There’s a lot happening in the music world, and we here at Heavy Blog try our very best to keep up with it! Like the vast majority of heavy music fans, our tastes are incredibly vast, with our 3X3s in each Playlist Update typically covering numerous genres and sometimes a different style in each square. While we have occasionally covered non-metal topics in past blog posts, we decided that a dedicated column was warranted in order to more completely recommend all of the music that we have been listening to. Unmetal Monday is a bi-weekly column which covers noteworthy tracks and albums from outside the metal universe, and we encourage you all to share your favorite non-metal picks from the week in the comments. This week, we’ll be highlighting a few albums and tracks that struck our fancy over the past few weeks. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:
J Mascis – Elastic Days
Since reuniting Dinosaur Jr. over a decade ago, you’d think J Mascis would slow down a bit. You know, take a little me time to get his head together, focus on himself, maybe find a new hobby. Nope. He goes back into the studio and records a new solo record. 2018 is no different with Elastic Days.
What’s great about his solo records is that it sounds like Dinosaur Jr. unplugged. The difference is in the songwriting. While no one would claim that Dinosaur Jr. is all lighthearted and silly rock songs, Mascis’ solo tunes are more introspective and complex. The emotions in the track are far deeper and mature. For example, the intro track “See You At the Movies” is far more than just a song about forlorn love. It’s also about growing as a person through relationships. You’re not necessarily leaning on the other person to help you along. You’re trying to learn more about yourself through a relationship with another person. It’s a far more introspective and thoughtful emotion to express which is why this kind of track really belongs on a J Mascis solo record than on any Dinosaur Jr. release.
While the record itself might not be blowing anyone’s mind, it’s extremely relatable to everyone. There’s heartbreak and emotional anguish on here, but there’s also a light at the end of the tunnel of it all. Elastic Days is a great name for this record. It represents the numerous emotions anyone can feel at any time. You may be down in the dumps and depressed one day, but you could just as easily be on top of the world the next day. These songs reflect that. There’s a lot of upbeat folk and American music combined with heavier emotional lyrics. It creates a wonderful bloc of songs that help the dark times seem lighter.
Oak Pantheon – Sol
To be honest, I don’t understand how not all black metal bands are singing about climate change. For a genre that’s so obsessed with nature, its relationship with mankind, and how it influences us, black metal is suspiciously silent on this matter. Not Oak Pantheon though; before they released their most current EP, a more traditional black metal split with Amiensus, they released a folk-centered album titled Sol. This, of course, should come as no surprise: Oak Pantheon have always been clearly influenced by folk music, making their black metal from that perspective and influence. But with Sol, they give those influences a seat at the table, removing distortion entirely in favor of classic, acoustic guitars, strings, and deep vocals.
Those latter, and the accompanying backing vocals, are probably what sell the album; the thick timbre they utilize is perfect for the subject matter of the album, all permanent winter and the death of humanity. The combination of their stark execution with the straightforward and depressing lyrics making Sol an incredibly effective album. From the blatantly hopeless title track which opens it (“The oceans will rise / And the forests will set aflame / And the coasts will all erode / And we won’t mind that much at first”), through the more metaphoric poem that is “Falling” which follows it (“Death gave a chilled gaze and placed his frigid hand / Slowly on my shoulder, and he said to me / Did you really think there were any gods / Other than Sol and I?”) to the closing “So Grossly Incandescent”, which attempts to find hope in the eventual return of nature, Sol is not about hope and struggle and what we can do. It’s about accepting defeat and the vocals work perfectly for that goal.
Make no mistake, the guitars and other instruments are great too; they are dexterous and varied enough to satiate our need for a firm, musical background to the themes and images of the album. All in all, this makes Sol an incredibly effective and moving album, one of the better exploration of a folk black metal band of its quieter, more solemn side. It’s probably because a true theme runs through it; this is not just cast away material left on the editing room floor but rather an expression of Oak Pantheon’s art that required its own approach and attitude. The band have given the album just that and have thus made a piece of music as worthy as any in their, well, pantheon. Listen to this album and meditate on everything we have lost. Or don’t. Nature will have its way.