2020 MUSIC: 3 GREAT ALBUMS

Festive greets to anyone who found this post! If you want exhaustive 2020 music tips, go to a proper source. If scant and quick is more your bag, here are three beasts that go down heavier than a frozen turkey on Christmas Day.

Ready? Let’s get stuffed. More to follow in later posts.

MR BUNGLE: The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo

You know what it’s like when you haven’t played Slayer for a while and then, when you do, you’re left grinning and pulverised by their OTT? Giddy disbelief at the relentless ferocity in a song format. And it feels so good because it’s like coming home.

Mr Bungle The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo
Mr Bungle: feelgood thrashing

This is what Mr Bungle 2020 captures too. Despite, or maybe because of, the pant-shittingly brisk pace whipped up by three core Mr Bungle mentalists and two Big Four godheads, it’s probably the feelgood album of the year. It’s frantic, vital and comes with a shitload of commitment and prep. Scott Ian said that to nail the complexity of the riffs, he broke them down into 1-2 minute parts and spent days at a time on a single fragment. Said he changes what he’s doing 93 times during Sudden Death. Said that only when he got up to 214bpm in warm-ups was he ready for the shows. Said he got arthritis from practising so hard. Coming from one of the longest serving riff meisters in thrash, this says a lot about the work that went in and you can really hear it. Theory nerd and scales master Trey Spruance had to learn how to play metal again so he could get through a track, then a gig, of intense metallic shreds.

Weirdest of all, they did all this to service a bunch of tunes by their 1986 teenage selves. Could it join the all-time thrash greats given that it’s both 30 years late AND of the time? Who knows. But the one thing you can’t escape is the love and affection oozing out of these speed metal grooves – love for the genre, for the source demo and for each other. This is not a band going through the motions.

And the more you learn about the backstory, the more magical the whole thing becomes. One day it might even become mythical: like, did it actually happen? It’s a proper sideways take on a reunion. But Bungle had the tools, brains and work ethic to do it. Treat of the year.

OLD MAN GLOOM: Seminar VIII Light of Meaning and Seminar IX Darkness of Being

The late Caleb Scofield was honoured post-humously on Cave In’s last album, Final Transmission. Now his distinctive bass force and song-crafting talent is honoured again on this double release by Old Man Gloom. Fucking hell. Every Gloom album is an event, such is their absurd mix of metalcore, drone, static, sci fi terror and primate myth-making, but these two albums hit a combined gear that shifts them nearer to their peak Seminar II-Seminar III-Christmas run. Has the loss of Scofield given the music a heavier purpose? Very likely.

Old Man Gloom Seminar XIII Light of Meaning
Snow Man Gloom: noise to the core

Across the two discs we get the full range of OMG moods and modes, amplified by Nate Newton, Caleb Scofield and Aaron Turner all sharing vocal duties. Also getting a mic spot and shaping the music is Stephen Brodsky – not a previous Gloom member but absolutely blood family. And the Cave In touch is obvious on tracks like Final Defeat and especially Death Rhymes, an acoustic sledgehammer to the gut and a peak moment from both sets. At the other end of the OMG spectrum, By Love All Is Healed‘s lyrical sensitivity is obliterated by Turner’s sub-human roar. And so it goes on. 11-minute sprawls, one-chord hammerings, deep space terror, super short concrete blasts, aching heavy beauty – all the Old Man Gloom elements you know and love, spread across two full-lengthers. Headphone bliss.

HUNTSMEN: Mandala of Fear

Never heard of this band until Stuart Maconie played the track Ride Out on his Freakzone show. Here are my words about the track from that month’s Rewind:

‘YES. Not the opposite of no, but Yes the band – because if that early vocal doesn’t remind you of Jon Anderson, you’ve never heard Jon Anderson. And if you have heard him, you’ve never heard him over a super dense prog thrash attack that’s Rush-taut (how tightly packed is that rhythm guitar?) but way heavier. Shit me, it feels good. Of course, Huntsmen’s Anderson is part-time and gets blown into next decade by a metalcore breakout, making this one of the most exhilarating tunes of the month.’

It’s all still true. And the rest of this double-disc album? A monstrous metallic rock effort. Doom and prog tinged but not remotely downer or indulgent. Aggressive vocals and clean harmonies. Flashes of brutality balanced by space-psyche soar. Everything in its right place. If Pelican had more range AND male-female vocals, this might be where they’d end up. A proper hidden gem.

Huntsmen Mandala of Fear
Huntsmen: just say Yes

So that’s that, three masterful metalworks from 2020. Check the next couple of posts for other 2020 music highlights.

’til then!

DAVID BOWIE’S NUTS

FEBRUARY REWIND: BLACK-HELL INDUSTRIAL… PROGRESSIVE DEATH AND YES-CORE METALS… CAVERNOUS POST JAZZ… TRIP-HEAVY MINDMELTS AND POST-SCHLAGENHEIM COMEDOWNS. AND DAVID BOWIE.

Some mildly cheerless fare scattered throughout this Rewind – Sightless Pit, Blood Incantation, Pulled by Magnets – but then again, it is still winter. If that’s not your thing, there is at least some new David Bowie. And if new David Bowie leaves you cold …

best not even go there.

SIGHTLESS PIT – Kingscorpse

Grimmest first. Skitter beats carry disembodied harmonies, industrial noise buries them and a black-metal styled death voice burns through. The sound of humanity’s incineration? Nuclear winter? We have destroyed ourselves and are face to face with hell. That’s what this is. Lingua Ignota is in the band, corpse stench right this way.

BLOOD INCANTATION – Inner Paths (To Outer Space)

Nothing about this says death metal. The first four minutes are aggressive metallic prog, but then we get the escalation and then we get the DM hit – briefly. Like John Carpenter’s The Fog, the threat recedes. Much is hinted at, so it’s no wonder that Denver’s Blood Incantation are top 10 in Kerrang’s Top 50 Death Metal Bands Right Now list and in Metal Hammer’s New Noise feature. Death metal isn’t my thing, but have this lot got crossover appeal? Maybe. Hidden History of the Human Race is their second album.

HUNTSMEN – Ride Out

YES. Not the opposite of no, but Yes the band – because if that early vocal doesn’t remind you of Jon Anderson, you’ve never heard Jon Anderson. And if you have heard him, you’ve never heard him over a super dense prog thrash attack that’s Rush-taut (how tightly packed is that rhythm guitar?) but way heavier. Shit me, this feels good. Of course, Huntsmen’s Anderson is part-time and gets blown into next decade by a metalcore breakout, making this one of the most exhilarating tunes of the month. Mandala of Fear album is out in a couple of weeks.

PULLED BY MAGNETS – Those Among Us

We’re going wholly non-riff now, but this track has a heaviness that comes from metal’s fringes. Jazz drummer Seb Rochford – Polar Bear, Sons of Kemet, gazillions of others – pushes cavernous dubby slo-mo here which, for a non-jazzer like me, seems within sniffing distance of Metal Box and an avant Sunn O))) voyage. Check it here.

DODMEN – Drawn Circle

Stuart Maconie played this on his Freakzone this Feb. Turns out it’s not 2020-new, more a 2015 vintage, but when you chance on stuff this good, who’s counting?

Play this straight after Pulled By Magnets and it’s a pretty neat sequence – Drawn Circle has a similar pace, same drone backdrop, same massive sense of space and time. But Dodmen have guitars. And they use their loose, heavy slacker attack to hypnotic effect, piling on the layers and distortion to reach some sort of transcendent frenzoid. It’s nearly 11 minutes but everything is underplayed. Everything except the volume and the anticipation.

BLACK MIDI – Sweater

Another 11-minute sprawl, this time from musical eggheads black midi. Nothing like the instant mania of Schlagenheim, though it was part of the same sessions, Sweater just got released and is … calm. Deliberate. Possibly meditative. Possibly feeling around for a direction. But when those first, awkward guitar notes land, you know exactly who you’re cavorting with. Stick around for a midi life catharsis.

DAVID BOWIE – Nuts

The February Big One. Nuts is the fifth of six drip-feeds from the Is It Any Wonder? EP of Bowie rarities, and Nuts is the one that grabs. Why? Because it’s an Earthling extra, and 90s Bowie surely scores highest on the thrill-ometer for unreleased material (Black Tie, Buddha, Outside and Earthling unearthings? Yes please).

According to Mary Anne Hobbs, who played it first and is a Proper Insider for Earthling-era Bowie, Nuts was meant to be a bonus track on Earthling but then the idea was dropped. Would it have worked? Not as an album track, no, and Earthling definitely doesn’t need a bonus track to ruin the flow. This belongs on a bonus EP or mini album. Nuts is pretty much instrumental with spoken fragments (‘What would you rather be doing?’) – if you think of that break in Little Wonder where the whole track drops a bit and loses the voice, the piano and the big beats, Nuts motors along with that kind of vibe. Inner calm amid the superficially frantic. Drum ‘n’ bass, Bowie style. And that, obviously, is more than gift enough.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind