Pureblood Albums – A 2013 Recap

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Article by David Rosales

As another year ends and a new one begins, many “best of” lists pop up here and there, among them our own here at DMU. While others may be eager to know about what is ever new, we are more interested in what stands the test of time. Today we will look at some albums that were highlighted here as the foremost products of the year 2013, which was a year of renewal, great comebacks, startling discoveries and a general wellspring of inspiration. In the opinion of this writer, 2013 has been the best year for metal in the 21st century.


To start off, we shall pay respects to long-lasting acts with a black metal background, namely Graveland, Summoning and Burzum. While the last has left the metal camp for good, its approach and spirit is still very much enriched by the essence of the deepest metal infused with transcendental values. Summoning is still doing their thing, ever evolving, trying a different permutation of their unique style. Fudali’s project has become the warrior at the frontlines of the strongest nationalism grounded in music that uplifts the heart with an authentic battle feeling (as opposed to those other bands playing funny-jumpy rock and acting all “dangerous”).

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Sôl austan, Mâni vestan is an ambient affair that uses short loops which revolve around clear themes in each track. The approach is a little formulaic, thereby limiting the experience with a feeling of repetition. However, as with many good works of art, this self-imposed canalization serves to speed the result in a direction. As with a lot of Burzum’s work, this is a concept album that must be listened to as a whole. When this is followed and one stops looking for novelty and instead concentrates on the details that bring variation within the familiar landscape, the somewhat arduous experience brings great rewards once the summit is reached and the journey is taken more than once.

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Something similar can be said of the slightly pop-minded Old Mornings Dawn. This effort by Summoning certainly lacks the density of their masterpiece, Dol Guldur, but is no less effective, although perhaps shallow. But what isn’t shallow when compared to that masterpiece? As with every Summoning album, Old Mornings Dawn has a very separate personality, and in this case, it is one of heroism, light, regeneration and hope. Something that will never leave the band’s trademark sound is the deep feeling of melancholy and longing for ruins.

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Graveland materializes in Thunderbolts of the Gods one of their most warlike efforts to date in a smooth trajectory that has gone from rough-pagan to long-winded and epic to heroic war music. What raises this offering above others in Fudali’s current trend is the awesome bringing forth of destructive energies mustered in the imposing drumwork. Gone are the clumsy rhythms of Cold Winter Blades and the redneckish tone of the (nonetheless great) album Following the Voice of Blood. This is the technically polished and spirit-infused summit of this face of Graveland.

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One of the most deserving releases of 2013 was Black Sabbath’s 13. More expectations could not have been placed on anyone else. Yet the godfathers of metal delivered like the monarchs they are: with original style, enviable grace, magnificent strength and latent power. Along with the last three albums just mentioned, this album shows itself timeless in the present metal landscape. It encompasses all that it is metal, and brings it back to its origin. This is an absolute grower which will age like the finest wine and is, in my opinion, the album of the year of 2013.

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In 2013, Profanatica finally achieved amazing distinction with Thy Kingdom Cum, which can be considered the fully developed potential of what Ledney presented in the thoroughly enjoyable Dethrone the Son of God under the Havohej moniker. To say this is the natural outcome of Profanatica’s past work is as true as it is misleading in its implications. This is not just a continuation of what the band was doing before, but a deliberate step, a clear decision in the clear change in texture quality that means the world in such minimalist music where a simple shift in technique or modal approach defines most of the character of the music.

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Cóndor’s Nadia was probably the hidden pearl of the year. Never mind the metaphor of the “diamond in the rough”, there is nothing rough about this. It is polished, but it is hidden. The shy face of this beautiful lady is covered by a veil that turns away the unworthy, the profane! This is immortal metal artwork which to uninitiated eyes and ears seems but like the simple, perhaps even amateur, collection of Sabbathian cliches and tremolo excuses of an unexperienced band. The knowledgeable and contemplating metal thinker recognizes the Platonic forms under the disfigured shapes.

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Imprecation’s Satanae Tenebris Infinita and Blood Dawn by Warmaster draw our attention to the strong presence of a more humble but profoundly (though not obviously) memorable album and EP. These will stand the chance of time, but will not necessarily remain strong in the mind of a listener in a way that he feels compelled to come back to them often.

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Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves by VON seemed more enticing at the time. It’s definitely a solid release, but it is however a very thinly populated album with more airtime than content. Whatever content it has is also not particularly engaging. The enjoyability of this one is a much more subjective affair and like a soundtrack is more dependent on extra-musical input from the listener’s imagination.

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As delightful as the three heavy metal albums Argus Beyond The Martyrs, Blitzkrieg Back From Hell and Satan are, the intrinsic qualities of their selected subgenres makes them a difficult candidate for long-lasting and profound impact. That is not to say they have no lasting value. If anything, these are albums one can come back a thousand times and perhaps they will not grow that much, but they will never truly grow old.

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Autopsy’s Headless Ritual is one of the strongest yet most understated albums of the year. The extremely rough character of the music may contribute to how it carelessly it can be left behind. Fans of brutal music will find it little different from the rest and will quickly forget it. Fans of wider expressions and deeper thoughts will pass it by with little interest. Such is the tragedy of this very respectable album.

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A few stragglers in this group; Master’s The Witchhunt, Centurian’s Contra Rationem, Derogatory’s Above All Else, and Rudra’s RTA proved to be more impact and potential than manifest presence. These will remain fun and quaint for a very occasional listen, perhaps even a sort of throwback feeling, but lacking the long-lasting impact of others in this list.

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A special mention is deserved by Into the Pantheon, the essential synthesis of Empyrium, being their most revealing, powerful and clear release. While not outwardly metal, this live recording everything that is to be metal at the level of character and spirit. As such it is the perfect closing note for this recapitulation and reevaluation of past selections.

Sadistic Metal Reviews – Anxious Mediocre Gopher Edition (End of 2015 Series)

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Leftist political science grounded on Marxism does not go well with metal. The first is a bunch of illusions and mental fiction for emotional weaklings to feel empowered. The latter is the art of the realist, the nihilist with an eye in the transcendental. Besides, only a self-styled hipster would pair up Immortal’s picturesque character with Leo’s most iconic work. The reader is encouraged to take any strong endorsement from this fiasco as a warning of superficiality or weak hipster appeal.

 

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1. Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth
There is a reason why movie scores are not written by artistically illuminated composers, but by shrewd businessmen who know how to gauge the audience’s momentary craving in a modern society where every vice is promoted as a freedom and discipline is marked as obsession. Wilderun really does play like a popular soundtrack. It cannot stay on topic for more than thirty seconds and each of the sections is not only forgettable but the whole makes absolutely no sense. In an excellent work which draws influences from a wide variety of sources, the differences are mostly superficial and are used as different vocabs, but in here, these ultra-thin music without a true structural backbone merely places meaningless expressions one after another only to keep the most stupid of audience members hooked. Burn this insult to music composition.

 

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2. Trials – This Ruined World

Ah, yes, riff worship in metal. The genre’s curse makes us subject to many a mediocre would-be songwriter who thinks he can embody Pantera 2.0. Of course, because the latter were the embodiment of groove-based glory according to the Homer Simpsons of metal. Trials write the sort of songs that are utterly devoid of distinction and clear train of thought. Any riff would go well in any part of any other song in the album. Not to mention that these riffs are little more than thickly produced fart streams. Go home, Anselmo.

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3. Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers
More darko-depressive, diva rock pretending to be metal. While definitely showing some potential in its paucity, the candy it hands out reveals that the reason for this is not a carefully controlled composition of deep taste, but the superficial sensuality to be found everywhere. However, Barren Earth do succeed in achieving some manner of quality, however distracted their slick transitions are, how whiny and long-drawn operatics are and how annoyingly bluesy their leads are. Listen to this if you derive a moment’s masturbatory pleasure from half-cooked, bland music.

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4. Beaten to Death – Unplugged
If you consider an album good because it makes you look good in front of the hip kids and because it appears to be offensive. Then you are little more than an overgrown teddy bear trying to wear spikes to resolve its puberty. In case Napalm Death was too much, you can have Beaten to Death for a softened but still “edgy” dose of some of the worst deathcore pretending to be grindcore made nicer by some gay rock clean guitar picked passages. Leave these to the IQ-85-or-less crowd of gluttonous dipshits who saw no mental development past the 11-year mark.

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5. Crimson Swan – Unlit

Onto the false subgenre of “doom metal”. Although a very few albums do seem to venture into a style of its own that is more than just slow heavy metal, most bands like Crimson Swan, are just playing a much slower version of detuned and melodic-oriented heavy metal. Crimson Swan fails catastrophically in the same way that most music by Esoteric: it stagnates in its harmony, only deviating a little and quickly returning. Its thinly veiled worship of middle-period Skepticism (the worst of its periods, only superseded in vacuity by their latest installment) is laughable. When anyone the terms “melody and feel” to describe why an album is good and calls it a day, it goes a long way to say how little music as an art is understood.

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6. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase
The fact that Steven Wilson is eerily akin to a Marylin Manson without make up should give the listener a clue of what is coming. The music reflects the character of a harmless and sexless being completely lacking in any kind of self-assertion. Bombast ala Ghost, combined with some Pink Floyd-gone-80s-pop sensibilities and the most cliched 90s indie gayness, Wilson manages to make mindlessly boring music into an inadvertently comical series of forgettable pictures. Fodder for the mentally lazy who have the emotional need to be acknowledged for an intellect they lack.

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7. Gloryhammer – Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards
If there is something that hipsters love more than cuckold rock music by androgynous minds is metal nobody can take seriously. Why? Because it is not only inoffensive, but as it lacks any content of weight, it cannot in any way represent a challenge to the listener. Hipsters avoid challenge. But they love the illusion of challenge. They like to seem smart, but not actually stress their minds beyond the safety limits created by the society they claim to be at odds with. Cool-aid power metal for the mentally retarded.

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8. The Gentle Storm – The Diary

More boob-flashing from the opera whore club for naive, high school and college virgin nerds. Not only does this lack the solidity of Mandylion but is an obvious attempt at pushing another plastic product in the vein of bombastic metal pop acts with Victorian bimbos for faces. No amount of alacrity can turn this into good music. Just ignore this release, please.

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9. Nechochwen – Heart of Akamon
(Editor’s note: Haven’t we already given this one the sadistic treatment? Guess it’s really that bad.)
More Alcest than Graveland, this candy-ass folk-themed headache full of terribly clumsy transitions and tired, boorish leads calls the attention of those incapable of paying close attention to worthwhile quality. More like a trailer of commonplace ideas without development, this album plays more like a disparaged sequence of TV ads.

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10. Angra – Secret Garden
No, Angra’s new album is not surprising in any context. Except if you mean, you could not imagine they could disgrace themselves in a more sellout manner, even bringing in mercenary Fabio all the way from Italy. What the common rabble calls “staying power” is merely the hip-moving hooks they get from everyday radio-listening. What pseudo connoisseurs of metal call good songwriting is merely streamlined mediocrity.

Symphony X – Underworld (2015)

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Review by David Rosales

Symphony X has quite a following in the progressive power metal scene and has had such mainstream success in the technical musicians camp that almost each of the individual members of the band has his own little cult going on. In its very beginnings, the band leaned towards the so-called neoclassical stylings of ’80s melodic heavy metal. A few albums later, a clear progressive music orientation had crept in. All the while, the band retained a relatively original voice centered in Michael Romeo’s signature licks and Russell Allen’s distinctive vocalizations.

The band followed this course steadily up to their 2002 album titled The Odyssey, which seemed to crown their ever-ascending incursion into a world of structural complexity which tried to keep the music catchy nonetheless. The failure of Symphony X as a band may have to do precisely with this inability to fully compromise on a clear artistic path, choosing instead to use technique as a gimmick that attracts dorm-room guitarists and  pop singability with a touch of gospel that makes casual listeners acknowledge the band and perhaps open up their wallets occasionally.

After what seemed like the inevitable end of a journey for Symphony X, 2007 saw them coming back with Paradise Lost, which set a much darker and simpler tone to their music. Unfortunately, like most music of this sort, atmosphere is only skin deep, and the meat and core of the music continued to consist of disguised syncopations, clever groovy riffs with little thematic potential. The album was supported by a 3D music video vaguely illustrating the concept on which the album was supposed to be based. This mildly succeeded in attracting the superficially-minded who did not consider this to be on par with the graphics displayed in their Playstation games, and in pissing off serious art aficionados who cringed at the Hollywoodization of the classic story.

Symphony X took another four years to release their next album, Iconoclast, a massive oeuvre that could not be contained in one compact disc and had the audience yawning after 3 or 4 songs. By this time, it was fairly obvious that the band was beating a dead horse. The band wasn’t heading in any direction, nor was it keeping up in content — it was just a rehashing of riffs around whatever lyrics they came up with. The dumbed-down approach of the new era was prevalent but there was a deliberate intention of concealing it under longer songs and slower developments in tracks not intended for radio airtime.

Underworld in 2015 is the very reflection of an artistically defunct band. As butter scraped over too much bread, only a mere wraith of what the soul-infused band used to be remains. A collection of band cliches accumulated over the year rears its head in different postures and attitudes throughout the album while rather miscellaneous expressions form bridges between Romeo axe winks and Allen’s one-shoulder-shrugging, lip-biting, sensual diva outbursts. Taking the album for what it is (a professional metal pop collection of cool moments put together by very talented musicians) instead of for what it isn’t (an artistic achievement), Underworld shines bright in its hard rock firmly grounded in African American voices. Michael Romeo flashes solos that are worthy of mention in any guitar forum and have a well-earned place in the technical etudes of any student of the metal instrument.

The potpourri character of this album in combination with the adroit aloofness of the songwriting seems to indicate a secretive acknowledgement that the band knows this is the end of the road. The song titles and song lyrics towards the end of the album seem to reinforce this theory. After a relatively successful pop metal career and a couple of bill-paying, drowning-man albums towards the end, this seems like the appropriate place to retire with some dignity left.

Master to release An Epiphany of Hate

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It’s hard to browse DMU without finding at least one reference to Master’s influence (and more generally Paul Speckmann’s projects) on death metal. DMU’s ability to follow Master’s evolution has generally been better than my own, but I’m hoping that their upcoming albums will change that. An Epiphany of Hate will release on January 29th, 2016, presumably making it a superior purchase to other metal albums releasing that day, like Dream Theater‘s latest. Without any known teaser material out, I’d guess this album will follow up on the style of Master’s previous full length (The Witchhunt), but regardless of substyle this will be one to keep an eye on.

Aborted to release Termination Redux in 2016

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I hear that Aborted is flat. I don’t know if it’s true, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that installment of Sadistic Metal Reviews was correct about the band. No matter how flat Aborted is, though, they do seem to be one of the more commercially successful death metal bands as of late, and their commercial legacy continues with the Termination Redux EP. This EP will release on January 8th, 2016 in a vinyl pressing, and will make its way to digital retailers a week later. There’s no sign of an upcoming full length album to follow this EP, but Aborted will follow this up by touring Europe with Kataklysm and Septicflesh.

Behemoth to enter the studio in 2016

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Nergal of Behemoth recently conducted an interview with Rock Sverige in which he revealed his plans for the band and other musical endeavors. So far, a new album from Behemoth isn’t confirmed, but Nergal claimed that the band would enter the studio in 2016 and that he thought “…it would be really smart and good to have a new album out in 2017”. He also mentioned some side projects outside of metal and an interest in the works of David Bowie. Needless to say, if the band releases further confirmation for a release, it’ll probably go on our radar. Behemoth has apparently sold enough albums to live quite comfortably, and that’ll probably continue for many years.

Tranquillizer – Des Endes Anfang (2015)

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Sold to us by a promo company as “melodic” death/black metal, Des Endes Anfang by Tranquillizer (sic) is an ungainly fusion of In Flames type melodeath, Pantera flavored brocore grooves, and maybe a slight hint of extreme metal writing at times… by mistake. It occasionally amuses me to see a long-abandoned style of pop metal get some attention after years of neglect, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this album is simply terrible. It’s so bad that I’ve decided to explicitly label it a bad album, in spite of my tendency to pass off most of the review subjects here at DMU as mediocre (medio-core?) and forgettable.

The songwriting here, admittedly, is only weak in a pedestrian fashion. If you were to strip away all the references to past forms of mainstream metal, you’d end up with just another set of random, generic metal riffs like so many albums before this; nothing actually worth discussing. To be fair, Tranquillizer’s “varied” influences give them a wide set of material to pull upon, similar to something like Children of Bodom‘s latest. I Worship Chaos is actually a decent comparison; Tranquillizer doesn’t have the neoclassical backing that helped contribute to that band’s popularity, but they do replace it with slightly more varied (albeit stupid sounding) vocals. In this reviewer’s opinion, that’s not a great trade, but it’s not like either point of comparison has any real merit.

While the substrate of this band is hollow at best, most of what I find contemptible in Des Endes Anfang is its immediately apparent, surface level stupidity. A clean, dry, sterile production allows the panderingly simplistic rhythms of this album to burst forth, as well as a dual vocal system of generic shrieks and vomited grunts. For our purposes, it should suffice to say that this is, at best, a modern rehash of older substyles. You could make the case that none of this is innately bad, despite its similarities to previous bad metal albums, but even if you did, it seems apparent that Tranquillizer doesn’t have the musical knowledge or aptitude to make this album come off as more than half-hearted worship of a warmed over god. Not that I should be raising our old whipping posts to the level of divinity, but the analogy is sound, and Des Endes Anfang isn’t exactly worthy of more precise flogging.

RIP Lemmy Kilmister (1945-2015)

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Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister of Motörhead (and formerly Hawkwind) passed away today. According to Motörhead’s Facebook page, Lemmy died after “…a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer”; one that he had only found out about two days before his death. More information may be released in coming days. This death follows the recent death of Phil Taylor and puts a unfortunate note onto the band’s 40th anniversary. It is worth noting that Motörhead remained strong up to the very end, touring despite instances of bandmember illness and even releasing a quality studio album a few months ago.

Interview with Brian Parker of the San Diego Metal Swap Meet

sdmsm_logo_exportPreviously, as part of our lifestyle coverage, we featured Brian Parker’s guide to hand-rolling cigars. As mentioned at the end of that article, Brian has hosted the yearly San Diego Metal Swap Meet since 2009, giving metalheads in the southwestern corner of the USA a chance to socialize and purchase goods outside the context of a live concert or festival. Since this sort of thing creates a great deal of opportunity for everyone involved, we figured we’d get back into contact with Brian Parker and get his thoughts on the event he’s created.

1. You’re the creator of the San Diego Metal Swap Meet. What is a metal swap meet? Is it limited to metal, or certain types of metal?
The San Diego Metal Swap Meet is a social gathering for fans of metal. There are over 20 vendors selling all types of metal merchandise like CDs, LPs, cassettes, posters, shirts, patches and stickers. We also have booths from local artists, showing and selling their jewelry, paintings, leatherwork, sculptures and other various types of art. During the event we have metal tunes playing, we close out with a metal band, a beer garden for those over 21, and food for sale.

2. You were working at a record store when you started the swap meet. How hard was it to get the event started? How did you do it?
Actually, I started the San Diego Metal Swap Meet about 2 years after the record store closed. It was called Blue Meannie Records. Most people in San Diego County considered it the headquarters for metal. I felt that the closing of the store left a void for people to buy and sell metal related merchandise. There also was a void of a place for people to meet up. I met a lot of friends at that store, and I wanted other people to still be able to experience that, even if it’s just once a year. It was not difficult to do. My buddy Israel Pelayo and I organized the first one in my driveway. We had about 12 vendors, they set up, and it had free entry. We had over 200 show up to this modest event, and we knew we had to have a proper venue, if we were going to do another one.

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Photos from San Diego Metal Swapfest’s Facebook photostream

3. The meet is now in its sixth year, soon to be seventh. What has changed over the years? How do you hope to see it grow in the future?
It has grown every year. We now have around 25 vendors, a live band, and about 450 attendees. From the cozy event in my driveway, that was more of a yard sale, to having bands playing and Derek Riggs appearing. It’s come a long way. I would like to think that it has kept the same small business feel as the first one, and the record store had. In the future, I am hesitant to make it a full on “Metal Fest”, with tons of bands playing all day long. It seems that term gets thrown around and really doesn’t draw the excitement that it used to have. I’d like to evolve the event into a little more of a heavy metal convention… by convention, I mean having a way for people to meet musicians, artists, lessons, and art being made during the event. These are things I’d like to implement, without taking away with allowing vendors to sell at a reasonable price.

4. What is unique and important about a metal swap meet? Do metalheads need their own institutions like this, or can they coexist with regular rock music?
It’s unique because it’s really the only metal event that’s not centered around a live show. It’s centered around metal merchandise, memorabilia, and art. I do believe it’s important for them to have their own event. Sure, we coexist with the rest of society, but I think it’s unique to have an event where everyone has a common interest. This event is also unique as it’s a family environment.

Major record labels have displayed interest in the swap meet

Major record labels have displayed interest in the swap meet

5. What do you do the prepare for the meet, and what’s required for after the meet and the rest of the year? Was it hard to find funding?
First off, we reserve the date with the venue. This year, as well as the past 5 years, will be at the Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center, in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego City. The funding is not hard. We put down a deposit on the venue, then we are able to sell vendor spots for the tables. The money from the tables takes care of a lot of the expenses. We then need to arrange who will be volunteering, and what they will do. The volunteers are crucial. We have had the same base of volunteers, who know what to do, and really believe in the event. We also have things to do like hiring security.

6. What inspires you about heavy metal?
The diversity is probably what kept me around it so long. From listening to Black Sabbath as a kid, to thrash of Kreator, then death metal of the 1990s of bands like Dismember, then black metal bands like Abigor. I can find enjoyment out of nearly all metal sub-genres. I also like how I’ve made so many good friends from metal.

Merchandise abounds, including musical instruments

Merchandise abounds, including musical instruments

7. Do you listen to multiple metal genres? What attracts you to a specific album, if not genre? What makes a top-notch album for you?
As stated in the previous questions, I do enjoy multiple metal sub-genres. What makes a top-notch album for me is it breaks some sort of boundary. When I listen to the insane, psychedelic vocals of Bethlehem’s “Dictius Te Necare” or the neo-classic melodic riffs of Dissection’s “Storm of the Light’s Bane.” I am looking for an album that adds something new.

8. How did you become a heavy metal fan? What led to you working in a music store? Were the two related?
I was raised on hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. It was a natural step for me to move to thrash and then death metal. I used to buy all of my music at Blue Meannie Records. I got to know the crew that worked there, by being a customer and I got a job there when there was an opening. Unfortunately, the crash of the music business forced the store to close it’s doors.

9. What should people bring to a swap meet, and what should they expect?
If you don’t have a table, you can still bring in some things and try to trade them with vendors. You will want to bring some cash for merchandise, food, and beer. If you are in a band, feel free to bring in stickers, promo CDs and anything else that you would like to give away. We have a table of free stuff for anyone to take. Expect to explore 3 rooms, filled with metal vendors and artists. This is a social gathering, and there are crowds, so don’t expect to get through it real fast.

A family-friendly environment

A family-friendly environment

10. When is the next SDMSM, and how should people stay on top of news about it?
The next San Diego Metal Swap Meet will be on Saturday, May 7th, 2016 from 11 AM to 5 PM at Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center, 3925 Ohio Street, San Diego, CA 92104. The best way to keep updated at the moment is to like our Facebook page.

Fleshgod Apocalypse releases first single from King

Today sees the release of “The Fool”, which is definitely the first single from Fleshgod Apocalypse’s upcoming King, and apparently the first time they’ve ever released a promotional single. It certainly seems to cast the band’s music in a poppier light than you’d expect from the rest of the marketing material; consonant orchestral sections and generic melodeath progressions alternate in rapid succession with occasional clean choruses making for an especially basic experience. It seems as if Fleshgod Apocalypse’s modus operandi is to shock and awe potential customers with the novelty of their sound and the clear technical and organizational aptitude that it takes to perform it. If you end up converted and purchase the entire album (which you should be able to starting on February 5th, 2016), don’t be surprised if you tire of it after only a few tracks.