heavy metal

New York City has long been the proving ground for any number of musical acts in any number of musical genres. It is a place where dreams come true and can be shattered (as was painstakingly recorded and subsequently overplayed by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys.) Just as with their local sports teams (go Mets!) the New York music fan is well versed in his or her chosen paradigm, and impressing those individuals can go a long way toward making or breaking a career. So it was that a dutifully loyal crowd assembled at the Gramercy Theater to pass judgment on Turisas, Firewind and Stolen Babies.

“While there are many bands in the hard rock/metal world that like to play with fire, it requires a certain combination of insanity and balls to douse yourself in it.” This opening line of Psychothermia’s biography from the band’s website is certainly true, but if you’re going to play with real fire during a photo shoot, you better have the music to back up these incredibly unique and powerful images.

Melodic death metal is one of those things that, if you listen to a purist, will tell you cannot exist. Death metal, they say, is incompatible with the melodic elements other facets of the metal universe take for granted. The music should be uncompromising, focused on nothing but steamrolling the listener with riff after riff of unrelenting brutality. The bands that dared step outside that box and try to make their assaults into what conventional thinkers might consider songs were heretics, and the music they made was cute, but not really death metal.

Okay kids, gather round. It’s confession time.

Cults are bad things, or so we are told. The connotation that comes packaged with the word is one of evil, the occult, and brainwashed minions blindly following their leader. In that last respect, there is a grain of truth to the attachment of that word to certain bands, the ones who inspire a fan-base supremely devoted to their favorite artist. Slough Feg is certainly a cult band, if we put it in those terms.

When entering blindly into an album, the descriptions we use to categorize the music we hear aren't always good enough. Specifically, when we talk about doom metal, we neglect to mention that there are two radically different approaches to doom, a forked road that may take us to the promised land, but may also take us directly to hell. On the one hand, we have the doom bands that treat doom as the icing on the cake, spending most of their time playing a hybrid of traditional and stoner metal, merely a bit slower than usual.

Texas hardly seems like a hotbed for progressive or technical death metal, but rising from the Lone Star State is Vex, a band that would sound more at home among the ranks of Darkthrone or Absu than Pantera. Their newest release, “Memorious” attempts to bridge the difficult gulf between the distanced ideals of both death and prog as we commonly know them.

What kind of a show was Graveyard? Allow me to set the scene. After driving two hours to Boston, my wife and I were greeted by temperatures hovering right around the zero mark, with a persistent wind that just wouldn’t let up. We were in the middle of the most rugged cold snap the Northeast had witnessed in at least two years, and the car whined much of the way about having to perform under duress. Simply walking to and from dinner was a chore, and we knew immediately that windburn had damaged the unprotected portions of our faces.

One of the sad facts about music is that there is simply too much of it. There's too much for us, as fans, to be able to hear even a fraction of what's out there (trust me, I hear more than my fair share, and even that is a mere pittance compared to what is released) in our quest to find the next album that will speak to us on untold levels. The same is true for musicians, for whom there is too much music to compete against for their work to stand much of a chance of reaching the people to whom that music would speak on those levels.

As a reviewer, when you listen to an album, you are invariably struck with a first impression. It’s impossible not to be, as this kind of reactionary assessment is simply part of human nature. The need for thoroughness typically prevails however, and you end up listening to the album again, attempting to attach your first impression to the lathe and hone it down to something that isn’t a cumbersome generality.