After plenty of news on Light Dawning, its time to jump back into the metal for another look at killer albums that totally redefined my perspective on music.
Part 1 over here focused on 8 albums that radically changed what I thought was possible in music as a teenager well before I started working with Metalunderground. If you missed it, that one covered genre-bending, breaking, and making albums from Amorphis, Opeth, Samael, Peccatum, Tristania, Katatonia, Dimmu Borgir, and Arch Enemy.
After becoming a writer with MU, the number of albums that hit my inbox monthly exploded to a level I’d never possibly be able to keep up with. I’ve had the pleasure (and pain) of hearing some truly bizarre, and in some cases unbelievably awesome, albums. From big names to indie bands I guarantee you’ve never heard of, there’s a whole world of music out there that’s ready and waiting to expand your horizons.
The Alien Blakk – Bekoming
This one hit my speakers way back in 2010, and I can’t believe this album remains almost completely unknown in metal circles to this day.
Their Facebook page has 75 likes. There is no Bandcamp page. The official website looks like it was made ’95. NONE of the songs from this album are on YouTube or Spotify.
Contrast that with the fact that The Alien Blakk mastermind Joshua Craig has composed for a ton of video games and T.V. shows, in addition to working in the studio with a ludicrously wide range of bands. David Ellefson and Kevin Talley perform on Bekoming. Mark Hamill (yep, Luke Skywalker and the voice of The Joker himself) does a voice over on the first track. What the WHAT?
On the first listen through of this wild ride of non-traditional metal, I remember idly musing that if Faith No More hadn’t broken up (and remember, this was a solid seven years before they got back together) that a modern day rendition might sound something like this.
There’s a really wide range of styles and song directions on the album, from totally bizarre to hauntingly emotional. The album features an absolutely killer cover of Runnin’ Down A Dream that sounds even better than the original as an amped up metal tune. Bekoming is an absolute trip, and one that’s a serious pleasure to take every now and again.
I wish I could embed a video here of the music, but to this day I’ve never found any online. You’ll just have to grab the MP3 album on Amazon and take the journey for yourself.
Alestorm – Captain Morgan’s Revenge
Quite a few odd sub-genres in the metal world popped up over my time at Metalunderground that often faded back into obscurity, from djent to the bizarre resurgence of nu-metal to the totally unexpected pirate metal.
Of the latter, Alestorm was easily my favorite band, pumping out some really solid drinking songs that also happen to be killer metal tracks. Opening track Over The Seas from Captain Morgan’s Revenge had me immediately hooked, and the chanting, anthemic chorus to the title track only drew me in further. With fist pumping, gang chanting songs like Set Sail And Conquer, you can’t really go wrong here.
When I first heard Captain Morgan’s Revenge back in ’08, Megan and I held a pirate party that night and invited friends and family, drinking a whole lot of – you guessed it – Captain Morgan. Sadly we didn’t know about The Kraken Black Spiced Rum yet then.
That’s OK though, because the epic closing track Death Throes Of The Terror Squid (yes, that is a real song title) wouldn’t appear on an album for another three years. The latest album No Grave But The Sea has lost nothing of the ferocity or the humor, with the amazingly-titled Fucked With An Anchor an absolute treasure of hilarity.
Although there are other bands like Swashbuckle and The Dread Crew Of Oddwood nominally in the same category, Alestorm is really the only band with that sub-genre title to nab a major label and keep on going strong at the same level throughout the years.
And yeah, yeah, I know, Running Wild is actually the original pirate metal band, but frankly they don’t really put that theme forward in the sound nearly as much as Alestorm and are really more a power metal band than an explicitly “pirate metal” one.
Leprous – Bilateral
Bilateral’s totally weird ass artwork could have landed it in my earlier look at fantastic albums with ridiculously bad covers.
Like with those other releases, ignore what’s happening visually here (not that that should be a problem for the digital generation that doesn’t hold albums in their hands anymore).
Bilateral was unquestionably the best prog release of 2011, hands down. I still listen to this album a couple of times a week nearly seven years later.
Every track offers something unique, from the frantic two minute and 45 second Cryptogenic Desires to the 10+ minute Forced Entry, which never gets boring for a single second of that lengthy run time. Ihsahn of Emperor appears for some harsh vocals on fourth track Thorn, and there is a fabulous collection of varied tempos and vocal stylings throughout, like the low-key piano opening to Mb. Indifferentia that just builds and builds and builds to a vocal climax.
Sadly, I haven’t been a fan of any album from these Norwegian prodigies since Bilateral. Follow-up release Coal was unlistenable garbage and I still can’t wrap my head around how anyone liked that obnoxiously repetitive excursion in sonic pointlessness. Down the line, The Congregation and Malina are both just tepid and less interesting versions of Bilateral, with a few dashes of the obnoxiously repetitive nonsense that was that lump of Coal.
Oh well, they’ve got this one album that’s still among the top releases in all of prog metal, ever, so they deserve some major praise anyway.
Solstafir – Svartir Sandar
Somewhat like Katatonia, Tiamat, Amorphis, and Samael before them, Solstafir is a band that started more on the extreme metal side and then became something very, very different.
2011’s Svarti Sandar was point blank just completely different than any style of metal I’d ever heard before.
There’s a strong base of atmospheric post-rock, but tempered by legitimately heavy aspects, and a tendency to create these big, wide open sonic adventures that bring to mind vast landscapes.
The band isn’t afraid to experiment, with extremely concise 1 – 3 minute songs next to 11 minute tracks that build up over time. The sound shifts freely between haunting, slow moving segments and fast paced tracks with harsher vocals.
While Svartir Sandar overall is probably my favorite album, the best track from Solstafir is probably She Destroys Again from the Kold release. I always identify the song with the music video and see the two as one in my mind.
I was pretty bummed that Gummi left (or apparently was kicked out under unpleasant circumstances) back in 2015, as he was a big part of what made the band great, but he’s got his own project Katla now, so there’s a silver lining there for fans in getting two bands instead of one.
Freak Kitchen – Land Of The Freaks
Hahah, oh man, a phrase like tongue-in-cheek doesn’t even begin to describe Freak Kitchen. I mean, Land Of The Freaks has a song called God Save The Spleen.
What’s interesting about this oddball album is that its not really a comedy release like you might be thinking. This isn’t Psychostick or Weird Al.
Freak Kitchen consists of incredibly solid musicians recording awesome metallic rock, and it just happens to frequently be silly in the extreme or even laugh out loud funny.
From the suburban soccer mom take down Honey, You’re A Nazi to the baffling Smell Of Time, and even Michael Jackson-esque pop flourishes on Sick Death By Hypocondria, there’s an absolute grab bag of oddity here, but its all wrapped up in a stellar sound.
Septicflesh – Communion
I was never particularly interested in the previous albums from these Greek demons, but you better believe Communion got my attention.
From those curiously evil guitar lines opening Lovecraft’s Death, it was clear this was going to be something special. Lots of bands add “symphonic” to their descriptor, but Septicflesh absolutely marries the symphonic elements to death metal in a perfect way, ending up both a horror movie soundtrack and a full force death metal album.
The review I wrote on this album ended up being like two solid pages long as I listened to the album over and over for hours that day. I even took my laptop and headphones to a house party that night so I could listen through again!
Septicflesh does a pheneomenal job on this album of keeping things fresh and interesting between songs, with totally different tones and tempos between songs like Anubis or Babel’s Gate (an absolutely crushing number). Sunlight, Moonlight has clean vocals and goes a totally different direction from the destructive power of the title track, but both sound like they belong together.
That’s a tough balancing act to maintain, but these guys did it. Even crazier, follow-up album The Great Mass manages to top it!
Tiamat – Amanathes
I picked this album up alongside Moonspell’s Night Eternal,and Ihsahn’s AngL all on the same day at our local Hastings (remember when record stores were a thing?!?).
Simply put, I’ve never hit the jackpot like that before. Those are three of my favorite albums from all of these bands, and that’s a day I’ll never forget.
Although significantly less heavy than something like Septicflesh, Tiamat still does a stellar job presenting subversive themes, rejecting both god and the devil.
“Amanes” in particular has always struck me as a song about growing up and realizing Satan needs to be cast aside just as much as god. There’s a wide range of sounds in the 14 song journey to reach that conclusion though, from the empowering Equinox Of The Gods (ending with a creepy children’s voiceover segment), to the remembrances of glory past on Will They Come, to the straight up melancholic Misantropolis and Amanitis. For good measure, then there’s heavier and darker tracks like Raining Dead Angels.
I didn’t often give out 5/5 ratings when I was reviewing professionally, but this was one of those discs that got a perfect score.