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Adam Gardiner
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2707 reviews/ratings
WINTERHORDE - Underwatermoon Melodic Black Metal | review permalink
SONIC PULSAR - Playing the Universe Progressive Metal | review permalink
STAR ONE - Victims of the Modern Age Progressive Metal | review permalink
REBELLION - Miklagard - The History of the Vikings Volume II Power Metal | review permalink
BEYOND TWILIGHT - Section X Progressive Metal | review permalink
IMMORTAL - At the Heart of Winter Black Metal | review permalink
DARKOLOGY - Altered Reflections Progressive Metal | review permalink
CRUACHAN - Folk-Lore Folk Metal | review permalink
ALICE IN CHAINS - Black Gives Way To Blue Alternative Metal | review permalink
AYREON - The Final Experiment Progressive Metal | review permalink
BLIND GUARDIAN - Imaginations From the Other Side Power Metal | review permalink
EPICA - The Divine Conspiracy Symphonic Metal | review permalink
AYREON - The Human Equation Progressive Metal | review permalink
EPICA - Design Your Universe Symphonic Metal | review permalink
ASTARTE - Quod Superius Sicut Inferius Melodic Black Metal
AVANTASIA - The Metal Opera Power Metal
AYREON - 01011001 Progressive Metal | review permalink
REBELLION - Arise: From Ginnungagap to Ragnarök - The History of the Vikings Volume III Power Metal | review permalink
TO-MERA - Delusions Progressive Metal | review permalink
WITHIN TEMPTATION - The Silent Force Tour Symphonic Metal | review permalink

See all reviews/ratings

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Power Metal 360 4.14
2 Progressive Metal 278 4.13
3 Heavy Metal 232 3.91
4 Atmospheric Black Metal 187 4.09
5 Black Metal 143 3.83
6 US Power Metal 132 4.22
7 Folk Metal 106 3.97
8 Symphonic Metal 103 3.79
9 Thrash Metal 96 4.05
10 Non-Metal 85 3.86
11 Death Metal 83 3.92
12 Technical Death Metal 76 4.20
13 Gothic Metal 62 3.85
14 Doom Metal 54 4.03
15 Hard Rock 54 3.87
16 Metal Related 54 3.94
17 Melodic Black Metal 51 4.14
18 Melodic Death Metal 50 3.87
19 Speed Metal 41 3.88
20 Stoner Metal 39 4.15
21 Alternative Metal 37 3.45
22 Symphonic Black Metal 28 4.09
23 Death-Doom Metal 26 4.15
24 Groove Metal 24 3.63
25 Atmospheric Sludge Metal 24 4.21
26 Viking Metal 23 4.11
27 Heavy Alternative Rock 22 3.27
28 Heavy Psych 22 4.34
29 Pagan Black Metal 21 3.86
30 Avant-garde Metal 19 3.87
31 NWoBHM 18 4.36
32 Depressive Black Metal 17 3.82
33 Traditional Doom Metal 17 4.29
34 Sludge Metal 15 4.10
35 Stoner Rock 15 3.97
36 Funeral Doom Metal 14 4.11
37 Technical Thrash Metal 14 4.14
38 Brutal Death Metal 12 3.25
39 Melodic Metalcore 12 3.38
40 War Metal 11 4.09
41 Metalcore 7 2.57
42 Industrial Metal 5 3.80
43 Proto-Metal 5 4.00
44 Neoclassical metal 3 3.83
45 Drone Metal 3 3.50
46 Deathcore 2 1.75
47 Death 'n' Roll 2 3.00
48 Crossover Thrash 1 3.50
49 Crust Punk 1 4.00
50 Trance Metal 1 0.50

Latest Albums Reviews

TRIVIUM Ascendancy

Album · 2005 · Melodic Metalcore
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
A Journey Into Metal Part II

The tale of how I first became a metalhead through the most unlikely of sources, Metallica's St. Anger, has now been told. It is advisable that you if haven't read it that you do so now, so that this next chapter of the tale may be taken in context. And if you have read it, possibly read it again as I revised the first part quite considerably before starting this next piece of work, as many memories flooded back to me.

Okay, all caught up?

One can become a metalhead through just the one starting album. But that hardly completes our tale. Much like metal itself was started by Black Sabbath, it later become refined by the likes of Judas Priest and Rainbow with albums like Sad Wings of Destiny and Rising respectively. It was perhaps only by the time of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that we might consider metal to have been fully formed as a genre. Or at least, the first genre of it, heavy metal itself. An individual metalhead can form much the same way. Although many will probably cringe at the comparison, St. Anger was to me what Black Sabbath was to the formation of the genre. Which means the second chapter of the story into metaldum is the refinement stage. The turning point, if you will, before one can consider themselves the person and metalhead they are today.

But first, it's important to get caught up.

I gradually picked up the rest of the Metallica albums. And my view of Metallica basically went that the first five were excellent. I did not know enough about metal at this point in my life that I even realised that the Black Album was considered a different genre to the first four. I knew all five sounded a lot better than St. Anger though, so I wasn't listening to that album too much. I did not think much of either Load or ReLoad, but I liked the covers album Garage Inc. I thought that was pretty fun. I think I may have listened to S&M once and have not bothered again to this day.

In the wider metal world Dimebag Darrel had been murdered on stage in 2004, which was a rather Earth shattering experience for both my best mate 'C' and myself who'd both got heavily into Pantera in this time. That kind of thing just didn't happen to metal guitar idols in our world. Looking back I believe we took his death quite differently. I seem to recall that 'C' started listening to Pantera more, especially poignant tracks like Cemetery Gates and Hollow. I, on the other hand, found it difficult to listen to Pantera's music with the same enthusiasm for a long time. Every time I put it on I just imagined Dimebag getting gunned down while playing. My young mind could not handle it. And so Pantera never really had the chance to become the stepping stone band that they really could have been for me. They were certainly the most extreme thing I was listening to at the time. They were the spark, at least, but not the true turning point. That was to come soon though.

The year was now 2005, almost two whole years since the release of St. Anger. This was my last year in secondary school. One thing that did happen when that school year came to a close is that a lot of the group mentioned in Part 1 drifted apart. I still see 'C' to this day, but sadly have lost touch with some of the others. I was glad to see the back of 'L' though. 'L' really took things too far in 2005 by taking the piss out of the Dimebag murder. I'd never given a fuck about what 'L' thought of the music I liked but that crossed a line. I like to think that a few others realised what a dick he was by that point, but probably not. 'L' was just one of those people that others gravitated toward and became sycophants to. I have no idea what happened to 'L' after school finished. And I don't much care. Wherever he is I don't expect his taste in music has improved.

Things had changed at home with the arrival of a computer with the Internet the previous year, but I hadn't yet discovered YouTube, which first launched in early 2005. I expect that discovery came in 2006, which I see as the pivotal year as that's when my household first got Sky TV and I found the Scuzz station that led me to many early interests in metal. But in 2005 itself things hadn't improved much. 2006 would also be the year I subscribed to Metal Hammer, so the amount of progress made between St. Anger and then was pitiful. Foo Fighters and Nickelback were still in heavy rotation. The former had released In Your Honour (which I know I'm spelling wrong but sue me I'm English and we invented the language!) and the other had released All the Right Reasons. It had a pretty angry song on it about Dimebag's murder that really resonated. The late guitarist even played on it by virtue of a sampled guitar solo. Both albums were well liked by yours truly at the time, so that's evidence that my taste hadn't really moved on all that much. I look back more fondly on one of those albums today than the other. See if you can guess which one. 2006 would also mark my discovery of Iron Maiden, who at the end of that year became my first proper concert. But for now we're stuck in 2005 and the album that is the ultimate subject of this story was released. Ascendancy by metalcore band Trivium.

Before Metal Hammer, Scuzz and YouTube changed everything, it was actually a guitar magazine, which wasn't supposed to be metal specific but often did seem to focus on it, that provided the much needed resource that my younger self required. 'C' also benefited from this. It is how we found Pantera. We liked the guitar track the magazine had put on the CD for Cemetery Gates so much that I bought Cowboys From Hell without ever hearing Phil Anselmo's vocals. Total Guitar's free CDs though were also notable for sometimes including album tracks and this was how I got my first taste of growling vocals. I don't recall if it was Avenged Sevenfold or Arch Enemy I heard first, but both were among such bands featured. However the first such album I bought was Ascendancy. I do not actually remember when or how I first heard Trivium proper. I suspect they were featured as an album track with Total Guitar, or else maybe I'm misremembering the dates of all this and I didn't discover this album until it had been out a while. It was about fifteen years ago after all. Either way, Total Guitar was certainly how I first became aware of Trivium. There was a lot of Trivium hype going around at the time which carried over into Metal Hammer and online, as those avenues were opened up to me. They got airplay on both Kerrang and Scuzz. An important factor that piqued my interest was their branding as the next Metallica. 'Next Metallica' quickly became apparent as something that people in the media just liked to say. Mastodon got saddled with it as well around the same time.

Ascendancy remains one of only a few metalcore records I ever bought. The others mainly either being also by Trivium or were bought in second hand shops for no other reason than they were that cheap, the best result of such pot luck being the discovery of Protest the Hero. I'm sure there's probably stuff of more worth out there than I've heard, I have in fact in more recent years been drawn to a couple of acts like Converge and Erra. There's something very different about those bands though than the kind of metalcore played by Trivium and other more household metalcore names of the time though like Bullet for my Valentine, Caliban and Killswitch Engage. And in general it became a genre I don't hold much love for. Much like with St. Anger and it's sound that most accept as alternative metal, which was the genre a lot of my early metal bands belonged to, discovered both before and after this album. But although I don't much care for these genres these days and don't actively seek them out, they were both very crucial stepping stones for me. Which is why like with St. Anger I still hold a lot of appreciation for Ascendancy.

There's a big difference with this album to that one though. It is actually really fucking good.

My metal peers of the time, by then not generally people I grew up with but people I was encountering online, on the then very new YouTube (which was a much different website much then with much better community features including groups that served as a minimalist forum (my first experience with such a platform)), heavily disagreed with the hype of Trivium. In fact they were so put out by Trivium (like they'd been personally offended by their existence) that they'd start dedicated hate channels for the band on YouTube and take every opportunity to dish dirt on them, about where they'd stolen this or that riff from and so forth. Yeah, the spirit of metal wasn't doing too well in them days. While the 'experienced' metalheads were bashing bands like Trivium for all they were worth, the kids were starting rap verses metal flame wars and shouting about TR00 Trash Metal (accurate spelling of the day). All in all it was a much more toxic community than was really healthy for the developing metalhead.

Much like with the initial disapproval of my folks and peers over starting to listen to metal with St. Anger, this reaction from the supposedly more in the know metal crowd only fuelled me to stand against them. Hey, I was a teenager, we're supposed to rebel against our elders and their beliefs. Trivium was a band that allowed me to do that. It also in hindsight scratched an itch for more extreme music that proved a catharsis over lingering anger over Dimebag's murder that even Metallica's early thrash couldn't scratch.

But I'm in my thirties now and I have say that I think those 'in the know' metalheads of the time were wrong about Trivium, especially over this album. While it's true that Trivium is not a band I return to often, I still think that Ascendancy is a very accomplished album from the then young band, perhaps even a classic of its era. An album that does possibly show adolescence in its song-writing, but honestly it's more forgivable here considering the age of the band at the time. Matt Heafy was only 19 at the time of the album's release and that was only a couple of years older than I was! Old school metalheads of the time probably thought the kids should be looking up to the same bands as them (and maybe now it's our turn we do the same to the next generation and don't even realise it) and so vehemently rejected Heafy and his band Trivium, but to us who were of that sort age he was a figure to look up to.

Tracks like Rain, A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation and Like Light to the Flies still find their way into regular random rotation from my PC media player and other tracks less frequently so. Because the YouTube haters of the day I'm afraid I can't listen to Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr with a straight face any more because of a rather infamous misheard lyrics video which last time I checked could still be found on YouTube.

Unfortunately Trivium probably took the whole 'next Metallica' thing to heart, so their next album was The Crusade and it seemed designed to imitate Metallica as much as possible, which ultimately just gave fodder to their haters. But for me personally Ascendancy was the album that opened me up to extreme metal, broadened my horizons and opened the floodgates for all kinds of exciting new genres of metal that I began getting exposed to the following year during my gap between school and college. Like with St. Anger, I'll always hold a special place in my heart and collection for it. If it wasn't for this particular would I have become interested in other metal genres like death metal and black metal? Well probably eventually, but this album sure seemed to speed up the process. I was certainly starting to check those out on that first computer at home soon after this. It was the album that spurred me onward. I found genre after genre from that point on. Progressive metal through Dream Theater. Folk metal through Cruachan (one guy I met on YouTube was so insistent that I listen to Cruachan that he emailed by every song from Folk-Lore track by track - highly illegal of course, but Cruachan remains my favourite folk metal band and I own every album they've made so I think they'll forgive us). Black metal through Immortal. I could list every genre with a key band and it all branches out from Ascendancy, another album that was often maligned, although not to the extent of St. Anger.

This concludes the second chapter of this tale and I think it also has to be the last. The branching out starts here. I began to become fully formed as a metalhead. I'm still living the third chapter of this trilogy. Some probably thought I'd grow out of metal music and that would bring the story to a close.

I don't think it's going to happen.

HAIL SPIRIT NOIR Eden in Reverse

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
After three well received albums mixing black metal with retro psychedelic rock, Greek trio Hail Spirit Noir has entered into a period of change. The most noticeable of these before you hear even a note of their fourth album Eden in Reverse (2020) is that the band line-up has been expanded greatly, with seven musicians now credited as full band members. The changes are not just in extension. Primary vocalist Theoharis has given up that role to regular collaborator Dimitris Dimitrakopoulos and newcomer Cons Marg. Although the former has always been with Hail Spirit Noir providing clean vocals to Theoharis' growls Eden in Reverse marks the first release where he is credited as a full band member. Cons Marg also sings cleanly, which is a good indicator that Eden in Reverse is taking the band in a new path. Vocals are not the only thing the band has doubled up on with this release with synth duties now shared between long time member Haris and newcomer Sakis Bandis. For the first time the band also has a drummer in the main line-up with the addition of Foivos Chatzis. The album features an additional guest vocal appearance by Lars 'Lazare' Nedland of Borknagar, who joins the band for the track Crossroads.

Hail Spirit Noir has since 2012 and their debut album Pneuma been one of the more unique acts on the black metal scene. There have been other bands that get described as psychedelic black metal but no one else ever really captured the fusion like that did, not even Oranssi Pazuzu. Hail Spirit Noir delivered three excellent albums in this style, most recently being Mayhem in Blue (2016), which for my money was their best one yet. It was the one that it was going to be really difficult for them to top. So in that respect it makes a lot of sense for them not to mark sure that too much of a good thing didn't become flogging a dead horse and reinvent themselves. Eden in Reverse in the result of this attempt.

Reinventing yourself as a band must be a tricky business. On the one hand change is the point, but you also surely don't want to alienate too much of your fan base in the process. My personal belief is that most music fans are open to change, when done for the right reasons (meaning anything but selling out), but generally we want a new work to still be recognisable as the same artist, especially when that artist is a rather unique and special one like Hail Spirit Noir.

So here we have Eden in a Reverse, a record which features absolutely none of the black metal sound of Hail Spirit Noir's first three albums. How much does this still seem like the same band then? Actually, pretty damn well, because as far as black metal bands go, Hail Spirit Noir was never afraid to use lots of clean vocals and use lighter sections of music that drew on retro progressive rock and psychedelic rock. And although the black metal and the growling vocals with it are now gone, this other side of Hail Spirit Noir remains intact, still integrated with metal, and has been dialled up to the max. The psychedelic element is also notable for sounding a lot more spacey than on previous records. The term 'retro-futuristic' has been used by the band to describe the new sound and that's pretty accurate I think.

The album is very synth driven and that's to be expected with two guys going at them in the band now. The guitars are still pretty metal when they get going, but Hail Spirit Noir has never been a pure metal band even when they were black metal orientated, so variations in more from metal to rock should be expected by listeners. The main thing that's really changed is that they are now perhaps better described as psychedelic progressive metal opposed to psychedelic black metal. One might even call this a legitimate attempt at the creation of a space metal genre. At least it certainly manages to conjure up vibes of future space exploration (albeit space exploration as it may have been envisioned in the 1980s) with both it's sound and sound titles, which include Alien Lip Reading, The First Ape on New Earth and Automata 1980. I dare say that with Eden in Reverse Hail Spirit Noir have gone from performing one unique take on metal straight into another one. I cannot honestly say I have ever heard another album that sounds quite like this.

But is it any good? Well, it might actually be the band's best album yet and that's not a claim I want to make lightly, because I bloody love their prior work, especially Mayhem in Blue and Pneuma is really not far behind. But this one has knocked me for six and that's just from hearing a single song, that being The First Ape on New Earth, the first released track from the album. Let me assure you, it didn't take long to get over the surprise that they'd dropped the black metal! It's been a while since a song really infected me like that one did so that I was helpless but to keep playing it while waiting for the whole album to be released. Then they also released Crossroads ahead of the full release and then that did the same thing. Perhaps a little more of a grower than The First Ape on New Earth, something that's true of a lot of the songs here, but it doesn't take many listens for the album to have really opened up. Then it's repeat plays of the whole thing on the menu. Any expectations of being served up more black metal get quickly forgotten.

I was already confident in my belief that Hail Spirit Noir was one of the most important black metal bands of the 2010s. Now with Eden in Reverse they're one of the most important progressive metal bands for the 2020s. If people are ignoring this album, then they do so at their own loss, because here we have a special band who in some ways might be accused of wearing certain influences on their sleeves, yet makes everything they do their own, finding a balance between respectful homage to the old school and the expectations of the modern era they exist in. The result is a record that is uniquely the sound of Hail Spirit Noir. The extreme side of the band may have been laid to rest, yet the album still manages to feel like a logical progression from what came before, leaving no doubt in my mind that we can answer the earlier question in the affirmative: Eden in Reverse most certainly still feels like the same band. A evolved band, but with the same soul. And I for one will be using the album as the benchmark for others in beat in 2020.

BEARDFISH The Void

Album · 2012 · Metal Related
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
The Review Revision Project #1

Introduction: The Review Revision Project is a review series focusing on albums that I have reviewed before, likely many years ago. However even though the older review may have been well written, I have found myself no longer able to stand by its content.

---

The Void (2012) is the seventh studio album by Swedish progressive rock act Beardfish. The almost seventy minute long album contains ten tracks including the epic near sixteen minute Note. There is also a bonus track which is a piano version of the song Ludvig & Sverker. The Void is my first and so far only encounter with the music of Beardfish, despite it now being eight years since the album's release and the first time I heard it.

There may be two reasons for that. For one thing, The Void is, from what I'm led to believe, at bit of an oddity in the Beardfish discography, because it's their only release that is significantly influenced by metal music, which is my primary interest and what drew me to the album in the first place eight years ago. The second is the reason why I've selected The Void to be the first (and so far only planned) entry in The Review Revision Project series: it's that much of a grower. The original review I gave this album was positive, but it was hesitant praise. I wasn't wowed by The Void, at the time. There were a couple of tracks I really liked like the metallic Voluntary Slavery and the epic instrumental Seventeen Again, but overall I merely found it solidly crafted and enjoyable, but lacking something that would have given it that extra sparkle of an excellent record.

The problem I assure you readers, was not with the album, but with my ears. Years later, I randomly decided that I would take a fresh listen to The Void. An 'Oh yeah, haven't heard that lately' kind of thing. I couldn't especially recall what I'd specifically written about it at the time of review, but I soon realised that what I was hearing wasn't adding up with the rating I'd given it. At the time, I just left my old review and bumped the score up marginally by half a star.

Yet still, that wasn't doing The Void any kind of justice. Which brings us to today. The proper reappraisal of The Void, having finally bought the CD of it and not just relying on Spotify.

The talk of the time that Beardfish had gone metal was a bit exaggerated, as it did tend to leave one expecting to hear a fully fledged progressive metal record from the Swedes. It did at least turn out to be half true. There's plenty of metal to be found during The Void, though primarily the band remain playing progressive rock. I think some progressive rock bands occasionally sound metallic by fluke rather than design, but that's not the case here. Beardfish clearly knows they're adding metal to their sound. After all, they even put down a couple of brief death growls in the tracks Voluntary Slavery and This Matter of Mine.

However it's a mixed bag of style, not just metal. There's prog rock. There's psych rock. If you've got the bonus track there's a pure piano song too, which incidentally is actually a very good rendition of the track that brings its beautiful melody out all the more than normal. What in 2012 seemed like such a mixed bag of styles that it didn't flow too well to my ears, that were obviously in need of servicing at the time, now seems to be the very reason that The Void is not just a great album, it's one of the best albums of its year. Despite first hearing it eight years ago, it's only today that I really feel blown away by The Void. This album sure played a long game.

It saddens me to see that among the Beardfish discography this tends to be rated lower. I mean, I still haven't heard their other work, but even so, having had it really open up to me over time I can't say that I consider The Void as anything less than a progressive masterpiece, and I don't think it gets recognition as such. I certainly didn't regard it as such, at first. One chance whim to play it again changed a lot. Maybe more people should do that with The Void. They might just be pleasantly surprised.

METALLICA St. Anger

Album · 2003 · Alternative Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
A Journey Into Metal Part I

The year was 2003. The place, a small town in the United Kingdom. The hero of our story is yours truly, then between fourteen and fifteen years old. His quest? To discover a taste in music that he could claim as his own. It is a strange tale of how he came to find the form of music known as metal thanks to an album that goes by the name of St. Anger, which many will tell you on a dark night, telling ghost stories by firelight, is some kind of monster. In most stories, it would cast as the villain. This is not most stories.

Every metalhead who ever lived has a tale about how they came to metal. Many may start with the band Metallica, but something earlier, more classic like Master of Puppets, Ride the Lightning or the self-titled 'Black Album'. Or perhaps more likely they'll come to metal through one of the classic British heavy metal bands of the 70s or 80s. Like Black Sabbath, where it all began. Or Judas Priest, who then refined it. Or Iron Maiden, the kings of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. But not so for our young protagonist, and so our story starts in that little town in the UK, where if you wanted to buy a CD, your best bet was Woolworths or a supermarket.

I came late to any kind of taste in music perhaps at first because of my parents; a Father who lived and breathed Pink Floyd and was determined to impose that band on his son above all others he listened to (if he'd gotten the Led out this tale might have taken a very different turn) and a Mother who worshipped Bruce Springsteen to the point that all other music was almost entirely irrelevant. Neither of these artists made me sit up and think 'yeah, that's for me!' In fact, I understood music so little that, in a rather cringe-worthy moment that was probably in the late 1990s, I even went as far as asked my old man what the point of music was. I don't recall the answer I got. I think the question stumped him as much as it would me today. Being into music, it really is an unnamed feeling. Fast-forward to 2020 and I, now in my thirties, have just recently purchased my 1000th CD (and counting fast). But how did I get there?

It wasn't an easy journey. Particularly because it's one of those journeys that you don't really know you're even on until you get there. To understand why, we need to take a closer look at our setting. The early 2000s were dark times for any would-be metalhead in the United Kingdom. It wasn't standard in households to have satellite TV, which (at least by the time I did get access to them) had a couple of music stations that specialised in heavier music (the better one being the now defunct Scuzz), just the standard five channels (used to be four and I still recall how much excitement there was over the launch of Channel 5) where the best and only options to hear new music were the likes of Top of the Pops (which has Led Zep's Whole Lotta Love as the theme which I had taken note of) and CD:UK (where teenage me noticed Cat Deeley more than any music). And they only cared about three things: the charts, the charts and the charts again. And I was a little late to pick up on Iron Maiden when they came up with Brave New World and probably got some coverage at least from TOTP. Maiden would be undiscovered by me until 2006, but would eventually become my first proper concert at the end of that year.

The internet wasn't an option either. In those days, even having the internet wasn't a given depending on your situation. Rich Kids (meaning kids who had rich parents, but Rich Kids was the term we used back then due to the way they flaunted the wealth as their own) had PC's and the internet. You, among the plebs in your more humble background, didn't. It wasn't the thing everyone takes for granted now. It certainly wasn't on your phone. The mobile phone may have a history going back much further than 2003, but it would be a while yet before it was normal for every kid to have one and they weren't the iPhone and Androids of today. If you were lucky enough to access to the internet, it was strictly in the home. And it was probably dial-up, whose speed and constant disconnections would likely make the youth of today who are surgically attached to their phones shoot themselves. And then ask someone to shoot them again because they ain't dead yet. And even if you were lucky enough to be online, this was 2003. There was no Spotify. No YouTube. No Bandcamp. None of the websites that in later life I have come to rely on to check music, old and new, out so that I can make an informed purchase of it.

If you were a Brit in those times you either had to hear new music that made the charts, or hear about through word of mouth from someone you knew, or buy a magazine, the ultimate quality of which remains debatable to this day. Metal Hammer did help me in the following years, though Kerrang could fuck right off, and who'd think to buy a Metal Hammer when you haven't yet realised you liked metal? This was thing: how could one find metal, if one didn't know to even look for it?

Like my parents, my circle of friends and peers tried to enforce their taste upon me. Some were trying to be helpful. Others were more aggressive in their belief that everyone should like the same bands as they did. To protect identities, I'll just refer to these people by their first initial.

There were a few bands of the time, all chart reaching types, that were rock bands but not metal bands, that were collectively liked by a few of these people. Blink 182. Feeder. Green Day. Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Not liking the song Can't Stop by RHCP was something that some of my mates, particularly 'D', couldn't get their heads around. I remember vividly one day in the school grounds in 2003, when Can't Stop was a single, how 'D' was so shocked that I did not like the song that he went running round to the group who liked these bands mentioned above about how I didn't like Can't Stop. I'm still not sure what he intended to achieve by that. Validation? Who knows, this was the same person who in the school canteen one day asked me why I always ordered a chicken burger from the stand instead of a turkey burger. The answer of course was that they were made of chicken. I still can't believe that 'D' retorted that they were 'the same fucking bird'. Last I heard of 'D' he was training to be a chef.

Possibly there were other bands to whom I was introduced (either willing or just by being in proximity) by these people, but these were the stand out names that kept being presented to our hero. Well, there was also that one friend, 'R', who was all about Sum 41 and also had a thing for Slipknot's Iowa album at one point, but the less said about him the better. He, after all, completely turned his back on all rock music and started exclusively listening to hip-hop and adopting the culture of that music. A common issue of white kids acting and talking like they're black. These days they'd probably label it cultural appropriation.

While I did get a few (heavy) rock bands that I liked it this time period, which would have been the very early 2000s, the only one I still listen to every so often is Foo Fighters, who were the gem of that era as far as mainstream rock music went. Other bands I found I liked were Nickelback (who I later found out were if anything even more hated than St. Anger not just for one album but as a whole, which I must say was rather a childhood ruining experience) and Muse, but my interest in Muse turned out to be short lived. I even sold the albums I owned of them, which in later years I have begun to wonder if I may have been hasty over. I didn't sell the Nickelback. Not just because of greater nostalgia than Muse, but because no bugger would have bought them anyway. Still, back in the early 2000s I liked these bands, but something still wasn't quite right. I wasn't interested in moving beyond these bands.

One mate, 'C' who to this day is my best friend, was the most useless of the bunch at the time. 'C' joined our school in year 8 and when asked what music he was into I recall him answering one time the exact words of 'black man rap'. These days, excluding myself, he's the biggest rocker/metalhead of the lot of them.

The truth was, I did actually hear metal music before Metallica came up with St. Anger. And I didn't like it. In fact it was some the worst shit that was bothering the charts. Wait...the charts? We have to take an intermission here to give a rather sarcastic round of applause to the following bands, who almost did a damn good job of forever derailing my journey into metal.

Linkin Park. Limp Bizkit. Papa Roach. Korn. Actually, not so much Korn, but they didn't exactly do it for my young mind either and honestly Korn weren't getting the airplay at the time like the likes of Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit were. But these bands were what I first knew of as metal. Again, this was pre-Internet for me, so there was no going on the likes of Encyclopaedia Metallum and seeing how these acts were rejected as metal by those in the know (a stance that would have (and did) swayed my younger self but at this point I can recognise bigoted elitism when I see it).

And because of these bands I thought metal fucking sucked.

Salvation then, come from a source that years later seems a most unlikely one, a much maligned album by Metallica, a band that I was aware of, but had never heard until this, and just assumed sounded like those other shitty metal bands. I'd certainly never heard the term thrash metal before. There was just nu-metal. Other metal presumably being old-metal and redundant. Lord knows there was that one guy 'L' in school who gave his own friend 'K' all kinds of shit for liking Iron Maiden and Nirvana. ''K' only listens to artists who are over 50 or dead', 'L' would say regularly in that 'I'm better than you' way of talking that he had. A showcase of ignorance: Iron Maiden weren't that old in the early 2000s. The oldest member is Nicko McBrain who is only 68 now in 2020, making him the only one who had passed 50 in 2003.

In hindsight I should have gotten to know 'K' better. He probably had the best taste in music of all of us. But I don't recall sharing any classes with 'K' and so we didn't really socialise. He was also really quiet, like an invisible kid. Somehow I ended up getting to know 'L' better, since he seemed to attach himself to as many people as possible. I think he only hung out with us because he didn't like that some of his mates from primary school had befriended some of us who went to different primary schools once we all merged for secondary school. But we weren't friends, 'L' and I. Our relationship ranged from toleration to hostility. 'L' was into all those bands I mentioned earlier. He eventually forced his way into my school years band, since the rest of my mates thought the sun shone out of him, to the result of that band never trying to play together again after one bedroom rehearsal at 'D's' place. Of course we were crap, couldn't string one song together, had no bassist (my mate 'A' would turn his guitar low to try to compensate) or singer (I would try to growl briefly, which was quickly put a stop to by interfering parents), but that wasn't the point. It's because of 'L', more than anyone else who tried to push their taste onto me in these years, that I even today have an irrational hate of bands like Feeder, Green Day and RHCP. One might even say I was madly in anger with them.

Anyway, that Metallica album, before I digress from this story too far:

St. Anger. St. Fucking Anger.

And my mind was blown by music for the first time in my life.

But we do need to rewind slightly to get the full picture of this story, because this wasn't the first time I had heard metal that wasn't the awful nu-metal crap I'd previously been exposed to. I hadn't realised that another album I'd discovered slightly before this in 2003, was actually metal as well, except no one seemed to acknowledge it at the time (or since, really). Yet in hindsight it obviously was. Alternative, yes, but not nu (well maybe one song slightly, but not enough to worry about), and that really made a big difference. But the media just labelled it goth and Christian rock, so we can't really say that this album was my real gateway to metal. Sorry Fallen and Evanescence, but a misunderstanding media make you this story's tragic character who should be more important than you actually are.

When St. Anger first blared out of my speakers, there could be no room for doubt. THIS was metal. Not that nu-metal stuff that was full of rapping and other nonsense. And I somehow knew that this was it. This was my music. It was the heaviest and most aggressive stuff I'd ever come across. And it suited me like nothing else did. From that day forth, I knew one thing for certain: I had to find more metal. This was my world.

This choice wasn't met with much approval. In fact, none at all. My more punk and pop based mates thought I'd lost the plot. 'A' labelled me as having become a 'grunger'. Another show of adolescent ignorance there. This was the first and only time I've been called such or even heard the term. We were of a generation who'd missed the grunge explosion and that term may have been more widely used. 'A' probably knew it because he had a much older brother who was already an adult while we were in school and couldn't tell the difference between Nirvana and what Metallica was doing here. There's actually a lot of debate still about what Metallica was doing here, but it sure as hell isn't grunge. 'L' got something that he could throw in my face for liking even more the the crap he gave 'K'. But I didn't care. I knew I was now onto something that would likely shape the remainder of my musical life. And if 'L' had an issue with that he could respectfully go fuck himself.

My parents were more accepting, especially my Dad, though my Mum, who did her best to make sure her son lived a very sheltered life, disapproved of the swearing in the album, but by that point swearing in my music wasn't anything new. Even an ill fated exploration of techno had had the same 'problem' but the less we say about those times the better! Eventually she came around and has even attended concerts of metal bands herself, including Paradise Lost touring Medusa, growling and all. As an aside, I also found some appreciation for her beloved Springsteen, but as far as Bruce's go, I'm with Dickinson any day. I still can't stand Pink Floyd though. Sorry Dad!

But this disapproval of the time didn't stop me. If anything, it added fuel to my fire. And I found what I desired. More metal. Early Metallica, starting from the beginning with Kill 'Em All, was an early one on my list, which soon made me realise, although I'd played it to death by that point, that maybe St. Anger wasn't actually that great after all. That I'd been looking in through a dirty window but hadn't yet got a clear picture of what was possible with metal. And so I moved on from it. Convinced myself and I didn't like it at all any more for a time, and St. Anger began to gather dust.

But it didn't matter, because St. Anger had done something for me that no other album could claim, something that made me keep remembering it, which leads us to today's story and ultimate reappraisal of the album. It had made me a metalhead. And for that reason alone, I'll always have a special place in my collection for it. It might arguably be the most important album for personal discovery and growth that I own.

It is now 2020 and it's not many years off two decades since the album was released and at this point in time it's easy to acknowledge the problems that St. Anger objectively has. The writing is too drawn out. The lyrics aren't great. Most songs here could comfortably shave some minutes off. The drum sound sucks as much as every says it does and probably has harmed the reputation of Lars Ulrich for life. James Hetfield's vocals aren't what they once were. It's not the thrash metal album that people likely wanted after Load and ReLoad. It's not even a Black Album Part II. And there are no solos.

But you know what it also is? It's the sound of a long running band having the balls to do something different – to go into the studio and have Kirk Hammett not record a single guitar solo. To fuck up the drum sound because Lars Ulrich literally forgot to do something to set up his kit like he was supposed to and just rolling with it and seeing what happens. And to be honest I believe that Metallica played with a level of passion and commitment on this record that rarely comes through on a studio recording. And you know what? It's at least better than Load. Load is just boring. I'll take passionate but faulted any day over boring. I actually find myself really sorry for them that it has been thrown back in their faces so much.

Overall, today I believe St. Anger to be at least a semi-decent album. That will likely prove a controversial opinion to many who may read this. Well, I certainly have gathered quite a few of those in my strange journey into metaldom, such as believing that the idea of the Big Four of thrash is one of the biggest farces in metal. But that is another story. This one must end now and I hope it has proved enlightening in some way (or at least entertaining) and perhaps will give you pause to reconsider St. Anger. It sure as hell isn't perfect, but it could be a lot worse.

It could be Lulu.

PARADISE LOST Obsidian

Album · 2020 · Gothic Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
The UK's Paradise Lost is a band that is no stranger to change. One might argue they've made their career on it. They went from humble death-doom metal beginnings to gothic metal superstars across their first five albums. Next they descended into gothic rock and electronic territory for One Second (1997) and Host (1999) respectively. Even when metalling it up again with Believe in Nothing (2001), they were now influenced by genres like alternative metal and industrial metal. Then Paradise Lost started to come full circle, shedding these elements by the time of In Requiem (2007), which saw them back in the frame of doomy gothic metal. Then the doom metal started coming to the fore all the more. Then back came the growling vocals of their early days for the first time in years for The Plague Within (2015) and then finally with Medusa (2017), Paradise Lost released their first death-doom metal album since 1991's Gothic. So what could Obsidian (2020), their sixteenth studio album, possibly be?

The answer is an album that could easily be described as a summary of everything that has made Paradise Lost the special band that they are. The most gothic metal they've been since Tragic Idol (2012), yet Obsidian doesn't again retire Nick Holmes' growling vocals with it, instead leaving us with something that may be what classic albums like Icon (1993) and fan favourite Draconian Times (1995) might have sounded like if Nick had never stopped growling in the first place. That alone makes Obsidian another rather unique entry in the Paradise Lost discography. There are certainly also some nods to their more gothic rock based material.

While it's true that some may be disappointed that the return to death-doom metal has already been largely moved on from – the most Medusa-like track featured here is the closing Ravenghast and fans of that album are recommended to get a version of the album with the bonus tracks for more similar material – I find myself impressed by the ability of Paradise Lost to not make direct copies of their previous album's sound very often. Even when two consecutive albums like Icon and Draconian Times are similar in style, it's always just the two albums before the band is changing things up with their influences again and there's very few artists that's true of. And with Obsidian they prove they can still surprise – a band that thirty years on from their debut, remains just as relevant and never derivative of themselves.

The song selection is also strong, not that this is an area that Paradise Lost usually has any trouble with. They've long proven their knack for making the individual track standout from the rest of the album. And once again, they've managed to make a release I know I'll be listening to many times over and will go down as a favourite for 2020.

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