VERSUS: Nine Inch Nails VS Soundgarden

Seeing as how these two behemoths are touring together this summer, and seeing as how The Downward Spiral and Superunknown just turned 20 (both albums were released on March 8th, 1994), and seeing as how it’s been ages since I’ve done one of these, let’s do it!

THE CONTENDERS:

NINE INCH NAILS – The Downward Spiral

NIN - The Downward Spiral

SOUNDGARDEN – Superunknown

Soundgarden - Superunknown

THE STATS:

LABEL TYPE:

Nine Inch Nails: Major (Nothing, Trent Reznor’s now-defunct imprint under Interscope)

Soundgarden: Major (A&M)

TOTAL LENGTH:

Nine Inch Nails: 65:02

Soundgarden: 70:13

NUMBER OF SONGS:

Nine Inch Nails: 14

Soundgarden: 15

NUMBER OF SINGLES:

Nine Inch Nails: 4 (March of the Pigs, Closer, Piggy, Hurt)

Soundgarden: 5 (Spoonman, The Day I Tried To Live, Black Hole Sun, My Wave, Fell On Black Days)

PLATINUM SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: Yes

Soundgarden: Yes

MULTI-PLATINUM SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: Yes

Soundgarden: Yes

QUADRUPLE-PLATINUM SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: Yes

Soundgarden: Yes

QUINTUPLE-PLATINUM SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: No

Soundgarden: Yes

DIAMOND SALES?

Nine Inch Nails: 20,000,000 units sold? Hell no. What are we, The Eagles?

Soundgarden: What he said.

CREEPY MUSIC VIDEO?

Nine Inch Nails: Oh yes.

Soundgarden: Black and white is creepy. Sort of. Isn’t it?

REALLY STEREOTYPICAL 90’S MUSIC VIDEO?

Nine Inch Nails: Not really.

Soundgarden: Can, can we “pass”? Is that an option?

No? Fine. You suck.

MUSIC VIDEO WITH, LIKE, A BUNCH OF SPOONS, AND THERE’S A GUY PLAYING THE SPOONS AND STUFF AND HEY THERE’S SPOONS

Nine Inch Nails: Ummmm….?

Soundgarden: SPOONMAN FOREVER

LOST A GRAMMY TO ALANIS MORISSETTE?

Nine Inch Nails: Yep (Hurt, 1996 Best Rock Song [???? not sure how we wound up there], to Morissette’s You Oughta Know)

Soundgarden: Negative.

LOST A GRAMMY TO BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN?

Nine Inch Nails: Nope.

Soundgarden: Yes (Black Hole Sun, 1995 Best Rock Song, to Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia)

Nirvana: Us too. Same year, for All Apologies. NOT THAT WE GIVE A SHIT.

Melissa Etheridge: GUYS. I lost to Springsteen in ’95 twice – for Come To My Window *and* for I’m The Only One. The same goddamn category.

SOUNDS LIKE:

Nine Inch Nails: It’s kind of hard to put into words – have you ever been coming down off of a 5 Hour Energy in the dead of night, and you feel kind of sick, but really alert, and your mind is playing tricks on you, like tossing up phantoms and agents of despair just outside your periphery, and you think about just how nice it would be to sleep right now, for hours and hours, but no, not here, it’s not safe here, and high above you, there’s a lone street lamp, and it’s flickering, its protective halo twitching in and out of existence, twisting a knife into your senses every time it does, and suddenly you get hit with a flood of regrets and sorrow, and your knees start to buckle, and you’re worried you might fall, and then you realize that you’re already on the ground, and that streetlight is pulsing now, madly, and it’s gunning for your soul, and you’re slowly being suffocated with the realization that this really is it, and oh god, it’s all collapsing, and that light’s going to be gone, and you’ll be left in this nightmare world that you can neither understand nor survive in, and you’ll lose your limbs here, surely, because you know you can’t keep them just the same as you know you can’t keep your mind from burning up and dissolving into wisps of ash in the madness of it all, and then the light goes out, and you’re hopelessly, inexorably lost for all time, or at least until Hurt is over? It’s kind of like that.

Soundgarden: The best the radio has to offer in 1994.

ALBUM HIGHLIGHT:

Nine Inch Nails: March of the Pigs – it’s so weird. It’s got that off-kilter rhythm (the song’s in 7/8 time), and those piano breaks are absolutely absolutely brilliant – though you’d never guess they were coming the first time you hear it.

Soundgarden: This is going to sound nuts, but I really love Kickstand – it’s like this 90 second rock hurricane that swoops in near the end of this batch of really great but really insistent songs.

SUPPORTING BANDS DURING INITIAL ALBUM TOUR

Nine Inch Nails: Marilyn Manson and Type O Negative

Soundgarden: Tad and Eleven

…TAD AND ELEVEN??

Nine Inch Nails: You’re being an asshole. Stop it.

Soundgaren: ROCK.

THE WINNER:

DRAW

You didn’t honestly expect me to pick one of these over the other, did you? I mean, I know it’s kind of a cop out, and when I started this, The Downward Spiral did have the edge – but after listening to both albums back-to-back, I just can’t choose one over the other. They both do very different things exceptionally well, and they’re perfect musical statements of the time. Stuff like this just doesn’t go platinum anymore, let alone multi-platinum, and it probably ever won’t again. The spectrum has changed considerably since 1994, and the grungy, industrial frequencies got boxed out. This isn’t bad any more than it is good. It just is. It’s what happens; culture changes, technology changes, music changes. Did you know that Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven, released a mere two weeks after The Downward Spiral and Superunknown, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200? That would *never* happen now.

Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails both have new-ish albums (the latter released Hesitation Marks in 2013, while the former released King Animal in 2012) – and as of this writing, both albums have failed to even go Gold in the US (500,000 copies sold). Granted, you can’t just carve a throughline across 20 years and wipe your hands of it – but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Both The Downward Spiral and Superunknown can be streamed in their entirety on Spotify, and you can purchase them basically anywhere if you don’t already have them. Also, on Record Store Day (April 19th), Soundgarden is releasing this thing.

1994. What a year!

Returning to Veronica Mars

One year ago, a Kickstarter campaign to fund a feature film based on a short-lived-but-widely-celebrated television series surfaced. That campaign broke all kinds of Kickstarter records. It became the fastest project to reach $1 million, and then $2 million (both happened in less than 10 hours). It set the record for the project with the highest amount of backers, and one year later, it’s still the most financially successful Kickstarter project ever, with 91,585 backers donating a total of $5,702,153. Much has been said since about What This Means For Cinema, and several lofty $1 million-plus film goals have shown up on Kickstarter since. Sometimes they’re successful, sometimes not.

SING IT! Could you take my picture? 'Cause I won't remember...

SING IT! “Could you take my picture? ‘Cause I won’t remember…”

But the film’s out now, so what actually came of all of this? How’s the movie as a movie? It’s a question I can’t really answer honestly because I’m a fan of the show. Having seen it twice now, that’s the movie’s greatest strength and its biggest weakness. The film was funded by fans, and it caters almost exclusively towards fans, and despite some wishful thinking to the contrary (series creator Rob Thomas included), I don’t think this film is going to mean much to folks who aren’t fans of the show.

As an example, let’s take a look at Ramin Setoodeh’s negative review of the film which appeared recently in Variety. Ramin was largely unfamiliar with the show, and midway through his review, he wrote this very telling line:

Based on the movie alone, it would seem that Piz isn’t so bad. Why is Veronica so terrible to him?

Veronica is indifferent, even cruel to Piz in the film. This much is true. But it doesn’t really have anything to do with what the movie tells us about the two of them, or anything to do with Piz representing normalcy, a life that Veronica can never have. Nothing like that. It has to do with the fact that the two of them simply are not right for each other. You got a strong sense of this in the third season of the show, and it was never something that was explicitly spoken, but the two of them together just didn’t feel right – and this feeling was informed primarily by who they are as people, their actions and reactions spread across approximately 15 hours of television. That feeling carries into the movie, but 15 hours is a hell of a lot of context; it’s something that the obligatory summation at the film’s onset can’t provide. You can’t show someone’s fears or dreams, their sadness, or their growth in a summary. You can only dish out plot. So when Ramin ends his review saying “the Veronica Mars movie feels like attending a reunion for somebody else’s high school”, it’s the position of an outsider looking in. To me, it felt like catching up with old friends.

As a show, Veronica Mars often gets unfairly marginalized as teen fluff. It’s not, but that dismissal happens with some regularity. Yes, the show does wade into high school melodrama at times, and sometimes, it does more than wade. But newsflash: so does Mad Men. More to the point, Veronica Mars excelled at tackling subjects that most might think would exceed its grasp. It dealt with rape and sexual assault both frankly and honestly, never devolving into an insensitive mess, and it also keenly circled back to themes of class divisions, bullying, political corruption, drug use and alcoholism, celebrity obsession, the Greek system in higher education, and Keith Mars cooking dinner. In doing all this, Veronica Mars never felt like an After School Special – it always felt like we were watching a world that’s not *too* removed from our own.

Stylistically, it’s lovely, too, hanging the typical low-key shadows of film noir out in the California sun to bake awhile. It’s a colorful show, even when it’s dark out…

Night

…or flashing backwards

Flashback

All of this carries over into the film in one way or another. Going back to Ramin’s Variety review, I take issue with his assertion that the film is too dark (“did they film Veronica Mars in someone’s closet?”, he quips). And while I admittedly did not see the film in the theater (I went the HD VOD route courtesy of amazon), let me answer you before you even say anything: no, I didn’t stream Veronica Mars on a laptop or an iPad or anything – I watched it on a 55″ TV, both times.

Also, Ramin, what the hell do you mean by “I almost wonder if [the film] wasn’t mean to take place on the planet in its title” – have you not seen the NASA photos of Mars? Okay, yeah, it is a bit drab up there – earthtone Heaven – but it sure isn’t “trapped in the closet” dark:

Mars Rover

Get your head in the game, Ramin.

Anyway. Back on topic. Veronica Mars (the show) had a look, and Veronica Mars (the film) shares that look. In particular I enjoyed how cold the opening scenes felt, when Veronica was interviewing for the job at Truman-Mann. Everything felt rigid and sterile. It wasn’t inviting, and Veronica did not fit in there, from an aesthetic standpoint. Yet back in Neptune, color started to seep in. A warmth crept back into things, and Veronica didn’t stick out anymore. She was right where she belongs.

As a mystery, the film was pretty satisfying despite its truncated format. We didn’t get a whole season’s worth of twists and turns in this whodunit – instead, we got a little over 100 minutes worth, but it was a solid 100 minutes. Much more enjoyable than, say, Identity a film of comparable length from around the same time as the show (Identity was released in 2003; Veronica Mars premiered in 2004).

As a comedy, it was quite funny; Joss Whedon by way of Elmore Leonard, just like the show was. My current favorite lines:

(Veronica attempting to guess Mac’s new job)
“Hooters waitress! Oooooh, no, Hooters BARBACK!”

(Logan, upon answering the doorbell and seeing Veronica)
“Hey Logan, that girl who follows you around is here!”

(Weevil, in the hospital with the DA after being shot)
“Please, get this case dismissed before anyone believes the words ‘time to party’ came out of my mouth”

Quick sidebar: what the hell is with Logan’s navy uniform? He’s swimming in it. He looks like he’s 12.

I thought it would shrink!

I thought it would shrink!

That baggy military garb up there is actually a great transition to the end of this post: the film just won’t be a good fit for those who aren’t fans of the show. It can’t be. And it really shouldn’t be. But the problem is that it’s not some insular event, regulated to a small niche of Marshmallows who’ll emit squeeeeees of joy when that Dandy Warhols tune kicks in at the end, or when Logan tells Veronica that their story is epic, who’ll gasp when Keith Mars’ car is blindsided or when Gia is shot and killed. This thing is in theaters now – anyone can see it, assuming it’s playing near them. And while it was primarily bankrolled by fans, and by extension, should be beholden to them first, the very nature of its genesis has got everyone paying attention to it, because this very well could be the future. And by future, I mean this: what’re you passionate about that went away too soon? Firefly? Carnivale? Freaks and Geeks or Undeclared? Well, if you fork out the cash for more, we’ll make it happen. That’s the future. Or one possible future, anyways.

There’s a lot of stances that can be taken on this, but the duality of it is summarized perfectly in the headline of this article by Wired. They didn’t dig the movie – and I’m not surprised.

RE-EXAMINER: KINGDOM OF SORROW – Kingdom of Sorrow (2008)

I have a lot of music. Too much, probably. If that’s even possible. You could perhaps convince me, but it’d be a tough sell. Some time recently, I got to thinking about all this music of mine, and about what’s made an impression on me, and what hasn’t – and I thought it might be fun to take a look at some albums randomly, to see what I think of them. So that’s what I’m doing here, and I’m going to call it Re-Examiner. Because that’s what this is.

And it will be random. Seriously. I’ve got a system worked out. It involves dice, and possibly the I Ching. So let’s get started.

Kingdom of Sorrow This here is the very first Re-Examiner I’m doing, and once everything was settled, I wound up with the eponymous debut album of Kingdom of Sorrow, released in 2008. This is an album that falls under the category of “I kind of remember this? Maybe?” Definitely not something I’ve returned to since it came out, so let’s take a closer look at it to see why. First though, since it falls into the “Supergroup” category, let’s knock that out of the way. Kingdom of Sorrow (circa 2008) was:

Kirk Windstein (pictured right, of Crowbar) on guitar and vocals
Jamey Jasta (pictured left, of Hatebreed) on vocals
Derek Kerswill (of Unearth) as the session drummer
Steve Gibb (also of Crowbar) as an additional session guitarist

They were going to call the album HAAAAAAAANDS, but decided against it.

They were going to call the album HAAAAAAAANDS, but decided against it.

As “supergroups” go, Kingdom of Sorrow isn’t really all that “super” – they’re all fine musicians, but the most notable thing about that list to me is that Steve Gibb is the son of Barry Gibb, of the Bee Gees. The lineup on paper didn’t dilate my pupils like the Them Crooked Vultures or Tinted Windows lineups did (both bands came into being around the same time as Kingdom of Sorrow, too). So why haven’t I come back to this thing at all since it was released? Well listening to it now, I’ve found it hard to wrestle down my expectations for albums like this, and that seems to be source of Kingdom of Sorrow’s abandonment. Namely, I’m looking for at least one of the two following things to happen on it:

-everyone in the band pushes everyone else to their absolute best
-the band explores together new musical territory

If both things manage to happen, so much the better. A great example of this would be the second Liquid Tension Experiment album. At the time, the core of LTE was essentially Dream Theater (John Petrucci on guitar, Jordan Rudess on keyboard, and Mike Portnoy on drums – Tony Levin, formerly of King Crimson, replaces John Myung on bass; there’s no vocals). But with an emphasis on jamming over studious composition, the songs on Liquid Tension Experiment 2 see the band ascend to great heights together – heights they didn’t reach as often in Dream Theater. The absence of vocals or any sort of narrative provide the songs an immediacy that DT songs tend to lack, and Tony Levin’s heavy use of the Chapman Stick instead of a traditional bass gives the whole album a weird, spindly backbone. And of course, Dream Theater have never made a song as tender as Hourglass, or as cosmopolitan as Another Dimension.

The year: 1999. The "liquify" tool in Photoshop was new and edgy...*

The year: 1999. The “liquify” tool in Photoshop was new and edgy…*

Conversely, Kingdom of Sorrow does neither of these things; it’s basically a Crowbar album with a different vocalist. And that’s where things get tricky, because there really isn’t anything *wrong* with that. As I said above, they’re all fine musicians. Crowbar do the sludge metal thing better than most, and Jasta is one of the more formidable hardcore vocalists working today, so why shouldn’t I enjoy the hell out of this? There’s no real reason for me not to, considering what it is. And yet I’m still beholden to “MORE” and “NEW”; they’re not just a switch I can turn off. Here they first hatched in me when I saw a huge splash page on the Relapse Records site prominently advertising this album as a New Thing featuring Windstein and Jasta. The album grew into something else right then. And I can’t shrink it down with anything less than excellence and/or the unexpected. “More of the same” ≠ “MORE”

It runs deeper than expectations, though, particularly where Jasta is concerned. In Hatebreed, his coarse hollering is often buoyed by lyrical positivism, and to hear lines like “I will not be a victim/My cries won’t go unheard” frequently replaced by lines like “It’s in my blood, rushes through my veins/and there’s no defense against the plague” is disheartening. It feels hollow, and it robs Jasta’s voice of much of its potency. What’s more, it’s awkward to hear Jasta share the spotlight with someone else who’s not just barking repeated phrases in the background. When Windstein steps up to the mic as on Grieve A Lifetime, his lines don’t carry as much weight. The quality of his voice is just smaller.

Moving past the musicians and into the songs, Kingdom of Sorrow paints a fairly steady picture. Heavy downtuned riffs. Slower tempos offset by even slower breakdowns. The occasional guitar solo. Lots of yelling. Every once in a while something different surfaces, but it never stays long, like the hardcore drum stomp in Lead The Ghosts Astray, or the gurgling bassline at the beginning of Demon Eyes – Demonized. I don’t really want to get into a play by play of each of the songs, as that’s not really what this is about, but the one song I do want to talk about in detail is Screaming into the Sky. It’s the album’s most interesting song to me, because it comes the closest to fulfilling the expectations I had for the album.

But first, let’s talk about Pantera.

In 1990, Pantera released their fifth album, Cowboys From Hell – and the second single off of that album was a tune called Cemetery Gates. The song is a perfect bridge between the hair metal the band embraced in the 80’s, and the neck-flexing heaviness they’d become renowned for later on. It’s a power ballad, but a haunted one; its are teeth bared. And it’s hard *not* to think of Cemetery Gates when listening to Screaming into the Sky. Both songs are a lament to the lost. Both songs alternate between quieter and heavier sections. Both songs feature their vocalists approaching the edge of their abilities. And both songs are the bands’ longest, time-wise.

On Screaming into the Sky, the musical structure that Kingdom of Sorrow was adhering to on the album – slow vs slower – dissipates. There’s breakdowns a-plenty on the album, but here they’re so glacially paced, you can almost feel the weight dragging them down. And the guitar around these breakdowns is airier, giving even more contrast. The motion of the music (which is minimal) is almost overtaken by atrophy. And it’s refreshing to hear the change-up in the vocals, too. Granted, neither Windstein nor Jasta can match Phil Anselmo’s wailing on Gates, but then again, they don’t have to. The change is nice. Screaming into the Sky doesn’t feel like the rest of the songs on Kingdom of Sorrow, and I would’ve loved more moments like this on the album. It’s what I was looking for from it, but in six minutes, it’s gone.

I feel bad not digging this album more than I do. Jasta commented that “[the recording] was probably the best time I’ve ever had in the studio. As far as creatively…it was such a liberating thing. We felt like, ‘It’s a new band. It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks.’ We’re just doing it because we want to do it. So it was a totally genuine and pure creative process.”

That’s wonderful. Truly and without irony, it is.

But I did buy the thing…

There was a second Kingdom of Sorrow album released in 2010, Behind The Blackest Tears. But I didn’t hear it. The one was fine.

*the liquify tool was never “edgy”, and it was not introduced in Photoshop until September 2000. we do not regret this error. we regret nothing

What that “Vesuvius” episode of HIMYM really means

This past Monday, Vesuvius, the 19th episode of the final season of How I Met Your Mother aired on CBS, and everyone is all in tizzy about it because it seems to indicate that the titular Mother is dead. She’s been dead this whole time – and by extension, if she’s dead, Ted’s been telling his kids this story of How He Met Her to remember her by, or something to that effect. Cue all the sads.

"If I had one wish...it would be...that you're not dead."

“If I had one wish…it would be…that you’re not dead.”

That’d be a feat of Shyamalanian proportions were it to actually be true, and while pretty much everyone is wishing for it *not* to be true, people seem to be hard pressed to come up with anything concrete to refute it, and that this is all just an elaborate a red herring. Have no fear, though – I’ve got you covered.

The Mother is NOT dead, and this is all just an elaborate red herring.

To begin, let’s look at the title of the episode: Vesuvius. While that does carry connotations of grand unexpected tragedy, and of moments locked in time like preserved ruins of Pompeii, it doesn’t really say anything about the episode itself. And of all nineteen episodes of season 9 that we’ve seen so far, it’s the *only* one that doesn’t have a title directly tying into something that’s going on in the story. Let’s break this down, episode by episode:

ONE: The Locket
The episode introduces some of (but not all of) the details of Ted’s procurement of the lost locket (Robin’s “something old” from the end of season 8).

TWO: Coming Back
Future Ted recounts the promise he made to his past self to the Mother: “I’m coming back, and I’m bringing you.”

THREE: Last Time in New York
The episode focuses heavily on Ted’s list of things to do before leaving New York City for Chicago, before shifting into some revelatory character stuff.

FOUR: The Broken Code
The title references the main conflict of the episode: whether or not Ted’s actions with Robin in the park at the end of season 8 constitute a violation of the Bro Code.

FIVE: The Poker Game
(Almost) everyone is playing a poker game.

SIX: Knight Vision
A recurring gag of the episode revolves around the knight from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade appearing to Ted after he’s made contact with a potential wedding weekend hookup.

SEVEN: No Questions Asked
The episode details the “No Questions Asked” moment of everyone in the gang.

EIGHT: The Lighthouse
Ted proposes to the Mother one year into the future, at the top of the Farhampton lighthouse.

NINE: Platonish
Ted confesses near the end of the episode that he and Robin only have a “platonish” relationship, and not a platonic one, and that fate may yet bring them together.

TEN: Mom and Dad
Barney concocts numerous schemes over the course of the episode to coax his mother and father (Loretta and Jerome) to get back together.

ELEVEN: Bedtime Stories
Marshall tells baby Marvin three rhyming bedtime stories in the episode to get him to sleep while they’re on a bus to Farhampton.

TWELVE: The Rehearsal Dinner
The episode revolves entirely around Barney and Robin’s rehearsal dinner.

THIRTEEN: Bass Player Wanted
The episode details how the Mother is forced out of the band she started by fellow bandmate Darren, who’s attempting to replace her on bass.

FOURTEEN: Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra
It’s another slapping episode. There’s a lot of slapping in it.

FIFTEEN: Unpause
Lily and Marshall are known to “pause” fights that they don’t want to deal with in the moment, and this episode details Lily unpausing the oncoming fight about Marshall’s acceptance of a judgdeship without consulting her first.

SIXTEEN: How Your Mother Met Me
The episode fills us in on what the Mother’s been doing in parallel to Ted the past eight seasons.

SEVENTEN: Sunrise
The episode concludes with Ted and Robin watching the sun rise on a beach.

EIGHTEEN: Rally
The gang tries to get Barney to rally from his colossal hangover so he can be in the wedding photos and not appear…well, colossally hungover.

NINETEEN: Vesuvius
???????

The title Vesuvius doesn’t tie into anything, plotwise, that’s happening in the episode. But there’s more: this is the only episode (so far) of season 9 that doesn’t have some sort of wedding countdown in it at the beginning – and it’s also the only episode of the entire SERIES that doesn’t have any Future Ted VO delivered anywhere in it courtesy of Mr. Saget. That’s odd. It doesn’t fit.

BUT. The title Vesuvius does tie into *something* from season 9 – but it’s not from this episode. Near the end of Coming Back, the second episode of season 9, the following exchange occurs between Future Ted, and the Mother (note: you can watch all of this exchange here):

One-year-later Ted: Hey, wanna hear something funny?

The Mother: Uh huh.

One-year-later Ted: One year ago today, almost to the minute, I was sitting at this very table right in that seat.

The Mother: Oh yeah, I can see it. Nursing your gin and tonic with three extra limes, doing the crossword, probably being all showboaty about it.

One-year-later Ted: I wasn’t being all showboaty about it.

This is the first time we ever see any iteration of Ted actually *with* the Mother, and this conversation is framed so that we see Ted and the Mother, one year into the future, but also Ted in the present, at the same table. We see Present Day Ted working on the crossword, nursing his gin and tonic with three extra limes, just like Mother said. And when One Year Later Ted says this:

“I wasn’t being all showboaty about it.”

Present Day Ted follows it up with this:

“Vesuvius. Booyah.”

He then proceeds to dance in his chair and showboat for a bit, before ultimately saying THIS:

“Oh wait, that doesn’t fit.”

Vesuvius, as an episode, doesn’t fit. Or to paraphrase The Princess Bride, it doesn’t mean what we think it means. This callback is so sly and indirect that it can’t be a mere coincidence. After all, How I Met Your Mother is no stranger to hiding things in plain sight, and the entire premise of the show is basically to keep the audience guessing as to where things will end up. More to the point, if this is wrong, and the Mother *is* dead, it will go against the entire spirit of the show (I’ll be vehemently denouncing that conclusion when the show ends if that’s how things wind up). But for now, if the Mother being dead was a big long term bet, not unlike the ones Marshall and Lily have going, and someone asked me to pay up, I’d tell them “not yet.”

THE TOP 10 METAL ALBUMS OF 2013

So yesterday I posted my list of the Top 25 Albums of 2013. But I’m posting another list today, this one consisting entirely of metal albums. I do this because it never feels right to include Gorguts alongside, say, Lorde. Granted, there was one album (Deafheaven’s Sunbather) that appeared on that previous list (and rather highly on it, I might add), but in that case, it would’ve felt wrong including it here, so populist was its acceptance by almost everyone. So I didn’t. If you want to see what did make the cut here, well then, read on!

THE TOP 10 METAL ALBUMS OF 2013

10) NAILS – Abandon All Life

NAILS - Abandon All Life My goodness. My goodness, gracious me. Abandon All Life may barely crack the 17 minute mark, but it doesn’t waste a single second – and it’s momentum is irreproachable. It’s a monstrous, punishing record, fully of dense jagged edges courtesy of producer/Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. Musically, it fits somewhere between the aforementioned Converge and Scum-era Napalm Death, while the album’s penultimate track, Suum Cuique (the band’s longest yet – nearly six minutes!), is more…well, more fitting of a band that’s on Southern Lord, really. If you know the label, you’ll know what that means.

9) RUSSIAN CIRCLES – Memorial

RUSSIAN CIRCLES - Memorial I’ve been hooked on Russian Circles ever since I saw them open for Pelican back in 2005. Nobody knew who they were, and the crowd mood was one of disinterest. Then they started playing – and everyone’s jaw collectively dropped. Memorial is Russian Circles’ fifth album, and in it, they’ve deeply distilled their sound, creating songs defined by either shimmering wonderment or pounding, unrelenting heaviness. I was surprised by how successful this approach worked. The heavy songs, in particular, are a thing to behold (at times reminiscent of the cyclonic mayhem of 5ive – this 5ive, not that 5ive). So. If you want to sand your brain down into oblivion, look no further.

8) CULT OF LUNA – Vertikal

CULT OF LUNA - Vertikal Cult of Luna have always been stuck under Isis’ shadow, and with Isis having disbanded, you’d figure Cult of Luna would use their next album to come forward and claim what is theirs. Not so. Vertikal, released barely one month into 2013, is (like it’s cover art stolen from The Flaming Lips suggests) a markedly stark album, lacking in the intricate ebb and flow that defined so much of both bands’ previous efforts. “Monoliths” is perhaps the best way to describe these songs – and really, what better way to escape someone’s shadow than by forging your own?

7) WEEKEND NACHOS – Still

WEEKEND NACHOS - Still If you scroll up just a touch, you’ll see the write-up I did for Nails’ Abandon All Life – now, if you were to take that album, and instill in it a hefty dose of sneering, crust-punk “fuck you”, that’s what Still sounds like. It’s an album that, like Abandon All Life, doesn’t stop from the second it starts – but unlike Abandon All Life, Still’s hostility is directed at you. For 21 minutes, the songs pounce about like deranged madmen, forcing you to acknowledge that yeah, there’s bullshit all around. No question. And I’ve done my share.

6) SUMMONING – Old Mornings Dawn

SUMMONING - Old Mornings Dawn It’s been seven years since the last Summoning album, Oath Bound, was released. That album was a revelation, as it suggested a new mixture of the band’s black metal and symphonic components that hadn’t yet been explored. Well, seven years on, and Old Mornings Dawn confirms that yes, the band should keep doing this. There are very, very few bands capable of making something that’s quite frankly as ludicrous as this work (Moonsorrow is one – I’m hard pressed at the moment to think of another). So I’m glad they’re doing it. Because these songs will instantly make anything approaching dull sharpen right the fuck up.

5) CARCASS – Surgical Steel

CARCASS - Surgical Steel Despite Carcass’ resurgence as a live entity as far back as 2007, it seemed unlikely that the band would ever convene again to release new material in album form. Which, given how the band limped off of the stage in 1996 with Swansong, is something that a lot of people would’ve died and/or killed for. So the first noteworthy thing about Surgical Steel, the band’s first album in seventeen years, is that it even exists at all. The second thing is how vital the band sound after all this time; they’ve mercifully jettisoned the death n’ roll influences, and have turned out a tight death/thrash hybrid that fits startlingly well next to Heartwork. Sometimes, the best lineage fix is time.

4) IN SOLITUDE – Sister

IN SOLITUDE - Sister This is perhaps the best time in recent memory for bands to just slam their noses to the proverbial grindstone and bust out some classic metal. Baroness and Ghost B.C. proved that there’s a somewhat populist market for neck-flexing and spooky theatrics, respectively. In Solitude, though while classic in almost every sense of the word, don’t really indulge in either. And that’s good thing. If ever there was an heir to what Mercyful Fate and Danzig began back in the 80’s, it’s this.

3) ROSETTA – The Anaesthete

ROSETTA - The Anaesthete As I mentioned when talking about Cult of Luna up above, Isis are now gone. But I’d like to posit something different: they’re not. Not really. Because Rosetta have, for the better part of ten years, been cranking out material that’s every bit as good, if not better, than the material Isis was releasing in that time (certainly Rosetta’s The Galilean Satellites and Wake/Lift were superior to Isis’ In The Absence of Truth). I’m not going to come right out and say they’re a better band, but I will say that it’s more than fair to indulge the comparison. And if you don’t believe me, listen to The Anaesthete first. Then we’ll talk.

The Anaesthete was self-released by the band under a pay what you want pricing setup via Bandcamp, and can be listened to in its entirety on that page.

2) LESBIAN – Forestelevision

LESBIAN - Forestelevision Forestelevsion is comprised of one song that’s 44 minutes long. Now, there’s no shortage of exceptionally long metal songs. Sometimes these songs are marvelous (Edge of Sanity’s Crimson, 40:01). Sometimes, they’re not (the unendurable 75 minutes of Fantômas’ Delìrium Còrdia). But Lesbian’s approach with Forestelevision is absolutely enthralling. It begins slow and ponderous, but it begins to take shape, becoming more lively and intense as it progresses. It’s as if they’re chiseling the song out of rock, making it into something from (next to) nothing – and we get to hear it happen in real time. I know that most people will hate it, but I love weird stuff like this.

I almost hesitate to post this, but, if you’re curious and want to fully invest yourself in this herculean endeavor, click here. The song’s not on Spotify.

1) GORGUTS – Colored Sands

GORGUTS - Colored Sands Everyone talks about how mind-blowingly amazing Gorguts’ seminal 1998 album, Obscura is. And rightly so. It’s in a class by itself. But the band shouldn’t be defined by that one album, because they’ve been consistently ahead of the curve since 1991’s Considered Dead. Colored Sands is the band’s fifth album, and their first in over ten years. And, much like Carcass’ new album, it’s a kind of miracle that this thing even exists at all. But the reality of it cannot be questioned, and neither can its quality. When death metal is at its best, it reveals something new to you each listen. And I know that I’ll be unpacking Colored Sands for years to come.

Well, there you go. Another day. Another list. That’ll probably be it for me for 2013. See y’all in 2014!