Opeth – Sorceress (2016)

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OpethSorceress (Moderbolaget Records / distributed by Nuclear Blast, 30 September 2016)

 
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Abbey Road. “The White Album.” Widely considered to be hugely influential milestones in the history of recorded music. And yet the group responsible for these masterpieces began its career with mindless bubblegum-pop: stuff like “Love, love me do / You know I love you / I’ll always be true / So please love me do,” “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah / She loves you, yeah yeah yeah / She loves you, yeah yeah yeah yeah,” and “I wanna hold your hand / I wanna hold your hand / I wanna hold your hand / I wanna hold your hand.”

Certainly that’s a pretty extreme example, but the point here is that when a band experiences a seismic styistic shift, it isn’t always catastrophic, and can even be a positive thing. Naturally, when this occurs it can sometimes be unnerving to fans of the artist’s earlier work (and of course there have been plenty of moments where such a move did turn out to be a major misstep), but it never ceases to confound me, how often and how passionately hatred is spewed in the direction of Opeth for having developed a different sound over their quarter-century-plus career. This group of Swedes receives just as many nasty comments (particularly if the band is ever mentioned in the context of a metal festival or anything to do with metal music) for NOT making the same album over and over, as Six Feet Under does for essentially the exact opposite transgression.

The transition from death metal to progressive death metal occurred very early in this band’s existence, and it was the latter guise that caught most fans’ attention, gaining the ensemble a huge following. But throughout the course of a dozen full-length albums, gradually the elements of “death” had dropped away, and ultimately “metal” as well, landing Opeth squarely in the realm of “progressive” music, and leaving many earlier devotees feeling shortchanged. Nevertheless, in this reviewer’s opinion the band’s latest effort, last September’s Sorceress stands up quite well — when one judges it on its own merits, rather than attempting a side-by-side comparison with Still Life or Blackwater Park. And with that in mind, let’s jump right in.
 
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Tau Cross – Tau Cross (2015)

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Tau CrossTau Cross (Relapse Records, 19 May 2015)

 

Hello, and happy Easter Monday! Today’s kind of an ugly, rainy day here in Pittsburgh, so I guess it’s not such a bad thing that I’m stuck at work. Maybe the weather is nicer where you live, and maybe you don’t have to work because maybe in your country today is an official holiday — folks many parts of the world will be celebrating the beginning of Eastertide. In either case, I’d like to talk about an album that was released almost a year ago — actually, it was during the last week before Pentecost, the conclusion of the Eastertide season.

That album is the self-titled debut of crust-post-punk supergroup Tau Cross, whose name comes from the T-shaped symbol of the Franciscan Monks, based on the Greek letter Τ (Tau). In traditional symbolism, this letter is used to represent the cross, since ταυ is an abbreviation for the word Σταυρός (Stavros, which means “Cross”), and because the letter itself is cross-shaped. As such, the Tau symbol has also come to stand for Resurrection, and by extension, is closely associated with Jesus — nearly as much as the letter Χ (Chi).

Anyway, that’s surely enough of a history lesson for today, let’s get to the music! As an added bonus (for those who live in the northeastern U.S. — which includes Pittsburgh! — or southeastern Canada), scroll down to the comments section to find details about the band’s trip across the region which starts tomorrow night and runs for about a week and a half — their first live performances ever!

 

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Lifetime Shitlist – Lifetime Shitlist (2014)

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Lifetime ShitlistLifetime Shitlist (Grimoire Records, 10 June 2014)

 

Well holy crap. When did this happen — I can’t believe it’s more than halfway through August already! (Well, to be honest, just the fact that we’re more than halfway through 2014 seems kind of insane…) The past month or two has completely been a blur to me, mostly in regards to craziness at work. My company bought another company, adding tons of extra paperwork for us pencil-pushers, exactly at the same time that someone in my department who’d had lots of responsibilities had to suddenly go out on medical leave. Add in all the usual week-long summer vacations that people tend to take, plus new temps who’ve needed training as they’ve come and gone randomly over the past several weeks, and I’ve barely been finding time to breathe or eat (let alone sit still long enough to even LISTEN to much music, nevermind trying to actually WRITE anything!)

But I have had the chance to listen to some stuff recently — some really good stuff — and gradually things will be settling down a bit. And anyway, I don’t want you to think I’ve forgotten about you, readers! So I’ll be trying to take advantage of what little freetime I can find (for example right now I’m writing this intro on the bus at 4:30 am, instead of sleeping, since I found myself inexplicably unable to sleep most of last night anyway), to share with you some new releases that you really ought to hear. Besides, this particular EP I’d like to tell you about today is only sixteen minutes long, give or take, so I’ll try to keep this relatively short.

 

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The List of 2013 Year-End Lists

Photo Collage - 2013 Shows - by Asya Yanyo

Click for full-sized image

 

Hey folks — a very Happy (Belated) New Year to all of you! 2013 definitely turned out to be an interesting year for me, with lots of big changes, new projects, new responsibilities, etc., but an unfortunate side-effect of some of that was (as you’ve surely noticed) that the amount of time I’d been spending writing really tapered off as the year went on, to the point where I didn’t post
anything here for the last few months! Well, as you may have seen, I’ve started writing reviews of some new 2014 releases — and as time allows I promise I will also be sharing plenty of older stuff I’ve missed writing about, because believe me there has been a TON worth sharing!

But more on that later. As I started doing last year, I’ve once again put together a collection of various people’s “best of” lists from 2013. Admittedly I sort of got a late start on this (I didn’t even put out the open invitation until after most websites had already finished with publishing all their year-end stuff), but several people have answered the call and contributed some really interesting lists that you’ll want to check out…

 

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Person or Persons Unknown: Six Questions with Annakarina’s Craig Hodgkins

Person or Persons Unknown

 

Six Questions with Annakarina‘s Craig Hodgkins

by Asya Yanyo

 

Have you ever been going to an event somewhere, where you don’t really expect things to be different — you figure it’s totally going to be a fun night, but nothing out of the norm — then suddenly after you’ve walked in the door, something begins and BAM!, you are completely blown away?

Yes? No? Doesn’t matter, that’s basically the exact scenario of how I first heard Annakarina: I was attending a punk show with Eric in Charleroi, PA, last December. This show was about five minutes from our house — quite a change from our normal hour-plus drive, so I was happy to be attending for that reason — but with the inclusion of the word “punk” I didn’t expect to be hearing something that Eric later described to me as “Post-Mathcore,” but we did. It was seriously gorgeous in its expression of angst and precision side-by-side.

So Annakarina and their music really never left my mind after the show. Soon afterwards, I found out that someone had taped their whole set and put it on Youtube, and I’ve probably watched it like five times since then — needless to say, I was a fan.

Anyway, last month we were attending another punk show at the same venue — where as it turns out, Annakarina was going to be making another appearance — and on this day I happened to decide that I needed to drink A LOT of tequila before the show (and during). Probably because we were so close to home I was feeling a little more rebellious, I don’t know. Drunk or not, I was extremely excited to see Annakarina again, but this time I decided that I needed to talk to those guys. In my drunken stupor, I basically poured my inner fandom out for them, sharing the fact that Eric was a blogger, that we attend shows at least once a week in Pittsburgh, all sorts of stuff.

[Editor’s note: at one point, I recall she had told bassist Kurtis Kelley about the description I made up the first time we’d seen them. He seemed a bit puzzled, but then said, “Well, I know what post-hardcore is, and I know what math rock is, and — yeah I guess I can see that.”]

I’m sure they were like, who’s this crazy lady, but even so they were all very kind. I got introduced to them all one by one, and in particular I felt drawn to [guitarist/vocalist] Craig. In between bands I talked casually to him (or as casually as I could manage — remember I was very drunk) about his music, his friendship with the drummer and other bandmates, and soon I realized this guy was special pretty special.

In a way, I was feeling sort of annoyed that no one else we knew really knew anything about this band — because I’ve never seen them at any shows in Pittsburgh, and (I mean this in the nicest way possible) honestly they’re better then a few bands that we’ve seen playing other shows in the past. So I decided I needed to introduce Craig and his music to more people — so there’s the core reason for this interview. I think you’ll agree he’s quite a special guy — that magical combination of intelligence, wit, weirdness, awkwardness, and sincerity that you couldn’t fake if you tried. So here he is, pouring his heart out to you, via my six questions; I hope you will find him as endearing as I do, and I hope you will venture out to the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg this Sunday to see his band playing a charity show benefiting PLEA. Trust me, Annakarina is a band you won’t want to miss, and this guy is one of the major reasons for that.

 
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VOS Interview: A Drummer Double Feature! Molasses Barge vs. Vulture!

Hello folks, and a happy Friday to you! Just when it felt like it would never happen, the weekend’s finally here. I’ve got a feeling this is going to be an especially good one, because there’s a ton of amazing shows and events happening! I’ll have more on that later, so stay tuned.

One of them in particular stands out, though — tomorrow night at the 31st Street Pub is the first date on the joint headlining tour between Relapse Records artists 16 and Tombs. That by itself is reason enough to get excited, but opening the show will be two of my absolute favorite local bands, the heavy doom armada that is Molasses Barge and Steel City sludgelords Vulture!

I’ve only seen Molasses Barge once before (and it was over a year ago! — read more about that here), and (believe it or not) although I’ve been listening to Vulture for a long time, I’ve never had the chance to see them play live yet! So needless to say, I’m really looking forward to this show. I’ve already got my tickets (they can be ordered here) but if you don’t, it’s just twelve bucks when you show up at the door. More info on the show itself can be found here.

Anyway, in anticipation of this event, I decided to get a couple of interviews lined up. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that I often tend to focus on drumming while listening to music. It’s just the way I hear things, I guess — and I don’t know if it’s because I play drums (occasionally) or if I chose to play that instrument because it’s something I pay a lot of attention to.

In either case, the drumming in each of these bands’ genres is one of the main things that attracts me to those particular styles. So, it only seemed natural for me to talk to the two bands’ drummers. Here, then, are the questions and answers from Molasses Barge’s Wayne Massey and Vulture’s Kelly Gabany

 

 

 
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Out Now: Strong Intention – Razorblade Express

 

Strong IntentionRazorblade Express (02 July 2012, Patac Records)

 
Maybe it’s because of when I was born (after Star Wars but before The Empire Strikes Back) — I just barely missed out on the original genesis of both the punk and heavy metal movements; I was too young to get much exposure to either genre until the late 80s, and when I did start listening to some of the stuff in my pre-teen years and beyond, I didn’t really have any sense of the history behind either scene or the animosity that existed between them…

I don’t know what the explanation is, exactly, but I do know I’ve always had one foot on each side of the line, not really caring about definitions or labels or exactly what separates “punk” from “metal” — and in fact, I tend to gravitate towards stuff that has a little of both flavors (and attitudes) mixed in. I’ve never understood the mindset of people who seem to think they have to pick a side, and refuse to acknowledge anything that the other team has done. To me, if it sounds good, it sounds good — it doesn’t matter what you call it.

That’s why I don’t really get the attitude of the folks who maintain the Encyclopædia Metallum, who (from what I’ve heard) are very particular about genre classifications, and extremely selective about which bands they approve for inclusion in their archives. Almost entirely absent from that compendium of musical knowledge: anyone who would be considered more closely associated with the realms of hardcore or punk (including grindcore or crust) than what they consider “real” metal. Where exactly the line is drawn, though, isn’t always completely clear. For example, it seems Napalm Death qualified as exceptions to the rule, as did Motörhead, yet the Misfits seem to have been overlooked — despite being no less influential in the metal world than either of the others.

Anyway, I could go on rambling about this for the rest of the day (and I’d be glad to hear YOUR thoughts on the subject — just visit the comments section below, or hit the VoS Facebook page, whatever works for you), but I really came here just to share some new music with you. That would be the new EP by Strong Intention, Razorback Express — now available on 7″ vinyl through Patac Records!

 
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