bITS 'N CHUNKS
Twelve years (no shit!) after their formation and the metal community is still out on Ghost.
Are they more gimmick than music? Is T___as F___e running game on all of us? Are they actually metal? These are mere philosophical questions in the end; me, personally, I've outed myself as a metal purist a couple of times so to classify Ghost as, say, "doom metal" is a bit painful to me.
But death 'n doom is what the band pays stock in (in addition to hilarious dark mockery of Catholic institutions) and I'm not going to tell them what to identify as. There are times when I honestly just don't care because the music is good. Ghost especially caters to the part of me that loves camp and kayfabe. I just wrote two fucking heartfelt wrestling entries in a row, I obviously don't take everything super serious.
That being said, I'm going to my 2nd Ghost concert in just a few days here. My first encounter with the nameless ghouls and their Papa was a couple of years ago at good ol' Marathon Music Works. Then, they were leaning heavily into their psychedelic period even as the 3rd incarnation of Emeritus (Papa III) brought in a new era of sleazy late 70s/early 80s inspired cock rock. The floor was hazy, the lights swirled, and everyone smelled like incense. I don't think I needed to bathe for a few weeks. The stage show was fantastic and already gearing towards something a little more theatrical, so for Rats on the Road I'm not terribly surprised they're hitting the theater circuit.
I've held off on video and indulging in a lot of fan lore to be able to enjoy the show as it is: a show. Anything that you have to read three volumes of back story, for example, to "understand" is playing games. But in preparation, I'm taking time out to mistily and fondly remember Ghost's first official album, Opus Eponymous. This record cemented me as a fan for life, is still my preferred period, and the peak moment where gimmick and musicality collided into the perfect mesh of doom, trad metal, and unironic Satan worship. Finally, the music your parents ASSUMED you were always listening to, now made flesh!
All band lore and singer controversy aside, Opus Eponymous still wins me over with its blend of melody, chugging early-Sabbath tendencies, and Gothic horror. Songs about the fallen archangel himself are augmented with odes to Countess Bathory and the Beatles. And... ABBA, because they are Swedish and who doesn't love a good folk melody? Anyway, it seemed like from this point on Ghost could do no wrong and by the time "Year Zero" rolled out they were well on their way to actual annunciation. Popestar and parts of Meliora were steps back, showing off Papa's pipes but not furthering too much else. But even while he new regime under Cardinal Copia (who is NOT using his boom box enough) is giving me Spinal Tap vibes, but I'm hoping Prequelle can turn us around. I'm just hoping by this time next year they will have gone full Queen-meets-Alice-Cooper, utilizing some kind of gilded guillotine as part of the act, no?
Dare I say black-black metal.
Well, ship mates, I intended to do this post a LOT earlier in the month, but like quite a bit in my life this cruel quarter of the year it fell by the wayside. BUT I refuse to be late at least in my own time zone, so I wanted to present you all with my favorite subject to digest during February: black people in places we don't usually belong!
As you might realize from my tags and music posts, I'm a big metal fan. Specifically, speed/thrash, groove, some of the early nu-metal when it was still cool and not at all derivative, industrial (and regular Industrial), prog... I could go on. I am and always will be some sort of metal trash.
But in the year of our lord T'Challa 2018, I don't need to tell you that POC representation in the metal scene is... lacking. Ironically, not really in the audience itself, but still on stage. I and many (many) others whether as hobbyists or professionals do these lists of black people in metal every so often and each year it's a struggle. At one point it was so bad that every black-specific list had to be expanded out to include everyone black and brown for coverage. I feel like for every ten years there is one or two more new bands that crop up. A lot of the problem is exposure but a bigger part of the problem that's KIND of getting solved is simply location. For example, a few years ago we learned that many African countries have quite large metal scenes. Do Americans see this? Probably not. Do people in Canada know about goregrind in China or Trinidad & Tobago? I'm willing to bet "no" unless they're on the look out for it.
So, there's that. What do these lists do? Bring attention to the issue and, hopefully, encourage you to go find more for yourself. Finding lists like this and trailing down the bunny hole definitely helped me find my way as a young'un and made the world seem less lonely, so I wish to pass that on to others. For more, I suggest BandCamp and the extremely arbitrary but useful Metal Archives. For reading I suggest Laina Dawes' What Are You Doing Here? memoir.
Now, before you hit the Read More you might be wondering, why black people specifically? There are groupings of all POC in music scenes out there, this seems a little specific. And the true answer to that is, representation and visibility matter E V E R Y W H E R E, I like to see people like me enjoying the things I enjoy, and lastly, why the hell not.
So here we go, a short list of black-black metal artists that inspired my young life. Oh, and song recs.
Labels and the general culture of us vs poseurs taught me not to trust anyone that gives themselves an actual category. I know, that's stupid but it was a big thing back in The Day™.
Why? Because labels put you in a box and meant you were a puppet. If you voluntarily called yourself glam metal then we already knew what you were all about and there was no room for anything else. That's why to this day a lot of older goths still hiss at the "goth" label, because of what it is and what it has become. When you get tired of explaining things to people, it's easier to distance yourself.
The only people that I know of that lean head first into categorization is metal heads and punks and even that is not always a given. You can find generic headbangers anyway and most of them will definitely let you know, but there's a lot of us that hate subcategories for example. Punks are…well, punks. A lot of us don't care either.
Now, depending on how old you are you probably had to re-read that last part. Did you just refer to "us" as both punks and metalheads? Yes, there was a time when those two categories mixed like cesium and water. Labels suddenly matter a lot when you need to know what club to go to so you don't get your ass kicked.
That being said, with that kind of history it's weird to think at some point punks and metalheads would meet, agree, shake hands, and not murder each other. But it happens all the time. Goths and rockabilly stray cats met up for gothabilly or psychobilly and that's kind of weird. Apparently the meeting of minds of metal and hardcore punk was crossover.
Live video of "The Mob Goes Wild" courtesy of YouTube user HiDef ROCK, all I have for you are blurry pictures. On to the belated review.
Well then. I went to a concert and felt old.
A moment of forethought went into my purchasing tickets for this show. Clutch? Fine, saw them on the last Psychic Warfare run around through these parts. Back then, they brought Corrosion of Conformity in tow. This time was The Obsessed -- the pinnacle of old school doom metal -- and Devin Townsend, the peak of progressive operatic something-something metal that doesn't take itself terribly serious. Surely you've heard Ziltoid by now.
A moment of forethought, then things became strange. The Obsessed and Clutch seem like a similar fit to each other. Even if The Obsessed is the bigger band for me I definitely understand why Clutch is headlining. I'm glad they brought them along. But Devin stuck out to me -- what in the world was uppity prog rock doing at a stoner metal concert for us bottomfeeders? Devin has two speeds: melodic heavy and heavy fast. That seemed incongruent to the ceremony that we were about to witness. Then I thought, I could definitely see Clutch touring with Devin as both have a quirky sense of humor and penchant for sci-fi, but that leaves out dead ass serious The Obsessed. What…? Where…? When and how?
I don’t put together tour packages, I just buy the tickets. And so I sat on them for a clean month. I took my first vacation day in years, and I was off to the rare, coveted Saturday show at Marathon Music Works.
Ah, Marathon. My second home. I've hit this venue officially more than any of my other frequent haunts in the city. I'm trying to get back to the Exit/In one of these days and I'm starting to feel a little out of touch with The End. I save the big money for the War Memorial Auditorium and the Municipal. I'll never get into the Ascend Amphitheater. But Marathon is just right. There's almost always a little something there for me, it's accessible enough in terms of pricing, and it's close enough for a $10 Lyft ride from my house. So there.
A word on accessibility before I go on, though: please be considerate of people with physical disabilities and don't close off pathways for them just so you can scurry up to your favorite band like ten feet away. Don't be that asshole. Thanks.
So I get to the show and I realize no one asked for my ID. Do I, the oldest twentysomething, finally look my age? No, it's an all-ages show! This is fantastic and a curse at the same time. On one hand, most of my scenes are dying and could use some fresh blood. If a ten year old is interested enough in The Obsessed to headbang and drone alone, I am all for it. I will buy you as many sodas as you want. But as the night went on and a few drunken participants got in their feelings, as Devin randomly and deliberately caressed his own nipples on stage and shot mucous, I thought to myself, "how on Earth do you explain this in your back to school essay?"
I'm no one's moral guardian. All told, the weirdness aside, I hope those kids have fun and come back. We need more all-ages events to be honest. Can't yell at the kids for listening to Justin Bieber or whoever is relevant now if you don't give them an alternative. After all, I've been listening to this music since I was their age, too.
The Obsessed was loud and menacing. I was so happy to be at the front to watch Scott do his thing and bellow hatred at me. There was so much smoke and red light I was pretty sure I was being ferried right into Hell. They played a short set, but long enough to make an impact and Devin and Clutch singer Neil Fallon were cool enough to stress supporting them with merch sales. Merch sales are important for touring bands, folks. Sometimes you just have to buy a hat so someone else can eat that night.
If Clutch is the more mainstream band here then Devin is the most pop. Yeah, I said it. DTP combines pop sensibilities with fine progressive craft, a touch of actual Industrial metal as Lord Al Jourgensen intended it, and just being entertaining as all get out. It ended up being a cathartic, bright experience and heavy on the more bombastic tracks from Addicted, Epicloud, and new album Transcendence.
Ah, Marathon was packed but so cold at this point thanks to the weather and being in a warehouse. Even bundled up I couldn't shake the mix of exhilarated goosepimples and "fuck I'm cold" chills. I rub my aching neck with my ice block hands; feels good, but helped one thing and not the other. I was now less sore and cold. I look around at the little headbangers and the people older than me running off adrenaline and I feel ancient. I shifted and shuffled around the audience a bit until I was at the very end of the audience for Clutch. A trick at the Marathon for fellow shorties is to stand at the very edge and angle yourself; you can see the whole stage unobstructed now. Even if they can't hear you, the sentiment of "excuse me" and "I'm sorry" still carry a long way when maneuvering around.
"We Need Some Money" by Chuck Brown signals the main event. Clutch finally takes the stage bathed in more red light and smoke, but they're far from the menacing doom that The Obsessed brought. Clutch is like a fine medium between DTP and The Obsessed: serious but a serious good time, somewhat foreboding but more tongue-in-cheek. They can do a little progressive jam. I'd dare put them closer to Voivod if they weren't such a boot-scooting, blues-y good time. Oh yes, I danced. I paid for it but damnit I danced. This set list wasn't as Psychic Warfare-heavy this time around but it's also the second (or maybe even third) leg of the tour, the album's been out since 2015 so hopefully you've caught it by now. If you haven't, well, enjoy this Clutch retrospective.
I snuck out of the show near the end of Clutch's set. I glimpsed a few drunken exclamations. But you know what, in the end it's alright. I had a good time and that's what it means to go out. I pulled my ear plugs out and soaked in the night air and the night cold, shivering with equal parts excitement and the effects of the below-20 weather outside. I'm so glad I got to see two bands off my bucket list and Clutch for a second time. My concert season is over for the year, but January and February are already looking up. Here's to another year of youth and the scene which refuses to die.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...