wrong.  And they were wrong.  And I am fucking pissed.  The 2017 World Series Championship doesn’t mean shit.  It’s gone in my opinion.  Never happened.  Reading the Commissioner’s Report on the scandal shows that this rot infected every level of this organization.  MLB took decisive action by suspending GM Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch for not stepping into to stop the cheating.  The Astros themselves decided to take this punishment further by firing both Luhnow and Hinch.  I think the action taken in both instances was more than justified and a step in the right direction.  However, as the Commissioner’s Report noted, this was a player driven cheating scheme.  The only two members of the Astros named personally as being direct participants and ringleaders of the scheme were former bench coach, Alex Cora, and reserve veteran player, Carlos Beltran.  Cora is currently under investigation for his possibly using the same sort of cheating scheme in 2018 after he took the managing job with the Boston Red Sox.  Beltran had been hired this offseason as the new manager of the New York Mets, but was subsequently released after the report.  Both Cora and Beltran have been fired by the Red Sox and  Mets respectively for their part in the cheating scandal.

Since the report didn’t single out any other players, there is no telling which guys were involved in this scheme.  As a consequence, they are all culpable.  There have been a few players who were with the Astros in 2017 that have come forward and offered apologies and statements saying that they should have stepped up and stopped it.  The four players that have made such statements, Joe Musgrove, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Marwin Gonzalez, are all no longer with the Astros.  Musgrove, to his credit, went as far as to say that it is hard to deny that the 2017 championship isn’t tainted.  There aren’t any current Astros that were on the 2017 team that have come forward with any comparable statements.  And I know there are legal issues and their agents have probably instructed them to not make any statements, but I find it fucking cowardly that no current players have made any statements of explanation or regret.  Alex Bregman gave a standard legal-speak during an Astros Winter Caravan stop with the lame, “The Commissioner came out with a report, MLB did a report and the Astros did what they did….I have no thoughts on it.”  That kind of shit is not going to cut it in repairing a damaged relationship.

So, where does that leave fans of the Astros?  Do we simply move forward as if nothing ever happened?  Do we still celebrate the 2017 championship?  Do we forgive the players for their deceit?  Do we stay in a state of denial and claim that everyone cheats and that the Astros were simply doing what everyone else in the league was doing?

I don’t really have an answer.  But my feelings for my team have changed.  I can’t look at this group of guys the same way.  Maybe I’m just being naive, but I want to believe that what I see on the field is real.  I want it to be the product of fair play.  I want to be proud to be a fan and have confidence that when they win that they are doing in a fair and just manner.  As of right now, I’m not there.  Every story I see about the Astros seems to be in this la-la land where the scandal never happened and they are expecting all of us to simply rally around the team with no questions asked or explanations given.  And I don’t want to hear excuses like, “Everyone else is doing the same thing.”  I don’t give a shit if they are.  I want my team to be better than everyone else.  Even yesterday, owner Jim Crane announced that there will be a team meeting to discuss a strategy in handling the matter going into the 2020 season.  I think we deserve better than “a strategy”.  I think every single player needs to come out and publicly own this shit.  There needs to be an unequivocal “We fucked up.  We cheated.  We apologize to the Dodgers and to their fans and to our fans for the deceit.  It will not happen again.”  And, honestly, even if they do come out in Spring Training and offer explanations and acknowledgment of fault, I’m not sure it is enough to make me feel better about my continuing affiliation with this ballclub.

This has been a really sad period for me.  I feel like I’m on the verge of a break-up.  I’m not sure where I go from here.  I’ll probably keep an eye on the team this year and see how the players react to the scandal going forward.  Maybe they can make amends.  I just don’t know.  But, there is a real possibility I move on to a new team.  Which also feels terrible.

It feels as though this is just a symptom of the time we live in.  Everything is terrible and everyone is looking for the quickest route to success at all costs regardless of the consequences or how many people it ends up hurting.  From Wall Street and the economy to our political system, there is a rot that is destroying everything good and decent.  When I can’t even find solace in rooting for a baseball team as a respite from the outside bullshit the world throws at me on a daily basis, I have to question what the hell are we doing wrong.

At least metal is still fucking awesome.  Nobody mess with that.  Please.

Addendum:  The Astros just had a press conference this morning to address the scandal.  Owner Jim Crane apologized, but actually said that he didn’t feel as though the cheating by his team affected the outcome of the 2017 World Series.  He said that they had a good team and seemed to imply that they would have won it even if they hadn’t cheated.  Then why did they do it, Jim?  And why did you fire Luhnow and Hinch?  If the cheating made no difference in the outcome, why have any repercussions within the organization at all?  Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve also gave extremely brief statements that basically sounded like canned answers.  We’re sorry.  We were wrong.  But we’re moving on to 2020.  Everybody rally around the family!  Yay!!  This just isn’t going to cut it with me.  I think I may be done with this team.

Sean Reinert 5/27/1971-1/24/2020 RIP and Reed Mullin 2/12/1966-2/27/2020 RIP

So, 2020 has definitely started in a truly terrible manner, especially in the world of rock/metal drummers.  The past few days has seen the passing of two more noted drummers.  Obviously, neither of these gentlemen are going to inspire the worldwide mourning that Neil Peart did, but both deserve a shout out for their contributions to the art form that we love.

Sean Reinert was primarily known for his work with the groundbreaking death metal/atmospheric fusion band, Cynic.  Cynic was a heralded cult underground band that was one of the first death metal bands to incorporate a variety of other musical genres and elements to death metal.  The foundation for Cynic was laid when Reinert and long-time musical partner Paul Masvidal joined Chuck Schuldiner in the seminal death metal band Death on their acclaimed album, Human.  Reinert’s drumming style incorporated a creative style into the traditional death metal sound that influenced countless death metal drummers as to the different boundaries that could be pushed in this genre.  Equally important to his musical legacy was the fact that Reinert was among the small minority metal musicians to come out as a gay person.  His death is particularly jarring for me personally simply for the fact that we were the same age.

Reed Mullin was a founding member of the cross-over punk band Corrosion of Conformity.  COC started out punk, but eventually evolved into one of the mainstay bands trading in American sludge/grunge rock.  Mullin was one of those drummers that wasn’t flashy, but he had his own sound that was just solid and recognizable.  His work on their albums released throughout the 90s were some of the highlights in a time when metal was struggling to find its way after the 80s heyday.  Mullin’s battles with alcohol dependency and health issues in recent years had led to his stepping away from the band in recent years.

Cheers to you both and thanks for sharing your musical talents with us all.

Neil Peart 9/12/1952-1/7/2020 RIP

Well, I had a sinking feeling that 2020 was going to be a giant shit of a year and it just started off with a bang.  First post of the year and it has to be a eulogy to one of my favorite musicians of all time.

Those of you that know me know that Iron Maiden is my favorite band.  Now, if they are #1, Rush would be #1a.  Rush has always been a band that polarizes people.  It seems that people either really love Rush or they really don’t care for them at all.  I am of the opinion that their 40+ year career is one of the most innovative and creative and, dare I say, classy in the history of rock/metal music.  And although I’ve always viewed Rush as three equal parts, it is hard to understate the importance Neil Peart was to the creative entity that was Rush.

In my early days, a big part of me wanted to be a rock drummer.  Peart was instrumental in this dream.  He made the drums more than just a timepiece.  He made the drums musical.  His memorable fills and intricate rhythms were as recognizable as any classic guitar riff or singer’s melody.  I’m fairly certain that he made air drumming a thing.  In addition to his mastery of the drums, he was the wordsmith of the band and penned the great majority of their lyrics over the years.  In a lot of rock music, the lyrics are usually fairly banal and usually take a back seat to the music and presentation.  Peart was different in this regard.  Thoughtfully nicknamed The Professor, he used his well-read background to forge lyrics that challenged and inspired the listener.  Who amongst us weren’t able to relate to the sentiments of Subdivisions or get whisked away to sci fi and fantasy tales such as Cygnus X-1 or 2112?  Peart was an unparalleled talent and the world will be a little bit less interesting without him.

In addition to his music endeavors, Peart was a wonderful writer.  For such an introverted person, Peart would pour himself onto the page.  I found it interesting that he was known for being such a private and guarded person and yet he would bear the raw emotion and heartbreak for everyone to read.  If you were a Rush and Peart fan, I cannot recommed his memoir, Ghost Rider, which centered on his attempts at rebuilding a life that was shattered when his daughter was killed in a car accident and then his wife later succumbed to cancer.  He embarks on a cross country motorcycle journey that took him across both Canada and the U.S.  It’s a moving look at loss and the grieving process and also serves as a wonderfully descriptive travelogue for North America.

So, pull out Farewell to Kings.  Rock out to YYZ.  Do the air drum fills to Tom Sawyer.  Celebrate the life of Neil.  Because we’re only immortal for a limited time.

The Year in Metal 2019

Hmmmm.  We’ve reach the end of the 2010s decade here in the land of metal.  Overall, this has been a really good decade for metalheads and the state of the genre is still very healthy.  However, 2019 was a bit of a disappointment in general for the state of new music.  Sure, there were some strong albums that came out and we’ll be reviewing those in the upcoming weeks, but looking at the entirety of releases spanning the year and the level of quality was a little down in comparison to past years.  Once again, the biggest trend for me was the amount of stellar material coming out of bands with debut albums or band that are just two or three albums into their career.  This trend towards younger blood bringing solid material provides a hefty dose of optimism for the health of the scene overall.  The more established bands are still cranking out decent material, but 2019 found these bands falling a bit behind the younger and hungrier up-and-coming bands.

On the live music scene, for me anyway, this was another jam-packed year of really good musical performances.  I got to scratch quite a few bands off of my “never seen” list this year.  Riverside, Panopticon (both acoustic and black metal sets), Demons and Wizards, Monolord, Windhand, Voivod, Robin Trower, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Zeal and Ardor, Warforged, Spirit Adrift, The Claypool Lennon Delerium and Arkona were all first time concerts for me this year.  Other highlights were getting to seeing Saxon still defying the toll of time by giving one of their more energetic club shows I’ve seen by them, Rivers of Nihil playing last year’s masterpiece Where Owls Know My Name in full along with a touring saxophone player, Plague Vendor and their hyperkinetic vocalist Brandon Blaine making a case for becoming one of the more interesting frontmen going, witnessing Michael Schenker and his merry band of past vocalist joining together for a lovely evening of metal nostalgia, bonding with Panopticon’s Austin Lunn about the Galactic Cowboys, seeing critical darling Spirit Adrift up close and personal in a club the size of a large kitchen, witnessing an acoustic Chelsea Wolfe show in a church, and nearly losing a toe during the massive convergence of two tours consisting of Psycroptic/Voivod/Revocation/Sick of It All/Municipal Waste/Napalm Death. (Flip Flops Forever!)

The 2019 Top 20 Best of Metal album review begins tomorrow.  I know this is like the day before Christmas for you little metalheads.  Get to bed early tonight and it will be here before you know it.

Levitation Fest 2019: Chelsea Wolfe and Ioanna Gika at Central Presbyterian Church and Red Fang, Windhand, Torche and Monolord at Mohawk, Austin, TX 11/9/2019

Back in the days of yore, early November in Austin meant Fun Fun Fun Fest.  This was a glorious three day festival in Austin that melded the worlds of metal, punk, hip/hop and indie rock into a glorious Utopian mishmash of awesome.  It was a glorious fest that is sadly no more.  In its place on the calendar in Austin is Levitation Fest.  The lineups for this fest typically field a strong roster of metal bands, but the fest takes a hit overall since it doesn’t take place in one idyllic location, but is spread out among many of Austin’s small and mid-size downtown club venues.

I only attended one day of the festival this year.  Sadly, I won’t be reporting on the sets for Power Trip, High on Fire, Russian Circles or Deafheaven.  I decided to hit the Saturday afternoon set of Chelsea Wolfe and Ioanna Gika as my appetizer and then finished the day off with the main course Red Fang, Windhand, Torche and Monolord.

So, you read the description of the venue for the first show correctly.  It took place at a church.  Now, say what you will about organized religion, but one thing they do proper is architecture.  The arching roofs, the stained glass windows, the shadows thrown by the various candle displays.  Man, let’s face it:  Churches are gothic and creepy as fuck.  After witnessing this show, I really want more metal shows at churches.  This show was Chelsea Wolfe performing an acoustic set that highlighted her latest album, which was also an acoustic affair (shocker).  I didn’t take any video of her set because it just seemed like too intimate of a setting, but the light show and the stage props she brought really took advantage of the unique venue.  This was just one of those really magical performances and one of those I felt lucky to witness.  Opener Ioanna Gika (just a fantastic name) provided what seemed to be a very Chelsea-like inspired performance with a little more technical/industrial bent to her sound.  Props to the fine folks at Central Presbyterian Church of Austin for agreeing to host this awesome show that included a song about the Antichrist.

After cramming a couple of slices of pizza in my face after Chelsea finished her set, it was over to The Mohawk for a combo doom and stoner metal feast.  Monolord was the opener of the night session and they were honestly the main reason I was at this show.  I’ve been a pretty big fan of their occult stoner metal jam for some time now and their latest album, No Comfort, has been one of my favorite releases this year.  Their live show was right in line with what I had expected out of this power trio.  So much fuzz.  Fuzz for days.

Second up was Torche.  Torche is one of those bands that is kind of hard to categorize.  They’re just Torche.  Kind of punk.  Kind of hardcore.  Kind of pop/indie rock.  Catchy as all hell and just flat out cool riffs for days.  They came out and just ripped right through a nice tight set that contained no filler.

Windhand left the biggest impression of the evening.  I hadn’t really been much of a fan of theirs until their latest release, Eternal Return.  This was my first time to see them in a live setting and, wow, do they put on a good show.  I think we actually got fortunate to see them at all because they were actually subjected to a robbery while performing in Houston earlier in the week and lost most of their touring equipment.  The unfortunate events of the past week didn’t seem to affect the band’s performance at all.  Again, I can’t praise these guys enough for such a raw and present live experience they brought.

Closer was Red Fang.  Red Fang is one of those bands that flat out brings the fun.  It’s been a while since we have received any new material from these guys.  So, it was extra nice when they rolled out a couple of new tracks that are supposed to be featured on a new album coming out in 2020.  Both tracks really smoked and seemed to be a little more on the aggressive side of the Red Fang sound.

All in all, even though it was just one day for me personally, Levitation 2019 was a success.  Even though it doesn’t quite reach the level of epicness that was Fun Fun Fun, it’s still nice to have a festival in early November that caters to our chosen brand of music.

Monolord

Torche

Windhand

Red Fang

2019 SXSW Recap, Austin, TX

It’s just such a fucking shitshow.  So many times when I’m attending this thing I just keep asking myself: Why?  Why do I even bother braving this mass of humanity in the attempt of seeing a decent up-and-coming band or, at the very least, some sort of memorable random spectacle.  For a severely introverted person, it’s a struggle to force one’s self into this pit of debauchery.  It’s just such a jumble of shows and parties and weird promotional gigs all crammed into a week over countless number of dirty and grimy clubs.  It’s exhausting.  It’s draining.  It’s kooky.  It’s maddening.  It’s revelatory.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s…well…a shitshow.

At least on paper, the 2019 edition of SXSW was looked to be somewhat underwhelming on the metal front.  In past years, we’ve been treated to showcases sponsored by the heavy hitters in the metal blogging word (i.e. not the one you are currently reading) such as Metal Injection, Metalsucks and Invisible Oranges.  However, none of these entities had any events this year.  Austin’s own Terror Fest put on a couple of showcases that featured Goatwhore and Conan among others.  But, by and large, this was just a dry year for metal.

Since there wasn’t much on the schedule that I felt was “must see” fare, I was content to sit back and let my Punk Rock Bride plan out our schedule.  And, damn, if she didn’t find some really good gems buried amongst the rabble of bands that hit town last week.  First up was the annual Japan Day preview show.  This is usually one of the more interesting shows that happens every year during SXSW.  It’s a broad variety of bands that are showcased at this event with the only common thread running through it is that all of the bands are from Japan.  You’ll see techno, indie pop, doo-wop, metal, prog, punk and weird art rock all represented.  The highlight of this year’s show was Otoboke Beaver.  This was a four-piece all female noise punk band.  They are self-described as being a “Japanese girls knock out or pound cake band”.  Which is awesome.  They hit the stage all wearing brightly colored floral 60s era go-go dancer dresses and proceeded to destroy the stage at Elysium.  Full of rage, this was a very cathartic set.

The other main highlight of the fest was another band from Japan called Asterism.  They are a three piece instrumental group made up of a 16, 17 and 18 year-olds.  The chops on these kids is very impressive.  The lead guitarist sounds as if Joe Satriani passed away and was reincarnated as a 16 year-old girl from Japan.  Her playing has a good combination of both aggressive metal riffs and intricate leads.  Plus, she has already mastered some very infectious stage presence with some fearsome headbanging skills and metal poses.  The bassist and drummer are also both similarly skilled and provide a solid foundation for the band.  It will be interesting to see which direction these kids ultimately end up pursuing as their careers progress.

Baroness, Deafheaven and Zeal & Ardor at Emo’s, Austin, TX, 3/9/2019

This was a really cool triple bill.  Most of the time it seems like promoters like to group bands on a touring package that are all in the same vein of metal.  This show was different in that the three bands brought a diversity of metal styles to the same show.  I think these kinds of shows keep the proceedings from getting stale or repetitive.

Baroness and Deafheaven have joined together for a co-headlining trek across the States.  At this particular show, we were treated to having Baroness as the headliner.  It has been a few years since we’ve seen Baroness on a proper tour and this one presented a couple of changes.  First off, we got to see new lead guitarist, Gina Gleason, in action.  She fits in perfectly with the band.  Not only did she absolutely nail all of former guitarist Peter Adams’ leads and backing vocals, but she also managed to capably cover all of Pete’s enthusiastic headbanging for the band.  Additionally, we got to hear one preview song off of the band’s upcoming album, Gold and Silver.  The song seemed to be in a similar vein to the band’s last album, Purple.  Overall, the set was a fairly good cross-section of the band’s full catalog.

Deafheaven hit the stage in the middle slot of the show and ripped through a fairly tight set.  Always in the mood to tweak the traditions of black metal, they came out with a very spacey/rainbow themed backdrop and white carnations adorning their amps.  Much like Baroness, Deafheaven is kind of in between albums and they had just recently dropped one new song which they played during their set.  Deafheaven is just a weird band and I get why they catch so much crap from the purists.  Lead singer George Clark seems to be gathering more and more confidence in his stage performance as the band ages and if he continues with his whip-hair style of headbanging he’s liable to end up with a neck as thick as Corpsegrinders.  Lead guitarist Kerry McCoy’s emo-style dance moves just don’t quite gel with some of the downright brutal riffs coming out of his guitar.  I don’t know.  People slag these guys, but I dig it.  It’s different and the music is solid.

Zeal & Ardor were the wild card of the evening.  Billed as a combination of traditional slave-era black spiritual music with black metal, this was a band that I was really intrigued to see live.  Given the disparity between the two musical styles, you’d think this would be a mess, but it honestly works really well.  Mastermind Maneul Gagneaux stated that the project answers the question as to what it would have sounded like if American slaves turned to Satan instead of Jesus.   After a little technical difficulty to start their set, the band came out to a fairly blackened stage set.  Gagneaux had two back-up singers with him to provide the full context of the songs.  These guys have created a very unique sound and I urge you to go see them perform.

Deafheaven-Black Brick

Baroness-Shock Me

2018 Best of Metal: #1 Huntsmen-American Scrap

Release date:  February 23, 2018

Personnel:  Chris Kang-vocals/guitar, Kirill Orlov-guitar, Marc Stanger-Najjar-bass, and Ray Knipe-drums/vocals

Origin:  Chicago, IL

Tum-Da-Dum!!  We made it!  Well, here it is.  The 2018 winner of the Golden Flip Flop goes to Huntsmen and their epic album, American Scrap.  I had never heard of these guys before this album dropped and was somewhat skeptical regarding the description of them being a mash up of Americana music traditions and doom metal.  But, these sort of mash-ups of completely different genres of music with metal has seen an uptick in recent years and many of them work surprisingly well.  This album is just amazing from start to finish.  It’s earthy.  It’s organic.  It’s a bleak, blue-collar approach to metal that just feels gritty and real in a way that most metal albums never approach.  I think that’s the thing that kept me coming back to this album over and over again over the past year.  It is just so different than most of the albums that came out this year.  The guitars are amazing and the vocal harmonies really provide a depth to the proceedings.  I feel like Huntsmen are kindred spirits with what Panopticon is trying to accomplish, but their approach is a little more accessible than the black metal approach.  Also, the subject matter of this album just feels so relevant and present for the year of 2018.  It’s not pretty.  It doesn’t end well.  We are all going to die, but goddamn, this is a hell of a way to go out.

Have a lovely holiday season, dear readers!  I’ll see you in 2019 with more journeys into the trenches of metal.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the list and have maybe found some new bands/albums to listen to in the coming days.

5 flip flops out of 5

The final list:

1.  Huntsmen-American Scrap
2.  Yob-Our Raw Heart
3.  The Ocean-Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic
4.  The Sword-Used Future
5.  Skeletonwitch-Devouring Radiant Light
6.  The Atlas Moth-Coma Noir
7.  Rivers of Nihil-Where Owls Know My Name
8.  Sleep-The Sciences
9.  Tomb Mold-Manor of Infinite Forms
10.  Revocation-The Outer Ones
11.  All Them Witches-ATW
12.  Redemption-Long Night’s Journey Into Day
13.  Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats-Wasteland
14.  Panopticon-Scars of Man Upon the Once Nameless Wilderness
15.  Arkona-Khram
16.  Agrimonia-Awaken
17.  Between the Buried and Me-Automata I & II
18.  Clutch-Book of Bad Decisions
19.  Harakiri For the Sky-Arson
20.  Behemoth-I Loved You At Your Darkest

2018 Best of Metal: #2 Yob-Our Raw Heart

Release date:  June 8, 2018

Personnel:  Mike Scheidt-vocals/guitar, Aaron Rieseberg-bass, and Travis Foster-drums

Origin:  Eugene, OR

Well, we are close to wrapping this damn thing up.  Down to the final two.  These last two records could easily be 1 and 1a because I’ve probably switched them back and forth between 1 and 2 countless times now.  These are the only two albums of 2018 that I truly feel deserve the coveted 5 flip flop rating.  Both are masterpieces.  The fact that I ended up picking Yob’s latest shouldn’t diminish how amazing this album is in the slightest.  This is the first album released by Yob following Mike Scheidt’s serious health scare and the resulting album is an emotional gut punch.  It’s full of that typical Yob dichotomy of harsh and beautiful.  This is a very special album.

5 flip flops out of 5

The list so far:

2.  Yob-Our Raw Heart
3.  The Ocean-Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic
4.  The Sword-Used Future
5.  Skeletonwitch-Devouring Radiant Light
6.  The Atlas Moth-Coma Noir
7.  Rivers of Nihil-Where Owls Know My Name
8.  Sleep-The Sciences
9.  Tomb Mold-Manor of Infinite Forms
10.  Revocation-The Outer Ones
11.  All Them Witches-ATW
12.  Redemption-Long Night’s Journey Into Day
13.  Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats-Wasteland
14.  Panopticon-Scars of Man Upon the Once Nameless Wilderness
15.  Arkona-Khram
16.  Agrimonia-Awaken
17.  Between the Buried and Me-Automata I & II
18.  Clutch-Book of Bad Decisions
19.  Harakiri For the Sky-Arson
20.  Behemoth-I Loved You At Your Darkest