Third time’s the charm, I guess. We’ve dipped two times into the Binder of Forgotten Metal, and there’s just enough magic darkness left for a final call. It’s been a trip revisiting some of these records (not so much others, thank you Kalas), finding the bits and pieces that stitched together reveal a step of the journey I’ve been on as a metalhead for over 35 years. So there’s mix of nostalgia and sadness as we close the book on this particular Nine Circles ov…series and the memories the music unearthed.
So let’s crack the binding one more time, dust off those square covers and see what’s hiding in the back pages one more time…
Darkane – Expanding Senses: About the only thing I remembered from this 2002 slice of melodic death thrash was the cover. It’s probably still the best thing about the album, which works that muscular European melo-death that In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and others trafficked in, although the sound here is a little harsher and somewhat disjointed. “Fatal Impact” features a nice solo halfway through the maelstrom, but the songs suffer from a compression that rips away all the dynamics: there’s a flatness where nothing pops, even when the songwriting is strong. I vaguely recall their 2005 follow-up Layers of Lies being a stronger effort, but there’s nothing on Expanding Senses to be ashamed of, even if the music doesn’t really move beyond what was popular at the time.
Verdict: Solid metal with some nice tuneful moments amidst the thrash, but nothing that really draws me to bring it out again.
Asguard – Dreamslave: You got your symphonic black metal in my industrial/gothic hybrid death metal! What’s a boy to do? I have no idea what prompted the purchase of this…maybe it was a good review in Decibel? I’m surprised actually at how much I’m digging the tunes, triggered drums aside. There’s some interesting folk elements, and the mash-up of industrial and goth with the more symphonic parts don’t feel nearly as corny as I suspected. There’s a neoclassical vibe to everything (the album is separated by movements) that’s impressive in its ambition, something I guess carried over into their next album Dreamslave…Awakening so maybe there’s a whole thematic thing going on? I don’t know, but there’s enough fun on the original 2005 Dreamslave to keep me entertained.
Verdict: I’m feeling generous, and the symphonic black elements tickle me, so I think I can find a place for this on the proper shelves.
James Murphy – Feeding the Machine: On the other hand, I definitely know the reason why I picked this up. Between Death’s Spiritual Healing and Obituary’s Cause of Death James Murphy became my extreme metal guitar hero. Put him together with Steve DiGiorgio and Deen Castranovo and you have the foundation for a massive band, even if I wasn’t so keen on Murphy’s output as Disincarnate. Feeding the Machine came out in 1999, and despite the metal pedigree in both the core band and the musical guests (Chuck Billy also makes an appearance) this feels more akin to the guitar virtuoso records that came out in the late 80s as opposed to something more modern. The chops are amazing even when the songwriting is weak – you have a lot of angular riffs and syncopation when Murphy isn’t channeling Testament riffs (the odd thing is how much “No One CaN Tell You” feels more like classic Testament as opposed to the later incarnation Murphy actually contributed to) or frantically keeping pace with his cover of Al Di Meola’s “Race With Devil On Spanish Highway.” There’s no denying the chops Murphy can bring to bear, but after a while you get the sense that every amazing solo sits in the middle of a middling song.
Verdict: Fun to revisit every once in a blue moon, but I’ll stick to my Death and Obituary albums.
Engine – Superholic: I make no bones about the fact that – much as I love Awaken the Guardian – Ray Alder is and will always be my Fates Warning vocalist. He’s probably one of my favorite vocalists, period. Problem is, at the time Fates Warning were taking a ridiculously long time putting albums out, and at least earlier on Alder wasn’t as heavily involved in the songwriting as he had been on later albums. So needing an outlet or at the very least something to do he joined Redemption which satisfied the epic proggy power side of things, and he formed Engine, which covered the shorter, heavier bursts of music. The songs, like opener “Losing Ground” are punchy blasts of power that feel like the heavy moments of Fates Warning without the detours into straight prog. It really doesn’t matter, because it has what I want in spades: Ray Alder singing his damn ass off with hooks and choruses I can jam for weeks in my car. Oh shit, did I mention there’s a cover of the Cure’s “Fascination Street” on here? For better or worse, there is!
Verdict: Terrible cover aside, this brings back every reason why I love Alder’s voice so much. Promoted for when I need something shorter than a 70 minute FW record.
Mindgrinder – Riot Detonator: Let’s get one thing clear – music aside, Mindgrinder is an awesome name for a metal band. This came out in – you guessed it – 2005, so you can imagine what it sounds like. Yup, it’s a death/thrash melange with rebellious lyrics and some not-so-subtle electronic bleeps and bloops thrown in. I guess there was a first album with a drum machine? I can’t imagine what that sounded like. Here at least you get real drums. There’s some real aggression here, nothing that’s earth-shattering, but unlike the Darkane which treads similar ground there’s a robustness on Riot Detonator that benefits the worn ground it’s treading. Tracks like “Pathetic Submission” and “Hellfire” have a groove that keeps things interesting. Again, you’re not going to hear the second coming of metal here, but what’s on display has bite, and that’s what counts.
Verdict: Sure, why the hell not toss this in a mix…you’ll dig it.
Oceansize – Everyone into Position: Maybe the last metal thing on here, Oceansize’s 2005 (haha) blurs the line between post-metal and alternative rock. It strikes the same balance that bands like Open Hand, Porcupine Tree and others did in the mid 00s: heavy in emotion rather than guitars (although let’s pour one out for how damn amazing Open Hand’s You and Me is), slowly rolling in longer song lengths to better embody the shoegaze/post-rock atmosphere of tracks like opener “The Charm Offensive” and “Music for a Nurse” which yeah borrows heavily from Radiohead, but if you’re going to emulate someone might as well be one of the best, right? Vocalist Mike Vennart has some incredible pipes that carry the beautiful enveloping music Oceansize create, and isn’t afraid to let a hook or two in, as on the catchy “Heaven Alive.” It might be a little too long for its own good (most albums like this are) but what’s here is a prog/psychedelic rock jam that works.
Verdict: This was probably a little too long and sedate for 32-year old me. It’s working like gangbusters for 44-year old me.
Dim Mak – Knives of Ice: Gnarly, pummeling death metal that flirts but never commits completely to being a “tech-death” band Dim Mak came out the demise of the band Ripping Corpse. Owing allegiance to the kind of American death metal Morbid Angel put on the map Knives of Ice leans a little more toward making sure you can hear everything the band is playing, and what it’s playing is killer. Like everything I wish the production was a little more robust, punching me in the face instead of cutting me at the knees, but the sheer amount of ideas on display on tracks like “Great Worm of Hell” more than make up for it. I don’t know why I ever put this in the binder – if anything maybe it’s that second track “Seeing Crows in Silver” is pretty terrible and cuts the impact of the album. But further on you get to “Notorious Vectors of Disease” and you know all is well with the world. I don’t know how much of this I need in my life but listening now there’s a lot to pump your fist to.
Verdict: Snap your neck thrashing to this, then put it back on the shelf where it belongs.
Threat Signal – Under Reprisal: I listened to the first minute of opening track “Rational Eyes” and thought to myself, “Well, this is a bit djenty for my tastes, but it’s pretty heavy…I wonder why I put it in the binder?” And then I hit the chorus. Oof. If this is what the kids are calling metalcore I’ll have to take my ball and go home. Lots of histrionics and clean choruses and slight industrial elements that recall Linking Park and Fear Factory. Halfway through the second song I recalled exactly why I put this in the binder. This sounds like so much of what 2005 was all about and it’s a damn shame. You can hear some ideas, but they’ve completely undermined by the trend of the time.
Verdict: Back to the binder from whence you came.
Embrace the End – Counting Hallways to the Left: See what I did there? Embrace the End! This is the last entry! I kill me sometimes, but seriously, what the hell is this? Another 2005 album, another metalcore album, although this one more fully embracing the concept and injecting a start-stop cadence with every breakneck riff. No clean vocals, but also nothing that is really distinguishing them from the stuff Despised Icon was putting out around the same time. Breakdowns, screams that occasionally devolve to grunts and wailing but mainly stick to screams. Which is weird considering there are two vocalists. Why do you have two vocalists if the singing is that similar? If this sounds negative, I’m currently enjoying the chaos of “Carbombs and Conversations” so maybe not all is lost with Embrace the End. I’ll let you be the judge.
Verdict: Didn’t you read the last line? You be the judge!
And with that, he lay his head down, ear buds in as the sound of a de-tuned guitar plugged into a solid state amp chugged and stopped and chugged again in his head. It was 2005, he was still in his 30s, and all was well in the world. Somewhere a binder is closed, and the world moves on.
With the exception of Darkane’s Expanding Senses, everything listed here should be readily available on your preferred streaming platform.