Jonas Renkse is a difficult man to photograph. For the entirety of Katatonia’s set Wednesday night at Wooly’s, the singer kept his face deliberately obscured behind a mass of hair; as if not wanting to face the crowd. But his jovial between-song demeanor and powerful performance spoke otherwise; his exquisite vocals the undeniable focal point of the Swedish quartet’s excellent hour long set opening for prog metal grand poobahs Opeth. In some ways, Herr Renkse’s locks could be a metaphor for Katatonia’s music; their underlying metal-ness often obscured by heaps of beautifully dark, multi-textured melancholia.
I’ve long tried to come up with an excuse to write about Black Sabbath’s Born Again. Most who’ve heard it will probably agree with me that it doesn’t belong on any top albums list you can thing of, yet it possesses a certain strange appeal that’s as much because of its flaws (of which there are many) as it is in spite of them. As I was loading all the Black Sabbath I own onto my iTunes and got ’round to this 1983 disasterpiece, I finally said to hell with it, it’s time to devote some digital ink (not to be confused with the “Digital Bitch;” keep away from her) to one of the weirder metal albums in my collection.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the goddamn mighty Darkthrone? It’s been three years since I last interviewed drummer/co-vocalistFenriz, so naturally I jumped at the chance for a second round of interrogation upon the release of Darkthrone’s sixteenth(!) album, the ridiculously awesome The Underground Resistance. I mean shit, it isn’t every day you get the chance to interview your favorite fucking band.
To say that I was highly anticipating seeing Ghost in the flesh would probably be the understatement of the year. Their 2010 debut full length Opus Eponymous has been in near constant rotation since its release, and this year’s Infestissumam already has a place in my year-end top five all but locked up. There is something about their combination of Luciferian lyrics, infectious yet hard-rocking pop hooks and outlandish visuals that’s incredibly appealing to this old fan of KISS, Alice Cooper and King Diamond, artists with which Ghost clearly shares a lineage.
The last time I wrote about the Swedish sensation known as Ghost, I stated that the less I thought of them as a metal band, the more I found myself enjoying them. Their debut album Opus Eponymous was released on a metal label (Rise Above/Metal Blade) and featured distorted guitars, but was at its core a pop album; those vocal harmonies were more about The Beach Boys than Mercyful Fate, and the songs themselves were saccharine odes to Satan so addictive that I imagined even Pat Robertson’s wrinkly old Dungeons & Dragons-hating ass would have a hell of a time keeping them out of his head if he were ever exposed. Indeed, Ghost were an anomaly in the metal world; a band that praised Lucifer with the best of them, but did so in a way that actually stood a chance of sending the average joe or jane down ye olde left hand path.
Normally I would never make an entire post revolving around a single song. But “God is Dead?” isn’t just any song, it’s our first taste of 13, the first Black Sabbath full length to feature original members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler together in thirty-five years. Given that there would be no heavy metal (or at least no heavy metal as we know it today) without these guys, it’s uh, kind of a big deal.
I don’t know that I have a favorite band anymore; in my old age I’ve become more of a favorite album guy. But, if I was forced at gunpoint to pick a favorite band, chances are the first one that would spring to mind is Darkthrone. They’re one of the few that can do no wrong in my eyes, whether we’re talking about the twisted death metal of Soulside Journey, the genre-defining pure Norse black metal of the A Blaze in the Northern Sky/Under a Funeral Moon/Transilvanian Hunger trilogy, or their current incarnation as a black/punk/traditional heavy metal hybrid. Even Goatlord, by far the worst album in their entire catalog, has its charms. No matter what direction Darkthrone take their sound in, they do it more than competently and with plenty of attitude, and I in turn always seem to find something to enjoy in whatever they do.
Metal has had a bad case of retro-itis for the past several years, and I’ve been known to talk quite a bit of shit about it. Whether it be the glut of Incantation clones with swamp-ass production values and zero riffs, occult rock bands fronted by witchy women that just end up sounding like Jefferson Airplane singing about Satan, or more ham-fisted NWOBHM wannabes than you can shake a Flying V at, vintage is the new new, and it seems that for every one boundary-pushing metal band, there are a dozen more flogging a not-quite-dead horse. But, even I have to (grudgingly) admit that a handful of young bands are doing a pretty swell job of sprucing up and putting a fresh coat of paint on ye olde heavy metal, and Germany’s Alpha Tiger are most certainly one of them, having released a pretty darn excellent old school metal album this year in the form of Beneath the Surface.
At this point I think all of us here in the good ol’ U-S-of-A can agree that Manilla Road mastermind Mark “The Shark” Shelton is a national treasure. The man has been fighting the good fight since forming the band in 1977 (aside from a brief break from 1992 – 1994) and Mysterium, Manilla Road’s sixteenth album (counting The Circus Maximus, which was originally intended as a separate project) finds the Kansan quartet sounding as mighty as ever. This should come as no surprise, considering that Manilla Road is not only one of the longest-running US heavy metal bands, but also one of the most quality consistent in this or any other country, seemingly incapable of releasing anything less than instantly classic material.
I hate power metal. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. My hatred for the genre burns with the fire of a thousand suns going nova. Ah, that’s more like it. Anyway, it’s been years since I subjected myself to the genre due to extreme disdain, but then along came this beyond fucking hysterical review of Stratovarius’ latest flaming unicorn ride and I just couldn’t help myself. The review was so engaging that it was one of those things where I knew the album would make me cringe, but at the same time, I just had to know…