Obscure Metal Roundup 11

Behold! It is the new era of Obscure Metal Roundup!

Starting right here, right now with OMR11, all links will direct you to the album on Bandcamp (as opposed to Spotify), whenever possible. The reason for this is two-fold. First and foremost, I’ve decided that it’s important to provide better support to the artists I feature in this space. Yes, we all use Spotify, but we all know it sucks, and we all know that it gives artists short shrift. Every band, album, and EP featured here deserves better support than that, even the ones I end up not liking very much.

Second, Bandcamp’s metal scene is legendarily robust, and features untold numbers of bands whose works you simply can’t find anywhere else. This will allow Obscure Metal Roundup to feature metal that is more, you know, obscure! It’s gonna get trve kvlt as fuck in here!

High Spirits – Hard To Stop (Released 2020)

I’ve already checked out High Spirits in this space, all the way back in OMR3, when I said some not very nice things about their debut full-length, 2011’s Another Night. So I was acting somewhat against my better judgment when I first listed to Hard To Stop a few months ago, but I figured as long as I emotionally prepared for an underwhelming experience, there was little harm in giving it a spin.

And then, to my surprise and my delight, I quickly discovered Hard To Stop is really fuckin’ good! While High Spirits are still very much operating in an early 80’s traditional throwback space, they have found a much surer footing within that sound, tightening up the arrangements, putting better polish on the hooks, and using this sturdier foundation as a springboard for cranking up the pathos, resulting in an album that is simultaneously dense and breezy, intricate and direct, and brooding and optimistic.

This crystalizes immediately with the intro track Since You’ve Been Gone, a miniature feast of chugging riffs, and soaring leads, capped off with a killer chorus hook (although it’s worth mentioning that the melody at the start of the chorus is suspiciously similar to the chorus melody of Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone. Since I have no doubt these guys are more than familiar with that one, and since I’m in a good mood, I’m going to chalk this up to postmodern meta playfulness), although I must confess I still don’t love the singer’s voice that much. It’s never anywhere near as distracting/detracting as on Another Night, however.

But you get the idea; this album is urgent from start to finish. Restless and Midnight Sun provide similarly excellent blasts of anthemic propulsion with real stakes attached, and closer We Are Everywhere sums up this approach with sweaty, precise thesis defense desperation. That said, the real highlights of Hard To Stop are twofold. First off, the lead guitar work is Fan-Fucking-Tastic. Every melodic lead and solo is precision engineered for maximum earworm impact, and represents an ideal balance of shredding and good taste.

Second, I must give specific credit to Voice In the Wind, the actual, by miles best track on the album. It’s not quite a power ballad, but it hits like the best of them, with a chorus the size of the Lyric Opera building.

Standout Tracks: Since You’ve Been Gone, Voice In the Wind, We Are Everywhere

Megaton Sword – Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire (Released 2020

One of the reasons sensible people find discussing aesthetic opinions with me intolerable, even after I’ve grown up enough both to avoid most of the pitfalls common to fanboyism and also to know that being a snob about anything is useless and stupid, is that all of my aesthetic opinions are unprincipled. Liking a thing in no way guarantees that I will like other, similar things, and while I just spent far too much time patting myself on the back for the thin, disparate strands of maturity I’ve collected over the years, it’s worth noting that I’m still the sort of contrarian prick who will occasionally decide to actively dislike things I find catered too specifically to my pre-existing interests. This makes giving me any recommendations a fool’s errand.

I’m telling you this so that it comes as less of a shock when I tell you I don’t like power metal all that much. Despite being an obvious offshoot/continuation of the NWOBHM and adjacent trad metal that I hold unspeakably dear, and one sporting even dorkier lyrical preoccupations than those revered classics (and yes, the way I see it, that should be a plus in my book), most power metal leaves me cold. At or near it’s best, it’s…fine. Past that threshold, I find myself confronted with a slew of bands with thin, meaninglessly high-pitched vocals, over-arranged and entirely shoehorned in prog sections, and under-arranged twin lead sections, all of which are meant to make everything sound ‘epic’ but often end up overworked, the musical equivalent of splitting The Hobbit into three movies.

Megaton Sword, fortunately, don’t fall victim to most of these traps (DC 15 to spot, DC 20 to disarm), but while Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire is not without legitimate highlights, much of the album has a certain monotony to it. The riffs jog along at a brisk mid-tempo, with double kicker underneath and competent but not always ear catching lead work. The tracks tend to average around five minutes, which isn’t too long per se but does reflect a lack of concern with efficiency, and I occasionally found myself ready to be done a bit before the tracks themselves agreed. Also, I’m not nuts about the vocals, but at least the bass is fully present in the mix. You don’t always get that, to my eternal consternation.

I liked this well enough, but if I could make one wish for Megaton Sword’s future, it would be for greater variety. This should start with more faster material; it suits the band well, as on the excellent Songs of Victory. Failing that, the mid-tempo chuggers should be shortened and the arrangements tightened up. It’s OK to have some songs that are longer, slower, and more bombastic, but even ponderous metal epics need a few good mood and tempo changes (not too many, though), for what is bombast without catharsis? I understand the desire to be epic, but epic does not have to be exhausting.

Standout Tracks: Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire, Songs of Victory

Bong Wizard – The Bong Remains the Same (EP) (Released 2020)

Finally, since I said I was going to keep an eye on Bong Wizard in OMR10, I would be remiss in that sworn duty if I failed to circle back to this EP and see how they’re progressing.

Feels a bit weird for a stoner band to do an EP; after all, stoner is the official sub-genre of attaining a state of trance-like pseudo-napping for extended periods of time. 20 minutes is just barely enough time to attain such a state, and yet here you are, forced to rub just enough sleep out of your eyes to change the tunes up.

Whatever, these are my hang-ups. The conceit (concept? Is there such a thing as a concept EP?) here is pretty simple. There are three tracks named, in order, Sativa,Hybrid, and Indica, and they progress stylistically from the relatively propulsive Sativa to the super duper downtempo instrumental Indica, with middle track Hybrid splitting the difference. It makes sense as a progression, making the EP hang together well as a miniature journey.

Oh right, this is meant to serve as a progress report for these guys. So first, the good. I am pleased to report that Bong Wizard have sludged up their sound a great deal, to great effect. No longer do the guitars scrape along as dryly as possible; instead, everything is blanketed in that sweet, Orange fuzz and kept upright with a foundation of scuzz buzzing distorted bass. This is what stoner is meant to sound like, although I do understand and admire the urge to try to sound different. As a result, this EP is largely a delight, and a perfectly paced one, at that.

But it’s not perfect, either. While it is an overall improvement from Left Hand Pass, it is also all doom riffs at varying tempos, and all vocals are the incoherent screaming kind. I miss the quiet/loud contrasts from their generally well done spooky sections, and the clean vocals that accompanied them. The next time Bong Wizard comes out with a full-length, I would like to hear them synthesize their new commitment to sludge with more sophisticated arrangements. This band is headed in the right direction, and I hope they continue to make good.

Standout Track: Hybrid

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