Maybe April is the cruelest month, but recent events have proved that May can be a real bitch as well. As the summer begins, your intrepid A.V. Club hessian has seen some of his heavy-metal heroes bite the dust, been forced to contend with the interruption of his road trip and the cancellation of some of the most promising tours of the season, learned of the demise of a handful of terrific bands, and coped with spending an entire day in Oklahoma listening to the likes of Buckcherry. But his is not to reason why; his is but to do and die. The man who threw the horns seen ’round the world is gone, but metal lives forever, and that means The A.V. Club will still be bringing you this month’s Metal Box. So cue up “Holy Diver” and join us as we move ahead into June; let’s say goodbye to a bummer of a month and look forward to what’s ahead.
FROM METAL DEATHS… The last few months have been absolutely devastating for metal fans. While most of these obituaries have been covered elsewhere on The A.V. Club, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t talk about them briefly here. While I’ve made no secret of where I stand regarding the best Black Sabbath vocalist, it still hurt like hell to see Ronnie James Dio go. A formative figure in my teenage years, a friend to fans everywhere, and one of the hardest-working men in hard rock, Dio was universally loved in the way reserved for people who absolutely love what they do. Recapping his career would take more space than this whole column is allowed, which should give you an idea of why he’ll be so gravely missed.
Earlier this year, we lost Type O Negative’s Peter Steele, who, like Dio, wasn’t always the most artistically challenging frontman, but knew the inestimable value of raw showmanship. With his gargantuan stature, imposing voice, gift for spectacle, and wry sense of humor, he possessed the kind of stage presence that is becoming increasingly rare in the era of studio trickery and Internet hype.
Paul Gray had the misfortune of playing for a band whose innumerable gimmicks overshadowed its often-ferocious musicianship, but he was a stalwart presence during Slipknot’s entire career. He acquitted himself well in a genre where solid bass playing is increasingly undervalued, and always came across in interviews as levelheaded and friendly.
Finally, Debbie Abono’s death at 80 from lung cancer wasn’t widely reported, but as the first manager of bands like Possessed, Exodus, Cynic, Obituary, and Sepultura, she played a formative role in the early days of thrash and death metal. She died on May 16.
While the members of each band are still with us, this past month also brought us the demise of brilliant post-rock outfit Isis, Bay area death-punk band Abscess, and screaming Quebecois deathcore unit Despised Icon.
…TO DEATH METAL. While I was as thrilled as anyone at the reformation of Cynic, and thought highly of the reunion album Traced In Air, I wasn’t sold on the follow-up Re-Traced EP (Season Of Mist). I found its “re-interpretations” a bit too slight and airy for my tastes, though the new song, “Wheels Within Wheels,” was dynamite. Much more exciting on the Florida tech-death front is the news that Atheist is also headed back into the studio to lay down a new record. If Atheist were a lady instead of a metal band, I would ask it to marry me, so not even the news that Jason Suecof will be producing can cool my excitement for this one.
In the meantime, Invictus (Iconoclast III) is the latest (on Century Media) from German hardcore death-metal band Heaven Shall Burn, and it’s a doozy. Usually by the time a band reaches the third installment of a trilogy, it’s starting to suck wind, but HSB brings a passion and intensity to Invictus that’s beyond even the first two episodes. Led, as usual, by brothers Marcus and Eric “Not The Wrestler” Bischoff, Heaven Shall Burn has been working its tour-spiel at smaller clubs, and it shows: There’s an intimacy and a sense of desire that’s rare in bands that have been around this long. Goodness knows what the thing is about (I gather from the liner notes that the Bischoffs are big fans of the movie 300), but it’s a hell of a listen.
Not as good, but still worth a spin, is the third album from deathcore pioneer Whitechapel. A New Era Of Corruption (Metal Blade) doesn’t have the sheer bristling fury of This Is Exile, its previous release, but there’s still plenty of great material here, buoyed by a guest appearance from Deftones’ Chino Moreno. With some of the best deathcore bands biting the dust—including Despised Icon and Salt The Wound—Whitechapel may be the best the genre has left.
SILENCE OF THE LAMB. Lamb Of God isn’t to everyone’s taste; I don’t especially dislike the band, but I’ve never been a major booster, either. There’s no denying the influence it’s had on metal over the last 15 years, though, or the instrumental part it played in getting heavy music back on the charts. So it’s hard to argue that LoG doesn’t deserve the fancy box-set treatment it receives on Hourglass (Epic)—at least, to a degree. Hourglass, which (musically, at least) consists of three CDs, covers the band’s early days (disc 1); its chart-topping period of soundtrack work, videogame selections, and other stuff that’s likely to be familiar even to non-metalheads (disc 2); and a pretty solid collection of B-sides, rarities, and the like. The first two discs are available separately, for the don’t-give-a-fuck crowd, while the most commonly available version of Hourglass contains all three, along with a handsome booklet and some solid packaging. There’s a third version, however. It comes packed in a coffin and contains an oversized Lamb Of God flag, an actual working electric guitar, a huge photobook, vinyl editions of all of their studio albums, and for all I know, Willie Adler. This thing costs a thousand bucks, and if you’ve got that kind of money to throw around, you probably aren’t spending it on Lamb Of God.
KORN-HOLED. Hey, everybody—Korn is back! Remember Korn? Come on, stop fronting. You know you do. Korn was the band that got you to buy those big pants with straps and a million pockets, and that had you all headbanging to “Freak On A Leash” even though you now pretend like you didn’t. It was the band that discovered you could still call yourself metal even if you dropped all the bottom out of your songs so they sounded about as heavy as a wadded-up ball of aluminum foil, and punished those of us who thought hair metal represented the low point of the genre by introducing us to nü-metal. Well, for some reason, Korn is back—having spent the last decade marrying strippers and/or converting to Christianity, possibly in that order—with Korn III: Remember Who You Are (Roadrunner). The songs are recorded with minimal processing, which sadly does the band no favors: The stripped-down production just makes it clear how much they lack as musicians. (Fieldy’s bass, in particular, is high in the mix; I used to complain about nü-metal’s de-emphasis of the low bottom, but if this is what the band was hiding all along, we were better off without it.) Worse still, Korn seems to have completely forgotten how to write hooks, which, honestly, was the only thing it had going for it in the first place. The album lives up to its name; you’ll remember who Korn is, and you’ll be sorry.
HEAVY TAMIL. If I had a dollar for every time somebody asked me “So, Leonard, what’s up with the metal scene in Sri Lanka?” I would not have any money. But just in case it ever happens, here’s what’s up with the metal scene in Sri Lanka: Arise: The Sri Lankan Metal Music Documentary, directed by DRG & Marasinghe and featuring a look at four young bands trying to make names for themselves in the cultural and political hotbed of Sri Lanka, was released late month. Just in terms of showing the tribulations of performing extreme music against a backdrop of religious stigma, violence, and political uncertainty, it promises to remind viewers of the Acrassicauda documentary, Heavy Metal Baghdad.
Until its release, though, we’ll have to make do with the latest self-released album from Stigmata, one of the longest-lasting bands on the Colombo scene. As with a lot of non-Western metal bands, its sound started out as mostly thrash with some death-metal overtones, but it’s been refined time and time again over the last decade, and Psalms Of Conscious Martyrdom is by far the band’s best work to date. Not only is the songwriting more passionate and skillful, but Stigmata has also managed to incorporate local musical traditions into its metal sound without coming off as self-consciously “world music”-ish or gimmicky. Also, one of its guitar players is named Tennyson Napolean.
FROM A TO Z. This month’s hard-rock mailbag brought me—albeit a bit late—No Guts, No Glory (Roadrunner), the latest from Australian cock-rocker outfit Airbourne. This thing is stupid on about 2 million levels, lead singer Joel O’Keeffe looks like a refugee from a Manowar cover band, and if Airbourne is ever going to make an artistic mark, it’s going to have to find something to do besides an uncanny impersonation of ’80s-era AC/DC. That said, it’s a hell of a good impersonation, and you could choose worse bands to imitate. No Guts, No Glory is pure, balls-out, simple, no-ballads-allowed throwback hard rock. (Airbourne is also in the running for song title of the year with “My Dynamite Will Blow You Sky High (And Get Ya Moanin’ After Midnight”).
If you’re in the mood for doom-tinged psychedelic craziness instead, that’s when you’ll want to cue up the new one from Zoroaster. Matador (E1) is a marked improvement on the band’s previous efforts; a remarkable production job by Sanford Parker complements a major leap forward in song structure and rhythmic balance by a group that seems to have finally figured out its strengths and where to go with them.
Speaking of places to go, I didn’t plan on attending Rocklahoma this year—there are some experiences no man should be forced to contend with more than once in a lifetime—but fate thrust me into the uncomfortable position of hanging around a bunch of shirtless meth addicts for a day and a half of the legendary burnout-fest. People seemed to be having a good-enough time, and unlike at a lot of big outdoor festivals, I didn’t get gouged for every conceivable purchase. But when the best bands on the lineup are Sevendust and Godsmack, I do start to wonder pretty quickly if a long nap wouldn’t be time better spent.
ODDS AND SODS. Would you like to be the envy of all the trü-kvlt spike-knuckles on your block? Then run, don’t walk, to your nearest lost-its-lease metal record shop and pick up Lawless Darkness (Season Of Mist), the latest from Watain. A Swedish outfit so hardcore, it rejected Nazi metal for being too soft, Watain has been cranking out black-metal insanity for more than a decade, and this one’s its best to date. Pure angry throwback Bathory-style lunacy, this record wants you and your entire family dead.
Back in the land of the living, Finntroll has released its latest slice of bridge-dwelling hoedown music, and it’s more of the same: If you respond to the band’s goofy vision of a world in which buzzsaw death metal blends seamlessly with foot-stompin’ Finnish grandpa-folk, you’ll love Nifelvind (Century Media). If, on the other hand, that very notion fills you with something halfway between nausea and uncontrollable laughter, come sit over here by me.
Finally, I’d feel like a jerk if I didn’t end this column by discussing Sting In The Tail (New Door/UME), the latest, and apparently last, album from Germany’s venerable Scorpions. The band has long been one of my favorite guilty pleasures, and while this album doesn’t exactly break any new ground—the group’s been together since 1965, for Christ’s sake—it does offer everything necessary in a Scorpions record: incredibly catchy hooks, soaring vocals (and stupid lyrics) from Klaus Meine, and Matthias Jabs tossing in a few killer shred solos just to remind listeners that he basically invented them. Your record collection won’t really be missing anything if you pass this up, but after almost 50 years of existence, it ain’t a bad way for the band to go out.