Elks unleash killer space sludge on debut

If you put on “Destined for the Sun,” the debut album from Elks, and we quizzed on from where you think the band hails, my guess if we’d get Atlanta or Savannah more often than not.

That’s because the burgeoning quartet sound like they drink from the same water supply as bands such as Mastodon, Kylesa and Black Tusk, mixing muddy thrashing with sludgy heaviness in a way that should make a fan of anyone who enjoys those aforementioned bands. But instead, Elks hail from Brooklyn, and while you may instantly think of hipster silliness when considering that borough of New York, these guys do it ugly and get down in the gutter. But it’s not of a meathead variety, which I worry some tend to think when something’s described as dirty. It’s intelligent and well calculated, and there’s a cosmic storyline that involves a tribe of space Vikings and a “super computer” at the end of the universe called “The Wizard.” Yeah, it’s weird and apocalyptic, and it reminds me conceptually of what The Sword explored on their most recent record. But most of all, this thing is just heavy as hell.

The album’s a pretty short one, as it runs six tracks and is just a bit over 22 minutes long, so it’s really more like an EP. Luckily, the band doesn’t waste one second on this thing, steamrolling right into opener “White Fangs Learn to Hate” in a way Mastodon used to way back when they were first getting started. Only, I want to say Elks do it even nastier. “Two Moons of Mars” has a punchy, violent tempo, and it’s dressed a bit by some power metal riffage; “Destined for the Sun” lets a little bit of Southern rock thunder enter into the equation; while closer “Weed Wolf” is dizzying, smoldering, and not nearly as easy going as the title might suggest. Sure, you end up in a cloud of smoke when the song’s over, but it’s only altering your mind in that you’re trying to figure out a way to recover from all the bruising.

This a really awesome, beast-like debut record, and from someone who often feels overwhelmed in the sludgy swamps because of just how many bands are soaking in there now, finding a new group that is this exciting is a big plus. This is a highly recommended record that’s dropping at just the right time, when summer’s ending, darkness comes calling early, the beers are getting darker, and we have more time to gaze into the stars. You’ll feel this one when it’s over, and my guess is you’ll be back for return bouts quite often. I know I will be, no matter how badly my ears are bruised and battered.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elks/8805335209?sk=info

To buy “Destined for the Sun,” go here: http://teepee.hasawebstore.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://teepeerecords.com/

MonstrO debut torched by bland singing

Photo by Evan Bartleson

When Juan Montoya left the guitar helm with Torche, I was worried about the future of that band. I should have been worried about Montoya’s future instead.

Torche struck back with last year’s kick-ass “Songs for Singles,” proving they have enough songwriting fire to make it work without the thick-maned guitarist prowling the stage, and now it’s Montoya’s chance to show he, too, can come back with something crushing that’ll let him carve out a new path apart from his former band. And I’m sorry to make this all about Montoya, as he’s just the guitarist for new band MonstrO as he was with Torche, but I’ve been very curious to hear what kind of band he would put together, and now that I know, I may not need to hear anymore.

MonstrO, despite having two former members of Bloodsimple, a metal band so unimpressive that I’m not sure anyone cares they’re on hiatus, isn’t all that bad. For one, Montoya’s guitar work is way out front, which is a huge positive, and at times he kicks back into the melodic sludge he helped create and make great with Torche. At other times he lets his lead work soar. Bassist Kyle Sanders and drummer Bevan Davies (he also played with Danzig) do fine for themselves and surely are comfortable together as a rhythm section, so the fears I harbored over my distaste for their former band were washed away pretty quickly. So, this all doesn’t sound so bad, right? That’s because we haven’t gotten to vocalist/guitarist Charlie Suarez, who has the perfect voice for being a back-up singer. He can hold a note, sure, and if was needed to beef up choruses behind a much better singer, he’d be totally serviceable. As the main voice, he could not be duller sounding. He sounds like a guy a heavily washed-up band in search of a singer such as a Journey or a Foreigner would tap as a leader — forgettable, without passion, non-challenging, and lacking personality, but young enough to make the band seem with it. MonstrO needs better than that, and Suarez’s voice does this record a huge disservice.

As for the music, it sounds more hard rock than metal, and while the sludge does ooze in from time to time, these guys seem more like they’d like to score a few radio hits than get people to bash their heads together. Nothing wrong with that at all, and considering the dreck that makes the airwaves these days that disguises itself as rock music, MonstrO would be one of the better groups on your local Clear Channel or whatever-moderated station. And chances are, that would be the place where Suarez’s voice would be most forgiven, considering how many people who think that AlterBridge singer is so great. Really? We’ve really lowered the mainstream bar, have we not?

The band holed up with William Duvall, the dude who’s imitating Layne Stayley for Alice in Chains these days, and in the course of two weeks, they cranked out their debut record. There is a looseness and organic quality to what they do, and you don’t get the idea these songs were thought about too much. They don’t sound overdone at all, which in the case of “Fantasma,” “Anchors Up!” and “Solar” is a good thing, because they set it off, get their job done quickly, and leave you rocked. Then there are songs such as drawn-out ballad “Concertina,” morose “Elizabeth” and seemingly never-ending closer “April” that could have used more scrutiny and benefitted quite a bit from a self-edit. Then there’s a cut like “Stallone” that’s just dumb, evolving from being about “Rocky” to simply being about struggling with life’s woes. It just isn’t a very good song.

But no matter what positives can be drawn from this album, it all goes back to Suarez and his blandness. It took me several tries just to get through the album once because of how bad the vocals are and how distracting they make the songs seem. This is a decent-enough band with a really good guitar player in Montoya, but it’s hard to overcome bad singing. It’s a killer, and it does in what could have been a relatively impressive debut album. There are strong musical ideas here, and clearly there’s a direction that could do good things for MonstrO, but as long as Suarez is leading this band, they might as be travelling down a road in a van with flat tires.

For more on the band, go here: http://monstroband.com/

To buy their album, go here: http://www.merchlackey.com/vagrant/

For more on the label, go here: http://vagrant.com/

Catching up with Moab, APMD, Century

Vacation is amazing, right? You’re not at home, you get to eat meals at different places, and in our case, we got to drink pretty much any kind of draught Dogfish Head we wanted. If you’re really excited about feeling it quickly, get the Life & Limb. It will bury you.

OK, now the bad part of vacation (other than being on the beach during an earthquake) is that you fall a little behind in running your web site if you’re, you know, the only one writing the thing. That’s the case here, and while we got a lot of content onto the site last week, some things fell a little off the map just because it did. It happens. Can’t keep up with everything, especially when you’re trying to have fun and relax. So today I’d like to devote time to a few things on which I did fall behind. I’ve given ample listening time to all of them, mind you, but it was more a matter of saying things about them. OK, you get it. Let’s get on with this already.


I’ve been really into the first record from Moab ever since the promo arrived in my inbox about a month ago. “Ab Ovo” hit me like a ton of bricks, and something about it reminded me a bit of Jimmy Page’s heavenly guitar thunder and Soundgarden’s earlier years before they kind of withered and died artistically. I even described it to my wife like, “Imagine if Wolfmother weren’t a total abomination. It’s kind of like that idea.” It’s more a rock album than metal, but certainly people who like things more extreme will find plenty to like here. That goes double for if you like to smoke up while taking on your rock. This will hit your spot right away.

The dudes hail from Southern California, and the sunburnt nature of their music is the only thing that makes that obvious. There is plenty of 1970s rock and doom attitude here, and anyone who falls at the power of a killer riff will find submission natural. It’s easy to either groove or dream with their stuff, and you can do both on the smoking opener “So On,” which has some damn tasty guitar work and is a fantastic stage-setter for the mind-altering stuff that follows. “Dimensioner” kicks off with some cowbell and a deliberate pace before it opens up into a desert-like pounder;  “Sated” is a bit darker and kind of off kilter melodically, and Andrew Giacumakis’ vocals reach into nasal Ozzy territory; the dual “Staring Wall” pieces are trippy, muddy and forceful, and both represent the edgiest examples of doom metal on the disc;  and “Fembot” has a speedier tempo that’ll have you waving your arms windmill style all over your house. Watch out for the lamps. Or don’t.

Yeah, this is a killer album and a really promising debut. It rocks as hard as other Kemado bands such as The Sword and Saviours (more on them soon), and it’ll have you wielding an air guitar in no time. Too bad the summer’s coming to a close so shortly, because this is great stuff for sitting in the lawn, putting away beers, and not giving a shit what your neighbors think of the volume.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/moabinthesky

To buy “Ab Ovo,” go here: http://www.kemado.com/artists/moab/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.kemado.com

All Pigs Must Die

Southern Lord’s been drowning in the D-beat, crust, hardcore world for quite some time now, which we’ve chronicled pretty heavily, and they’ve really been talking up their latest signing All Pigs Must Die, and with good reason. Their debut long-player “God Is War” is a skull-splitter of an album, and if word of mouth if any indication from many of the folks I talk shop with on a daily basis, this is going to go down as one of the year’s most-talked-about, most-played records. I seriously have a handful of people or so who, each week, talk up this record, so that’s a really good sign for the APMD dudes. I mean, it’s a small sampling, but it’s a positive one nonetheless.

The band is made up of hardcore veterans, all of whose names you should know. You have frontman Kevin Baker (The Hope Conspiracy) who does his finest throaty, make-Tom-Araya-sound-like-a-pansy assault, drummer Ben Koller (Converge), and guitarist Adam Wentworth and bassist Matt Woods (both of Bloodhorse), so you can imagine the carnage that meets you on this eight-cut face bruiser. You can check off the expected it-sounds-like bands – Discharge, Disfear, Converge, Black Breath – but only in the sense that if you’re into those groups, you’ll naturally go nuts over this. These guys have a savagery and power that’s all their own, and they practically sounds like they have fingers pointed in your chest, with Baker spewing real venom in your eyes, as they play cuts such as “Pulverization,” “The Blessed Void,” doomy “Extinction Is Ours” and spacious, provoking closer “Sadistic Vindicator.”

This isn’t music for the weak willed, and they’re not going to be kind of gentle with their message. This a full-frontal assault that you can see coming but have no chance of stopping. I would imagine experiencing APMD live might require some level of pain relief in the days following.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/apmdband

To buy “God Is War,” go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/


And now, a bad one. Or at least a not-so-good one. Maybe it’s that I don’t get Pennsylvania’s Century or that I’m tired of hearing bands who sound like them. Whatever the case, I just can’t get down with these guys. Their last effort “Black Ocean,” released in 2008, I didn’t hate, but it certainly hasn’t made any profound impact on me the past three years. I welcomed their new album “Red Giant” with an open mind because I liked what their leader Carson Slovak did with Armsbendback, and I think he has some decent creative ideas, but I just haven’t been blown away by Giant’s music. By the way, it should be noted, this time Slovak split vocal duties with Ricky Armellino (This or the Apocalypse), so that’s a pretty big change.

The band’s music is, I guess, metalcore-based, but I always think that has a negative connotation to it, and they don’t really fall under that banner of garbage bands who would be on the second stage of Ozzfest, if that still was a thing. They mix true hardcore with grinding metal, add some groove and post-metal influences, so you see how just calling them metalcore would be cutting them short. Opening cut “Lobotomy” is probably the angriest piece of music Slovak’s even been involved with, as there’s a ton of hate spewed here. It just sounds kind of juvenile, like it should be on a Slipknot album. The problem is the record gets less interesting and noteworthy from there, and I only really retained “Lobotomy” because it irritated me. “Synapse” is heavy and should help create the circle pit; “My Lexicon” tries to mix things up a little bit by adding some Deftones-like out-of-box thinking, and it’s probably the best cut on here;  “Painting Leprosy” has more of a punk feel to it but also sounds like a rejected Kurt Cobain composition they sped up; and kicker “Oak God” is notable for its guest appearance by … wait for it … Kevin Martin from Candlebox. There are other guest spots on the disc by folk rocker Adam Taylor and former Armsbendback frontman Mike Coasey. Oh, and the art work is pretty awesome, so there’s that.

I’ll consider it’s possible I just can’t get with this style of metal anymore, and oversaturation may have something to do with it. Or, as I suspect, it’s just a mundane, non-challenging, heavy-for-the-sake-of-heavy record I have no use for and that probably won’t do much to increase Century’s profile. But to each his or her own, so if you feel differently about “Red Giant,” leave us a note in the comment section.

For more on Century, go here: http://www.myspace.com/century

To buy “Red Giant,” go here: http://prostheticrecords.bigcartel.com/product/century-red-giant

For more on the label, go here: http://prostheticrecords.com/

Hurricane hell vs. metal

Two things happened this week that are a rarity for me. First, I experienced an earthquake and second, I had to plan an early vacation evacuation because of a hurricane. As a resident of Pittsburgh, about the worst we get is your occasional microburst, a vicious thunderstorm or, in the winter, a torrential snowfall. But earthquakes? Unheard of. Hurricanes? Are you kidding?

But I’m not at home this week. I’m on a vacation at the beach with my wife, and typically when we come here, it’s ridiculously serene. But you can’t control or predict nature. Honestly, the earthquake was pretty cool. It wasn’t very bad at all where we are, and it just felt like the land was swaying back and forth a bit. It helped that one was seriously hurt. Maybe this is odd and maybe it isn’t, but when the quake hit, I was listening to the latest Earth album “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1,” and specifically the song “Descent to the Zenith.” It was a coincidence, I guess, and a pretty weird one. But it just happened that way, and if I had to decide what I wanted to hear during an earthquake, I’m not sure I’d pick that album. In fact, I don’t know what I’d choose to have in my ears if I knew the ground was about to rumble.

But this got me to thinking. Since we’re going to have to ride ahead of Hurricane Irene in order to get home, what would I want to have on in the car if, somehow, the whole thing caught up to us? What record would either fill me with the adrenaline to go on or would scare the hell out of me enough that the rain, wind and chaos wouldn’t seem nearly as tumultuous? This wasn’t an easy one. I also reserve the right to totally change my mind at any time, because who knows how I’d feel if this was coming down on top of us? Anyway, here are a few things I came up with that I imagine may help quell my liquefied guts if Irene gets her hands on me. By the way, “Rock Me Like a Hurricane” is not going to be on the list. I already thought of that joke.

OK, first and foremost, I’d go with Jesu’s 2006 EP “Silver,” almost entirely because of the album cover. For some reason, that cover always makes me think of impending doom and destruction at the hands of nature, simply because of how gray it is and how in-the-track-of-hell that tree appears to be. That’s just my interpretation of the artwork, and maybe you see something different. The songs are diametrically opposed to damage. The music itself is a bit poppier and easier than what Justin Broadrick had drummed up to that point, though since that time, he’s certainly gone back to this type of thing far more often. But I always really loved this record and have listened to it during storms when I’ve been stuck in my own living room.

Another good one would be last year’s triumph by Agalloch called “Marrow of the Spirit.” The band, and especially its leader John Haughm, always has been heavily in touch with nature, and certainly this album is no different. Agalloch always find a way not only to convey the beauty and serenity of our surroundings but they also manage to get across the inescapable fact that we are at its mercy. We can’t stop a storm or an earthquake or a tornado, as much as we’d like to, and all we can do is take cover and hope for the best. This is a record that I played all last winter, especially when the snow was at its heaviest, and it also works just as well during a downpour. Funny enough, I brought my Agalloch hoodie with me in the event of heavy rains, so I use it to protect me from the elements. It’s my umbrella.

Finally, I’d go with the Iron Maiden classic “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.” I’m sure you’re wondering why. I’m certain there are others who wonder why I want to hear it in the first place, because it’s a fairly polarizing record. But this is an album I listened to non-stop during the summer of 1988, and I remember more than one day when I was stuck inside because of the elements, and I spent my time staring at this album cover and reading back the lyrics. Yeah, it’s more of a frosty cover, with Eddie floating along in what looks like a pretty icy body of water, but it also makes me think of flooding and what leads to that state. It’s always been a really stormy album for me, one that’s always been a go-to record at times when Mother Nature curbed my plans to be outside.

So these are just a few. Do you have any that you’d choose to hear if a hurricane was working its way toward your home? Let us know in the comments. Be safe, East Coasters.

Vreid storm North America

A Nordic black metal assault is about to strike North America with the fury of an earthquake. Though this one is bound to damage more than just a few vases.

It is true that Vreid touch down tomorrow night in Toronto alongside Kampfar (co-headliners, whose new album “Mare” is out on Napalm) and Canadian blackened death metal troupe Necronomicon to begin the Black Path of America Tour. Vreid are touring in support of their latest record (out on Indie Recordings) “V,” a disc we reviewed a few months back. You can find a link to the review below in case you don’t feel like scrolling.

To read our review, go here: https://meatmeadmetal.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/black-tuesday-vreid-and-winterus/


If you’re pumped about the Vreid tour and really wish you could go for free (because who doesn’t like to be comped?), you’re in luck. Ah, sort of. There’s a giveaway going on for tour tickets, but you have to have an amazingly fast trigger finger in order to get them. Below are the details from Vreid about how you can get these tickets. It’s a really awesome offer, but you’re going to need some serious luck or great timing in order to pull off this heist. The whole thing begins today, so waste no time.

To celebrate this special trek, the band will be giving away a pair of tickets for each show via their official Facebook page. The day before each gig, Vreid will include a special post to their page. The first person to reply to that post, will get two guest list tickets for the show the following day. Please be sure to post your full name in your comment. The band will announce the winner within the same post. Remember, you must provide your own transportation to the show. Vreid will only be providing tickets.

Check out that link here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/VREID-OFFICIAL/98077122201?ref=ts

This is a really diverse tour, musically, and I tend to prefer these lineups. You’re going to get something different with each band, so you won’t be bombarded with the same type of metal all night long. Also, it’ll be interesting to hear the “V” stuff live, because it’s a pretty different record from Vreid than what we’re used to hearing. Necronomicon should have people thrashing their heads around, and Kampfar should give people the chance to guzzle mead from horns and gnaw on grilled chicken legs (you may have to bring your own). Who doesn’t enjoy that? If anyone reading this hits the tour and cares to let us know how the show was, please drop us a line in the comment section.

The Black Path of America Tour 2011:
8/25/2011 The Wreck Room – Toronto, ON
8/26/2011 Les Foufounes Electriques – Montreal, QC
8/27/2011 The Basement – Kingston, NY
8/28/2011 Europa – New York, NY
8/29/2011 Peabody’s – Cleveland, OH
8/30/2011 Reggie’s – Chicago, IL
8/31/2011 Station 4 – St Paul, MN
9/01/2011 Park Theatre – Winnipeg, MN
9/02/2011 The Exchange – Regina, SK
9/03/2011 Pawn Shop – Edmonton, AB
9/04/2011 French Cultural Center – Kelowna, BC
9/05/2011 Rickshaw Theater – Vancouver, BC
9/06/2011 Studio Seven – Seattle, WA
9/07/2011 The Branx – Portland, OR
9/08/2011 Thee Parkside – San Francisco, CA
9/09/2011 The Whisky – Hollywood, CA
9/10/2011 Molly Malone’s – Ramona, CA

For more on Vreid, go here: http://www.vreid.no/

To buy “V,” go here: http://shop.indierecordings.us/

To stream “V” and the Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles site, go here: http://www.bravewords.com/knuckletracks/?tid=604

For more on Kampfar, go here: http://www.kampfar.com/

For more on Necronomicon, go here: http://www.myspace.com/necronomiconmetal

Atriarch’s doom demands societal scrutiny

At the risk of sounding somewhat lazy, the debut long-player from doom machine Atriarch is one of the coolest albums I’ve heard this summer. It just wretches and moans, slithers and bleeds, and really, it’s not even a classic sounding metal album. It basically achieves metal-dom on sheer volume and sinister sonic intent alone.

The description given to describe “Forever the End” is deathrock, and that’s fitting, but there’s really a lot more to it. There’s drone, ambient, post-metal and funeral doom passages as well, and really, the four-track album is kind of a giant, thick stew of many, many different ingredients. You can’t really point to one thing and expect people unaware of the group to understand what they’re in for once you stop talking and they start listening. That’s another part of the band and this effort that excites me. I’ve had people ask me what Atriarch sound like, and I typically respond with, “I don’t know. Listen for yourself.” That probably sounds really jerky, but it’s true, and I’m not trying to be difficult. The band itself is made up of members of groups such as Graves at Sea, Trees (a personal favorite), and Final Conflict, and you certainly can pick out traits of those machines, but they’re only there in trace amounts. This is altogether different.

Lyrically, “Forever the End” reaches beyond the typical doom fare. It’s a more exploratory, self-aware album, one that doesn’t fall to the genre’s typically morbid underpinnings that you’d expect from most bands in this genre. Not that there isn’t darkness. Ah, screw it. Let’s allow frontman and lyricist Lenny Smith to tell it: “We are bombarded with ideals of a superficial shallow lifestyle, in which we are enslaved to maintain. Greed, corruption, fear, and hate is the true face of this self-serving way of life that we have come to call normal. Lose yourself inside the ritual and the veil will come crashing down around us all.” So, there. At least you know from where these guys are coming philosophically, and that should prepare you for this adventure.

Atriarch waste no time bringing you into this thing, as they kick off the album with “Plague,” a slow-moving, spacey type of song that finds Smith warbling painfully, mournfully and deeply over the thing. That leads into “Shadows,” a sci-fi-bent tune that has a melody line that reminds me a bit of Wolves in the Throne Room’s “A Looming Resonance” from “Malevolent Grain.” A rich, ever-present synth backbone is there (and actually makes its presence known over the course of the entire record, giving it a spaceship-arriving type of personality), and finally we begin to hear some of the metallic uprising as Smith goes for lurching, guttural growling toward the last half of the song. The 14-minute epic “Fracture” is the centerpiece of “Forever the End,” with its melodic, yet morose composition, tempo changes, occasional savagery, and Smith going from abrasive growl to tortured croon. It’s a fantastic song, one of the most adventurous, interesting, riveting pieces of doom to come down the hill in some time, and no matter what I’m doing when I hear it, I never realize the song is as long as it is. Finisher “Downfall” has a bit of a Neurosis edge to it, and it’s easily the record’s most volcanic piece, with chaos and noise spewing out of every corner, eventually allowing itself to bleed out mercifully. It’s a fitting cap to a record that toys with your emotions and tests your will. It wants you to think and examine your surroundings, not just be overcome with violent catharsis that compels you to punch a friend in the face at a show. It’s way deeper than that.

While we’re praising the band, we also should compliment Seventh Rule, who never seem to misfire when signing a new band. They brought us the mighty new Batillus record earlier in the year, and that remains a favorite to place highly on the 2011 Top 10 list, and they have other killer acts they’ve exposed such as Lord Mantis, Millions, and Indian. Seventh Rule doesn’t put out a ton of albums each year, but what they do you can be assured they hand-selected with the greatest of care. You know you’re getting a band in which the label truly believes. Atriarch simply is the latest conquest for Seventh Rule, and “Forever the End” is one of those albums that I imagine will stick with you years from now as society continues to spiral out of control, and those of us with the proper awareness will need a place to go and search for a way to cope.

For more on the band, go here: http://atriarch.bandcamp.com/

To buy “Forever the End,” go here: http://releases.seventhrule.com/album/forever-the-end

For the label’s site, go here: http://www.seventhrule.com/

ICS Vortex takes an unexpected turn

Something I always enjoy is when I put on an album for the first time, and what I hear coming from the speakers is entirely not what I expected. That happened when I first tackled the solo debut from ICS Vortex, who I knew from Borknagar and Dimmu Borgir, and since I didn’t read the promo materials before listening, I was kind of shocked by what I heard.

I guess I expected ghoulishness and black metal bombast, but instead I got a really well-played, nicely thought-out record that sounds like it could have been made in the ’70s. “Storm Seeker” as the album title even conjures that idea of hellish power, but the record is more like a tribute to the prog rock of four decades past, with some slight dashes of what the man is best known for producing in the black metal world. If you can wrap your head around an amalgamation of Enslaved, Ulver and Yes without getting sick to your stomach, then you might find a lot of enjoyment on this 11-cut album.

ICS Vortex (real name Simen Hestnæs) fled Borknagar after their 2000 album “Quintessence” to concentrate on bass duties and clean vocals with Dimmu. He did come back for one song on Borknagar’s altogether awful 2010 record “Universal,” and he’ll be with the group for their next album in 2012, which I hope is a little better than what we’ve been getting from them as of late. He exited Dimmu after their 2007 “In Sorte Diaboli” record, and he eventually went to work on a new Lamented Souls (his long-running doom band) effort that’s due this year. I know. That’s quite the all-over-the-map summary. But at least if you’re new to the man’s work, you got a few starter notes to go with. Oh, and the man stands, like, 8 feet, 10 inches. As Kenny Bania would say, “He’s huge.”

“Storm Seeker” actually gets off on a cheesy note with intro track “The Blackmobile,” but it’s fairly harmless for what it is. That leads into “Odin’s Tree” and the start of him digging back into Viking mythology and Pagan sounds. The song is spacious, melodic and pretty damn catchy, serving as a nice segue into “Skoal!” that I imagine is not about mouth tobacco. It has a nice Wacken sentiment though, with mouth harps, organs, and Vortex’s impressive croon that might even cause dudes who only listen to classic, AOR-style rock to become fans. “Aces” has some power metal built into its structure; “Windward” is a surprisingly sentimental song, where mentions his “unconditional love” for his wife and children, kind of in a way I’d expect Neil Peart to express himself lyrically; the title cut tastes a bit like Opeth mixed with Jethro Tull; and closing instrumental “The Sub Mariner” sounds like it came from Mark Mothersbaugh’s catalog, with its cool, sci-fi wooshiness and digital frame. Totally unexpected, but that’s the theme with which we’re playing.

Not all’s perfect on “Storm Seeker,” however. “Dogsmacked,” besides being a terrible song title, isn’t that strong of a track. The lyrics are a bit wonky, and the music is kind of bland, white bread rock. “Oil in Wate” has a pushy tempo and is one of the louder songs on here, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering it’s not a very good cut. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t anything I really want to hear again.

A few negatives aside, “Storm Seeker” is a pretty competent and, at times, rewarding record. I happen to really like ’70s-era prog, and my collection is jammed with Enslaved and Opeth records, and this is right along those lines. In fact, when I finish up here, I’m going to sit on the beach, read and listen to this record again. Mostly because I’m a gigantic dork.  Even if you shy away from Borknagar or Dimmu, and I know there’s a large segment of metal fans who do, don’t let that dissuade you from trying this on for size. I know I had my prejudgments, and those were dashed in an instant. I’d like to hear more from this project in the future, and considering ICS Vortex has assembled a full band for touring, and I assume recording purposes, there’s a good chance this is only this man’s first strike as a solo artist.

For more on ICS Vortex, go here: http://www.facebook.com/icsvortexofficial

To buy “Storm Seeker,” go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Search/ics_vortex

For more on the label, go here: http://www.centurymedia.com/

My wife loves Viking metal

Let me tell a short story: Last night, as we were preparing to go to dinner, I had the new Einherjer album on, and as I am wont to do, I turned it off when my wife entered the room because I didn’t want to annoy her any more than necessary. But to my shock, she asked what it was and said that I should keep it on because she enjoyed it. Viking metal. She chose to listen to the album. Even after I left the room, she kept it playing until about a half hour later when she returned the player to me and said, “OK, I think that’s all I can take for now.”

My wife pays more attention to metal than she cares to admit. She’ll never be a fan, per se, but she absorbs it. Here’s proof: Today, she was published in the Pop Candy blog at USA Today by the fine and wonderful Whitney Matheson, who also is trying to learn more about metal. I am super psyched about this, not just because I love my wife, but because I HAVE BROKEN HER! Yeah! No longer will there be a time in our house when metal is not acceptable, and this is why. Seriously, I am really happy for her that she got published at such an awesome site, and I know she’s really keyed up about it as well.

Oh, and for anyone finding us for the first time because of Pop Candy, hello and welcome. Please look around and send me kind comments about the grammatical errors. And stop back later for my look at the new ICS Vortex album.

To find my wife’s piece about metal, go here: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/popcandy/post/2011/08/metal-monday-metal-selections-from-a-non-metal-fan/1

Want another reason to loathe Metallica?

This week's special at the Jerk Store

Are you like me and basically want to disown any affection you ever had for Metallica? Can a band be more oblivious to what’s a good idea and what’s a bad one? Would you have preferred they cease recording new material after “…And Justice for All”? If so, get ready to punch yourself in the face, for that photo above is no joke or Photoshop bit.

Obviously the rumors had been out there that Metallica and giant prick asshole Lou Reed (who I may loathe more than Lars Ulrich, whose fat head I’d like to punch) were collaborating on a record, and Rolling Stone, the beacon of all that is wrong and hilariously misguided about music journalism called the pairing “a marriage made in heaven.” Right. If heaven actually was hell. Remember when Rolling Stone gave that last steaming pile of garbage U2 served up 5 effing stars? They’ll give this one 6.

So Metallica haven’t done anything wholly acceptable since 1989, and Lou Reed’s latest claim to fame is making people feel like garbage, treating attendees like worthless cretins at his “art exhibits” (yes, I have proof) and giving snarky interviews where he refuses to answer perfectly reasonable questions in Spin. Yeah, can’t wait for this one. If this thing goes live, it might be fun to see them all out-asshole each other. Well, except for Kirk and Robert. I’m fine with those guys. I wish they’d break off and do a real metal band and let James and Lars do some blues rock crap only meatheads will like. Come to think of it, that’s your basic audience for any new Metallica record.

I was speaking with my friend Sam about this, and he said, “Niko is turning in her coke-strewn grave.” I couldn’t have put it any better. This collaboration is like a bus falling on Cliff Burton all over again. What do you think THAT poor guy is doing in his grave? I mourn for him all over again.

If you really are a glutton for punishment, you can visit the coming-soon site for this crap right here: http://www.loureedmetallica.com/

I’d say a few words about Corey Taylor, his stupid book, his laughable book tour, that infuriatingly jackassical cover that I’m sure his minions think is proof of what a cool guy he is, and just about anything he’s ever done, but I don’t want to throw my laptop through my window.

Pittsburgh gets a double dose of Amon Amarth

It wasn’t exactly Wacken, but it was as close as I was going to get on a balmy Tuesday night in the United States. But instead of a giant field in Germany, the evening’s events took place in an old church converted into a music venue, and the crowd was decidedly smaller than what you could fit into an open air space.

Walking into Mr. Smalls in Millvale, a flood-prone old mill town outside of Pittsburgh, the smoke rising from the new grill sites easily made the juices flow, and it really did feel like an evening of sunburnt music was ahead. That’s a nice addition by Mr. Smalls, not only for the increased food selection but just for the ambiance. For a moment, I imagined this is what Wacken might smell like. Inside, grown men with drinking horns, people wielding large foam war hammers, and dudes who looked like they were here for a beheading anxiously awaited the arrival of Amon Amarth for an entire evening of music. No openers, no standing around waiting for the main event, just immediate gratification when the clock struck 8 and the lights dimmed.

Pittsburgh is a popular stop on any Amon Amarth tour, as the hulking Swedish Vikings bring their show here every time they get a chance, but this night they brought something a little bit special. This tour provided a whole evening with the band, as they opened by playing their latest album “Surtur Rising” in its entirety, and after what frontman Johan Hegg called “a short beer break,” they stormed the stage anew with a complete set of catalog favorites. No one could have walked away and complained he or she didn’t get his or her money’s worth. In fact, considering tickets were under $30, it was an insane value that was maybe a step short of a steal on the audience’s part.

“Surtur Rising” was a grower for me. I unabashedly love Amon Amarth, and the fact they’re kind of like death metal’s AC/DC is something that endeared the band to me. But the new record’s a little different and doesn’t have that immediacy of their other discs, but hearing them play the songs live gave me an even greater appreciation for the album (and it already had grown on me by the time this show took place). The passion with which the band plays the songs is undeniable, and the tracks certainly have resonated with their audience as the folks packed (and it you barely could move in there) spent the evening shouting back the words (and not just the choruses) and screaming out the name of the next song before the band could launch into it. That made for a really cool scene seeing a large group of people so passionately immerse themselves in the band. As for me, I’m a stander and a listener, so I absorbed the whole thing and heard guitar sections I never realized, noticed quirks in the drum playing I never picked up on, and really got the knack for the infectious nature of these songs. My favorite cut on “Surtur Rising” is “Live Without Regrets,” and hearing them perform the beast live was damn near cathartic. Ever since the show Tuesday, I’ve spent even more time with “Surtur Rising” and really feel like I gained, as a listener, from hearing the band interpret these songs live. I hear it through ears blessed with increased knowledge.

After the break, they exploded with title track from “Twilight of the Thunder God,” with the crowd exploding into the chorus of, “Thor, Odin’s son, protector of mankind, ride to meet your fate, your destiny awaits!” like their lives depended on it. From there, it was a mix of old and new, launching directly into “The Last With Pagan Blood” from “The Avenger” and “For the Stabwounds in Our Back” from “Versus the World.” They visited “Guardians of Asgaard,” “Runes to My Memory,” “Free Will Sacrifice,” “Death in Fire” and “Victorious March” among many others. They took another quick break and re-emerged with a three-song encore of “Cry of the Black Birds,” “Valhall Awaits Me,” and, of course, “The Pursuit of Vikings.” All in all, we got 25 songs over the entire evening, and everyone left exhausted but satisfied.

You can see some photos above, taken by my shitty Blackberry camera. I did have a photo pass for the show, but some idiot realized 10 minutes into his drive that he left his camera at home. This is what happens when you rush around all day. So they’re not the best, but whatever. At least you can kind of get an idea of what you’ll experience live. The show definitely was worth the drive and the evening packed into a room of sweaty  people, most of whom were males taller than I am. And I’m just a tick under 6 feet tall. It’s a really great show, performed by a powerful band, led by a jolly, charismatic frontman, and it’s a blast. I’ll never pass by a chance to see Amon Amarth live, but I almost fail to see how they’ll top this evening. But I’d like to see them try.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.amonamarth.com/

To buy “Surtur Rising,” go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/11748/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/english/content.php

For more Amon Amarth tour dates, go here: http://www.amonamarth.com/live/upcoming-dates/