It has taken quite a long time for the Decemberists to grow on me. Although they have been around for about 15 years, it is only now that I am beginning to realize their brilliance. At least, enough to write a review of their latest record, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World.
THE RECORD: Mastodon- Once More ‘Round The Sun– Reprise 2014
The sixth studio album from Georgia’s Mastodon is out! The first track warns the listener to “Tread Lightly”, and it does start off with a quiet string section. But this is only a warning shot, to prepare the listener for the monsters that are about to come out for the next 54 minutes.
There are definitely a lot of progressive rock elements to this one. I know a lot of metal heads looking for something harder may get disappointed by this, but as someone whose favorite band is Rush, I totally dig it. It’s especially evident in songs such as “Chimes At Midnight” and “Aunt Lisa” with their dizzing, swirling guitar progressions. The latter actually harkens to the Ramones, with gang vocals (from the Coathangers and Gary Lindsey) shouting “Hey ho, let’s fucking go”. Some might consider these influences to be all over the place, but for me, it brings together all my favorite rock genres in an original way.
“Asleep In The Deep” brings in more guests. Valient Himself of Valient Thorr provides backup vocals, and synthesizers from Ikey Owens, who is known for his work with The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In.
“Halloween” isn’t a Misfits cover but a Mastodon-Original guitar-riff driven ride with death on a “moon-soaked night”. They had me at the line, “I couldn’t tame that beast with a handful of meat”.
“Diamond In The Witch House” ends the record on a 7 minute sludge fest. Fitting, considering it features guest vocals from Neurosis’ Scott Kelly.
The music video for the first single “High Road” is incredibly delightful. It can accurately be described as a LARP Karate Kid. There are fake swords, badass grandparents, and (spoiler alert) bullies getting their butts kicked. It makes me really happy to watch.
THE BEER: Sleepytime Saison- Captain Lawrence Brewery, Elmsford, NY
Don’t be fooled by the name; you definitely do not want to sleep on this beer. Brewed with chamomile, it has a touch of sweetness, but a lot of nice roasted malt flavor. Pours dark in color with a creamy head.
According to the website, it is a pilot batch. Not sure if this means it could be a one-off brew, or if they are still working on it. Regardless, it’s a tasty beer that I hope to see more often!
THE PAIRING: I just tried this beer at the brewery, and I loved it. Saisons are really growing on me because there are so many different ones, and like beer in general, I just had to try a lot of them until I found a few that I enjoyed. I guess you could say the same for myself and metal, as well. Sure, I grew up with the classics and bands that I just loved immediately, like Maiden, Motorhead, and Type O Negative. However, there was a good span of time where I was not digging metal as much as I am now. Mastodon helped to show me that there was awesomeness to be found, with the epic concept album of Leviathan really getting me following them.
I think that Once More ‘Round The Sun can do for non-metal fans today what beers like Sleepytime did for me for saisons. The album is listenable, the beer is drinkable. The album works as both a singular work in itself as well as a collection of single-worthy songs. Similarly, this saison works as something dark and malty to relax at the end of a work day, or as a nearly-session beer for an evening at a metal show.
THE RECORD: Against Me!- Transgender Dysphoria Blues- Total Treble 2014
Against Me! is a blast to listen to and see live. They’ve been in the news over the past year or so since lead singer Tom Gabel, now Laura Jane Grace, came out as transgender. The reactions I’ve seen have been really supportive which is awesome to see. I’m supportive too. However, I feel like I have read a lot of critical reviews from people that are expecting the sound of the record to be different. While the record’s called Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I’m not listening to it thinking “this is a transgender-fronted punk rock record”. I’m listening to it thinking, “this is a fucking punk rock record”. and the fact that Grace has come out with such brave honesty, she now has nothing to hide, which only makes her musical performances greater. So many of Grace’s song lyrics are so personal, but they are conveyed in a way that a lot of the audience can relate to and understand the struggle.
It’s fist-in-the-air music, it’s getting anger off your chest music. I’m sure Laura Jane Grace has a lot to get off her chest, and it’s so great that she’s sharing it through her songwriting. I have read stories that she wanted to write a concept album about a transgender prostitute, and while I don’t know how accurate those stories are, I definitely think this is a concept record of sorts. For me, the songs all capture a certain aspect of being on the outside, or being separated from something, whether it’s a current relationship, in society in general, or being apart from an old friend. While Grace obviously wrote these songs about specific subjects, she writes in a way that everyone can take something personal from them.
“Unconditional Love” is one of my favorite tracks. “Even if your love was unconditional/it still wouldn’t be enough to save me” is a dark-sounding line but the way it’s shouted and repeated makes it a mantra that might give someone strength. What I take from that lyric is that you can’t rely on other people to save you- you have to save yourself.
“Osama Bin Lada As The Crucified Christ” really stands out to me, because it has a riff that breaks in and sounds pretty metal and intense. Sequence-wise, it’s the middle track on the record and I think it fits really well here, before the more clean-sounding “Fuckmylife666”. I don’t have it on vinyl yet so I don’t know what’s on side A and side B yet. But that’s what I would think.
Here’s a note. I started writing this review when I had only listened to the record once or twice. Now I can’t stop listening to it. Cheers to you, Laura Jane Grace, true trans soul rebel.
THE BEER: Autocrat Stout- Narragansett Brewing, Providence, RI
Narragansett beer isn’t just a $3 can of beer at a concert. I mean, it is, but they actually have a few delicious brews up their sleeve. The Autocrat is like a dark cup of coffee with freshly roasted beans and a splash of cream in it. I did a little research on this one, and found out that Autocrat actually makes a coffee syrup, like chocolate or other flavored syrup. Apparently the official state drink of Rhode Island is “coffee milk”, according to Wikipedia and the Internet at least. This beer tastes exactly like that, creamy but bittersweet. It pours out of the can a deep espresso brown with a fluffy, cream colored head. Milk stout is one of my favorite beer styles, so I am a bit biased. A great thing about this beer is it’s only a little over 5% ABV, so it’s practically sessionable, which is something that isn’t always seen in stouts. Did I mention it’s in a can? Love it.
THE PAIRING: I’m pairing it with Narragansett’s new stout because much like this record has the simplicity of a punk record, such as Narragansett beer is a simple beer in a 16 oz can. But there’s more to it, and there is something to be respected on both the record and the beer. Transgender Dysphoria Blues has a lot going on with it, and it is a record that isn‘t simply cut and dry. Like how Narragansett is known, at least where I live, for being a cheap can of beer, they can also make something dark and delicious with a lot of flavor to it.
Yup, it’s that time of year for making lists and checking them twice. To see what records were my favorite this year. I’ll also be doing a list of the best beers I drank this year too, but that’s coming soon.
10. Motorhead- Aftershock- UDR
Health issues can’t stop Lemmy. Motorhead’s 21st album shows that the band has absolutely no plans to stop rocking and melting faces off of a whole new generation of new fans.
9. Tegan and Sara- Heartthrob– Vapor/Warner Bros.
I forget sometimes that Tegan and Sara have been a band since 1995. 2013’s Heartthrob is a fun record, great for dancing, and a new facet to the sound of the insanely prolific duo.
8. Big Star- Nothing Can Hurt Me- Omnivore
The soundtrack to the documentary of the same name is a chronological trip through Big Star’s initial career, comeback, and aftermath of the death of Alex Chilton. It’s pretty cool to listen to in that way, even though most of the songs are ones people familiar with the band know well. I’m just glad I get to put a Big Star album on my year end list!
7. Clutch- Earth Rocker– Weathermaker Music
Lead by one of my favorite beards in rock, Neil Fallon, Clutch’s follow up to 2009’s “Strange Cousins From The West” is a beast of a record, and their live show supporting it even moreso.
6. Skeletonwitch- Serpents Unleashed– Prosthetic
The fifth studio album since their first in 2004, Skeletonwitch is quickly becoming one of the hardest-working bands in metal, and their records are becoming better and better with each one that comes out.
5. Frank Turner- Tape Deck Heart– Xtra Mile/Interscope
Although Frank Turner’s records seem to continuously move away from his hardcore days in Million Dead, the man writes some killer melodies and great lyrics.
4. Ghost- Infestissumam– Loma Vista
Ghost continues to impress me with everything they come out with. Channeling 70s-psych with well-placed organs, Papa Emeritus and his band of Nameless Ghouls do a great job of making an interesting, at times strange, second album.
3. Kvelertak- Meir– Roadrunner
My new favorite Norwegians melted my face off with their self-titled debut record, so as soon as I heard they were recording a sophomore album, I was psyched. Meir doesn’t break any boundaries, but I would definitely say it’s just as fun listen as their first record.
2. Mark Mulcahy- Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You– Mezzotint/Fire
One of New Haven’s finest. Mulcahy’s first record since 2005 is a wonderful pop album. There really isn’t a bad song on it in my opinion.
1. Neko Case- The Worst Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight The More I Love You– Anti
I keep returning to this record since it came out. Neko Case continues to wow me with her songwriting, and I was also lucky enough to catch her performing songs from this live at Radio City Music Hall earlier this fall. The songwriting style is personal, but can be interpreted in many different ways, which is something that really drew me to this record.
Suicidal Tendencies- 13- Suicidal
Black Sabbath- 13- Vertigo/Universal
Janelle Monae- The Electric Lady- Wondaland/Bad Boy
Blood Ceremony- The Eldritch Dark- Metal Blade
THE RECORD: Skeletonwitch Serpents Unleashed Prosthetic Records 2013
Skeletonwitch hasn’t needed to do much to become one of my favorite bands. Constantly touring and releasing new records, they’re always working hard and just seem to show up all the time with new stuff. Their latest album, Serpents Unleashed is out now on Prosthetic Records and continues their trend of putting out fantastic albums of thrash metal gold.
Serpents Unleashed is unrelenting from the beginning. They don’t start slow and elevate to a high level, they start off at the top from the beginning and don’t stop until the record is over. I think a lot of the energy on this one has to do with the aid of producer Kurt Ballou of Converge. The sound shows that he works really well with the band to maintain their sound and clean it up a bit. Polished? Maybe. Just so the guitar riffs are crystal clear to the ear though.
The guitar riffs are so amazing on this record. Check out “Blade On The Flesh, Blood On My Hands”, and “Burned From Bone”. So face-melting, and actually pretty catchy too. The mix is perfect in the way that it allows these to stand out.
I think that’s what’s awesome about Skeletonwitch. They put out great records that sound professional, but you know you can still see them and thrash the hell out at their live shows.
Okay, I guess it slows down a LITTLE on “More Cruel Than Weak”, the last track. It’s just so you can give your head a break from banging it though, and it brings you back to speed pretty quick.
I would be remiss not to name drop one more time- Baroness’ John Dyer Baizley, who did the stunning artwork for the cover. There aren’t really any bands that Baizley has done the art for that I don’t enjoy (that includes Flight Of The Conchords!). Serpents Unleashed is just another excellent piece from his portfolio.
The band itself doesn’t quit either. It seems like they are always touring, but the great thing about the ‘witch is that they mix it up with the bands they play with. I’ve seen them three times; with Kvelertak (ON A BOAT!), with Havok, and with Ghost. All those bands are pretty different from each other, but the crowd always loved them because they put on such a great show. I’m looking forward to catching them on tour in Spring 2014 with Amon Amarth!
THE BEER: Fire And Ice- Brooklyn Brewery- Brooklyn, NY
The brewmaster’s reserve collection is hit or miss to me; I loved There Will Be Black, but Fiat Lux was just so so. Maybe they just need to give all their beers brutal, metal-sounding names and I’ll like them. Case in point, Fire and Ice. It’s a deliciously smoky porter. I often shoot for the sweeter side of the porter and stout spectrum, but sometimes a crisp, dry porter just hits the spot. Fire and Ice knocks it out of the park. Don’t be mislead by the style it says on the label of oatmeal porter. The ingredients do include rolled oats, but everything else, like the hop profile (Fuggle, Willamette, and East Kent Golding) makes this brew deliciously smoky with a touch of bitterness. At 7.2% ABV it’s right in the middle of the scale, which is nice to see in a sea of so many super-strong stouts and porters this time of year.
I always feel inclined to pair metal albums with pretty dank beers. When you’re rocking out to an intense, heavy record, you need a beer of equal caliber to go along with it.
The description on the Brooklyn Brewery website sounds like it could fit in a Skeletonwitch song too:
When the world gives you darkness and Ice
We put a Fire into your glass and give you warmth and light
While the beer isn’t that accessible in stores and bars since it’s from the brewmaster’s reserve series, it’s super accessible, easy to drink, on the palate. Yes, it’s intense and big, but it’s surprisingly drinkable. Much like Skeletonwitch- their sound is in your face, but they are a blast to see live and so much fun to listen to.