Metal Skull: Wrapping Up 2009: Albums I Should Have Reviewed Already

It was a busy year, admittedly, and full of twists and turns I didn’t really expect. You know, sometimes you just go along and everything winds up pretty much like you knew it would, and sometimes the exact opposite happens. This was one of those years. But hey, you survive and somehow arrive where you should be anyway. These things work out. In the meantime, however, it’s entirely possible that there’s a shitload of albums you should have reviewed that got missed. And that’s a bummer.

So, since the date on this issue is Dec. 30, I’ve got one last chance to rectify at least some of my neglect, and I’m going to do just that. And since there’s a lot and limited space, I’ll try and be as direct as possible, though if these two paragraphs are any indicator, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Anyway, here goes:

Slayer/World Painted Blood/American

Slayer this decade has put out three albums, and all three of them have to varying degrees wound up the same. They’ve been different albums in terms of the songwriting—Slayer are trying new things here as well—but in the end, there are a couple memorable songs and a couple passable songs. If it works out that the memorable outweighs the passable, then you’ve got a good Slayer album. God Hates Us All was good. Christ Illusion not as much. World Painted Blood is up there.

For a band who’ve managed to make a career out of sticking to the same sound for 28 years, Slayer are pushing themselves creatively with this record, and that’s admirable. It doesn’t always work, but more often than not, they pull it off, and Greg Fidelman’s production gives the record a modern sheen that a lot of their past material simply hasn’t had. There’s a lot of separation in the instruments, but if you listen loud enough, that doesn’t matter. And with Slayer, if you’re not listening loud, you’re not listening at all.

Behemoth/Evangelion/Metal Blade

This generation’s kings of Polish death metal (lest we forget Vader’s contributions to the genre), Behemoth put out a string of quality records before jumping ship from Century Media to Metal Blade, toured their asses off and pulled off Dethklok-esque silliness in their presentation without even the slightest hint of irony. All of this is admirable. Evangelion continued their trend of inhumane heaviness and catchy songwriting, and couldn’t be called anything but a success the whole way through. Anyone who’s come around to the band over the course of the last several years—and at this point I think that’s most of their fanbase—will find plenty here to make listening worthwhile. This band just kicks ass.

Saviours/Accelerated Living/Kemado

For a bunch of Californian thrashing stoners, Saviours are a really hardworking band. Still, I was far less inclined to review Accelerated Living after seeing them open for Saint Vitus at Europa in Brooklyn in Oct. For some reason (and it’s entirely possible this is because their draw in that borough brought out the hipster sect and that Saint Fucking Vitus was going on after them) it just felt like I was watching a bunch of dudes obnoxiously screw around with their instruments. I’d seen Saviours plenty of times before and not had that kind of experience, and listening to the record now, it might be a little more Slayer-tastic than their past outings—man, that Warship EP was heavy—but it’s not bad by any stretch. Guitar solos rule; review over.

Revocation/Existence Is Futile/Relapse

It was probably the title that kept me away from this one, but Revocation’s second album (Relapse debut) has picked up steam via internet word of mouth and made its way onto several year-end lists. Sure enough, it’s a pretty impressive slab of technical death metal. I’d call it progressive but for the Opethian connotations of that designation. Existence Is Futile sounds new-school, without sucking, and offers plenty of meat for older headbangers looking for more than pointless noodling solos and fucking breakdowns. Complex and satisfying, the band have earned their buzz.

Infernal Stronghold/Godless Noise/KVN

The first word that comes to mind for this release, which has been in my pile forever at this point, is “self-aware.” I say that because of all the albums I’ve heard this year, this might be the most aptly named. The Philly black-thrashers blast through 10 tracks in 26 minutes and offer nothing more than musical slaughter for the brave and/or already initiated. There’s no accessibility, no reaching out to fans, just Godless Noise. What you see is what you get, and in the immortal words of Entombed: “I’m seeing red.”

The Accüsed/The Curse Of Martha Splatterhead/Southern Lord

Despite a break between 1992 and 2005, Seattle crossover thrashers The Accüsed are coming up on 30 years as a band, and The Curse Of Martha Splatterhead is their seventh full-length. Not the most productive course of output, but not the worst either. This record is fast, intense, angry and kind of gross sounding. Obviously, that’s the intent. The snare sound is regrettable (surprising since the record was produced by Billy Anderson), but other than that, The Accüsed isn’t the kind of band you put too much thought into while you’re listening. More headbanging, less thinky thinky. These are words to live by, my friends.

Death Mask/Exhumation/Shadow Kingdom

Pittsburgh imprint Shadow Kingdom has a double major in kicking ass. They do so with their new releases and with their reissues. Death Mask’s Exhumation is the latter, sort of. It’s a compilation of demo tracks, rehearsal tapes and live songs from the short-lived Maryland doom/thrash band. The sound is like Venom meets Trouble at Celtic Frost’s house. Yes, it rules. The production is raw as hell (of course, most of it was recorded in a warehouse in the mid-‘80s), but it’s a great bit of curiosity for fans either of Maryland doom or obscure metal in general. I know it’s blatantly kissing label ass, but god damn, I’m glad someone out there is releasing this stuff. Imagine 20 years from now someone wants to reissue your demo. Awesome.

Exodus/Shovel Headed Tour Machine: Live At Wacken And Other Assorted Atrocities DVD/Nuclear Blast

With a title like that, you know it’s got to be pretty big, and thrash legends Exodus deliver in this triple-disc package from Nuclear Blast. You get a concert DVD and CD, then a documentary DVD about the band, more than an hour of deleted scenes, an interview from 1985, a huge photo gallery, and a ton more. This isn’t even a review, I know, but god damn, there’s a lot of shit on this DVD. Any Exodus fanatic out there would be lucky to own it.

…And Of Course, There’s Bill Zebub

New Jersey’s own Grimoire madman has two new documentaries out. The first is a look at the exploding pagan metal movement called, appropriately, Pagan Metal: A Documentary, and the second is a collection of filmed interviews with metal luminaries simply titled Metal Retardation. Happy to report it lives up to its name. For those inexperienced with Zebub’s interview style, just know that hilarity ensues. Honestly, it’s nice to see these dudes have a little fun (or be really uncomfortable, alternately) in these interviews, rather than the sit-still-and-answer-questions type of stuff you usually see on DVD. Zebub is the master of what he does. No one else dares come close.

JJ Koczan wishes you a safe and healthy 2010.