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.
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.
Being a one-man project released on cassette, you’d probably be expecting DeathCult’s The Test of Time to be some kind of depressive/suicidal/ambient black metal clusterfuck. Fortunately you couldn’t be more wrong, because this Chicago-based maniac’s stock-in-trade is ripping, heavily blackened thrash that as expected pays its grim respects to the unholy trinity (Venom/Bathory/Celtic Frost), while at the same time putting its own nasty-ass stamp on one of metal’s gnarliest subgenres.
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.
Given the players involved and the label putting it out, it’s quite surprising that there hasn’t been more hype surrounding the release of Vhöl’s self-titled debut album. I mean, we’re talking about a band that includes current/former members of the likes of Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra, YOB and Agalloch on the goddamn mighty Profound Lore for chrissakes; if ever there was a modern band that should be having the term supergroup lobbed at its feet, it’s surely Vhöl. And while I (fortunately) haven’t seen too many folks chucking the dreaded “s word” about in reference to this quartet of West Coast killas, their opening salvo is nonetheless pretty gosh darn super.
Hot on the heels of last year’s excellent Cold of Ages (review HERE), California black metallers Ash Borer are back with Bloodlands, an EP set to be released by everyone’s favorite vinyl porn purveyors, Gilead Media. The quintet have already proven themselves to be among the finest of the current crop of young upstart USBM bands, and Bloodlands not only cements their position but continues to build upon the impressive foundation they’ve assembled for themselves across a handful of splits, demos and full lengths.
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.
Hells Headbangers is one of those labels that cranks out the hits faster than I can write about them. And while I’m usually opposed to these types of roundup style reviews, my recent Oodles of Brutals series (HERE and HERE) has taught me that it can actually be pretty fun to write them and other people seem to dig it, which is always a nice perk. Not only that, but let’s be honest, not every metal album, no matter how great it is, warrants a full-on 400 to 700 word review. So without further ado, I present my thoughts on a ton of recent releases from the goddamn mighty HHR. If you’re not familiar with this ridiculously awesome and quality consistent label, consider this a way to get your feet wet. If you’re a longtime fan, you’ve probably snapped all of these up already, so just consider this “bonus material.” Onward and downward…
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.
As I continue to sift through the stack of releases the good folks at Sygil Records sent me a while back, I continue to be thoroughly impressed. After tackling the excellent Avakr cassette, I decided to turn my attention to the lone CD format release the label sent my way, Charnel House’s Contagion. I’m not sure when this album was originally released, and information about the Indiana(?) duo is pretty scarce, but given that they seem to have successfully tapped into a sound that takes elements of the familiar and twists them into something stunningly unique, I can’t imagine them staying a secret for much longer.