October 14, 2009

Every month, The A.V. Club lets its hair down and drops its well-cultivated hipster douchebag image, giving its inner Hessian free rein. The other 353 days of the year, we still pretend to care about what Conor Oberst is up to, but for that one day a month, we let the site look and smell like an old patch-covered denim jacket. That’s the day when Metal Box takes over and reviews the best in hard rock, heavy metal, and other forms of loud, filthy noise that your parents tell you to turn off, even if they have been dead for several decades. So crack a bottle of Everclear, squeeze into your leather pants, and turn the volume up on your stereo until it hums as we turn the calendar to Rocktober!

YOUR FIST IS ON MY LIST. Everybody loves a good pop-culture list. Why, I hear that this very publication has a new one coming out (in stores October 13!) that’s so good, you’ll soil yourself! But if you have any money left over after buying Inventory, and there’s an open spot in that stack of books next to your toilet, consider picking up Eric Danville’s The Official Heavy Metal Book Of Lists (Backbeat Books).

Among the exciting things I learned in three-minute chunks from this slender but enjoyable volume: Lemmy has terrible handwriting; Ronnie James Dio is older than the polio vaccine; Gaahl owns a woman’s clothing company; Metallica eats bacon at every meal; and you should never, ever get on the bad side of Sharon Osbourne. (Okay, I knew that last one already.) A lot of the lists in the book are pretty boilerplate and boring, but it gets downright inspired when Danville brings in the celebrity guests. Unsurprisingly, Ted Nugent’s list—the last in the book—is both the funniest and the most infuriating, but there’s plenty more: Some of the best are “5 most metal Civil War generals,” from Dethklok’s William Murderface, Hott Lixx Hulahan’s air guitar tips, and Brandon Patton of Echoes Of Eternity giving his reasons not to be a professional musician. It’s hardcore bathroom reading for the semi-literate metal fan.

DOORWAY TO NIGHTMARE. It’s been a long, hard road for Living Colour. Coming together at a time when rock balkanization had all but eliminated African-Americans from the rock scene, they had a few hits and then sunk out of sight, thanks to a bad-luck combination of fan indifference, poor marketing, and lousy musical choices. That’s unfortunate, because Vernon Reid and company have been doing some of their best work in recent years, and The Chair In The Doorway (MRI) is the kind of album that would be considered a massive career comeback for a lot of bands. Reid is at the top of his game, cranking out thorny solos backed by a sympathetic backing band and combining jazzy rhythmic structures with some of the biggest rock hooks of his career on songs like “Hard Times,” the bluesy “Method,” and the melodic “That’s What You Taught Me.” If Living Colour has fallen off your radar, now’s the time to find it again.

GIVE ’EM THE AXE. Few bands on the hardcore scene have lasted longer or put out as many highly praised records as Converge. Its latest, Axe To Fall (Epitaph), isn’t in the same class as Jane Doe and You Fail Me, though; in fact, while it has some songs that show the band at its absolute best (the opening track, “Dark Horse,” is simply one of the greatest songs Converge has ever recorded), the album in total is an exercise in frustration. An aggregation of guest stars are deployed seemingly at random, and while they’re all skilled players, there’s little rhyme or reason for where they appear. And sometimes they don’t work at all, as on the overlong album-ending “Wretched World,” where Genghis Tron’s Mookie Singerman provides wholly unsuitable backing vocals. Axe Will Fall isn’t a bad album; there’s too much talent on display for that. But it seems uncertain as to what it wants to accomplish.

RAMMING SPEED. In the days leading up to the release of Rammstein’s latest album, Liebe Ist Für Alle Da (Vagrant), the band has sent out what can kindly be described as mixed signals about the record’s quality. The cover is an artsy mess, the titles are a mix of incomprehensible and cutesy, and the first video, for the single “Pussy,” is a moronic, would-be provocative bit of nonsense directed by Jonas Åkerlund. That said, the song itself is pretty damn good, with a sleazy industrial sound that recalls some of the band’s better latter-day work. That on-again/off-again quality marks the entire album: It’s slickly produced (by the band and Jacob Hellner), but in service of some often uninspiring tunes; the opening track, “Rammlied,” is another great one in the band’s series of self-referential anthems, and the second single, “Ich Tu Der Weh,” is dynamite, but these lead into a series of mediocre songs only occasionally broken up by the fiery intensity Rammstein is capable of.

LUCKY THIRTEEN. Those looking for the review of Slayer’s terrific new record, World Painted Blood, will have to hang on for the music-section review; it comes out November 3. But if you’re looking for another band of aging thrashers who are determined to prove that there’s life in them yet, consider This Is Thirteen, the latest album from Canadian veteran Anvil. Given new life by Anvil! The Story Of Anvil, last year’s surprisingly affecting documentary, Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner are determined to make the most of their second 15 minutes of fame. Even though This Is Thirteen is two years old and being released on VH1 Classics, it’s a solid, credible piece of latter-day classic metal, and Reiner controls a rhythm section whose rock-solid chops only come from a lifetime of practice.

Elsewhere in the thrash pile: For those wondering whether the actual album could possibly live up to the incredible cover art of Skeletonwitch’s Breathing The Fire (Prosthetic), the answer is a resounding yes. Not only a worthy follow-up to Beyond The Permafrost, it’s actually an improvement, with just enough black metal mixed in to give the whole record an extra dash of heat, and Nate Garnette cramming every song with hook after hook.

IT’S WAY MORE METAL IF WE DON’T CARE. A funny thing happened on the way to Dethklok becoming the world’s greatest fictional death-metal band: It actually became a damn good real death-metal band. On The Dethalbum II (Williams Street), Brendan Small and Gene Hoglan up the ante considerably, providing enough gags to satisfy those who are just in it for the laughs (as well as the best song title of the year in “I Tamper With Evidence At The Murder Site Of Odin”), but getting a lot sharper with the process of songwriting. Hoglan’s talents have never been in question, but Small has clearly started thinking of the songs as something more than fodder for in-show jokes; his staggering guitar solos on tracks like “The Gears” and sophisticated songcraft on “Black Fire Upon Us” shows that he’s trying to make songs worth listening to out of context.

In non-made-up death-metal news, Vader is doing its best to usurp Behemoth’s claim to putting out the best Polish death album of the year with its latest, Necropolis (Nuclear Blast); in spite of Vader’s recent can’t-tell-the-players-without-a-scorecard lineup changes, it’s a credible entry in the band’s lengthy catalog, full of intense crushing riffs, and in a departure from the death-metal norm, completely comprehensible vocals.

BLACK ON TRACK. Unfortunately, we didn’t get an advance copy of Dark Funeral’s latest in time to submit a review (ditto Pelican’s newest, but look for both next month), but if the one track that leaked is any indication, it should be an absolute killer. If you’re looking for sinister Satanic howling to feed your black-metal jones in the meantime, though, don’t look for it in Gorgoroth’s latest, Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt. Gorgoroth’s first album after a prolonged legal battle in which guitarist Infernus finally wrested the rights to the band’s name away from vocalist Gaahl, Quantos… seems uninspired and dreary, as if the rights dispute took all the fire out of the band. Even Pest’s return to vocals doesn’t do much to pick up a lackluster effort. Turn instead for your black-metal fix to Dimensional Bleedthrough (Profound Lore), the latest from Krallice. Mick Barr and Colin Marston have expanded the group to a four-piece with the addition of Lev Weinstein and Nick McMaster; their presence has added a complex, riff-heavy element to what was already a fine evocation of moody Burzum-esque black-metal atmospherics.

Courtesy of Profound Lore Records.

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