REVIEW: Ghost – “Spillways” featuring Joe Elliott (2023)

GHOST – “Spillways” featuring Joe Elliott (2023 Loma Vista)

One of the best songs of 2022 gets a new life courtesy of Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott, who comes in on the second verse.  Ghost have evolved into quite the arena rock band, and Joe’s touch cements this even further.  The Leppard frontman chose Ghost’s Impera as his #1 album of 2022, so maybe you should check out what the man was so excited about?

5/5 stars

#987: The Summer Awakens

RECORD STORE TALES #987: The Summer Awakens

It’s official:  the earliest swim on record for any summer at the lake is May 13!  If you don’t believe in global warming, then I can tell you that past weekends in early May, we were snuggled up in jackets and long pants.  This year, early May was as warm as early July used to be.  What an incredible weekend.  Clear and sunny until late Saturday.  By then we were indoors waiting for the Toronto Maple Leafs to once again exit the playoffs in the first round.  But I’m jumping head of myself!

Traffic was light but the music was heavy.  Albums for the drive up:

As expected, both were awesome on the road.  There was no clear winner.  Interestingly, Jennifer liked “Roots In My Boots” by Scorpions, which I considered a bit of a throwaway.  Regardless, both albums did well on the highway and rocked us safely to the cottage in two hours.

First music on the porch:

  • Kathryn Ladano – Open

Not a new release, but since the good Doctor was next door, it felt right to serenade her with some of her best music!

From there we settled in with the first hot dogs of the year, and I began to prep for my show that night (Top 11 Star Wars movies) by watching The Phantom Menace.  10 years ago, the only way to do that would be to bring a DVD and watch it on the laptop.  If we wanted to watch a Star Wars movie 30 years ago, we needed to bring the tape and a VCR!  Everything is so easy now, but dependent on a good internet connection.  That connection enabled me to do the first cottage show of the year, and a success it was.  I experimented with some new lighting and it worked way better than last year after sundown.  A successful show — and one of the best we’ve ever done.   Certainly one of my favourites.

It’s always hard to sleep after a caffeinated show like that.  I got four or five hours, and was up and at ’em early Saturday.  It was so quiet.  Most cottagers have not opened yet — their loss!  They were not able to listen when I rocked Kiss on the front porch on Saturday.  Kiss albums this weekend included Dynasty, Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, Peter Criss, and Rock and Roll Over.

I made fish for breakfast (trout) and went to go pick up my new bass from neighbor Donna.  Her brother was Don Simmons of Helix, and this bass used to belong to him.  It is my honour to play it on the porch in his memory.  Although I use the word “play” very loosely.  I have never played bass before and can only “barely” play guitar as it is.  It took some time to get used to the size of the body.  Even the neck felt huge.  But it sounded great and really rumbled the porch.

I made chicken and steaks on the barbecue and burned up a bunch of old wood — without losing my glasses this time.  After being on my feet all day Saturday, I took it easy in the evening, missing the bright orange sunset.  I had been on my feet all day and it felt good to rest up in the evening.

We departed for home early Sunday.  Albums for the road home:

These albums, Priest especially, gave me some serious retro vibes, as if I had stepped into a time machine and was 16 again.  I had this happen numerous times last year, and I wrote about that feeling in multiple previous chapters.  It’s a very intense feeling, as if I was no longer living in the year 2022, but had stepped into 1987 again.  It felt as real as the steering wheel in my hands.  Looks like this summer will be no different.  Lots of flashbacks in store!

An excellent start to what I hope will be an amazing year.

REVIEW: Ghost – Impera (2022)

GHOST – Impera (2022 Loma Vista)

Ghost have been pretty consistent over the years.  In all honesty the only album of theirs that I seldom spin is their second Infestissumam.  Everything else has been pretty solid to me so hopes were high for the new Impera.  Tobias Forge and Ghost have steadily evolved since Opus Eponymous in 2010.  From their melodic gothic metal origins, Ghost have gradually shed metal elements and replaced them with pop sensibilities.  Impera is most similar to their last album, Prequelle.  Let’s take a deep dive and analyse what Forge and his Nameless Ghouls have come up with this time.

Inspired by the real life rise and fall of empires, but through the lens of 2020, Ghost seem less interested in Satan while remaining fascinated by the dark side.  The idea had been long-simmering in Forge’s skull:  empires, repeating patterns in history, followed by annihilation.  The opening instrumental “Imperium” sets the stage with acoustic and electric guitars, layered in a way that recalls classic 80s Leatherwolf but far more lush.  Then we are suddenly engulfed not in darkness but in Darkness — the opening guitars sound like the British band, and Forge’s opening scream is a dead ringer for Justin Hawkins!  “Kaisarion” could easily have been a Darkness song.  High speed and instantly memorable, it’s the only song that will have you singing words like “Far away from the stench of the heavens,” this summer.  An immediate triumph, “Kaisarion” has it all from wickedly melodic guitars, deep backing vocals and clever instrumental prowess in all corners.  Can’t wait to road test this on a warm day in the car with the windows down.

“Spillways” might recall Trash-era Alice Cooper, with a tremendous amount of attention paid to the incessant melodies.  One after the other, the hooks keep coming.  Be it the vocals, the guitars or hell even the goddamn drums, “Spillways” is nothing but hard catchy rock they way you remember it from ages past.

The dark single “Call Me Little Sunshine” takes a different turn.  A simple spare guitar lick makes up the backbone of the song, with quiet verses and explosive choruses.  “Call me little sunshine, call me Mephistopheles,” sings Forge going full-Faust.  I’ll call it a song that takes a couple listens but will eventually bore its way into your permanent memory.

The second single, “Hunter’s Moon” follows, an upbeat prowl through dark woods.  (This is the single mix, with a more elaborate version included in the film Halloween Kills.)  While an impressive enough song on its own, “Hunter’s Moon” is over quickly, and overshadowed by the awesome “Watcher in the Sky”, a possible contender for album highlight.  Relentless bass and drums set up the biggest boldest chorus on the album.  The lyrics are hard to pin down, speaking of Machiavelli, bloodlines, and the rot of empires.  Possibly about looking to God for salvation but getting no reply.  Regardless of the dark theme, it’s one of the most party-ready tracks on the album.

The horns that blow on “Dominion”, an instrumental interlude, lead to a shocking transition.  “Twenties” is the strangest song on the album and contender for one of Ghost’s most bizarre tunes overall.  Beginning with a dark Metallica “Through the Never”-ish riff, “Twenties” soon transforms into something completely different.  Indescribable and simultaneously existing in the 1920s and 2020s alike.  Not sure if I like ir or not.

“Darkness at the Heart of My Love” is a pretty epic ballad, with suitably epic accompaniment from harpsichord type keys to angelic sonic backdrops.  Choirs of vocals join by the end, heaped on top of guitar harmonies in decadent fashion.  Brightening the mood, the poppy “Griftwood” returns us to a classic hard rock sound circa 1987.  The lyrics offer a critique of organized religion, but in the brightest musical frame.  Forge has leaned heavily into a specific kind of 80s hook of late, and “Griftwood” is soaked in them like cold gin.

A brief instrumental called “Bite of Passage” precedes the final song, “Respite on the Spatialfields”.  The empire has fallen, and Forge asks “I wonder, did no one hear the distant thunder?”  (We did, but we chose to ignore it.)  This complex track might be called a metal ballad, but it’s more progressive than that.  It has elements of Ozzy, Queensryche, Savatage, Whitesnake and Europe’s “The Final Countdown” all rolled into one.  An epic way to close the album.  “Nothing ever lasts forever.”

Musically invigorating and lyrically thought-provoking, Forge has created another memorable Ghost album for the masses.  While we hope the world doesn’t end too soon, and Forge can continue making albums, Ghost have harnessed the musical and apocalyptic themes of the 80s and brought them forth to the present day.  Job well done.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ghost – Opus Eponymous (2010 Japanese import)

GHOST – Opus Eponymous (2010 Rise Above Japanese import)

They could have gone down as a novelty, if the music wasn’t so genuine.  An expert mix of metal, Satan and Abba.  From the gloom of the north came Ghost, led by Papa Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls.  We knew little about the band then, except that they were just too good to have come out nowhere like that.

As Ghost have grown and evolved, the shadow of their first album grows even longer.  Opus Eponymous consisted of an intro, eight gothic keyboard-drenched metal anthems from hell, and one bonus cover track for the Japanese market.  With “Papa’s” true identity wisely obscured at the time, the focus was off the extensive pre-Ghost discography of leader Tobias Forge.  Though elements of his glam and death metal pasts remained, Ghost was truly unique right from their debut.  Forge conjured a fictional backstory for the band in his mind.  He imagined Ghost were a group of older guys.  Active in the 70s, but started playing together in the late 60s.  Very experienced and maybe a little bitter.  Opus Eponymous was not meant to sound like a debut, and it does not.

Like entering a church on a cloudy day, “Deus Culpa” greets you as the light organ drifts through.  But this is no ordinary mass, and the sermon is quite devilish.  Foreboding dissonance and flat chords warn you against entering, but still you go.  Then suddenly the rolling electric bass of “Con Clavi Con Dio” is followed by a blast of guitar and evil organ!

“Lucifer!  We are here for your praise, evil one!” sings Forge with a provocative calm.  What really made Ghost stand out was the juxtaposition of evil metal, with the keyboards and otherworldly, ethereal lead vocals of “Papa Emeritus”.  Choir-like backing vocals and the persistent howl of organ add to the classic horror scene.  Listening to the lyrics, it is clear that Forge knows his subject matter convincingly enough.  But he also knows how to write a song and every second of “Con Clavi Con Dio” delivers some sort of hook, thrill, or chill.  The production is also outstanding in its bare simplicity, compared to later Ghost.

The plinking intro of “Ritual” disguises its true heaviness, at first.  Forge deftly merged a plutonium-heavy riff with light and delicate vocal harmonies.  While you’re being caressed by the sweetest Satanic prayers, you’re also enduring the assault of guitars and bass.  “Ritual” sounds, somehow, like a song that could have emerged from the year 1985, but with the wisdom of future knowledge.  Quite possibly the pinnacle of this album.

Galloping in the dark, “Elizabeth” (long “i”, not short “i”) is among the heaviest tracks despite its melodic chorus.  As a song about a suspected 16th century Hungarian serial killer, it could be one of the less evil songs on the record!  It is followed by the dastardly catchy “Stand By Him”, featuring a very traditional metal guitar solo section.  ”Tis the night of the witch, tonight,” beckons Forge, and you cannot resist his call to this tale of revenge.  (Or justice?)  Then comes in the chopper-like opening guitars of “Satan Prayer”, the most blunt of all the songs.   Yet like the others, impossible to resist, because of impeccable construction from melody and riff.  The clever keyboards and dual guitar solo are a confectionery topping over the robust chug of distortion.

A crack of thunder, the crash of drums, and “Death Knell” is here.  Forge sells the creepy vocal easily, though not difficult given the words as he sings of evil rebirth.  One of the most straight metal of the tracks, and the outro is pure Ozzy.  “Prime Mover” then enters like a warning siren.  Once the smoke has cleared, the bass does its work to level the stragglers.  Forge floats over the waste, ethereal and haunting.

All that’s left on the domestic album is the brilliant instrumental closer “Genesis”.  Apparently it’s a sped-up waltz; I think it’s a piece of hammering progressive brilliance.  The repetitive keyboards provide the melodic hook, and ghostly guitars add to the story.  Not to be left out, the bassline is delicious to listen to.  There’s also a very Sabbath-y acoustic outro.  The rituals are complete and a new evil is born.  An outstanding album closer!

The Japanese CD contains a dark rendition of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”, mournful and sad.  It’s the opposite of the George Harrison original.  Some like it; some feel it’s the worst track on the album.  It does work as a sort of coda, but is probably experienced best separately.

With Opus Eponymous, Ghost arrived.  To their credit they’ve never tried to repeat this exact album.  Instead Ghost continued to explore, a growth personified by adopting the guise of a new singer on every album (Papa II, Papa III etc.), even though they were all played by Tobias Forge!  This remarkable debut is just as valuable as the later more diverse records, perhaps simply because of its more focused singular vision.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ghost – “Hunter’s Moon” (2022 7″ single)

GHOST – “Hunter’s Moon” (2022 Loma Vista 7″ single)

The new Ghost album Impera is almost upon us!  (March 11.)  The group’s sound has changed from album to album, progressing from a gothic metal band with a foot in the past, to something more perversely pop.  Their last album 2018’s Prequelle, pushed further in that direction, with at least one song (“Danse Macabre”) sounding like a keyboard-drenched rock single from back in ’86.  So who knows what we will get this time out?

The single “Hunter’s Moon” from the film Halloween Kills might be a clue. The single version does not appear in the film, but a much more elaborate mix runs during the end credits.  Presumably, the single version will be on Impera as well.

The beat is strong, and the melody is prominent.  The chorus is a little more old-school Ghost, so perhaps the album will be a hybrid of styles.  There’s a cool guitar line and the usual idiosyncratic Tobias Forge vocals.  It sounds like latter-day Ghost with a little of the early thump, and one particularly Sabbathy guitar bend.  Plenty pop, plenty gothic.  Good song though not up there with “Rats” or “Danse Macabre”.

According to Max the Axe:  “All the neat metal tricks save it from being a simple pop song, and transcends it to hook-laden heavy rock.  Lots of breaks and dynamics.”

On the B-side is the Halloween Kills main title theme by John Carpenter.  It’s a variation on the familiar, iconic Halloween piano theme, bare with synth and choir.  A very nice add-on to this cool single.

3.5/5 stars

Saturday Test Stream & ReAction Unboxing

The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano

Episode 62.5 – Unboxing Halford & Testing the Laptop


Went live this afternoon to test out my new laptop. I also tried out a new two-camera setup that worked really well. Introducing: ToyCam!*

We took a close look at the new Rob Halford (Judas Priest, obviously) ReAction figure by Super7.  It’s a sweet figure complete with microphone, whip, and chains!  I also opened up a Twilight Zone Eddie (Iron Maiden), which is a clear figure.  I’ve always had a thing for clear action figures.  And he looked sweet.  And finally, I opened a large size Transformers Devastator which is double the height of the regular ReAction line.

These ReAction figures are inspired by the original 1977-1984 Kenner Star Wars figures.  Similar scale, similar modelling, and completely backwards compatible.  I can have Darth Vader vs. Jean-Luc Picard vs. Rob Halford vs. Papa Emeritus III vs. Alien vs. Andre the Giant in a battle royale if I so choose.**

Enjoy this impromptu but very successful Saturday stream.


* I have summer plans for this dual-camera setup.  With the new laptop and new cottagewifi ready to go this summer, picture this:  SunsetCam.  As we interview the stars, or run down a Nigel Tufnel Top Ten, I can have a dedicated camera just showing the changing landscape as the sun goes down.  It’s going to be awesome.

** Super7 have licenses for so many properties, it’s insane.  In music alone, they have ReAction figures for Lemmy (Motorhead), Slayer, the Misfits, Rancid, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghost, King Diamond, Venom, and Anthrax, with many variations thereof.  And that’s just the music.

Select Sausagefester’s Lists of 2019

You can always trust a Sausagefester to recommend good music. Today I bring you two lists, from Frank the Tank and from Max the Axe’s Stunt Double (also known as “Michael”). Frank listens to more new music than I do, and MTASD sees way more concerts. Enjoy these lists!





“Sorry Mike!  Not sure what happened to the list of songs I was keeping.  I tried to recreate it, but it is a sad attempt at this point.”


“I did miss a lot and the list would change, for example I havn’t seen the new Star Wars yet but i feel confident it would be on the list.”

  • Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • John Wick 3
  • Once Upon a time in Hollywood
  • Knives Out
  • Yesterday







REVIEW: Ghost – “Kiss the Go-Goat” (2019 single)

GHOST – “Kiss the Go-Goat” (2019 Loma Vista 7″ single)

Ghost began as a gothic, Satanic metal experiment.  They grew to include more pop and more humour, and while it hasn’t all been good, most of it has.  In 2019, Papa Nihil and his merry band of Nameless Ghouls have returned with the kitschy single “Kiss the Go-Goat” / “Mary on a Cross”.  It’s not much of a departure from their last album, the excellent Prequelle.

Look at the subtitle on the A-side of the label.  “The long-lost remastered 1969 single.”  That Ghost humour again.

“Kiss the Go-Goat” has a driving organ/guitar riff that is the kind of stuff recent Ghost glory has been based on.  The corny chorus of “Satan, Lucifer…” is far removed from the old orthodox days of “Satan Prayer” and ante-nicean creeds.  But it rocks, solidly and without embarrassment.  A track this good could easily have been on Prequelle.  “Mary on a Cross” doesn’t have the same impact, but is not an also-ran.  It’s a little darker but the recurring organ part is perfectly piquant.

If not for the worrisome possibility (probability?) that these two songs will show up on some kind of future deluxe edition, this single would be an absolute must for all boys & girls, far & wide.  In fact, it has shown up on a very very expensive edition of called Prequelle Exalted, in a disc called Seven Inches of Satanic Panic.  Unless you plan on spending that kind of dough, maybe buying this single is a good option after all.

4/5 stars


#729.7: The Mighty Tom’s Top 16 of 2018

Before we get going on our final list (which is a good one I assure you), I’d like to say a few words about irony.

Every year before we went to a new on-site voting system, Tom would rant and rave about getting our Sausagefest lists in.  “PAY YOUR ROCK AND ROLL TAXES”, went the mantra.  He’d make posts and memes about it.  Hell, I’ve posted some of his memes!


So the irony is, Tom the Taxman was last with his 2018 list for me this year.  That’s all.  Tom, the guy always wanting the lists in early…was last with his list.  

In his defence he said, “Whoa…there was no timeline or due date…as far as I’m concerned I have until the 31st at 11:59.”  He then goes on to throw Uncle Meat under the bus!  “Meat stole most of mine, he didn’t even have a list two weeks ago…”  

That almost sounds like “the dog ate my homework!”  More irony?  Tom’s a teacher!

Onto the mighty list!


TOP 16 OF 2018

16. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
Late comer…just got it yesterday…might be higher on the list after a few more spins…Nothing like this…Devo on coke…and other shenanigans.

15. Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto
Let down? Yes….But if I can hear J.B. belt out , “I’m the Daddy Ding Dong” I’m in!

14. Mos Generator – Shadowlands
Doomy, stonery, riffy, heavy…revolutionary? Nah…just rawk!

13. Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe
A return to form…Wished I liked the Alex Lifeson track more, but it’s a meandering mess…

12. Yes – Fly From Here (Return Flight)
Originally recorded in 2011, this version has Trevor Horn on lead vocals and a couple more bells and whistles. With Horn at the helm it features the lineup that produced 1980’s grossly under-rated Drama album. Any fan of that masterpiece will find much to like here. (But probably not Steve Howe’s vocal debut “Don’t Take No For An Answer” which would work much better as a B-side, or better yet a No-side.)

11. Brant Bjork – Mankind Woman
Is there a cooler dude alive? Probably not. He was a driving force in both Fu Manchu and the mighty Kyuss for fuck sake…This slice of classic heavy rock is direct yet it does have flavours of blues, jazz and even bit of funk that spices it up. Solid rawk!

10. Ghost – Prequelle
Love the sax…hate their homage to Asia, “Dance Macabre”…Overall, Satanic ear honey…which they’ve done better before.

9. Magpie Salute – High Water I
Is it the Black Crowes? Not really…But it comes from the same rock’n’roll, Americana and southern blues spring…And it has Marc fucking Ford on it…looking forward to High Water II this year.

8. Adam’s House Cat – Town Burned Down
One of the odder releases this year…since it was recorded over 20 years ago. The little rock ‘n’ roll acorn that would grow into the mighty oak that is the Drive-By Truckers. Not just a curio however, but great, gritty American rock (with smatterings of early R.E.M.).

7. Necromancers – Blood & Wine
Sophomore slump? Only if you compare it to their phenomenal debut (my #1 last year). A heavy dose of guitar riffage from Satan’s apothecary.

6. John Prine – Tree of Forgiveness
My favourite songwriter. Darkly comic with a heart of pure gold. Writes about the essence of a situation, and sings them in a way that you know it’s the truth. I love this man.

5. The Sword – Used Future
Played the shit outta this…Love how they’re stretching out with their sound and finding ways out of the metal box…but still retaining the noodly rock greatness that keeps them heavy.

4. Voivod – The Wake
I just knew this sucker was going to be good…their last few have been great (Target Earth a gem)…but I didn’t think it was going to be this good. Thrash, punk, prog, jazz…King Crimson at there most pissed off and ragged…You know you’re listening to a Voivod album and that these francophone fucks are still giving a shit! I love the variance of the tempos and textures of the songs that allow the riffs to burrow deep.

3. Clutch – Book Of Bad Decisions
God damn! These guys cannot make a shitty album. Heavy groove merchants with wickedly fun and fucked-up lyrics that always put a smile on my face as I belt them out. This album would make this list for the strutting horn-driven “In Walks Barbarella” alone… Making heavy metal fun and in-the-pocket funky…

2. Orange Goblin – The Wolf Bites Back
These guys should be huge. Their diverse influences are expanding their heavy metal pallet, and it is all so fucking cool. Orange Fucking Goblin baby!

1. Crazy Bull – The Past Is Today
Thanks to Classic Rock’s July free CD I was turned on to this album of southern fried heavy riff rock at it’s groovy gritty best. Skynyrd, Hatchet and more than a few nods to Brits Wishbone Ash. Sumptuous riffs, and leads and solos that put a smile on your face….





Thanks to Tom for his awesome list.  I’m placing an Amazon order for Tenacious D and Voivod right now!

#729.6: Dr. Dave’s Late 2018 List

A couple lists arrived late this year, so let’s keep rolling with ’em!  (The lateness of the lists will be addressed next post.)

I witnessed Dr. Dave Haslam play in four bands this year:  1. Mickey Straight 2. Nancy Vicious & the Nasty Bitches 3. The Helen Keller Band 4. Max the Axe.  He has the rock and roll skills and credentials, so pay attention.  Here’s the good Dr. Dave!



When I glance over my (extended) list for this year, I must admit to being a little underwhelmed. There are some pleasant surprises, but other than the last few entries of my list nothing much really kicked the pants off me. Mind you, I might have slept on an album or two that I may hold in high regard a year or two from now because that’s how I roll. If last year was the year of progressive doom for me, this year is more all over the place. There are some usual suspects and a few true outliers.

First, a few “close but no cigar” awards go to:

  • Sleep The Sciences
  • Fu Manchu Clone of the Universe
  • Sargeist Unbound
  • Yob Our Raw Heart 
  • Orange Goblin The Wolf Bites Back

tl;dd (“too late; didn’t digest”):

  • Ihsahn Amr  
  • Uncle Acid and the DeadbeatsWasteland
  • Rivers of Nihil Where Owls Know My Name (shit, this one is insane – proggy death metal that all of a sudden drops into slow jazz bass lines and then a sax solo – WTF?  I will be listening to this a lot over the next year…4 and a half minutes into this album – what the utter fuck? WOW.)
  • FailureIn the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing From Your Mind (LOVE this band – didn’t hear this much, and it’s not as immediately engaging as their last one, but anything new by them is a real treat).

Starting at the bottom…

12.    Judas Priest Firepower

I’ve pretty much avoided Judas Priest in recent years. Of course I respect the hell out of them as one of a handful of bands that invented heavy metal, but I have a bone to pick with them. A band like Black Sabbath has given birth not only to metal itself but to various sub-genres like stoner metal and doom (even thrash, see “Symptom of the Universe”), and anyone familiar with my recent lists knows that I loves me the doom, particularly when it gets pushed in more progressive directions, like Pallbearer and Elder. And I’ve certainly indulged in the stoner over the years. BUT – other than Manowar (a band I have never cared for), Judas Priest is perhaps most responsible for spawning “power metal.”  And therein lies the problem. Power metal is easily my least favorite type of metal (well, besides tungsten, because fuck tungsten). And so, in my own petty, meagre, utterly irrelevant way, I have been punishing them for that. The thing is, Firepower is a really good album. That new kid has learned his lessons well! Respect.


11.   DrudkhThey Often See Dreams About the Spring

So this gets a little fucky because, in terms of their discography, this album sits solidly in the bottom half in terms of quality. But it was a nice surprise (they are Ukrainian, and I had no idea that it was even being made, let alone released). They’ve still got the kind of skewed, deliciously dissonant riffage that made me fall for them in the first place, but the last couple of albums have presented a diminishing returns problem.


10.   WinterfyllethThe Hallowing of Heirdom

The best thing that ever happened to English black metal (as far as I’m concerned) decided to throw a curveball and release a totally acoustic album full of plaintive, melancholic, beautiful songs based on old English poems and folktales. This is some prime Hobbit-diddling music (if you’re into that sort of thing – I prefer dwarf-tossing and elf-peeping, like my good friend Peeping Tom Bombadil). Definitely Game of Thrones soundtrack-worthy, and it’s great to have on in the background when doing chores, or you want to grade student papers without approaching that particular task like Ramsay Bolton.


9.    ClutchThe Book of Bad Decisions

As Tom Morwood once said, “Clutch just don’t make bad albums.”  Agreed!  This album is a bit of a let down still, because I simply haven’t loved it as much as the previous two. But fuck it, it’s Clutch. “In Walks Barbarella” is one of the songs of the year.


8.    The Ocean Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic

These German science nerds write concept albums about ENTIRE EPOCHS OF EARTH’S FUCKING GEOLOGICAL AND BIOLOGICAL HISTORY.  I didn’t think they were going to top 2013’s Pelagial, and I don’t think they have.  This album has a song on it called “Age of Sea Scorpions” and all I can picture is Klaus Meine, leather glistening, striding out from the prehistoric sea towards some damp scorpion the size of a Winnebago, which awaits him, on the leafy beach, to do battle.


7.    GhostPrequelle

Let the roasting begin!  Ha. I really only love half of this album (“Rats,” “Faith,” “Witch Image,” the instrumentals). It’s a shame that the band is such a dictatorship, but they wouldn’t be Ghost without it. Tobias Forge’s more saccharine tendencies are let loose on this album, and unless you are in the right mood they can really make America grate again. But it’s intrinsically cheesy, and they (he) were always looking to be bigger, and more, than just a metal band. But if it really is him writing the riffs to “Rats,” then I say hats off to him (not that it’s rocket surgery, but still). There IS too much fluff on this album, and I can’t really object when people say the first album is their best. Now, if “Square Hammer” had been on this album instead of “See The Light,” then this would be a different conversation. Come to think of it, why wasn’t it?


6.    Immortal Northern Chaos Gods

An Immortal album without Abbath? How is that going to work?

Quite well, actually.

I loved Abbath’s first solo album (it was my #1 last year), and if this doesn’t quite have the highs of that album, it is, if anything, more consistent. One thing Abbath can do better than Immortal-without-Abbath is groove in mid-tempo, though this album does try to do that in songs like “Gates to Blasyrkh.”  But they basically end up repeating bits from Sons of Northern Darkness. But NCG doesn’t care much about the mid-tempo, and the drummer is the same axe-wielding cave-dweller, and this has blast-beats all over the place. When you are riding in to do battle against the trolls on the back of a huge wolf, this is what you want or your iPod.


5.    PanopticonThe Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness

Not the first time Austin Lunn has featured on my list, and probably not the last. If you’re going to combine black metal with bluegrass/Americana, and do it incredibly well, then at some point you’re going to have a surfeit of material, and start thinking about releasing a double album. But you’ll split the black metal side and the hillbilly pickin’ into separate albums and release them as one package. It’s like if the Odd Couple had to make an album, but instead of collaborating on songs they made their own distinct albums. But they really were in love the whole time, and despite the glaring disconnections they belong together. Just, you know, in separate rooms. But the black metal part is not to be denied because all of the traditionally obnoxious stuff (well, not all of it…) is minimized, and it has a very organic feel, particularly in the drum department. And the countryish stuff on the second album is completely convincing.


4.    Lubomyr MelnykFallen Trees

And now for something completely different. Lubomyr Melnyk was born in Ukraine and came to Canada as a wee lad and has earned himself the title of fastest pianist in the world. But if you think that sounds like Yngwie Malmsteen shred-wankery on a piano you’d be missing the mark by a wide margin. The compositions are quite beautiful, and from what I can tell the density of the notes come from each hand playing intersecting arpeggios with the sustain pedal on all the time, resulting in what Melnyk calls “continuous music.” The result is a complex cascade of notes that is more mesmerizing than indecipherable. I can almost feel brain cells re-growing as I listen to this stuff. It’s hard to find actual recordings of him, which is a shame since he has spent time homeless (in Winnipeg, no less), and deserves far more attention as a Canadian musical treasure.


3.   High on Fire – Electric Messiah

Matt Fucking Pike. This shirtless metal titan has made many a year-end list either for Sleep or High on Fire. I’m sure the 28-year-old me would have jizzed all over The Sciences, but for several years I’ve preferred to board the High on Fire train, and like Clutch they never disappoint. They really took it up a notch with Snakes for the Divine in 2010, and there are moments on this album that recall the mammoth and indescribably awesome title track of that fantastic album. That can only be a good thing, but I also get the sense that Pike is steadily progressing as a guitar player and songwriter. It’s as vicious as ever, but there’s more science to the heaviosity now.


2.   VoivodThe Wake

Snake and Away are doing their thing just fine, but it’s the new guys who own this album. Rocky’s bass guitar tone is mid-rangy but still has balls, and his ear for what the riff requires is impeccable. And Chewy? How do you innovate without alienating the ancient ones? How do you pay homage to tradition without sounding derivative? Chewy has all the answers. Best thing they’ve done since The Outer Limits.


1.  SlugdgeEsoteric Malacology

Slugdge has been a small obsession of mine for the past year (along with Failure, and if you don’t know them then you need to get with the program). Hail Mollusca! How can “technical death metal” be so catchy?  Take a bunch of Akercocke, a good bit of Carcass, throw in some Mastodon and Gojira for spice, and you’ll have all kinds of slimy, invertebrate fun. Now that they’ve acquired a human drummer, I can’t wait to see where they go next. Perhaps on the road, and not just in England? Please?


Other random entertainment mentions:


The Expanse – it might be a tad pat to call it Game of Thrones in space, but it kind of is, and it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than the last couple of Star Wars movies. Just more evidence that long-form television can kick the shit out of Hollywood almost any day of the year, and the exceptions are increasingly fewer and farther between.

Failure – I remember 20 years ago when you couldn’t cruise the bargain bin of any music store without seeing a copy of Fantastic Planet, and now I’d pay top dollar for one of those things. They are back and mean business, picking up right where they left off. Spacey, arty, but still accessible, they were covered by A Perfect Circle way back when, and they are just as good a band. 2015’s The Heart is a Monster is itself a monster. This band needs more love.

Solo – Don’t know, haven’t watched. Do I want to? Frankly, I don’t know. If it’s too much like The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi then I might just pass. Why is it so hard to use some of that insane Disney money to hire someone that can write a script that is interesting, creative, and compelling, and doesn’t rip off the earlier movies over and over again? Why is it so hard to write dialogue that doesn’t have me rolling my fucking eyes every three minutes? Is that too much to ask? Fun fact: 75% (at least) of any screenplay is people talking to each other. If you can’t do that well, then your script sucks. Pretty simple math, actually. Either start over, or delegate the task to someone with talent.*

* Way to rant about a movie you’ve never seen Haslam!  At least he hates tungsten.