Never Heard Death Metal December
If you’ll recall, back in November, we had Meghan Klassen and Jimmy Evans give their thoughts on some of the most well-known black metal releases, having never been exposed to the genre before. It proved so popular with fans that, much to their chagrin, we decided to institute them as a monthly feature. We’re pretty far past December at this point, but hey, it was the holidays. Anyways, this time around, we tossed them right back into the ring with death metal.
Meghan Klassen is 23 years old, with almost none of the wisdom that comes with it. She enjoys ugly dogs, tragic war romances, and oil-barrel-sized servings of Coca-Cola. Here’s what she had to say about this assignment:
When I was invited back for the continuation of the “Never Heard” segment, I was both flattered in my delicate little writer’s heart and excited for the new frontier ahead, so it was a real blow to my sense of adventure when I learned that we were looking at five more metal albums. This round, however, concerns death metal, which is apparently super different than the black metal that crawled into my ears and carved space in my brain last month. Fear not, for I am ever willing to be the lamb led to the altar of Crossfader’s musical slaughter.
Jimmy Evans likes liking stuff and thinks you should, too. He writes movies, books, bad tweets, and never fortune cookies. Here’s what he had to say about this assignment:
When the Crossfader gods asked me to return, I was excited. When they told me I had to listen to four more hours of metal and that my one-month deadline had contracted to “this Sunday please,” I was less so. But I sucked it up, told myself it would expand my cultural literacy or something and plugged in. And I learned a lot. Mostly that I still don’t know if I love or hate this music, but other things, too – like the fact that you can just make up a subgenre by adding or subtracting borderline indistinguishable characteristics, and… well, I guess I just learned two things.
I don’t mean to dump on death metal or people who enjoy it, but I do have to recognize that it’s not all for me, and that my ranking of these is a joke because I couldn’t really tell you which song belonged to which album. But that joke is the point of this column. I am someone who does not “get it.” So, I’m sorry, death metal. I couldn’t crack your shell. I wonder what we could’ve been had we not been forced on each other and allowed to discover and learn and grow together, but look, it’s not you, it’s me.
Death – HUMAN
Meghan: Color me shocked. A metal album that doesn’t completely overwhelm the vocals with heavy instrumentals? The answer to my heretic prayers! Granted, I still couldn’t understand a good portion of anything said besides each track’s strangely well-articulated title (shout out to “Suicide Machine”!). Snark aside, it felt like I was listening to a semi-normal song mix again, which was nice. My first impression of this album was undeniably superficial (Seriously? The band is just called Death? Try harder!), but I couldn’t even dislike it. The songs are intense and full of energy, yet they manage to stay away from the stressful monotony that seems to plague long tracks, and the changes in style seem to flow into each other in a way that is not jarring or overwhelming. Maybe the 90s metal scene isn’t so terrible. 2nd Place
Jimmy: This narrowly slides past Carcass for having interesting lyrics, although in keeping with my pledge to total stupidity, I never looked them up and really only understood every sixth word. But the actual music feels as stale as the aforementioned band, other than a cool cosmic detour near the end. I think there’s some story being told, a journey taken, but I can’t say I know what it is. 3rd Place
Atheist – UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE
Meghan: Parts of this album were downright funky, a sentence I never expected to write during this exploration. While it certainly has the qualities of metal music that I’ve come to expect (loud screeching about mortality, finger-destroying strumming, a breakneck tempo), I was surprised to hear some guitar solos that even Santana could approve of. Just as I felt a track was racing toward the metaphorical cliff, it would suddenly slow into an almost mystical interlude, all chimes and sensual guitar, lingering just briefly before descending once again into intensity and gloom. At the end of the day, a well-plucked bass line is never something I can be mad at, even when it weirds me out that it’s there in the first place. 3rd Place
Jimmy: This is the part where I pretend to know about playing music. I mean, I’m so good at listening to it, right? But I’m putting this guy at number two because I found the instrumental prowess truly exhilarating. Everyone gets to throw down, instruments pairing off into mini-duels across the album’s tight runtime; my personal favorite of drums competing against bass, washing the listener in rhythms and giving them the not entirely unpleasant sensation of what I imagine exploding feels like. 2nd Place
Gorguts – OBSCURA
Meghan: I’m a fan of anarchy as much as the next person, but there is no way you can convince me that this album was practiced or planned in any sort of way. Cymbals crash, guitars wail, and someone beats the shit out of a drum set, all in the same instant, creating layers of sounds that clash together like the world’s worst jam session. I get the distinct feeling that this music could have been produced by an angry teen garage band, each of them trying to prove who can make the most ruckus and who hates their new stepdad the most. None of the instruments seem to be working together or to even construct an overarching melody, save for some all-too-brief moments of melody which seem all the more odd for being there. This complete discord might hold an appeal for people looking to get inspired into a murder-frenzy, but it certainly doesn’t for me. Bravo, gents. I’m going to go take an aspirin. 5th Place
Jimmy: I wish I could tell you I ranked this one last because of uncharismatic composition or something, but the truth is that I hated this album the most because it’s the longest and I was really tired when I listened to it. People hit drums fast, guitars screech impressively, growls are growl-y and, uh, mortality, I guess? I’ve still not figured out what this music has to say about dying other than that everyone’s pretty upset about it. 5th Place
Carcass – HEARTWORK
Meghan: This album was really nothing special to me. Maybe I’ve been force-fed the weird experimental stuff for too long, but this album seems to be exactly the kind of music you would expect to find in the death metal genre; intense yet still palatable. The guitar wailing is heavy without screeching, with appropriate amounts of solo flair. The drums are never overbearing, waxing and waning with the complexity of the guitars to serve a fairly consistent range of sound. Each track is complete with snarling vocals that are evil by design but just comprehensible enough to be human speech. If anything, this album made me question myself – who have I become, and what have I put myself through to become a person who turns their nose up at a death metal album for being too pedestrian? As far as the listening selections have gone, this album is the equivalent of a PB&J for lunch. Sure, it gets the job done in a satisfying way, but I’m still looking out for more exciting options around the corner. 4th Place
Jimmy: One of the many downsides to doing absolutely no research about an obscure-ish subgenre is that you’re adrift trying to define it. So my uninformed definition of death metal revolves around a theory of technical prowess and being fuckin’ hardcore. Held up against the measure I just pulled out of my ass right now, Carcass is lame. The repetitive, chugging guitar riffs feel cheesy, too clean and worst of all, boring. Does anyone still think guitar solos are badass? 4th Place
Cryptopsy – NONE SO VILE
Meghan: Well, consider me woken the fuck up. The inhuman speed at which the instruments are played is impressive, summoning to mind images of strings melting and fingers catching on fire even more so than visions of death and despair. The vocals are less of an accompaniment and more of the sounds emitted from a monster’s gaping maw, adding to the impression that the listener is a passenger on a locomotive barreling one-way towards the pits of hell. Eventually those vocals turned into approximations of chimpanzee speech, an intriguing listening experience to say the least. Despite the severity of the first impression, I have to say that I got used to the musical style after a while, and it, dare I say, pumped me up? The screams of the fallen and the frantic yet skillful barrage of guitar and drums managed to get my blood pumping in a way that was not altogether holy. Chalk this up to finding love in all the wrong places. 1st Place
Jimmy: If you’re going to make playing fast your thing, you better play really damn fast. Kicking off with an awesomely awful man-in-a-rubber suit giant monster screech, this album addresses my aching questions about the genre – where do you go if you start at 11? Every element of this music is over-the-top, insane, and actually pretty fun (try saying Cryptopsy aloud without smiling). Crewed by what I can only assume is a schizophrenic Wolf-Woman in heat on vocals, a ten-legged demon on drums and a very tired guy on guitar, Cryptopsy answers my question with supreme and stupid confidence: 12, Jimmy. You go to 12. 1st Place
There you have it folks, Never Heard Death Metal December! We promised Meghan and Jimmy we’ll give them a break from metal for awhile. We’ll see…