Brief reactions to a slew of metal(ish) albums

It’s partially Susan M’s influence, but mostly the fact that Greg and Jim at Sound Opinions turned me on to Torche’s Meanderthal, but now whenever I go to my local library I hit the CD bins and grab three or four discs that look like they are by metal bands based on the name of the band, the name of the album and album tracks and the cover art. It’s amusing to me (but probably not surprising) how most of the time my assessment is right on. But anyway, the result has been that over the past nine months (and mainly the past four) I have received a random education in 21st century metal (with some not-exactly-in-genre intruders because of the random element)  and the beginning of a personal set of likes and dislikes. Here is a list of capsule reactions to the albums in order of listen.

Torche — Meanderthal (2008): This is the album that started me on the journey. Love the vocalist here. Exactly what I want out of a metal/hard rock album. Pretty decent lyrics. Solid songs up and down the track list. It simply rocks. Standout track is “Grenades.”

Thrice — The Alchemy Index Voumes I&II , fire and water (2007): Fire is better than water. This is epic, ambitious, pretentious stuff, but  it has its moments. Hard rock with prog elements (I don’t know what else to call it) and a bit of rap rock/thrash in places (sorta). Quiet/loud, slow/fast. Stand out track is on disc 1 Fire — “Burn the Fleet.”

The Sword — Gods of Earth (2008): With song titles like “Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians” and “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” this is your typical D&D-tinged metal band. But I kinda like it. Some of the riffs seem derivative and some of the song structures don’t bring much to the table. But on the longer songs, in particular the aforementioned “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and the 7-minute long instrumental “The White Sea” you get some interesting structure and movement and some surprising or at least interesting moments.

Ours — Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy) (2008): Picked purely for the album cover and title. Not exactly metal. Anthemic bombast at the intersection of art rock, orchestral metal, prog-lite and alternative rock. Like Muse but better? I don’t know Muse well enough to know. Great vocals. The middle sags, but the ends work. There’s some good range here — both in the music and in the vocals. Certain elements remind me of everything from M83 to Interpol to U2 to Torche to The Cult. Jimmy Gnecco’s falsetto actually isn’t annoying and his normal singing works. He has nice phrasing. The track with the spoken word thing on it is too much, but on the whole the bombast is pompous but not ridiculous. Standout track is — “Ran Away to Tell the World.”

Tool — Lateralus (2001): I reached back for this because it’s such a touchstone album for so many people I know. I’ll be honest: I don’t get all the acclaim. Somebody explain it to me, please. Perhaps the noodling around was fresh at the time. Perhaps it’s just not my style.

Nightwish — Dark Passion Play (2007): Symphonic/operatic metal with prog overtones and a female vocalist. Right up my alley, but sadly, the album doesn’t deliver. The first track is epic even if it gets overly dramatic in places. The rest of the album = boring and predictable. Make it harder and more complex and it’d be so much better.

High on Fire — Death is This Communion (2007): Awesome. The prog elements aren’t fussy. The drumming is fantastic. The cookie monster vocals aren’t my favorite, but I have warmed up to them, and the lyrics are sorta harrowing without being over the top.

In Flames — A Sense of Purpose (2008): Pretty good, rather straightforward metal.

Incubus — Monument and Melodies (2 cd set) (2009): Boring, lame hard rock with forgettable lyrics sung by an annoying vocalist and music that never surprises.

Ivoryline — There Came a Lion (2008): Straight up rock with some punk mixed in. It didn’t do much for me. Some folks may find it pleasantly nonthreatening in the way pop punk is (this is a bit harder than most pop punk), but it has no musical or lyrical ambition.

Dethklok — The Dethalbum (2007): I had some sense that this was a metal parody act, but I had forgotten about the Adult Swim cartoon. Anyway, it’s totally awesome. Hilarious, but the music is also good — there are some chops there. The joke gets a little tiresome by the end of the album, but that’s a minor quibble. “Better Metal Snake” is the most awesome song ever.

Dir in grey — Withering to death (2006): The mix of speed metal, power pop and punk paired with varied vocal stylings should be like crack to me. The problem is that everything is unevenly executed. Suffers especially from boring verses. I would definitely try a different album from this group, though. The are some moments that are right on.

Isis — Wavering Radiant (2009): A beautifully complex, cohesive album of 7-minute-plus unfolding songs punctuated with cookie monster and hard-rock crooning vocals and non-conventional song structures all hinged around the short instrumental, electronica-like title track. Languid but still tight.

All that Remains — Overcome (2008): Now I know what Dethklok is making fun of. This may just be my ignorance, but this comes across completely conventional speed metal. The lyrics are so banal as to be painful. In fact I have the sneaking suspicion that All That Remains, in spite of the vocals and speed metal vibe* are the modern equivalent of a rap rock group or a hair band e.g. no substance. The drumming is pretty cool though, blistering and intense.  *my use of the term speed metal may or may not be appropriate here.

Skullflower — Strange keys to untune Gods’ firmament (2010): Only made it through the first four tracks of disc one. I can see liking this if I was in the mode, but it’s just stretched out guitar feedback and distortion.

So that’s where I’m currently at. I have a stack of recent grabs from the library to go through so the education continues. I also need to dig in to FHL’s Symphonic Rock recommendations and further explore the oeuvre of Torche, High on Fire and Isis. And if anyone has Dir en grey or Tool recommendations, I’m willing to give them a second chance.

For my initial toe-dipping into metal, see my Symphony X word list post from 2008.

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24 thoughts on “Brief reactions to a slew of metal(ish) albums

  1. Lateralus was significant because it was basically one of the few progressive metal albums that reached critical and popular acclaim. It’s not really “noodling”. Phish would be noodling. Lateralus is incredibly intricate, textured, and had hooks too. It’s just one of those albums that really gets musicians pumped up because they’re doing so much with time signatures and chords and song structure but wrapping it up in an incredibly seamless and accessible way.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t listen to Tool. But I can recognize why the album was a big deal.

  2. I may have to listen to it again. I just didn’t find it all that compelling emotionally. In general, I’m a big fan of intricate and textured.

  3. Love this topic! Susan M. and I have recently been discussing metal via email as well, and I’ve got this hunger for the stuff lately that’s taken over all my listening.

    re: Tool – try Aenima instead. I think it’s a much better album. Less noodling. More succinct songs. Great songwriting.

    A band to check out (based on your descriptions of your taste here) that I’ve really enjoyed lately is Baroness. 70s inspired, heavy, and just great songwriting.

    And, any time metal comes up lately, I have to put in a good word for Krallice — the band that last year started me on the journey into this stuff. Long songs, indecipherable vocals w/o being too screachy or cookie monster-y, prog-y w/o being too over the top. I love those guys. Check out their self-titled first album.

  4. Uh-oh, you are going to feel the wrath of the hipsters for degrading Incubus. =)

    I’ve heard of most of these bands, although I think the only albums (from your list) I’ve heard are the Isis and Nightwish. I recall liking the Isis music, not the vocals so much. DPP’s 1st track is like 15 minutes long, isn’t it?

    Too bad you didn’t find a Crucifictorious CD in the bin. ;)

    Thanks for the reviews, I’ll have to check some of these out.

  5. I love you Wm Morris.

    Aenima is a much better Tool album. I have listened to the songs “46 & 2″ and “Stinkfist” on repeat for weeks and never gotten sick of them. Oh dear I feel another OCD bout coming on over those songs…

    Torche are good, but the singer’s earlier band, Floor, are better. They were so unique…I miss them so. Two guitarists, both singing in harmony, with their bass strings down-tuned…and silly, goofy lyrics too. Check out the song “Lolita”–which whenever Torche play live, the audience calls and calls for. Torche will play Floor songs occasionally. Like I said, I like Torche, but whenever I see them live and they do an old Floor song, I think Floor was just better.

    High on Fire are one of my fave live bands and thanks to their constant touring, I think I’ve seen them live more than any other band (except maybe Fu Manchu). If you find a copy of their album Blessed Black Wings that comes with the bonus live DVD, you can see me in the audience. :)

    Isis are another huge live favorite–man, seeing them live just leaves me euphoric. My fave album by them is an early one–Oceanic. But Panopticon is also good. If you like Isis, you’ll probably also like Pelican (who are are instrumental), Red Sparowes, Mono, Godspeed You Black Emporer, Jesu (seriously, check out Jesu) and the grandfather of them all, Neurosis.

    I consider bands like The Sword to be third-wave stoner rock. The first wave being Black Sabbath/70s stuff, second being the Kyuss/desert rock scene, and third being the bands that are around now. If you haven’t heard Kyuss, get on that.

    And get some Opeth already!

  6. Ah, a post after my own black heart.

    That Torche album was on constant rotation on my iPod for at least 6 months after it came out. They’re supposed to be releasing a new one later this year I believe.

    I have to second Jeremy’s suggestion of Baroness. The Blue Record, which came out last fall, is epic.

    For The Sword I would recommend you listen to their first album, Age of Winters. Way better than the one you referenced. Just an onslaught of great riffs and kooky lyrics about viking lore or something like that. They put on a good live show too if you ever have a chance to check them out. And I believe they have a new album out very soon.

    You’ve got some other good bands on there (HoF, Isis). Some other bands I’d recommend you check out based on what you liked:
    - Mastodon
    - Early Man
    - Opeth
    - Kyuss
    - Floor (old band w/ members of Torche)
    - Om. Not metal per se, but the guys used to be in a band called Sleep w/ Matt from HoF and it’s very different but very cool. Not sure how to describe it, just drums, bass and vocals, drenched in weed.

  7. @ FHL

    Uh-oh, you are going to feel the wrath of the hipsters for degrading Incubus. =)

    I don’t think you could find a hipster who gives a crap about incubus. Maybe some kid from San Bernadino still cares about them.

  8. Jinx!

    I think Om are considered drone metal. If you like that stuff, there’s another list of bands I could give you. :)

    I saw Incubus play at a Playstation party after E-3 a couple years back. I don’t know if that makes me sound incredibly cool or incredibly lame.

  9. Ditto to the mastodon and opeth recommendation. Also, old In Flames and Dark Tranquility is fantastic. Between the buried and me is another band I highly recommend

  10. Yep, the DPP track is 15 minutes long and has 2 or 3 movements and one spoken word interlude. It’s so over-the-top that I like it (although it simply also had some interesting musical parts and some intense vocals), and was disappointed by how mediocre the rest of the album was.

    I’ll check out Aenima. And hopefully some of the other stuff — thanks for the recommendations.

    I’ll probably do one more round of reviews of random stuff first, though. After that, I will no longer be able to pretend that I have virgin ears and can begin to be more selective in my listening.

    Also: I already got in to trouble both with three female relatives of varying ages and a couple of female internet friends (on two separate occasions) for making fun of Muse. Once you’ve felt the full fury of a Muse fan, you don’t fear Incubus hipsters. ;-)

  11. FHL: “Uh-oh, you are going to feel the wrath of the hipsters for degrading Incubus. =)”

    I must be more out of it than I thought I was. There are hipsters who like Incubus? Or are you joking? I can’t tell.

    I don’t have anything to say about this post. I know about as much about metal as I know about Nashville Country, which is to say, not much.

  12. Yeah – ps: Converge for sure. My recent metal journey has yeilded nothing that even really comes close. Those guys are pretty much the best band ever. But really intense and chaotic. The other side of the spectrum from the more symphonic stuff.

  13. No, it’s me that’s out of touch. There were some messageboards I used to hang out on and all they could talk about was the genius of Incubus. I never got it. (That may be longer ago than I had realized.)

    I clearly can’t ever be a hipster. I rarely find a band I like on Questionable Content. =(

  14. I don’t even know what Questionable Content is. And according to my kids, there’s a difference now between a hipster and a scenester, and no matter how much they try to explain it to me, I remain unconvinced.

  15. Susan, a scenester is someone who has all of the trappings of a specific scene. There are many scenes out there, hence many different types of scenesters. Emo, hardcore, metal, whatever.

    A hipster is just a scenester for a very specific scene. Think skinny jeans, fixed gear bikes, American Apparel t’s, ironic facial hair (on guys), sunglasses (currently throwbacks like Oakley Frogskins seem to be the rage), swilling PBR’s, wanting to live in neighborhoods like Echo Park, Williamsburg, the Mission, etc. You can see all kinds of hipsterdom here.

  16. That makes sense Mike. But I don’t think it’s accurate for how my kids use the term scenester. They actually use the term “scene,” as in “he’s so scene.” I’ll have to ask them again.

  17. Just thought of a band I haven’t listened to in a long time, Players Club. They were so good…broke up a few years back because one of the guys was in another more popular band, forget the name of it–but he had to dedicate his time to it. Some of you might know that other band… Anyway, Players Club were originally known as JJ Paradise Players Club. Their last album is sooo good. They were the band that got me into shouted/yelled vocals.

    Had to look up the other band the singer was in–it’s Unsane. Here’s one of Players Club’s earlier songs:

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