• Swatty's Top 15 Albums Of 2016

    Posted 02/23/2017 by cal

    So here I am, four years after my last official list. I don’t really have a valid excuse as to why I don’t do these full write-ups on a year-to-year basis. However, I could certainly say 2013-15 was fraught with turmoil, existential crises and career roadblocks. But for the most part, those days are long gone, and now I can finally focus on the important things like these little wonderfully self-gratifying “best of” lists. Twenty-sixteen was certainly a strange year for metal in my humble opinion, as the new releases didn’t flood my ear holes nearly as much as older and more established gems in my music library. Maybe that’s a consequence of me getting older, or maybe it says something about the general quality of the modern metal environment as of late. Nevertheless, I was able to glean a few diamonds from the rough, and the list below details the reasons that made these little opuses so special. Here goes:

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  • Top Ten Black Metal Albums

    Posted 02/20/2017 by cal

    The rules of black metal state that before discussing black metal you must define your parameters. I’m no authority, but everyone draws a line somewhere. Some say it must be made in Norway, like a fine Champagne. Some say it must be satanic, or at least anti-Christian. I tend to overlook ideologies in favor of stylistic concerns; the drumming, the strumming, the chords, the screaming, the feeling. There’s endless variation within the basic framework, and there are always exceptions. Your best bet is to familiarize yourself. You’ll get it eventually if you care to. As such, I don’t count the first wave at all. Venom, Bathory, Merciful Fate, love ya but you’re all just preamble. Modern death and thrash metal bands, too, nothing against y’all, but just because you have satanic lyrics or the occasional interlude of tremolo picking and/or BM shrieking, this doesn’t qualify you. The super-progressive stuff that Enslaved plays (which I love!) and the symphonic bombast of Dimmu Borgir (which I like some of!): no. Blackgaze, no. Whatever it is that Hunter Hunt-Huntsley is doing, no. Otherwise, I think it’s mostly fair game.

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  • A Requiem For LULU

    Posted 10/29/2013 by cal

    I never reviewed Lulu, the 2011 album that seemed to mark the low point of both Metallica's and Lou Reed's careers; it was such a shitstorm of media frenzy that it ceased to be music before the general public even had the chance to listen to it. Although I didn't find it to be a complete mess in every respect, there's nothing on it that I ever want to listen to again. But I do have a theory on why it exists.

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  • 2013 Mid-Year Album Roundup: Metal

    Posted 07/16/2013 by cal

    Round three of playing catch-up on a small amount of 2013 music.  Read on for reviews of new albums by Across Tundras, Cult Of Luna, The Fall Of Every Season, Fen, Intronaut, Nero Di Marte, October Tide and Portal.

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  • Katatonia: Bottom Lounge, 9/17/12

    Posted 09/19/2012 by cal

    The original Katatonia formula listed genuine depression and misanthropy as its first two ingredients.  Evolution into a powerful, confident band that emanates gratitude to its small clusters of diehards probably still smarts like a betrayal to the most gothic of the original fans.  Jonas Renkse no longer lists his relationship status as “dead to love”, and an increasing percentage of the songs he writes could conceivably be played on mainstream FM radio.  You might expect that the lure of success would devastate all possible integrity, except for the indisputable evidence of Katatonia’s live show: with each successive U.S. tour at least, the band gets better and better, even if the songs don’t.

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  • The You-Phoria Guide To Festivals: 2012

    Posted 03/16/2012 by cal

    Festivals: they’re not for the jaded, infirm or impatient, and now that they’re everywhere all the time, it’s pretty hip to dismiss them as tiresome and unwieldy, and those criticisms are certainly true. You either have to be one of those folks who delights in the festival atmosphere and sense of community, or you have to be willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of hours and hours of music, sweet music. If you’re one of these types or think you might be, you owe it to yourself to check out the phenomenon, ‘cause if you’re anything like me you could wind up making some of your favorite memories ever at these things. Read on for a rundown on the most notable parties of spring/summer 2012. (Note: We’re Milwaukeeans here at You-Phoria, so adjust travel considerations accordingly.)

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  • Anthrax/Testament: The Rave, 11/19

    Posted 11/25/2011 by cal

    It’s not hard to understand why thrash keeps getting “revived”: the best of it, i.e. Testament and Anthrax, doesn’t get old. The problem is that most revival acts are actually a cut below tribute bands--dumbed-down imitations of the real thing but without the killer songs. While the template remains vibrant as ever, it has been done to perfection with little room for evolution. Or, if there is room, nobody’s figured out yet how to make it happen (The Black Album doesn’t count). So the best you’re going to get in a live thrash show happened at the Rave last Saturday, unfortunately.

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  • Mastodon: THE HUNTER

    Posted 11/11/2011 by cal

    Clearly (mercifully?), everyone has blocked nü-metal from memory, like a teenage car crash or any other traumatic experience. How else can we explain the classification of The Hunter as “stoner” or “progressive”? Should we also rewrite history so that Sevendust and Puddle Of Mudd and Godsmack are actually “sludge metal”?

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  • Katatonia: Peabody's, 9/25/11

    Posted 09/27/2011 by cal

    The general trajectory for metal bands is to start off heavy and caustic and noncommercial, then gradually write more accessible music amidst cries of sell-out and, occasionally, greater measurable success. Some fans of Katatonia’s early, guttural-doom albums probably gave up after 1998’s Discouraged Ones, and many who embraced the band’s more melodic direction likely jumped ship after hearing the electronic and indie rock influences on the barely-metal Last Fair Deal Gone Down in 2001. But despite those guardians of static integrity, the impact of this album went deeper than anyone could have predicted, cementing the legacy of Jonas Renske and Anders Nyström as truly unique songwriters and musicians and permanently breaking down musical boundaries for those fans open-minded enough to stick around.

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  • Across Tundras: SAGE

    Posted 07/20/2011 by cal

    Of all the bands that have been ripping off Black Sabbath for the past 40 years or so, few have done it with as much passion and spirit of adventure and creativity as Tanner Olson.  In his quest for the perfect, all-encompassing riff, of course he’s going to stumble across a couple of Iommi nuggets along the way; shouldn’t “Hole In The Sky” be public domain at this point?  But unlike the entire stoner rock genre, there’s so much more going on in the music of Across Tundras.  So much, in fact, that I’d argue Olson has created a completely new genre by infusing rockabilly, country and tribal rhythms into his echo-drenched, spacious, quasi-metallic stew.  I know it’s the domain of the music critic to invent new labels and covet them like awards, but I’m abandoning that idea for now, unless I can coin “awesome” as a genre.

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  • Fen: EPOCH

    Posted 07/13/2011 by cal

    Fen ’s first full-length, 2009’s The Malediction Fields, gave no indication that the band would be capable of greatness; it seemed like an early bandwagon-jump into atmospheric black metal, a scene that’s getting close to its saturation point.  But these Brits have come a long way in two years; Epoch mixes things up while taking a more melodic approach, layering clean rock and crushing extreme elements in a natural synthesis and using unique percussive techniques to distinguish themselves in this overcrowded movement.

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  • Primordial: REDEMPTION AT THE PURITAN'S HAND

    Posted 07/12/2011 by cal

    Following not-so-closely on the heels of the band’s most overtly accessible and consistently successful album, 2007’s To The Nameless Dead, Ireland’s premier waltz-metal band has basically stuck with the winning formula for its new Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand.  The new album is a little more oppressive, a little less dynamic, and ultimately more of a regression than an evolution of the Primordial sound.

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  • Blut Aus Nord: 777 SECT(S)

    Posted 07/11/2011 by cal

    Riff for riff, scream for scream, there’s still no band that sounds more unholy and tortured than Blut Aus Nord.  Since the terrifying 2006 masterpiece MoRT, which virtually did away with all concept of song, the band has grown more interested in subverting traditional musical structures, but the new 777 Sect(s) is a slight return to the more avant-garde assault that sets this band apart from the rest of the black metal parade of the past decade or so.

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  • Rosetta: A DETERMINISM OF MORALITY

    Posted 12/06/2010 by cal

    I truly hope that the downfall of ISIS precipitates the destruction of the post-metal trend completely.  The few bands that evolved the form have either called it quits or gone to shit, and then there are bands like Rosetta, who do little but imitate and recycle.  The genre was painfully homogenous to begin with, and the only thing propping it up now is a fanbase still so enamored of its early-00s peak (guilty!) that the sincerest form of flattery is good enough (trying to quit!).

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  • Shining: BLACKJAZZ

    Posted 05/17/2010 by cal

    I’d read that the guys from Shining (the Norwegian band, not the Swedish black metal band with the same name) named their new album Blackjazz because they felt that was an accurate description of their music, or something.  I thought, ‘hmmm, their last album wasn’t really that heavy, very proggy but hardly jazz…’  Wasn’t at all prepared for the evolution.

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