(Here’s another in Andy Synn’s irregular series of things that come in five’s.)
That’s right, with this edition of the column I’m going to try and convince you that your opinions are wrong, and break the Pavlovian conditioning that has led you all to unfairly loathe some genuinely fine albums.
But… this is the internet… so none of that’s probably going to happen.
A little context first off though. A couple of days back I was listening to the new Cryptopsy album (still stunning btw) and suddenly thought to myself, “You know what, I haven’t listened to The Unspoken King in forever… surely it’s not as bad as I remember?”.
And you know what… it is. Ok, so it has a couple of solid songs, and a few that would be pretty good if they weren’t Cryptopsy songs, but overall… wow… it really is bad.
But it did get me thinking about albums towards which the general public consensus is largely negative (often influenced strongly by prevailing media portrayals, and sometimes out and out misrepresentations) but which I think deserve a renaissance, now that the initial furore has died down.
So here I present five of my picks for albums which have been castigated and criticised by the metal community at large, sometimes seemingly without even listening to the actual music, but which I think are actually pretty brilliant, once you get past all the politics and preconceptions. In fact, having spoken to several people about some of these albums, it seems a lot of folks “remember” the albums as being bad, but can’t tell you much about when, or even if, they’ve actually listened to them. So here I intend to rectify that.
ARSIS – STARVE FOR THE DEVIL
I was actually listening to this album this morning, and realised something… I don’t think there’s a single song on this album that I don’t like, and there’s more than a few that I absolutely love to death.
The band didn’t do themselves any favours leading with “Forced To Rock” as the lead single (and video), but I still like the song, even if monstrous tracks like “A March For The Sick”, “Beyond Forlorn” (as part of a central triptych of killer songs with “The Ten of Swords” and “Closer To Cold”), and the one-two finale of “Escape Artist” and “Sable Rising” are the real meat of the album.
Ok, it’s got a fair bit more emphasis on the melodic part of melodic death metal, but it’s stuffed full of scorching riffs, and James Malone’s signature emaciated snarl has never been more effective. Give it another chance.
Sample song: “The Ten Of Swords”
DYING FETUS – WAR OF ATTRITION
Wow. There is such a disproportionate level of hate directed at this album that I barely know where to start. Thing is, it’s actually one of my all-time favourite Dying Fetus albums, so I REALLY don’t get where a lot of people are coming from with their hate here.
Maybe the production is a little drier and more clinical, but then I’ve always preferred Dying Fetus as a Technical Death Metal band, than a Technical Death Metal band, if you get me? For me this one stands out of the DF discography for simple reasons of quality, not because it’s some shameless step towards commercialisation (which it most definitely isn’t) or because it’s a massive shift away from their core sound (again, it isn’t). It still brings the murderous groove and the face-melting tech we all know and love. Embrace it.
Sample song: “Homicidal Retribution”
THE HAUNTED – THE DEAD EYE
So, in the aftermath of the band’s acrimonious dissolution we’re left with what was (and let’s be brutally honest about this) a very uneven discography of seven albums to look back on and reassess. For me personally, I really enjoy the self-titled album, find …Made Me Do It incredibly overrated, have a definite soft-spot for the more straightforward brutality of One Kill Wonder, think that rEvolver was 90% awesome (and could just have done with a bit of judicious editing of the track list), Versus was a clusterfuck, and Unseen had great potential (though I’m not sure the execution was always the best).
But The Dead Eye was quite possibly the band’s high point, and yet half the population seems unaware of it. It had a host of awesome riffs and a truly haunting (no pun intended) sense of melody and groove. Dark, intense, and intelligent, it truly sounded like the band were firing on all cylinders, and was absolutely bursting with utterly lethal hooks.
Ignore the hype. Give it a shot. Judge it on its own terms.
Sample song: “The Stain”
MARDUK – ROM 5:12
Looking at the Metal-Archives page for this album is something of a revelation. The fans are hugely divided on this one – some are utterly disappointed, feeling that it lacks the spark of the Marduk of old. Others think it recaptures the spirit of old Marduk that had been missing for so long. Some think that while it’s a solid enough album in places, it’s still suffering from teething problems as the band continue to develop the “new” Marduk sound. And others think that it’s a perfect summation of the band as a reborn entity. You truly can’t please everyone, can you?
This is one of my favourite Marduk albums, and one I go back to time and time again because of how distinctive so many of the songs are. “The Levelling Dust” is both eerie and abrasive. “Cold Mouth Prayer” utterly annihilates. “Imago Mortis” simply suffocates. “Through The Belly Of Damnation” twists and turns with whiplashing force. “Limbs Of Worship” explodes into absolute chaos. “Accuser/Opposer” is a conjuration of pure darkness. I could go on…
Varying between pulverising intensity and choking atmosphere, it’s one of the band’s finest albums in my humble opinion. Let the devil in.
Sample song: “Through The Belly Of Damnation”
NEVERMORE – ENEMIES OF REALITY
In hindsight there were a lot of factors against this one. It had to follow up the commercial and artistic breakthrough of Dead Heart, In A Dead World, and was hamstrung by Kelly Gray’s well-meaning but ultimately muddy production job. It doesn’t help that it was followed by the phenomenal This Godless Endeavour, which seemingly put the final nail in the album’s coffin. However, with further hindsight – an improved remix and the let-down of The Obsidian Conspiracy as context – I think you should reassess the record.
It’s a dark, dense piece of work. The riffs are thicker, heavier, more rhythmically bludgeoning than before. The melodies more desolate, at times bordering on dissonant. The vocals and lyrics are strangely twisted and obscene, despite their harmonious delivery. And the songs… well there are some stunning songs here. “Enemies of Reality” is a thunderous opener, while “Ambivalent” has a neck-snapping thrashiness to match its proggy, convoluted flow. “Tomorrow Turned Into yesterday” is the band at their bleak, balladic best, while the vicious one-two of “I, Voyager” and “Create The Infinite” deliver devastating salvos of crushing riffage and explosive drumming. And “Seed Awakening” is one of the best songs in the band’s entire history.
Definitely one worth reassessing with an open mind, that’s for sure.
Sample song: “Seed Awakening”
Other notable mentions:
Sepultura – Dante XXI
Thrashy, vibrant, and conceptually interesting. More than a little challenging in places.
Vision of Disorder – From Bliss To Devastation
Phenomenal songwriting. Painfully bleak. Gut-wrenchingly heavy.
1349 – Revelations Of The Black Flame
Uexpected. Unsettling. Willingly complex and contentious. But so perfectly dark and ugly.
ALL the post-Max Sep records are underrated as fuck in my eyes. Against is uneven (with some crap) but the first two tracks are among my very favorite metal songs, okay yeah Nation is awful except for Sepulnation, but Roorback is GREAT, a super-solid album. Dante has wonderful moments, A-Lex some bangin’ tunes (Filthy Rottttttt), and Kairos is KILLIN’. I also LOVE Green as a vocalist though I’m probably pretty alone on that one.
You are not alone. I too prefer Derrick both as a vocalist and as a frontman. And most definitely as a lyric writer.
I agree about Dante XXI and Against, both solid albums. I just couldn’t get into Roorback though, and A-lex did feel a little like ‘Dante take II’, but I do like how they really stuck to the theme of Clockwork Orange and incorporated Beethoven’s 9th.
To be honest I’ve never heard any of the other albums on this list! One other that springs to mind is Archetype by Fear Factory. It seems line-up changes are always met with scepticism.
Starve for the Devil is a fucking righteous album. I can vaguely understand why people don’t like it in theory since it is quite a departure from their old material but god damn if it doesn’t just plain rock. I will admit that I’m not as totally enamored with it as I was when it was released but I still enjoy the hell out of it.
Nevermore’s a band I’ve tried repeatedly to get into and just can’t do it. They’re a band I SHOULD like quite a bit but something about them keeps them from ever being more than that band I try to listen to every year.
I get why some people don’t like it. It is a fair bit more straightforward and (for Arsis) unconventional in that way – much more focus on ‘meaty’ riffs, than ‘crazy’ ones – although there’s still a huge amount of tech-based goodness involved!
I think your inability to appreciate Nevermore comes from some sort of lesion in the brain.
At least, that’s what I think of anyone whose opinion is different than my own.
I’m only mostly with the Dying Fetus and Marduk albums and I don’t remember those albums being as hated when they came out as the reviews seem to imply. The Dying Fetus album I actually quite liked when it came out, perhaps because it was a huge improvement over Stop at Nothing (which I consider their worst to date). The Marduk album wouldn’t make my top ten, but then it’s not bad either, think it’s a pretty solid middle of the road album for them.
The hate for WoA is completely out of proportion for… pretty much anything.
And it’s not even across the board hatred, it’s not UNIVERSALLY loathed, it just seems like the people who do dislike it do so in a completely unreasoning and almost rabid manner.
Rom 5:12..really?…Ive found Panzer Division Marduk to be a far more divisive among fans of the band. That album gets metal archives scores ranging from 0% to 100% with just about every score in between.
I didn’t actually check the Metal-Archives entry for Panzer Division… but I’ll take your word for it.
Odd though, as all the Marduk fans I know absolutely adore PDM. Rom 5:12 was the first one I went for when thinking about people’s reactions to Marduk.
I always liked Enemies of Reality. I, Voyager is a sweet tune.
It is. One of the best on there.
How about Nostrodamus from Judas Priest? I must be the only one who likes it.
You are. Nostradamus himself didn’t like it. He predicted it would be bad.
hit the nail on the head, andy! I LOVE Starve for the Devil and Rom 5:12. I will have to give Dead Eye a second listen. I consider myself a casual haunted fan, but stop cold after rEvolver.
If you look back on The Haunted’s career now, it really seems like they were always a band in search of an identity. Nothing ever really stuck (even though certain aspects remained consistent). That’s why I think The Dead Eye was the perfect point for them to coalesce around… they just never did.
The Dead Eye is a great album! I listened to it for weeks when I first got it. Definitely one of my favorites from The Haunted. I actually like Versus as well, but Unseen is pretty much unlistenable for me.
Enemies Of Reality is actually the only Nevermore album I own (I think it came in a mystery bundle I bought on cmdistro.com). It’s a pretty solid album, but not one I go back to very often. Then again, I can’t really compare it to the rest of there catalog as I’m not very familiar with any thing else they’ve done.
“This Godless Endeavour” is probably the pinnacle Nevermore album, though I’d argue that EoR is the most immediate and directly heavy. To be honest the triple-threat of Dead Heart…, Enemies…. and Godless… is nigh-untouchable for me.
Enemies of Reality…yeah, all the hate directed at that album is impossible for me to understand. Every song on that album is full of memorable riffs, and the lyrics are excellent from start to finish. I’ll take it over any of their earlier releases, honestly, and I thought Dead Heart In a Dead World was an excellent album.
I think you have to look very hard at the Nevermore back-catalogue to find an album that’s markedly worse than any of the others. Even though I was massively disappointed by TOC, I still don’t think they’ve ever done a BAD album.
I never would have thought of Starve For The Devil as maligned… I seem to remember the general opinion as being mostly positive, although it seemed to often come with the caveat that “it’s no A Diamond For Disease, but…”
In fairness… few things are as good as “A Diamond For Disease”.
So glad you didn’t have Lulu on here.
War of Attrition is my favorite Dying Fetus album.
Never even heard Lulu. A good friend took one for the team, listened to it in its entirety, then warned us all away with his dying breath.
i think Starve for the Devil, War of Attrition and Dante XXI are all great albums, i’ve never understood all the negativity directed at them.
Starve and Dante I UNDERSTAND (I don’t agree, and think the reasons are often pretty idiotic and unthinking, but I at least KNOW where they’ve come from) but WoA? Don’t get that at all. Utterly mad.
My no. 1 vote for albums of this kind is definitely Hypocrisy’s Catch 22.
Notable mention: In Flames – Soundtrack to Your Escape.