Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I had to try several times before this post had a title: Gornok's top 10 metal albums

Hello, functioning literates! I'm Gornok. Or Metalex. Or any number of other appellations. I love getting new nicknames and monikers – each is a another step on my sobriquest. Greg told me I should come up with a list of my 10 favorite metal albums and why, so I did. I'm pretty confident in about seven of these choices, and the other three slots are dependent on my mood (sorry, Obituary). Odds are, I'm going to be reviewing things in a more grindy/black/death/obnoxious vein than Danny or Greg. 

Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
The opening two bars of the record: tritone-based bass riff in 5/4, followed by guitar-harmonized version of the same. Steve Flynn's chaotic samba/jazz/metal drumming erupts before resolving to a groovy thrash. I won't describe anything beyond those first thirty seconds, but suffice to say that Atheist knew their strengths (an incredibly technical maelstrom that comes off catchy, effortlessly, and human) and played to them every single song on this album. Countless bands would follow their templates and steal the paints from their palette, but Atheist lives up to their titular boast. Did I mention that this absolute motherfucker of a record came out in '91? This is the birth of tech-metal.

Naked City – Torture Garden
I'm honestly not sure what genre to classify this record as. Naked City is the thalidomide-flippered-and-laser-cannon-armed lovechild of NYC-freejazz-weirdo-saxophonist John Zorn, whose love of Japanese bondage and grindcore were matched only by his inability to stay in the same genre for more than ten seconds. He found four other people on similar wavelengths (all other parts of the 70s/80s NYC "downtown" no-wave and free-jazz scene) and put out this compilation of grindcore minatures. I can't tell you more without ruining the fun of finding the surprises, but I can tell you that I'll slap you if you don't like it.

Psyopus – Our Puzzling Encounters Considered
If Atheist is tech-metal's Alpha, PsyOpus might be the Omega. Bipolar dynamics, the kind of tapping you hear in guitar solos twisted and repurposed into dissonant riffs, emotional anguish and rage, song structures that draw from 20th century serialist composition, and harsh fucking noise. This is the most dissonant record I have ever heard. It wants to stab you in the throat to draw ink for a love letter. It ends with a woman repeating the word “annoying” for about 20 minutes. An acid hangover hell that occasionally peels back to reveal glimpses of heaven. Listen to it once, recover, and then listen to it again knowing that significant portions of it were written in prison on a guitar-fretboard drawn on a piece of cardboard. Christopher Arp (the group's guitarist and only consistent member) is a deranged genius, and I hope to hear more from him soon.

Gojira – From Mars To Sirius
One of the albums that made death metal click for me. While certainly not strictly death metal in a traditional sense, it's crushing, proggy, spacey and serene. A monolithic whalecore masterpiece that draws heavy influence from Voltaire's Micromegas, one of the first science fiction stories ever written. I've heard Gojira described as “marching elephant riffs”, and that's a pretty hard description to beat.

Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Morbid Angel ruined Slayer for me. Granted, I heard the former before the latter, but Morbid Angel has always sounded like a more aggressive, demonic, and intricate version of Slayer. Lyrics ripped straight from the Simon Necronomicon, delay-drenched deranged solos, and that gorgeous reverse-tape build-up that kicks off the album – perfect. As far as just straight-up death metal goes, you'd be hard-pressed to find a finer example of the genre. As a tangent: listen to this, then check out the Terrorizer album World Downfall. David Vincent and Pete Sandoval played on that one before this, and Sandoval was drumming in a comparable style with the same speed, except using only one bass pedal.

Deafheaven – Sunbather
This is a lush album, languid and romantic in its despair. Longing and sunshine. Lots of tremolo-armed 7th chord fuckery. It ends with cathartic bitterness. You will love it or you will hate it – nobody walks away from a record like this with a middling opinion. This album got me through some absolutely bleak and miserable periods, daydrunk listening to “hipster” black metal in the sweltering Texas heat.

BONUS STORY: I saw Deafheaven when they were touring on this album, and they were great. One of the most emotionally charged performances I've ever seen. If you get the chance to see them, I recommend it.

BONUS BONUS STORY: Deafheaven's singer came into the restaurant I work at one time, and became noticeably awkward and a little bit standoffish when I recognized him. He ordered several plates of chicken-festooned waffles and a few mimosas, and then proceeded to eat underneath the pecan tree in the parking lot. This really isn't relevant to the quality of the album at all, but can you imagine how surreal it is to see someone you've literally only heard screaming in anguish eating a goddamn waffle?

Ludicra – EP
This is to precipitous city-night as Immortal is to snow-laden woods. Surprisingly jazzy drumming, great vocals, guitars beautiful as they are harsh. It's really hard to pick a best Ludicra record, but this one has my favorite song of theirs (Walk The Path of Ash) on it. Anyone with an interest in black metal should check out this band – they're now defunct, but their output between 2006-2010 is more or less perfect. If you need a comparison to another band, they're Agalloch's cooler sister (Aesop Dekker played drums in both bands and ran an amazing music blog called Cosmic Hearse – great place to look for weird, obscure, and awesome records).

Danzig – Lucifuge
MOTHERFUCKIN' DANZIG. (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weNO9k1TXS0)
You love Danzig, or you're wrong. Walk Among Us. Earth AD/Wolfsblood. Static Age. Initium. Unholy Passion. November-Coming-Fire. Danzig. Lucifuge. How The Gods Kill. If you can't find something to like in one of those albums, you probably just don't like metal. If you've heard them, you'll be insulted by any of my attempts to explain the appeal. Glenn Danzig's earlier work is more punk than metal (his work with Samhain bridges the two), and I've picked Lucifuge somewhat arbitrarily.

Dionaea – Still
Not quite the most recent album on this list, but definitely the most obscure. Gorgeous, tap-delay, atmospheric post-metal/Cynic-riffing builds into cathartic spurts of mathcore hell. A few cellos in there as well. Most of the album follows the same dynamic pattern, but when you're doing something this well, you don't need to do much differently. Three songs across 45 minutes that form a perfect loop, cycles of end on end.

Cradle of Filth – Dusk And Her Embrace
Reeking of dark blood and fucking (see kids, now that's how you do a topical reference), this is probably the best argument that Cradle of Filth merits discussion in black metal circles. Some of the orchestral/symphonic/keyboardy flourishes wouldn't be out of place on In The Nightside Eclipse (which came out not too long before Dusk, and is by Emperor, if for some reason that needs to be made clear). High-pitched shrieks, tremolo-picked songs with complex structures mostly hitting the 7-9 minute mark, unrelentingly intense drums, and furtive spurts of Gothic lust. Cradle of Filth is a very polarizing band – you'll love them or you'll hate them, but if you're copacetic with what they do, this is their high-blood mark.

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