The Heavy: Once A Headbanger, Sometimes A Headbanger

I was flipping through some old Aquarian tearsheets not so long ago and I started reading old reviews I did some seven years ago, when I was just starting out with this paper. That shit was great! Sure, I had no idea what I was talking about most of the time, but damnit, I was having fun. That column and its stupid name—what the hell did “Inside A Thick Metal Skull” mean anyway?—were how I cut my teeth, and they weren’t all gold, for sure, but man, horns were thrown, heads banged and I got more free CDs than I can count.

You get older, though. Your tastes change. New, swoopy-haired bands come along and suck. A lot. But I’m still a metalhead at heart and I’ll always have a soft spot for ripping solos, blastbeats and anything that makes you want to windmill while you’re driving. Fuckin’ a.

So this week, instead of the usual interview with a doom band, I’m going back to my roots. Here’s an old-fashioned Metal Skull-style batch of reviews, not taken from my blog, not written for anything else, just put to paper as I go. Let’s get started:


So Damn Metal: Ozzy Reissues

Looks like I’m not the only one rehashing past glories, but although Ozzy Osbourne has disgraced himself more times than I can count at this point (anyone see that Super Bowl commercial?), those first two records still kick ass. Sony Legacy did both up deluxe-style. Blizzard Of Ozz comes with a DVD documentary and Diary Of A Madman—in full digipak regalia—includes a bonus live show from that era that supposedly was never even bootlegged. Not sure if I believe that, but whatever, the album rules, either way.

And I’d forgotten just how much. Seriously, when was the last time you sat down and listened to “Flying High Again?” Or “Suicide Solution?” “Mr. Crowley?” These are metal classics! Ozzy killed on these two albums, and newly de-Sharon-ized and restored with the original rhythm section tracks, they sound just as righteous as they always did. Randy Fucking Rhoads, dude.


The Rest Of This Mess:

Voivod/Warriors Of Ice/Sonic Unyon

Don’t get me wrong, I love Voivod—I think you pretty much have to—and I’m not about to talk smack about a band who’s been around with no major commercial success since I was born, but they really couldn’t have picked a live show with Piggy on it? Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, the band’s main riff-writer and guitarist, died in 2005, and I’ve seen them with Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain in the lineup, and they rule, but what an opportunity to pay tribute to one of underground metal’s heroes was missed out on with Warriors Of Ice.

Maybe they just want to move on, and with the energy they show on this 15-track disc, I get it. They have more energy than your favorite punk band, they’re truly one of metal’s most underrated greats, and with “Global Warning,” “Nothingface” and “The Unknown Knows” tearing faces off a probably-suspecting hometown Montreal crowd in 2009, there’s nothing about Warriors Of Ice to bitch about except what I already did. If this is Voivod saying, “We still rule,” they’re right.


Disma/Towards The Megalith/Profound Lore

Ripping! Death! Metal! New Jersey’s Disma made an immediate splash when they put out their first demo in 2009 because ex-Incantation vocalist Craig Pillard is up front with his lethal growl. Towards The Megalith is their first full-length, and it’s already got extreme metalheads ripping sleeves off t-shirts and carving logos into their arms.

Good reason, too, because—in the parlance of our times—it’s heavy as balls. Oldschool death metal that makes the last Morbid Angel look like whoever the fuck is headlining Warped Tour this year (not that they needed the help these days). And there’s no bullshit. No melodic parts, no clean singing, no pseudo-prog noodling. Chugging riffs, echo snare and Pillard’s growls. Towards The Megalith rules front to back because all it wants to be is heavier than you and it succeeds.


Lock Up/Necropolis Transparent/Nuclear Blast

You’re not point-five seconds into Necropolis Transparent that Lock Up aren’t bludgeoning you to death with blastbeats and scathing guitars. And why not? With Tomas Lindberg from At The Gates on vocals, Shane Embury from Napalm Death on bass, Anton Reisenegger from Chilean death masters Pentagram on guitars and ubiquitous drummer Nicholas Barker (who’s done time in both Dimmu Borgir and Testament), they’ve obviously got their paperwork in order. File under “brutality.”

Embury brings some of his grindcore ethic with him (after three decades in Napalm, I imagine he can’t leave home without it), but Lock Up—who started in 1998 and were then fronted by Hypocrisy vocalist Peter Tägtgren—are a different band altogether. Still, it’s short songs, blast-heavy grooves and über-thrash guitars. Sounds clean because it’s modern, but is more than heavy enough to scratch whatever death metal itch you’ve got.

By the way, you should really see a doctor about that death metal itch. I think it’s starting to affect your personal relationships in a negative way and I’m concerned for your wellbeing.


Cannabis Corpse/Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise/Tankcrimes

In a way, it doesn’t matter at all how good the music is on Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise, because the best thing about Cannabis Corpse is always going to be their song titles. Taking classics from the death metal canon and injecting them with marijuana references, the band offers such classics as “Dead By Bong” (as opposed to Deicide’s “Dead By Dawn”) and “Gateways To Inhalation” (as opposed to Morbid Angel’s Gateways To Annihilation album). You get the point. Charm abounds.

For what it’s worth, though, they do rule a little bit at that whole “playing heavy metal” thing. Bassist Phil “Landphil” Hall also does time in rethrashers Municipal Waste, so if you needed one more clue to know Cannabis Corpse don’t take themselves too seriously, there it is, but they can play, and Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise is bound to satisfy more than just those looking for quality puns or weedian references.


The Deadists/Time Without Light/Slow Burn

This Swedish outfit self-released the Time Without Light EP through Slow Burn Records, and… meh? It’s not bad, but it kind of strikes as generic and at just over half an hour with five songs plus a hidden bonus track, I find myself wanting The Deadists to get to the point because I’ve still got a whole stack of records waiting to be reviewed. The vocals have an accent, and that’s cool, but there’s also something nü-metal about the delivery, and, yeah, I’ll pass on that.

I got sent this record to review because it was supposedly doom, but it doesn’t really come close to it. There are a few memorable riffs, and “Deeper Within” cuts the pace and has what’s legitimately a cool groove, but The Deadists have their mind way more in the metal end than the doom side of the equation, and damned if “Chase The Giving” doesn’t sound like Disturbed. That never helps.


Nader Sadek/In The Flesh/Season Of Mist

Alternates between uneasy drones/noise and flesh-tearing semi-tech death. The curious-est part about Nader Sadek is that the dude the band is named after—Nader Sadek, who’s concocted visual media for SunnO))) and others—isn’t actually in the band. He does live visuals for the project, and apparently oversees it in terms of presentation (may or may not be responsible for the drones), but the band itself is a trio of luminaries featuring Blasphemer from Mayhem, mega-drummer Flo Mounier from Cryptopsy and former Morbid Angel vocalist Steve Tucker. Kind of hard to get a sense of Sadek’s visual contributions, which I’m sure rule, from listening to a promo download. Call me crazy.

Still, the music is good and the 6:30 “Soulless” earns its name. I’m sure the whole thing would make more sense live, but as it is, all I have to go on is the release itself, which is plenty heavy and enjoyable in an ultra-dark, death metal sense, but definitely leaves some questions in my head.


The Quill/Full Circle/Metalville

One-time MeteorCity-dwelling Swedish stoner rockers The Quill parted ways with vocalist Magnus Ekwall, and as anyone who ever heard that dude sing will tell, you, that’s a big loss. Nonetheless, time and bands march on, and now joined by Magz “New Singer Guy” Arnar, they release Full Circle, their first album in five years.

I look at it kind of like the last Spiritual Beggars record. It’s chock full of solid rock songs, and that’s great, but it’s never going to be what it was. Not that Arnar doesn’t do an excellent job filling the vocalist role, or that these songs are somehow lacking, but Full Circle just feels formulaic and doesn’t have the energy of the band’s earlier work. Points also lost for closer “Waiting For The Sun” not actually being a Doors cover.


Next Time…

Well, kids, next time we go back to business as usual. That’s right, back to interviews with bands no one but me cares about—because, damnit, one of these days, somebody’s gonna catch on. They just have to.


JJ Koczan doesn’t really believe that.