(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.