7 Albums That Changed My Perspective On Music, Part 2

Symphonic death metal, Tom Petty covers, and pirates all appear in these albums that radically changed my view on music!

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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

alienblakkThis 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

maxresdefaultQuite 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

LeprousBilateral’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

solstafirSomewhat 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

freakHahah, 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

septicfleshI 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

tiamatI 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.

New Lettering On Light Dawning

The light of a new day has dawned for this book cover!

I spent the last few weeks mulling a re-lettering on Light Dawning, looking for a way to make the title pop a bit more.

After going through several of my own iterations and collaborating with a few of the fine folks at the Grimdark Fiction Readers & Writers Facebook group, I finally ended up hiring Rob Matheny from the Grim Tidings podcast for the new edition.

Today I’m proud to unveil the new version, which can be seen below. If you like what he did with my cover, be sure to hit up Rob for your own books! The new cover is now online for the Kindle edition, with the paperback to follow shortly.

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The Storyteller’s Corner Dissects Light Dawning

New video review online today!

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Seems like some folks are finally starting to pay attention to a little indie author’s bleak grimdark world! After yesterday’s review from DavidsBookBlurg, today a new video review has come online courtesy of The Storyteller’s Corner.

This one goes crazy in-depth, so many thanks to Joshua for taking the time to dive so far into the guts of the novel and drag out those steaming entrails for the rest of the world to see. Here’s a little quote that caught my ear:

“Very professionally executed and with a grace to the storytelling technique.”

You can check out the full video review below, or listen in over at the The Storyteller’s Corner podcast here.

Engrossing slow burn of a fantasy

DavidsBookBlurg reviews Light Dawning

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Why yes, as it turns out, folks are still reading Light Dawning! Most recently a new review popped up from DavidsBookBlurg, focusing on the visceral nature of the story and how many of the standard fantasy tropes were turned upside down. Here are a few excerpts from across the review:

I really enjoyed the gruesomeness of the tale, there are some rather vivid moments that don’t leave you quickly…

I read a lot of fantasy books and let’s be honest..quite a few follow the same pattern..not this one, it’s refreshingly different and that’s what makes it so good. The dark nature of the tale is something that really gives this book an edge…

If you are looking for an engrossing slow burn of a fantasy book, heavy on the darkness scale that you can really get to grips with then this is top-notch.

As always, many thanks to the dedicated bloggers who take the time to read and let the world know how they felt about the book. The authors couldn’t do what we do without you folks putting in all the effort! Check out the full review here and be sure to stick around and check out some of the other posts!

8 Albums That Changed My Perspective On Music, Part 1

From sax-driven prog to gothic metal, these albums radically changed my view on the musical world

If you go beneath the surface of whatever mainstream tracks are hitting the regular radio rotation, there’s a whole other world of music waiting to discovered that break genre barriers and create unbelievable soundscapes.

While my musical focus is on the metal side, this is true of just about any style if you check out the more underground bands. Looking back at the bands that got me into metal, there are a handful of absolute gems that really stand out for changing what I thought was possible in music, and today we’ll look at eight of those perspective-altering albums.

Part 1 below focuses on albums I originally heard in my teens and early 20s before starting to work in the metal journalism field. Past that point the number of bands I heard on a monthly basis absolutely exploded as press releases from all around the world hit my inbox. There were plenty of albums in that flood of metal that radically changed my concept of music, but we’ll get to some of those next time around.

Amorphis – Am Universum

148By the time I heard Am Universum I was around 15 or 16 and had been diving into black metal from the likes of Dimmu Borgir and Emperor. While I had heard some of the less heavy and more experimental stuff from Tiamat or Therion, I can safely say I was NOT expecting what Am Universum had to offer when the album was recommended to me.

Amorphis has shifted between several different vocalists and has very distinct periods in the band’s history, changing radically in sound from early releases like Tales From The Thousand Lakes to the melodic death metal of more recent albums such as Circle and Under The Red Cloud.

Smack dab in the middle of that transitioning is the oddball Am Universum, which is nothing like any previous or later Amorphis album, ditching all harsh vocals and going on a psychedelic and progressive trip.

Just describing the album is a challenge all its own. It’s Pink Floyd meets melodic death metal, but minus the death, driven by sax, keyboard, and some truly killer hooks. Simply put, there needs to be more music like this that doesn’t care about fitting cleanly in a genre slot.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing members of Amorphis before, and it always seemed like they were ready to forget Am Universum exists and aren’t interested in playing the material live, which is a damn shame.

Samael – Passage

103If one album absolutely defined and dominated my teen years, it was unquestionably Samael’s magnum opus, Passage.

Vorph’s semi-legible vocals mixed into the utterly revolutionary (for the time) twist on black metal gripped my 14 year old brain and never let go. Samael was essentially my religion for a good number of years there.

When opening track Rain took on the absurdity (and horrific immorality) of the Biblical flood story, I was hooked. When the keys on Angel’s Decay came in I felt like my whole world would be forever changed, having no idea black metal was allowed to do that. When fifth track Jupiterian Vibe opened with a bongo beat, I knew there was no going back. Lo-fi kvlt nonsense wasn’t going to cut it for me anymore. 

The album’s intense darkness was tempered by an uplifting vibe (which would get much stronger in later albums) and it also ditched the direct Satanic messages of previous Samael releases, creating something wholly unique in the metal world at the time.

Peccatum – Amor Fati

2698Emperor frontman Ihsahn has made a huge impact on the metal world, but its actually not that iconic black metal band that bowled me over nearly as much as some of his other side projects.

Ihsahn’s first few solo albums sit solidly in my favorite releases of all time, but its his side band Peccatum with wife Starofash (then going by Ihriel) that had my jaw dropping as a teen.

The phrase “avant-garde” hadn’t ever been uttered in my presence when I popped on Amor Fati, so I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was in for on opening track One Play No Script. The absolutely bizarre harsh vocals meshing alongside the clean female singing had me intrigued and I had to keep listening through, trying to wrap my head around the odd sound effects of No Title For A Cause.

It was third track Murder that shattered everything I thought I knew about music, opening with orchestral strings seeming to have nothing to do with metal, and then suddenly erupting with harshly dissonant shrieks and guitar riffs perfectly matching the string instruments.

Even though I was the kid into the unknown metal bands everyone else hated, I knew I was onto something here that was truly underground and different, and it left a lasting impression. Ever since then, I’ve been on the lookout for the most progressive, unexpected, and avant-garde music I can get my hands on. I can easily say that I never would have braved bands like Abruptum, Painkiller, Unexpect, or Sigh without Peccatum’s influence on my listening tastes.

All of Peccatum’s discography eventually made it into my rotation, with Lost In Reverie perhaps an even better album than Amor Fati, and just as bizarre (although in different ways). The oddity of Peccatum is also on full display in Source Of Tide, a band from Ihsahn’s brother, as well as the later Hardingrock project that would match up Emperor style black metal with spoken word poems and hardingfiddle.

Opeth – My Arms Your Hearse

opethHearing My Arms Your Hearse for the very first time is easily one of my favorite childhood memories. It happened on my 14th birthday in a very unexpected way. I was out at a restaurant with the family and opened a birthday present from my older brother, who didn’t live with us.

I was pretty stoked to see it was a game development bundle, which I was really into at the time, and this was back when PC software came in those oversized boxes and had huge manuals with the disc case floating around in all that empty space.

I opened the box up to look through the contents, and discovered the software had all been a ruse — tucked underneath the manual was a copy of Opeth’s My Arms Your Hearse, secreted away from parental view.  I just smiled and put the box away, waiting until I could get home to listen in private. My folks are incredibly religious, and things with names like “progressive death metal” were certainly not allowed in our home.

Opeth would end up being my #1 favorite band from that moment onward for more than a decade (until the release of Heritage, but we won’t sully fond reminiscing with that unfortunate debacle), and meeting Mikael Akerfeldt on a tour bus in ’08 was the whole reason I quit my day job and got into freelancing to begin with.

At the time, there wasn’t an album in the world that sounded ANYTHING like this one. Atmospheric and melodic acoustic segments, full force death metal, sections that melded the two, and those poetic, mysterious lyrics all came together to create a powerhouse that catapulted Opeth to the top of the underground metal kingdom.

The cry of “When can I take you from this place, when can we scream instead of whisper” was essentially my personal anthem for a lot of years trapped in a home situation I didn’t want to be a part of at all. I listened to this thing late at night on my headphones while the parents were asleep hundreds of times, diving deep into the esoteric sounds and dreaming strange premonitions in my slumber.

Tristania – World Of Glass

R-1328847-1351110700-2177.jpegFrom Samael’s track Together to the similarly titled We’re In This Together from Nine Inch Nails, there are more love songs in the heavy realm than you might expect. Tragic romance and forbidden love are hot topics in the gothic and symphonic metal realms, especially in the earlier Tristania albums.

In high school, my girlfriend and I fell hard for Tristania with the Widow’s Weeds album, but it was World Of Glass that would stick with me the longest. Third track Tender Trip On Earth is so unlike any love song you’ll ever hear that I guarantee you’ll never forget it.

When you add in the anti-religious themes of the album (which was very appealing to me at the time), you had the perfect storm for a romantic black metal kid whose parents hated his pagan girlfriend. There’s much more appeal to the album than just that aspect though, from ninth song The Modern End’s post-modern take on music to closing track Crushed Dreams having this amazing gothic atmosphere that still stands up to anything today.

At 17 years old when I finally saved up enough money to put a CD player in my vehicle,  opening track The Shining Path was the first song I ever played to properly christen the car.

Katatonia – Last Fair Deal Gone Down

kataI will never forget the feel of unfolding this album’s thick, four square insert (back when physical packaging was still a thing) and exploring the interior artwork and lyrics.

Sadly, I haven’t been digging the latest output from this genre-morphing Swedish institution, but there was a time when Katatonia was among my go-to musical outlets.

Much like Amorphis, the band has radically changed sounds, going from death metal to a depressive rock sound.

Last Fair Deal Gone Down is another album much like Amorphis’ Am Universum that I absolutely was not expecting based on the underground metal I had been hearing at the time.  You can tell there’s a metal influence in the sound and the songwriting, but you won’t find any screams or blast beats here.

The melancholy feel, injecting in both a downtrodden atmosphere and occasional moments of hope, definitely spoke to me as a kid, with songs like Transpire in particular feeling like they were tailor made for my ears. The album really breaks a lot of genre barriers along the way, like with the truly oddball We Must Bury You. 

Last Fair Deal Gone Down further sits in a unique position on the band’s output, arriving after the relentlessly bleak Discouraged Ones but before more modern takes like Viva Emptiness or Night Is The New Day. It’s a forgotten entry in the band’s output that’s well worth returning to from time to time.

Dimmu Borgir – In Sorte Diaboli

dimmuI first got into this long-running (and now long-absent) Norwegian band as a teen with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, which sat proudly in my pawn shop-bought Discman during church outings and study hall alike (yes, my Discman, and it skipped like a mother fucker all the damn time).

Near the end of high school, Spiritual Black Dimensions was in heavy rotation when I finally got a car and needed to blast some metal on the way to work. It would be a few years later though when Dimmu Borgir really hit me with the combination of style and substance on concept album In Sorte Diaboli.

The album arrived just as physical media was starting to take a major hit in favor of digital, and going to the record shop to pick up your favorite band’s new release was still a thing. I poured over every last millimeter of the insert on this one, studying all the writings online I could find to piece together the album’s story of a priest who has doubts about his religion.

Arriving before ICS Vortex was booted from the band, for me this is the pinnacle of Dimmu Borgir, perfectly expressing the sound and lyrical concepts that the band stands for. There are some really unexpected elements on the album as well, like the odd mounting keyboard intro to The Sacrilegious Scorn, or the unexpected interlude The Fallen Arises, which frankly sounds like it belongs on the Planescape: Torment soundtrack.

Arch Enemy – Anthems of Rebellion

0bca00632f837ee66fac9d99f1a442f5a227648fWe’ll wrap up this first look at albums that radically changed my outlook on music on a incredibly energetic note with Arch Enemy’s Anthems Of Rebellion, which first graced my ears in Cisco class junior year of high school.

I had no idea that death metal was capable of being this anthemic or fist pumping, and my world sort of exploded when I figured out that the hell beast vocalist was a lady by the name of Angela.

Silent Wars is such an incredible pump-you-up track, but hands down my favorite has to be Leader Of The Rats, with its throat-shredding vocals and tasty riffs that sort of demand spontaneous headbanging. Playing this disc in your car makes you feel like you should be in a high speed chase.

There are many more albums I’ve had the opportunity to review over the years that would radically change how I viewed music, so stay tuned for the next entry! In the mean time let me know — what albums exploded your brain and made you re-think the concept of music?

The Witcher: Beyond The Games

GOG invites me to write about the awesome fans of this decade-old franchise!

Since leaving Metalunderground, I’ve been shifting focus on the professional side to handling PR for bands and writing about gaming of all stripes. Recently I got the opportunity to team up with Gameskinny and the illustrious GOG (purveyor of all things good, old, and DRM-free!) to write about the impact of the Witcher series of games.

Somehow its been a full 10 years since the first game was launched, so needless to say there’s been a bit of celebrating from GOG and CD Projekt Red. Those three massive games have spawned a ton of content from the adoring players, from cosplay to fan art to some truly stunning short movies.

There’s been nudie calendars, jaw-dropping monster cosplays, neo-noir faux book covers to make you drool, and much more from fans devoted to the franchise. Take a look at my full run down on Witcher-inspired fan creations right here!

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New Autumns Eyes Album Coming This Halloween

Get stoked for a killer fall-themed metal experience!

autumns-eyes-3I always love it when my favorite things collide, and that’s what happens whenever Autumns Eyes releases a new album, combining horror, a fall atmosphere, and metal together as one!

At the crossroad between a hallowed holiday and the cusp of a dead cold winter is where you’ll find Autumns Eyes mastermind Daniel Mitchell. After many seasons of seclusion and intermittently hitting the studio, the recording process has finally wrapped up for the new album titled Ending Life Slowly.

Mitchell is no stranger to the darker side of creativity, and crafts music free of constraints or label interference. Ending Life Slowly strikes a balance between somber reflections on mortality and full-force screaming metal, with cover art to reflect the album’s dreary nature crafted by Indonesian artist Sorrow Grips (Gojira).

Due out on October 31st, Ending Life Slowly serves as the first full-length album from Autumns Eyes since the 2012 release of Please Deceive Me. Halloween and the death of Fall is a perfect time to be reminded that sometimes life ends far too slowly.

Mitchell had this to say about the impending album release:

“Living in New England has always made it easy to draw from the month of October for creative inspiration, with life breathing its flaming colors into all the surrounding trees. Unfortunately, these themes can only be revisited every so often before it becomes repetitive. That’s why I reached into the month of November for inspiration. A time when Fall is still thriving, but where color has faded and the trees are bare as skeletons.

“While a walk through the woods here in October can be a relaxing activity, doing the same in November carries an overwhelming sense of dread. You’re surrounded by death, and the trees no longer sway and breathe with the air. They’re cold, stiff, bare, and knock together like bones breaking in the sky.

autumns-eyes-1“This atmosphere is what fueled the writing process for Ending Life Slowly, with death and decay surrounding every element of each track. It’s a cliche topic to write about in heavy metal music, but my approach here was focused more on the immense weight death can hold over one’s shoulders. To sit an truly contemplate what it means for all things to come to an end was a sobering experience to say the least.

“I always look at music as sonic therapy, but this was the one time where music couldn’t offer any kind of solace. It just reminded me that life can either go by too fast, or it can end too slowly.”

Check out the album’s artwork and track listing:

  • 1. Death of October
  • 2. Break the Skin
  • 3. Your Last Day
  • 4. Moments Into Memories
  • 5. The Honest Liars
  • 6. Couldn’t Hold On
  • 7. Far Away From Fading
  • 8. Internal Arson
  • 9. Open Your Eyes, Not Your Wrists
  • 10. Under the Skin of the Sun

 

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