A Poser’s Playlist – Essential Listening for the New and the Lazy
Back on August 19, I posted a collaborative Spotify playlist to the TovH Facebook group and asked our fine community to add albums they deemed to be essential listening for someone looking to explore the classics and the greats of metal (i.e. me). Any genre. Any period. The one catch is that I only allowed two albums per artist. Any album added to the list I had already heard would also be thrown out.
Let me tell you, flushers, there’s a lot of really obvious shit I had not heard. My pose was showing HARD. Though in the end, are we not all posers in one sense or another? I mean besides, like, Lemmy or Halford.
Most of what was added to the playlist is death metal, because death metal is an incredibly rich genre with an almost excessive amount of essential material. Nevertheless, I’ve endeavored to include at least a couple of other genres in these few highlights that you may or may not be intimately familiar with:
Cynic broke up this month. Again. The news got me thinking about how I’d heard about this record over and over again from fellow metalheads whom I respect. So what was my big fat problem? I don’t know, but here we are 22 years later, and I’m bursting into an empty room like HAY Y’ALL HERD THAT CYNIC?? Focus is what modern progressive death metal bands try and mostly fail to achieve (both the album and the action). Just the bass guitar alone on this thing is enough to make most of these bands sit down and cry. The originality on display here is immediately evident, and once your brain grasps what’s happening, the hooks are in forever. This, like every other album I will talk about here, has been reviewed to death, so I’ll just say this – don’t be a fool like me. Go listen to this now.
I’m coming to grips at this point with the pure, distilled self-hatred I felt the first time this album started playing. This might be my favorite death metal album now. And it’s been out there since 1991? What even is my life at this point? Like An Everflowing Stream is what I’ve been unknowingly craving every time I listen to death metal. The songs achieve a perfect balance of crackling energy and dark-as-soot atmosphere, with brilliant guitar leads and original, shifty riffs that groove like a thing that is really good at grooving. The riff beginning at 3:13 on “Override of the Overture” is heavy metal nirvana, and it’s just one of many equally incredible moments on one of death metal’s most perfect records.
Since the terrible news of drummer Kiddie Kearns’ passing at the way-too-young age of 38, I took it upon myself to become more familiar with Bolt Thrower and added a couple of their most highly recommended albums to the playlist myself. I don’t remember which album it was that I heard first so many years ago, but it did absolutely nothing for me. So I wrote them off and moved on with my pathetic life. Whatever it was, it wasn’t Realm of Chaos, because this album does everything for me. I think the only other band I’ve heard that comes close to achieving this perfect of a guitar tone is Triptykon (which is also essential listening, by the way). Though back in 1989 no one else was writing death metal like this, it has become clear to me in the last few weeks the sheer volume of Bolt Thrower copycat bands I’ve heard in my life, and I’m pretty sure they were all listening to this record. That’s a whole lot of flattery. Pay special attention to the drumming, and remember one of the greats.*
If you’re a fan of filthy, angry sludge/doom in the vein of Indian, Keeper, or Lord Mantis, you have some hat tipping to do here. Grief did it first, and Grief did it very fucking well. The riffs are slow and repetitive, heaving under the weight of so much guilt and hatred as to never quite get off the ground. But on the ground is where this music belongs. Writhing in the mud and guts of human suffering. Researching the history of this album, it’s clear the world wasn’t quite ready to Come to Grief in 1994, but 2015 is as good a time as any to show some love.
If you’re nerdy enough, you’ll recognize “Cirith Ungol” as the name of the giant spider Shelob’s lair in Lord of the Rings. With that in mind, you probably have a pretty good idea of what kind of metal we’re dealing with here. And you’re almost right, except instead of power metal, it’s actually a concoction of traditional heavy metal and doom. So really you’re not almost right at all. Anyway, King of the Dead is home to some of the tastiest riffs and guitar solos known to metal, and vocalist Tim Baker’s badass pipes. This is hanging-in-the-parking-lot, roach-smoking, brown-bagging, bright-white-high-top-wearing heavy metal done so right. Your inner nerd deserves this.
That was only 5 of over 100 albums (and counting) on the playlist. And yes, it’s still public and it’s still collaborative, which means you can add anything you deem truly essential as long as you observe my two album per artist limit. Since this is now a community playlist and no longer just about me, I won’t even delete the albums I’ve already heard. Go nuts (within reason) and make this a kick ass resource.
*Thanks to KSOFM for pointing out that Andrew Whale was the drummer for Realm of Chaos and not Kiddie Kearns. I told you I was a poser.