A little over a year ago I made the realization that Paste needed more heavy metal in its life. But what the hell do I know? Fortunately the people who do know things, and make the decisions, and write the checks, agreed with me, and Paste’s first and only monthly metal column HEAVIÖSITY kicked off in September of 2015.
It’s been sort of a blur. But if I recall correctly I wrote about some killer metal records. I premiered tracks from Tiny Knives and Muscle & Marrow. I pondered why Nancy Wilson doesn’t get proper respect as a guitarist. I interviewed VHÖL/Hammers of Misfortune guitarist John Cobbett, White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult, and Leila Abdul-Rauf of Vastum. And, holy shit, I hung out with original-and-best-Kiss guitarist Ace-fucking-Frehley Whoa, this is the greatest monthly metal column ever! Well done, Paste.
Also, thank you for reading.
Black Sabbath, the band that invented heavy metal, is winding down, which will leave us only with their records and thousands of bands that still try to sound like them. I weaseled my way in to see them on a recent stop on their “The End” tour, which as of now will conclude Feb. 4 in their birthplace of Birmingham, England. I saw Sabbath 11 years ago at Ozzfest and thought they sounded great, but I was happy to help give the band a proper sendoff.
Now I’m not super militant about the whole Bill Ward thing (although, seriously, what the fuck is up with Sabbath erasing him from every photo on their website?), but I did go into the show cautiously, as I do with most legacy acts—although I’m not sure why I’d be so leery since recent performances by Van Halen, Rush and AC/DC (and Cheap Trick and Iron Maiden) have been amazing. Sabbath was also incredible. The fact everything was tuned down, and played maybe a hair slower, made the songs sound heavier and even more evil—not that they need any help; their 1970 debut is still the most frightening piece of music ever put to tape.
Opener “Black Sabbath” began with a slow, bloody crawl, which almost threw me off. Ozzy himself was a little off at first, but he ended up singing the best he has in years. Geezer Butler played his bass like a Zen master and Tony Iommi worked his usual magick (I was lucky enough to be situated stage left). Drummer Tommy Clufetos was rock solid, but lacked that Ward swing, and his drum solo—most likely giving Ozzy some time with the oxygen mask—was too long, and too busy.
Hearing the band crush “Snowblind” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep”—oh, and “Dirty Women”—was pure, technical ecstasy. No one in that audience left disappointed. And if they did, may the hand of doom strike them down. Long live Black Sabbath!
Opeth – Sorceress (Nuclear Blast)
Opeth pulls out all the prog maneuvers on their latest record, and that isn’t a bad thing. Tull and Purple come through clearly, and guitarist-vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt follows suit by keeping his vox clear as day. Sorceress is the band’s first fully committed prog record, although it’s something they’ve been lovingly embracing since 2011’s Heritage. “The Wilde Flowers” and “Chrysalis” are silken slabs of stately prog rock. And although fans seem divided, the keyboards and metal riffs don’t have a problem with one another.
Rotör – Musta Käsi (Svart Records)
Punk-infused thrash like our granddaddies Metallica and Angel Witch used to play. The riffs are jagged, the energy high. Yes, it’s been done before, but who’s really paying attention when you’re having this much fun?
Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Relapse)
Somewhere between NWOBHM and American power metal is Sumerlands, whose debut is loaded with guitar candy. The riffs are crisp and catchy, and the twin guitar attack of Arthur Rizk (Power Trip, Eternal Champion) and John Powers bring to mind RATT’s Robbin Crosby and Warren DeMartini with some Screaming For Vengeance-era Priest. Yeah…riffs. And songs. And grins.
Oathbreaker – Rheia (Deathwish)
OK, let’s get right to it—vocalist Caro Tanghe does some insane vocal contortions on Oathbreaker’s third record, Rheia. It’s really what separates the band from Deafheaven, to which they’re already getting comparisons. Her blood-curdling screams are the stuff of nightmares, but man, the layered clean vocals on the verses in “Immortals” are sweeter than hanging out with Tiffany and Debbie Gibson at a D.A.R.E. party.
Neurosis – Fires Within Fires (Neurot)
Neurosis just celebrated 30 years, which is unbelievable unto itself. But the fact they’re still making music that’s intense and challenging is godly. Scott Kelly hinted at new material when I interviewed him last year while he was in the middle of a solo tour. He called the new material psychedelic and super heavy, which is an apt description for Fires Within Fires. There’s plenty of cerebrating here, but Neurosis pummels more than they have in years, which is reason to celebrate.
Nazareth – Hair of the Dog (1975)
Crowbar – The Serpent Only Lies (2016)
Fleetwood Mac – Mirage (1982)
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
Hawkwind – Levitation (1980)
Mark Lore is peeking out from his hibernation on Twitter.