Once I had those cassettes in my 13-year-old hands and slipped them into my backpack, I felt like I’d just gotten away with something. Something bad. David Cadwell had just let me borrow Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, and it gave me the very same feeling I got the first time I took a drag off a cigarette or had my first sip of beer.
Metallica was the band on the t-shirts of the longhaired dudes who got in fights and brought knives and weed to school (now I was befriending them—call it junior high survival skills).
Mind you, I was a kid living a somewhat sheltered life in a Northern California podunk (which at the time boasted the largest two-day rodeo in the United States…look ’er up). Up to that point I was still listening to bands like KISS and RATT, and a lot of FM radio pop—nothing could prepare me for what I was about to hear. Metallica was from the underground—I didn’t even know what the underground was at that point.
I got home before my parents, and slid Master of Puppets into the tape deck—the one with the good speakers. The acoustic flamenco-guitar intro to “Battery” flittered through the speakers. I invited my younger brother to come listen. The intro gave way to some epic, albeit not so menacing guitars. Then the main riff kicked in, and it sounded like fire-hot daggers stabbing bare flesh. I was scared. I was thrilled. I was in.
I’ve listened to thousands upon thousands of records since then, and I have again felt the thrill of hearing something new that speaks to you. But nothing will ever compare to being a 13-year-old who is discovering music while the insular little world around you seems to be unraveling in a wash of hormones and body odor. That moment listening to that cassette from that kid in the “Metal Up Your Ass” shirt will always stick with me.
Master of Puppets turns 30 this month…which is weird because I’m still 13. Of course, it’s much more than nostalgia that brings me back to this one. It’s the record that set Metallica apart from everyone else. No one else—not even Slayer—had the combination of visceral and cerebral. And three decades later Master of Puppets is still stunning, still menacing, and still one of the greatest heavy metal records of all time.
Muscle and Marrow took doom into uncharted waters on their 2014 debut full-length The Human Cry, an eerie examination of the human condition by way of droning guitars and sparse drumming. Vocalist-guitarist Kira Clark’s voice proved to be the centerpiece, moving from a ghostly lilt to ghastly moans. It showed that doom could (and should) be much more than tuning down and playing sloooooow.
I’m excited to announce right here that the Portland, Oregon two-piece are releasing their new album, Love, on May 27 (The Flenser), and with that I’m also gonna give you a little taste of the record with the first track, “My Fear.” The album opener rides droning guitars, rumbling synth and tribal drums almost throughout. Listen for the vocal gasp from Clark during the final break. Chilling.
The new songs are just as beautiful and unnerving as those on Muscle and Marrow’s debut, and even a little more hopeful lyrically. The layers have thickened as drummer Keith McGraw utilizes more electronic instrumentation this time around, further blurring the lines between doom and experimental music.
I’ve been growling the praises of Portland death metal four-piece Nightfell since they released their excellent 2014 debut, The Living Ever Mourn. And for about as long I’ve been trying to snag an interview, but no luck—they’ve remained enigmatic to say the least (I finally came face to face with core members Tim Call and Todd Burdette a few weeks ago to interview them for one of the local weeklies). But they’re in the shadows no more.
The band recently played their very first shows—one in Olympia, Washington, and another in Portland—and I was able to catch the latter performance, which only solidified my assertion that Nightfell is one of the best metal acts going right now. The band—rounded out by second guitarist VB and bassist Derek Willman—was supremely intense and locked in. They opened with the 10-minute “At Last” from 2015’s Darkness Evermore (which easily made my top 10), and throttled their way through a blackened set of tense dark metal. I was captivated, the pit was in full hesh, and it was glorious.
Nightfell is looking to play more shows in 2016, although so far the only slated performances are for their label 20 Buck Spin’s Migration Fest, Aug. 12-14, which is shaping up to be one of this summer’s best, with the likes of Vastum, Krallice, Magic Circle, Yellow Eyes, Panopticon and VHÖL (among many others) rounding out the bill. You’d do yourself a favor by going.
As you may have noticed in this column alone, there is some incredible heavy music coming out of Portland. The Body have been doing it for years, continually pushing their sound in adventurous new directions, both engaging new listeners and leaving others scratching their heads.
The band’s latest, No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey) doesn’t continue their trailblazing ways so much as it solidifies the sound The Body has been in search of for years. The result is another engrossing and slightly horrific slab of ear candy that blends black metal and industrial with…pop? Don’t be frightened; this record still has teeth. And it’s still likely to confound listeners—which is good. The Body, who’ve spent the last few years collaborating with the likes of Thou and Krieg (the two-piece will release a collab with Full of Hell this month), continue to make good use of synths and even different voices (Assembly of Light conductor Chrissy Wolpert gets a turn on vocals). And they continue to bend metal into something different. Is it still metal? Who cares?
Moving on from the metal playground of Portland to the far reaches of space, we land on Wormed. OK, Wormed is not from space, but from Spain—Madrid to be exact. The technical death metal band is obsessed with science fiction and playing at the speed of light, and their latest album, Krighsu (Season of Mist), takes sci-fi nerdery and blinding metal to insane dimensions. The songs are far more interesting when Wormed mixes up the dynamics—it doesn’t happen often, but when they insert slower, riffier breaks on songs like “Neomorph Mindkind” it gives them more power.
There’s a lot to get lost in—the insane, breakneck complexity for one. And with song titles like “Computronium Pulsar Nanarchy” and “57889330816-1,” Krighsu might be more confounding than outer space.
Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden
Mantar – Ode to the Flame
Scorpions – In Trance
Cirith Ungol – Frost and Fire
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Mark Lore is leaving on a jet plane; don’t know if he’ll be back again. But you can always find him @TheDaysofLore.