2012 has been more stressful than a motherfucker; probably one of the most all-around stressful years of my life. Buying a house + assorted family and work-related issues that I wouldn’t even dream of getting into here managed to turn the year into a goddamn pressure-cooker. I’m pretty sure the only things that kept me alive were my wife’s unwavering love (and limitless patience) and an avalanche of incredible music. In 2011 I was feeling pretty jaded and dissatisfied with the state of heavy metal, this year I found myself feeling better about things than I have in years. That isn’t to say there weren’t great albums released in 2011, there were, but in 2012 I felt like there was so much greatness that I couldn’t possibly keep up with it all.
Rumors of deathrock’s uh, death, are greatly exaggerated. Pinkish Black proved it was still alive and well with their excellent self-titled debut earlier this year, and now Portland, Oregon’s Atriarch have knocked it out of the goddamn park with Ritual of Passing. This isn’t your granddaddy Rozz Williams’ deathrock though. While it might be built on a tortured foundation similar to what bands like Christian Death were putting down back in the day, Atriarch breaths new life into the genre by incorporating the musical vocabularies of doom and black metal into their approach, making their brand of diseased heaviness that much more, well, deathly.
I must admit, I was late to the party on Brown Jenkins; I didn’t hear them until the inimitable Nathan T. Birk sent me a copy of Death Obsession while he was doing PR work for the once prominent black metal label Moribund Cult. I fell instantly in love with the band’s spellbinding attack, which blended elements of black metal, doom and gothic rock with an appropriately Lovecraftian sense of dread and crumbling sanity. I gave the album a glowing review for the now-defunct Sonic Frontiers(dot)net and subsequently came into contact with band mastermind Umesh Amtey. That correspondence blossomed into a friendship that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying for several years now; although Amtey and I have never met in person, I consider him a close comrade and look forward to the day when we can raise our glasses together in the same room.
As a result of our friendship, I’ve had the distinct privilege of watching the next phase of Amtey’s musical journey come into being. The Ash Eaters shares some traits with Brown Jenkins, but is an all together different beast. The guitar-work is more complex, the arrangements are more frantic, attacking the listener from every direction, while at the same time remaining catchy and memorable; Amtey has drawn from a wide range of influences and pushed them forward in every way imaginable.
I’ve been waiting for my chance to interview Mr. Amtey, so when he finally gave Ruining You, the debut Ash Eaters full length, to the world after a string of shorter releases, I knew the time had finally come. While I’ve had many private conversations with him regarding his musical history, motivations, influences, etc, I wanted to afford my readers the same opportunity to learn more about this truly unique individual and the excellent music he’s been releasing over the past several years. I contacted Mr. Amtey via e-mail for the following interrogation.
Of all the great heavy music that’s happened in 2012, I find myself being the most interested in the handful of bands that have openly defied the trappings of heavy music both musically and conceptually, while at the same time being embraced by the metal community. I’m thinking of bands such as Wreck and Reference, Menace Ruine and Author & Punisher; bands that have forged unique and innovative identities for themselves without adhering to the guitar/bass/drums format. You can add Fort Worth, TX duo Pinkish Black to that short list; their self-titled debut album is a drums/synth/loops/voice fuelled exercise in gothic/death rock exellence that nods to the past as it creeps towards the future.
For the past several years, I’ve felt very close to death. No matter what direction life has taken me in, it seems that death is there to meet me at every turn, taking away family, friends and acquaintances with a disturbing frequency. In the past month alone both my cousin and an old college professor have passed from this mortal coil, both well before their time. This increasing familiarity with death has indeed bred contempt; contempt for the callousness and randomness with which it has wrenched my loved ones from this already painful existence. Of course, no one in their right mind is fond of death, but the inordinate number of deaths I’ve had to weather recently has served to make me despise life’s final chapter that much more, if such a thing is possible.
Since 2011, The Ash Eaters have been releasing a steady stream of demo tracks, EPs and cover songs. The band continuously evolves with each new endeavor; guitarist/vocalist/evil genius Umesh Amtey is seemingly always refining and tweaking his approach, while at the same time expanding upon it in order to explore even darker, more twisted musical vistas. At this point my friendship with Mr. Amtey is well documented; it has been a joy to share in his excitement as the project has grown from the embryo that was last year’s Cold Hearts demo to the full-grown beasts of The Cruel Side EP and now the mesmerizing Ibn Ghazi EP.
I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about checking out Wreck and Reference when I first heard about them. As deep an appreciation as I have for forward-thinking heavy music, I still have at least one foot (or maybe just a toe?) stuck in the old school, which means a metal band that doesn’t wield a single guitar of any kind throws up a huge red flag. I know, I know, it seems silly and more than a tad close minded, but hey, we all have our hang-ups; at the end of the day, I’m a guitar guy, a fucking RIFF guy, so I’m bound to approach a band like Wreck and Reference, who lack the one instrument that is in my opinion the foundation of heavy metal as the Gods (Iommi, Mustaine, Warrior, Quorthon, etc) intended it, with extreme caution.
In a recent conversation about music, my wife pointed out that I tend to gravitate towards stuff that is very raw and simplistic. I believe “garagey” was the term she used. She’s absolutely right. I guess this has long been the case, but I had never really thought about it consciously until she brought it up. I mean, I’ve certainly done my fair share of writing and espousing the virtues of raw, primitive music, but I never really considered just how much my listening preferences are dominated by these characteristics.
The Ash Eaters have released a new two track digital EP, The Cruel Side via their bandcamp page. For those not familiar, the band is the new project of former Brown Jenkins mastermind, Umesh Amtey. Amtey is probably one of the most underrated guitarists in metal, his playing a schizophrenic locust swarm that attacks from all sides and encompasses elements of black metal, doom, gothic rock and beyond. But as abrasive as this material may appear on the surface, it is also strangely catchy, the sheets of insectoid distortion burrowing deep into the inner recesses of your mind. I’m listening to the EP for the first time as I type this; I’m already eager to listen further. Amtey doesn’t just write songs, he creates musical labyrinths for the ears to explore.
Those of you familiar with The Ash Eaters’ Cold Hearts demo (also available via bandcamp), will instantly notice a distinct progression in playing and composition (as well as the return of Amtey’s Cthulu-esque vocal assault); indeed, the beautiful thing about this music is that it is constantly progressing, changing, morphing into something beyond the confines of extreme music.
I could say a lot more, but I’d rather let the music do the talking. Go grab this now!
I’d also highly recommend stopping by The Ash Eaters’ blog to download their cover versions of the Misfits’s “Angelfuck” and “Death Comes Ripping.”
Autumn in the Midwest is typically dark and chilly, a time of introspection. The sweltering heat and humidity of Summer dissipates, September’s cool, wet mornings and brown leaf vertigo eventually ushering in October, and with it Halloween, all cardboard skeletons and freshly carved jack-o-lanterns. Over the years, Type O Negative’s October Rust has more often than not served as my soundtrack to this drearily beautiful, eerily haunting season, and what a soundtrack it is.
I seem to remember reading interviews with dearly departed Type O frontman Peter Steele in which he proclaimed October Rust as his masterpiece, and it’s damn hard to argue with him. This is a truly excellent album, conceived by a musician who wrote as if he held The Beatles and Black Sabbath (and possibly Bauhaus) in equal regard. In actuality, the lushly layered pop sensibilities of October Rust recall the work of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson moreso than The Beatles. If Wilson had been obsessed with death, lost love, substance abuse and folklore, this might have been the album he made instead of Pet Sounds. Indeed, there is an atmosphere of dark psychedelia lurking below October Rust‘s surface, adding yet another shade of grey haze to its funereal gloom.
From a song standpoint, the album’s highlights are many. Opening epic dirge “Love You to Death” and electro/pop/goth/metal lead-off single “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” are probably the two most well known tracks here, and while they’re certainly worthy of their infamy, October Rust is a veritable treasure trove of deep cuts. “Green Man” is an otherworldly ode to nature, touching upon pagan and Wiccan themes. ”Red Water (Christmas Mourning)” is a drunken carol of lost loved ones that even manages to quote “Carol of the Bells”. ”Wolf Moon” is my favorite track on October Rust, the very definition of a perfect song; it’s heavy, catchy, melodic and totally original in both concept and execution. I’m pretty sure it’s about a werewolf (or perhaps a man who thinks he’s a werewolf) performing cunnilingus on a menstruating woman (“Don’t spill a drop, dear / let me kiss the curse away / yourself in my mouth / will you leave me with your taste?”); it serves as the culmination of the morose, surreal sexuality that permeates the album. On an earlier track, the lusty “Be My Druidess”, Steele declares “I’ll do anything / to make you come” and I’ve often wondered if the two songs are related, with the “anything” in question being the bloody, lupine muff diving session detailed on “Wolf Moon”. Then again, maybe I’m just a weird pervert.
The component parts of the songs on October Rust are just as interesting as the songs themselves. The down-tuned, electric ultra-fuzz of Kenny Hickey’s guitar tone is total Tony Iommi worship, but the myriad influences at work within October Rust‘s aural confines keep it from being a mere Sabbath rip-off; it’s more like Hickey studied Iommi closely and then applied what he learned in support of Steele’s eclectic writing style, creating something totally unique in the process. Steele’s affinity for crafting great songs peaked with October Rust, and his vampiric baritone vocals are also at the height of their powers throughout the recording, securing the late frontman an eternal place among metal’s greatest and most recognizable singers and songwriters. Josh Silver’s nuanced keyboards and production work completes the album’s rich sonic tapestry, which seamlessly encompasses doom metal, gothic and psychedelic rock. If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention the drums, well… according to an interview Silver gave in 2007, the drums on October Rust are canned.
October Rust is many things. It’s Summer dying fast. It’s November coming fire. It’s the Green Man, the Wolfman and Bacchus. It’s love, death and depression. It’s booze and drugs and cigarettes and fucking. In case it hasn’t already been made abundantly clear, I’ll just come right out and say it: October Rust is a perfect metal album.
THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums
1. Celestial Season – Solar Lovers
2. Type O Negative – October Rust