Composing an album with the backdrop of other media is a daunting task. As we discussed earlier this year with our review of Ehnahre’s Theodore Roethke-referencing album The Marrow, it’s difficult to create music that accurately conveys the emotional context of the source material while also extrapolating enough to create a unique voice that can stand on its own. This is particularly true for albums that reference movies and similarly complex texts; whereas a novel or poem contains just text to decode, films contain several more elements that need to be interpreted, most challenging of which is the pre-existing music already linked to the visuals and script. In these types of situation, it’s a smarter bet to draw inspiration from a film while pursuing a larger thematic ideal, which is exactly how Bolt Gun succeed on their colossal, one-track album Man Is Wolf to Man. By drawing influence from a myriad of sources that bolster a stated pursuit—particularly Soviet and Ukrainian filmmaker/writer Konstantin Lopushansky’s dystopian film Posetitel Muzeya (Visitor of a Museum) as well as works by Soviet filmmakers/writers Andrei Tarkovsky and Krzysztof Kieślowski—the band realizes the grandiosity of this endeavor with an excellent display of thematic metal aimed at capturing the “existential horror of Stalinist Russia.”
Managing an album’s length is more than just a numbers game. As important as the song count and run time of a track list may be, an album’s experiential length is more closely linked to the content contained within each track. More specifically, this is defined not by the quality of an album’s ideas, but the quantity of those ideas, as well as their organization. As an example, consider your standard 20-ish minute, 20+ track grindcore album—though it may be shorter than most people’s morning commute, a band with the the most simple genre formula is introducing the listener to roughly two dozen song ideas, and if these ideas are executed poorly, the album is going to drag and lose its appeal despite presenting bite size compositions. This isn’t relevant to Never Forever because it suffers from an ineffective length; to the contrary, MONARCH! (Monarch, from here on out), have crafted an album with perfect pacing and structure that enhances the impact of the record. But the band operate in a genre rife with overindulgence, as evident by the sheer number of doom and drone metal albums comprised of a handful of tracks that each rival the entirety of a grindcore album while presenting barely enough ideas to rise above being musical melatonin.
Doom metal, in its purest form, is Sisyphian, forever attempting to move its great weight over a seemingly unreachable peak. That that mythical figure was, well, doomed to his task for cheating death is an apt metaphor for the bleak artistry of this genre of metal. In attempting to establish where this particular scene lies in the greater schema of music right now we can look to this ancient myth as an apt metaphor. Taking into account the plethora of new releases, new Sisyphuses, pushing their own respective boulder-esque projects it’s easy to see that doom is in a bit of a renaissance, currently, as crucial (relatively) new bands such as Elder, Pallbearer, Dreadnought, and SubRosa have raised the bar for longtime practitioners.
As a genre, stoner doom has some fairly definitive characteristics: slowed-down tempos, rumbling low-end bass and rhythm, a focus on mountainous, hypnotic riffs, and a certain intangible haze cast over it all, creating a psychedelic-glazed listening experience. But perhaps most importantly, stoner metal worships at the altar of marijuana. Proudly wearing its influence on its sleeve (and name), stoner metal varyingly employs marijuana as a muse, a political rallying cause, an artistic aesthetic, and generally as the raison d’etre for the (sub)genre as a whole. From the smoke-filled cough intro in Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” to Sleep’s epic journey to Jerusalem to Dopelord carrying the genre’s torch in one hand and a bong in the other, stoner doom is fundamentally and un-apologetically intertwined with marijuana. And yet, as firm of a grip as the green leaf has on the genre, there are contingents within the stoner doom scene that don’t embrace weed with the same fervor as their counterparts. Indeed, as counter-intuitive as it seems, examples abound of bands in the stoner doom realm that either explicitly or implicitly eschew the very association with marijuana that the scene largely views as a prerequisite.
Metalcore wasn’t always the poppy, hair-flipping, Jonas Brothers-ass affair that it turned into during the early to mid 2000s. Metal and punk have always had an interesting dynamic and when the two cross over it has almost always resulted in compelling music. Black Flag showed their love for Black Sabbath on My War and the first thrash records of the early 80s are seriously indebted to hardcore punk and crust punk. In the 1990s, metalcore was one of the many punk-metal amalgams thriving. It combined the sludgy, downtuned, groovy metal of the day with the politics, angst, and breakdowns of hardcore punk. One of the originators of this fusion, Integrity, gained their popularity off their highly influential debut album, Those Who Fear Tomorrow, a thundering record that still holds up today. Unlike many of the bands in that early metalcore scene, Integrity hasn’t gone away since their legendary early release. On the contrary, the band is still firmly plugged into the current metal-punk world and makes some of the most interesting metalcore available. Their newest album, Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume, continues their long streak of successes.
2017. As metal in the Internet Age continues to proliferate, its identity is in constant shift. Ideas about which genres mean what, the role of politics on music, the very fabric of the financial institutions which create the scene, all come into question as the barriers between fan, musician and business man collapse. And yet, despite of what alarmists might say to the contrary, great music is still being made across a wide variety of genres, inside and outside of the metal strata. That’s why these mid year lists are important; they allow us to more carefully consider the lighthouse releases thus far released during the year and the trends which they signify. When making this list, we attempted to consider truly stand out albums, which have something interesting to say about their respective genres, the artists themselves and the interplay therein. Thus, your mileage may vary. The idea of this list is not to be definitive or exhaustive. Indeed, such an effort would be inherently doomed to fail. Instead, this list attempts to present a facet into the trends running through our community as they manifest inside the Heavy Blog staff’s “collective taste”. As you read it, consider your own relationship to the insane amount of music and the ways in which you filter it. Perhaps we can offer our own alternative viewpoint.
Crafting a great power metal album is a difficult thing. The genre is so steeped in thrills and adrenaline, it can be easy to create something too over-the-top and annoying. Writing the catchiest chorus, playing the fastest solo, and singing the highest notes aren’t going to mean anything if the music doesn’t have depth and meaning. Great power metal albums like Nightfall in Middle Earth, Land of the Free, The Metal Opera, and, more recently, Noble Beast employ subtly when necessary. They have memorable choruses and great riffs but also moments of real emotion. While less serious bands like Primal Fear, Dragonforce, and Sabaton have their proper place and legitimate enjoyment factor, they will never be remembered in the same way.
Here on Half-Life, we go through a band’s discography and see where they stand today compared to where they started. Pallbearer is one of metal’s rising stars and their progression has been so fun to watch. Every record has its own identity and set of surprises. To take on this project, I enlisted the assistance of my talented colleagues, Jordan Jerabek and Bill Fetty. We hope you enjoy!
Elephant Tree released their newest self-titled album back in April of 2016 but it recently received a bigger retail release. All the more reason to talk about this tripped-out, fuzzfest. They’re not quite a metal band, but they certainly draw from metal influences. According to their Facebook page, their earlier endeavors were in London’s metal scene and it’s only recently that they’ve switched to their bluesy stoner rock sound. You can hear their metal past in the way they completely overdrive their guitarwork, using their riffs as a foundation for everything else in their songs.
Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree piqued my interest from the moment I came across their Bandcamp page. Much of what first drew me to Earth’s masterpiece Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull is present on BMHVT’s debut Medicine: an alluring cover, unique title and promises of an expansive, mesmerizing take on doom metal. It’s this last point that sweetened the deal like hemp-infused honey candy, and if you’re at all a fan of all things sludge and doom, you’d be wise to succumb to what this psychedelic dose of Medicine has to offer.