The days are getting shorter, the leaves are falling, the amplifiers are cranking to 11… It’s ROCKTOBER, everybody! To commemorate this merry month of rock, here’s a round-up of excellent new metal releases.
Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World
Elder formed a decade ago to create heavy metal music themed specifically to the legend of Conan the Barbarian. Now, beyond the usual Game of Thrones addiction, I haven’t really gone deep for dark fantasy since my teenage years, so consider me as surprised as anyone to find myself air-guitaring incessantly to Elder’s latest album. The Massachusetts band updates a 1970s-style, pre-thrash style of heavy metal that scaffolds exquisite riff upon exquisite riff into heart-racing guitar heroism. I hear the misty mountain wallop of Led Zeppelin, the classical fretwork of Yes’s Steve Howe, even the romantic chug of Jeff Buckley’s (oddly underrated) guitar playing in these epic tracks. Reflections Of A Floating World conjures the adrenalized to-and-fro of swordplay, all from the convenience of your iPhone or car stereo.
Briqueville make crushing, mostly instrumental tracks that extend past the 10-minute mark into narrative territory. Their second album (II, natch) could accompany a grim Cormac McCarthy novel quite well. You got your evocations of a post-apocalyptic collapse of humanity, while unexpected major chords open the whole thing up to moods simultaneously eerie, expansive, and emotional. Technically their style is “post-metal,” but that’s just semantics; these mysterious Belgians will smash your skull to pieces at several points on this album.
Sunrot find sufficient despair and abomination in the real world to inspire some of the most pounding, vein-bulging sludge metal I’ve heard in awhile. The sonics on this New Jersey band’s debut album Sunnata are noteworthy; guitars are appealingly “blackened,” drums kick the solar plexus hard, and spoken-word recordings are skillfully inserted here and there to intimate the collective experience of human tragedy. (A sample of Dionne Warwick’s “(Theme From) The Valley of the Dolls” surfaces to surprising effect.) The whole thing sounds especially urban, like dried blood on concrete. Sunrot play the music you hear when you face the grim certainty that you’re about to get into a bloody brawl with neo-nazis.
BONUS REVIEW: Heavy Metal (music from the motion picture)
Rhino Records is joining in the Rocktober celebrations by releasing several limited edition vinyl reissues all month, one of which is this essential soundtrack to the 1981 midnight movie. Notwithstanding the appearance of two different songs titled “Heavy Metal” (by Sammy Hagar and ex-Eagle Don Felder), the titular movie and soundtrack recall a time when the expression “heavy metal” connoted a whole countercultural imaginary, not just a style of hard rock — thus the presence of tracks by Devo and Stevie Nicks. The soundtrack lean heavily on previously released recordings; their inclusion on this aesthetically thematic compilation sometimes eclipses their original album (Blue Öyster Cult’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” seems to have been begging to feature in an animated science fiction movie). Original tracks are especially strong; Cheap Trick’s albums around this time weren’t as good as their two tracks here, while Donald Fagen’s “True Companion” (his very first recording released after Steely Dan) is a yacht-rock treasure. Me, I return to this soundtrack for the journeymen AOR rock bands it compiles, like Riggs, Nazareth, and Trust — the last a French rock band who nods to the original source for this film, the French comic magazine Heavy Metal.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.