Okay, it's time for the second installment in my newly created series. For those of you just joining us, this is a segment where I look at three new albums: one good, one bad, and one that is interesting but problematic.
Off we go!
This blackened death metal album is a monstrosity. It's just this big, horribly malevolent . . . thing. Dripping with hostility, the record buries you under a wall of bristling, snarling chaos before closing with an apocalyptic 16-minute colossus of atmospheric darkness. The guitar riffs are an indistinct ball of noise, coming across like a twisted thorn-bush: dense and menacing but lacking in distinct or memorable portions. I can see how this may bother some listeners, but when this approach is paired with the blistering drumming and the ferocious vocals, I think the pieces all fit together perfectly. It's not catchy and it's not pretty, but it leaves a massive impression. Of all the many violent, aggressive, hard-hitting new albums I've heard in 2014, this one is almost certainly the most downright hateful sounding. It's not for the faint of heart, and in my book that's worth quite a lot.
Since his release from prison five years ago, Varg Vikernes has been in a frenzy of musical productivity, releasing six albums in that time. Unfortunately the material, while plentiful, has been inconsistent at best. With his first four albums back in the '90s, Varg established Burzum as arguably the greatest black metal band in existence. Those albums were the work of a deeply flawed musical genius who passionately adopted some bizarre and terrible viewpoints along with a few really deep and interesting ideas. These days, it seems that the man has totally lost his mind and is suffering from a persecution complex the size of Norway. The result is music like this: a 68-minute exercise in tedium as he spends an entire album essentially noodling his way through intros and interludes that have had the songs around them removed. I'm okay with ambient and atmospheric metal, but it needs to work in its own right. Instead, this all sounds like it's building toward something that just never happens. (Incidentally, I realize how odd it is that Mayhem and Burzum are my first two "bad" selections. I promise I don't hate Norwegian black metal bands.)
The riffs on this folk-flavored power metal album are excellent. The songs are compelling and interesting, and on the strength of the instrumentation it's the best power metal album I've heard this year. But the vocals . . . ugh. I cannot overstate how much I hate the flat, boring, emotionless vocals on this record. Admittedly I'm not the biggest fan of the typical high-pitched power metal wails, but I'd take those a hundred times over in lieu of this feeble, phoned-in performance. So I'm torn. Whenever he shuts up the music is excellent, but that's a pretty big caveat.