There are few things that please me more right now than this resurgence we’re currently seeing in the gothic sounds of the 1980s within the realm of heavy music. It appears that metal musicians have taken a shining to the the stuff of late, or maybe they’re getting bored with metal, or perhaps they always had it and are only now allowing themselves to cut loose and release the bats. Whatever the case, Helsinki’s Beastmilk are absolutely killing it with their debut album, Climax.
When I first started thinking about how to approach THKD’s year end shenanigans for 2013, I tried to come up with ideas for different types of lists that would get away from the traditional top albums countdown. Turns out I’m more scatterbrained than creative, because what I ended up with was a bunch of stuff that really didn’t fit together or adhere to any sort of unifying theme. Instead of giving up on the idea, I decided to gather a few of these things together under one banner even though it didn’t make any sense whatsoever, just for the sheer joy of it, in addition to a more traditional year end list. So here it is, the second year end “bonus list” prior to the top metal albums countdown, which will be published on 12/13/13; THKD’s top 10 random-ass things I enjoyed in 2013.
According to my calendar, Winter doesn’t start until December 21st. I call bullshit. It’s dark when I get up to go to work in the morning, it’s dark when I get home from work and it’s freezing out. It’s fucking Winter. When this time of year rolls around, all I want to do is eat, sleep and listen to depressing music. I’m not allowed to hibernate, so I cope with the darkness of the season by listening to music that’s equally dark. Not wanting to keep the displeasure all to myself, I’ve selected ten of the most depressing albums in my Winter rotation to harsh your mellow and keep you appropriately bummed out until Spring rolls around… if you make it that long.
A man cannot live by metal alone. The problem is, I don’t keep up with other styles of music as obsessively and consistently as I do metal, so when I want something new to listen to that falls outside the genre, I’m often at a bit of a loss. Not sure where to turn, I recently started trawling Bandcamp to see if I could find anything of note that didn’t involve screaming, Satan, loud guitars and the like. Most of the bands I found were total duds, but after much intense searching I stumbled across the Los Angeles trio Ghost Noise, and suddenly all was right with the world.
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.