Ars Phoenix – Violent Rain (Etxe Records, 2014)

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I’ve long had a thing for the gothic/darkwave sound, and although I don’t seek it out as rabidly as I do metal, some great bands in this style have been coming my way of late.  Last year saw Ghost Noise releasing a promising debut album and the past few months have been all about Bad Psychic’s stunningly beautiful Soon.  Now we have Gainesville, FL trio Ars Phoenix gracing us with yet another must-hear take on the genre in the form of Violent Rain.

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The Metallica Letters: THKD vs. Last Rites – Load

Metallica - Load-PHOTO

In 1996, Metallica unleashed Load, an album which saw the band drifting even further away from the complex thrash metal they’d made their name on in favor of stripped-down, southern-tinged hard rock.  They also toyed with their image, chopping off their once flowing locks and ditching black jeans and t-shirts for eyeliner and designer duds.  Before it was even released, the band made seismic waves with the Samuel Bayer-directed, Hieronymus Bosch-inspired music video for first single “Until it Sleeps,” which seemed to exist in another universe both musically and visually from anything they’d done previously.

I distinctly remember me and my buddy Jon going out to our local Best Buy to buy the album the day it came it out; we excitedly popped the CD into his car stereo and… we thought it was awesome.  You see, growing up smack dab in the Midwest with no access to a metal underground of any kind gave us a unique perspective; in spite of being familiar with Metallica’s back catalog we didn’t feel betrayed, rather we welcomed the band doing something different and not putting out The Black Album Part II.  Maybe we were naive, but I’d like to think we were open-minded.  At sixteen years old I wasn’t listening to albums with the critical ear I have now, and we had no concept of elitism or preconceived notions of what metal had to sound like in order to be “true.” The fact that we were raised on classic rock and loved alternative rock almost as much as we loved metal made it pretty easy to appreciate what Metallica were attempting, even if in retrospect their attempt was heavily flawed.

As recently as last year, I was still proclaiming my love for Load, stating that if any other band had released it, it would be hailed as a great hard rock album.  As it turns out, a more thorough critical analysis reveals that only about half the album is as strong as I’ve previously proclaimed it to be, the other half is a combination of filler and failed experiments that make a strong case for Load and its sister album ReLoad being whittled down to a single combined disk (that could be a whole other piece unto itself… hmm…).

In the second part of our Metallica Letters series of collaborative posts, Last Rites‘ Jordan Campbell and myself tackle the bloated, quintuple platinum-selling beast that somehow propelled Lars and Co. even further into the stadium rock stratosphere in spite of its inherent weirdness.  Check out our thoughts on Side A below and then head over to Last Rites for Side B.

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Beastmilk – Climax (Svart Records, 2013)

Beastmilk Climax cover

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.

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The Six-String Kiss of My Bloody Valentine

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I don’t need to tell you to listen to My Bloody Valentine.  I don’t need to tell you what an important band they are.  And yeah, I realize that MBV is the cliche token shoegaze band that metalheads like, and the band that metal writers automatically point to whenever a band exhibits a shoegaze influence (with Slowdive coming in a distant second on both counts).  I know I’m guilty of it.  But sometimes, when you discover one band that’s so fucking amazing and addictive, it’s hard to pull yourself away and explore the rest of what’s out there.
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Listen to: Ghost Noise

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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.
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Finally… Danzig.

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At this point, my status as a Glenn Danzig maniac is far beyond well-documented.  Between the Misfits, Samhain and Danzig, I’ve devoted more digital ink to the man’s music than to any other artist I’ve covered here at THKD.  The last time I took stock of my music collection, the Evil Elvis dominated it with over twenty releases, not to mention all the t-shirts and other random paraphernalia I own.  My one and only tattoo is based loosely on “Thirteen,” the song Danzig wrote for Johnny Cash (my favorite metal singer meets my favorite non metal singer).  Cosmo Lee, the founder of Invisible Oranges, even based a post around my admission that I celebrate Danzig’s entire catalogue in my review of 2010’s excellent Deth Red Sabaoth.
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Katatonia @ Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA 05/15/13

088Jonas 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.

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Ghost @ Mill City Nights, Minneapolis, MN 5/4/13

photo (1)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.
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Ghost – Infestissumam (Loma Vista/Republic, 2013)

Ghost-Infestissumam-april-19The 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.

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