Extolling Ignorance: The Top Five Albums I Didn’t Hear in 2012

Posted in Features on January 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Just yesterday I was reading a news story about how scientists are regrowing hair cells (pictured above) in mice to restore hearing damage caused by loud noises. Nifty stuff and certainly something that would come in handy if and when they can actually make it work for people, but it still wouldn’t do me any good, because I’m not just talking about records I didn’t hear because I saw SunnO))) that one time without earplugs — I’m talking about albums that I didn’t hear because, for one reason or another, our paths didn’t cross at all. If you want to talk about the other kind of not hearing, ask The Patient Mrs. how loud I keep the tv at night.

But as regards those reasons: In the past when I’ve done this list, it’s usually been with some measure of shame. Last year, I had to admit I hadn’t heard Argus‘ album because I knew I’d like it and wind up buying a copy (which I finally did), and had to admit that I slept on Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. This year it’s a little different. Most of the records on this list I could’ve easily heard — if I’d wanted to hear them. In 2012, it wasn’t just that I missed stuff (though I did, I’m quite sure), but also that some stuff I just couldn’t be bothered to download the promo mp3s. You’d be amazed how often that happens.

So with that in mind, I humbly and ignorantly present my Top Five Albums I Didn’t Hear in 2012. I hope if I missed anything essential, you’ll let me know.

1. Soundgarden, King Animal

It’s a pretty rare thing for me to get a request for a review from someone neither in nor representing a band (i.e. PR or a label, etc.), and I got more than one for Soundgarden‘s reunion full-length, King Animal. I heard the record was great, but seriously, whatever. I was never a huge Soundgarden fan, and the whole tone of their getting back together left me cold — people calling them brave for putting out a rock album that everyone knows is gonna sell like mad and talking about playing arena shows in front of thousands of fans like it’s a bold decision. Sorry, but the bold decision would be for Soundgarden to have stayed broken up and for Chris Cornell to work with Timbaland again. King Animal could’ve been the best rock record of 2012 for all I know, but I’m pretty sure all I’d hear would be tuned vocals and sampled drums. Pass.

2. Baroness, Yellow and Green

I give Georgia natives Baroness the utmost respect for the heap of shit they ate as regards their luck last year, but even their tenacity in recovering from a bus accident — along with the vehement recommendations of, well, the universe — wasn’t enough to get me on board for their third album, Yellow and Green. Here’s a fun fact: Up to this point in the band’s career, I’ve owned just about everything they’ve put out, because I figured that sooner or later, I’d come around. I saw them at Emissions from the Monolith years back and picked up the First and Second EPs because I was like, “Yeah, I’ll probably start digging this band and when I do, I’ll be glad to have these.” I keep waiting for that switch to flip and it just hasn’t yet. Loves me some Valkyrie though, for what that’s worth.

3. The Sword, Apocryphon

While I’m talking about old shows, I caught Austin’s The Sword opening a Relapse Records showcase at SXSW when all they had out was a demo and thought they were bloody brilliant. I even dug Age of Winters when it came out, but my interest level diminished on the quick. I didn’t bother with 2010′s Warp Riders either, and as they made their Razor and Tie Records debut with Apocryphon in October, I barely blinked. These guys get consistent support, and I’ll give it to them that they put in their work on the road supporting what they do and always have, but in terms of what I’m going to listen to for a week straight before I review it, there’s gonna be no shortage of other Sword reviews out there and I doubt very much mine’s going to have anything revolutionary to say, so yeah, there are better ways to spend my time.

4. Rival Sons, Head Down

Maybe I could’ve climbed on board for what SoCal-based Rival Sons had to offer, but frankly the whole thing seemed a little too reality show. Like the headline says, I didn’t hear the record, but with their major label hair, purported classic rock sound and press hype, it just seemed like they were a band I was supposed to like, as if you took what makes kickass heavy rock and broke it down to Lego parts, adding a standalone moustache. I’ve heard from some reliable sources that they are indeed the shit, but the contrarian in me just wasn’t having any of Head Down. Maybe I’m wrong and next time they put out an album I’ll take a listen and have to eat my words. Wouldn’t be the first time.

5. Mark Lanegan Band, Blues Funeral

This one I legitimately regret not hearing. Former Screaming Trees vocalist and frequent Queens of the Stone Age collaborateur, Mark Lanegan has one of those voices that he probably won’t have grown into until he’s 65 years old. You know how Johnny Cash was finally old enough for his voice when he started putting out the American series, or how Tom Waits hit that line in 2011 and everyone was like “holy crap Tom Waits is the best thing ever?” I’m pretty well convinced Mark Lanegan will get there sooner or later. I got a promo of Blues Funeral, but it was a download so I didn’t bother. Too late to review it now, but maybe I’ll pick it up somewhere along the line. Maybe not. Doesn’t seem like Mr. Lanegan‘s hurting either way, unless, you know, you count the existential agonies present in his vocal delivery.

Okay, that’s it. Everything else I heard in 2012 so there you go. No, of course that’s not true. As always, there were tons of albums I missed out on — one of these days I’m gonna sit with Heavy Eyes and give them a real chance — because I’m only one man, I only have two ears, and those ears are only so willing to listen to stuff that’s not Neurosis.

Anything essential you think I missed, or anything essential that you missed that you want to add? Leave a comment below.

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Readers Poll Results: The Top 20 of 2012

Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.

Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.

Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:

1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes

2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106

3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86

4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65

5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63

5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63

6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56

6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56

7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49

7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49

8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46

9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39

10. Conan, Monnos – 38

11. Swans, The Seer – 35

12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31

13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31

13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31

14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26

14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26

15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25

16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23

17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22

18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19

19. Goat, World Music – 18

19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18

19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18

20. Amenra, Mass V – 17

20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17

16 Votes

Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild
Rush, Clockwork Angels
Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar
Troubled Horse, Step Inside

15 Votes

Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15
Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15
My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15

Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.

Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.

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Live Review: Kyuss Lives!, The Sword, Black Cobra and The Atomic Bitchwax in New Jersey, 12.10.11

Posted in Reviews on December 13th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Earlier in the day, while waiting for a table at the Alexis Diner on Rt. 10 in Denville, I asked The Patient Mrs. to buy a ticket for the Powerball. I don’t usually play the lottery, but we’d been there for a bit waiting for the rest of my family to show up (lunch following my nephew’s Xmas pageant was one of the day’s several social obligations), and still tired from seeing Mighty High and Cortez the night before, I thought how great it would be to both win the Powerball and see Kyuss Lives! in the same day. My reasoning was that one was great enough, but imagine both!

It’s a wonder I’m not divorced.

The early part of that same evening found The Patient Mrs. and I (she was driving; I’d already had a few and I’d have a few more before the night was out) racing northbound on the Parkway to get to the Wellmont Theatre in scenic Montclair, NJ, in time to catch The Atomic Bitchwax open the show for Black Cobra, The Sword and Kyuss Lives!, who were on the last night of their tour and under whose banner the whole show took place. The Bitchwax being Jersey locals, the appeal was plain, and with the added interest of Dave Witte (Human Remains, Burnt by the Sun, Exit-13, Birds of Prey, Municipal Waste, etc.) filling in on drums, I didn’t want to miss it. You know that hurried feeling when you get all anxious that you’re not going to make it in time? It was like at, and as per usual, completely without reason. We arrived well in time for the start of their set.

Last time I saw The Atomic Bitchwax was at the Saint in Asbury Park with Karma to Burn, and it was high on the list of the best shows I’ve ever seen them play. With Witte‘s taking Bob Pantella‘s spot on drums while the latter is on a European run with Monster Magnet, intrigue was high. Sure enough, Witte more than held his own, but as you’d expect, the chemistry that’s developed between Pantella and bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan just wasn’t there. Still, they did Jersey proud, and I spent the whole time trying to figure out how Kosnik would know Witte (Human Remains was a Jersey band; that’s the best I could come up with), taking minor mental detours to enjoy “Destroyer,” “Gettin’ Old,” “So Come On,” “Shitkicker,” “Hope You Die,” the Core cover, “Kiss the Sun” and the curious instrumental choice of closer, “Force Field.”

Witte is a master drummer. The reason he’s involved in so many projects is he’s so adaptable, and in The Atomic Bitchwax, he nestled in well alongside the fast-winding riffs of Kosnik and Ryan, though there was part of him that looked ready to bust out a grindcore blastbeat at any moment, and his snare seemed to pop with that kind of expectation. By contrast, Rafa Martinez of Black Cobra did unleash a few blasts, most notably during “Obliteration” from the band’s most recent Invernal album, but hit with a different technique altogether. This was the first I’d seen Black Cobra since Invernal came out, and I was glad to find them focusing on the new material, since I think it’s their best yet.

That Martinez and guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian were unbelievably tight should almost go without saying at this point, since that’s pretty much been the case with the duo since their inception as a touring act seven or eight years ago at this point. They opened with “Avalanche” from the new album, though, and it occurred to me how much they’ve grown in terms of stagecraft. Landrian, quiet and subdued off stage, is more confident than ever while on, and more apt to engage the audience as a frontman. He held his guitar over his head, headbanged, yelled off-mic at the crowd and generally worked to bring people into the show. It wasn’t yet crowded at the Wellmont, but the people who showed up early knew why they were there, and I think Landrian‘s efforts were appreciated.

“Avalanche” and “Obliteration” were highlights, but the irresistible riffing of “Corrosion Fields” made their set, and it would do so again the next night in Brooklyn. That kind of chugging groove is unmistakably righteous, and I didn’t in the least envy Austin, Texas, riffers The Sword for having to follow it. Still, they did, and as The Sword are more or less the commercial vanguard at this point for heavy rock, I felt in watching them like they were unavoidable. Bound to happen. I didn’t hear their last record, 2010′s Warp Riders, and I don’t remember the one before that, but I immediately recognized “Freya” from Age of Winters for its epic riffing and battle tales, and that was fine.

Look. At this point, The Sword aren’t going anywhere. They have a more than solid fanbase, have worked hard enough on the road to give their now-former drummer a nervous breakdown, and as guitarist/vocalist J.D. Cronise was out front watching The Atomic Bitchwax during their set, I’m inclined to think their hearts are in the right place, whatever the hype or promotional push around them might be. Hipster metal isn’t all The Sword‘s fault, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like the band. They did their thing and the crowd responded well to it, and if I wasn’t into it, then at least I got a few minutes once I was done taking pictures to grab another beer and sit down before Kyuss came on, which I appreciated thoroughly.

And you’ll notice in that last sentence I dropped the “Lives!” from Kyuss Lives!, which seems only fair at this point. The looming prospect of a new album next year, plus the time the foursome of vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri, guitarist Bruno Fevery and drummer Brant Bjork have put in on the road playing those old tunes, they’ve earned it. It’s Kyuss. You know it, I know it. This was my second time seeing them, and yeah, Josh Homme wasn’t in the building, but seriously, bands have toured with fewer founding members, and I defy you to watch Brant Bjork during “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” and call it anything other than Kyuss.

It was pretty clear they were tired from being on the road, the show wasn’t exactly sold out even at its most crowded point, and the cavernous high ceiling of the Wellmont that so well suited Black Cobra didn’t do them any favors sound-wise, but how could I possibly think of a Kyuss set as anything other than a positive? What else would I have been doing that night that would’ve been better than drunkenly belting out the parts to “El Rodeo” along with Oliveri and Garcia, or watching the jam that developed out of “50 Million Year Trip (downside up)?” Nothing. Watching the current incarnation of Kyuss tear through their set with the level of poise and professionalism they did was a blast. Garcia didn’t talk much, but sounded killer singing, and Fevery seemed even more comfortable on the songs than he had in Philly, making “Hurricane,” “Freedom Run” and “One Inch Man” high points of a night mostly comprised of high points.

Whatever becomes of the Kyuss Lives! lineup, with Oliveri facing jail-time following a SWAT standoff earlier this year and Scott Reeder waiting in the wings to take up the bassist position as he did prior to the release of 1994′s genre-defining Welcome to Sky Valley, they’ve done well by themselves and most importantly, by the material on these American and European tours. After absolutely nailing “Demon Cleaner,” they came out to do a quickie encore that included “Green Machine” and (I think; someone please correct me if I’m wrong) “Odyssey,” and then were done. I’d expected “Thumb,” but the Wellmont house lights came back up and the audience was quickly escorted out the door and into the cold.

Jersey doesn’t get shit for heavy rock shows. Generally speaking, if it’s coming anywhere these days, it’s coming to Brooklyn or maybe Manhattan if it’s a big enough deal to get into one of the corporate venues, but something like seeing Kyuss on my home turf in North Jersey, I felt like it was a really special opportunity and one I think I made the most of. It was night two of three shows in a row for me, but definitely will standout as more than just the middle in a series. I got everything I could’ve asked for except cheaper beer, and as I woke up the next day sans hangover, I felt like even the $7 Shiner Bock was a favor directed in my way (well, maybe not). I didn’t win the Powerball, but I’d hardly call it a loss for that.

Extra pics after the jump.

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