Welcome to The Metal Wanderlust’s new feature, What the VUK? The TMW staff was challenged to pick a hand full of records they thought would send me into a rage. Directly steering towards music I typically go out of my way to avoid. The challenge for me was to remain calm, and listen… no matter what.
Now, before we begin, it must be stated that each of the four albums chosen come from sub-genre’s I don’t really know a lot about, simply because my interest has been too low. As a consequence, these short reviews are not designed to be deep dives into the minds of these artists, or attempts to understand things that have eluded me for decades. What they’re designed to do is get me out of my own way.
It’s easy to write negative things about music you’ve gotten good at hating. But it’s still music, which means it still has value even if it’s hard to find. And, I think, we should all spend a bit of time with things that make us uncomfortable; things we don’t get, for whatever reason, and therefore dismiss entirely.
You will read many negative things about some of these records, I’m not gonna lie. So, if you recognize an album you adore in the featured image above, don’t think for a second you’re going to be happy with what I’ve got to say. But I did try quite hard to see these songs for what they are, and enjoy them (or not) as works of art.
As always, I welcome any debate on the ideas presented here.
Pale Swordsman – Këkht Aräkh
My First Impression:
Raw Black Metal is not my favorite sub genre. In fact, generally speaking, it is my very least favorite sub genre. Raw Black Metal alongside Symphonic Power Metal would be my soundtrack, all day every day, should I end up melting in Hell for all eternity. Demons would flay my skin with sharpened cliches… like pointless lo-fi production values and an unbearable amount of off-time blast beats. Laughably “profound” lyrics based on obscure Scandonavian nursery rhymes, and some sort of thin-skinned skeeviness that brings up visions of a thirteen year old kid sitting around in a pair of skid marked boxers and corpse paint. A permanent frown tattooed on his face, he records faux suicide notes on a 1970’s tape recorder. Probably a single candle burning in the corner, wax dripping on a mirror covered with coke dust and a lipstick pentagram. Judging from the cover art alone, that is exactly what I expected to hear from Këkht Aräkh.
The dude calls himself “Crying Orc,” for fucks sake! A fact I’d have avoided learning entirely, had I kept to my oath to never listen to the thing. But here I am, about to dive head first into an ocean of graceless misery, armed only with a laptop and the ability to run screaming, should I be unable to endure the adventures of this Pale Crying Orc… swinging his super creepy sword around. Oh, the power of an album cover! Will this ghastly Ukrainian lo-fi troubadour surprise me with any redeeming qualities? Or will he settle for the same few stale recipes most “cvlt” Metal enthusiasts have taken out of the unofficial Burzam cookbook? Oh shit! Now I’ve done it! I’ve gone and become offensive to cookbooks!
Okay. Since I’ve already taken a shit all over this guy, I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over what I didn’t like about his record. What I expected to hate was indeed present, but less irritating than I expected. My biggest gripe would be the drums, as their only purpose seems to be directly pointing out that Crying Orc is a shitty drummer. But Këkht Aräkh uses some interesting spices, which honestly held my attention much longer than I expected. And then I got to the last song, “Swordsman,” and I damn near dropped my teeth. I missed something. So… I listened again.
One of the words that Bandcamp users have been using to describe “Pale Horseman” is “romantic”. Yes, right alongside “melancholic,” which is the Black Metal version of “slaps,” I guess. All sorts of melancholic slapping going on in that review section. Jokes aside, “romantic” fits this record well, though romance is certainly not a flavor typical of the genre. With this comes an authenticity that eludes most lo-fi artists, simply because they’re trying so hard to bury any artistic elements within a sticky bubble of toddler level production.
Mr. Orc wants you to know how he feels, and as hard as he tries, he is unable to hide the fact that he’s an excellent songwriter, and genuinely great at creating an atmosphere. “Pale Horseman” does sound like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom, but that’s exactly where Këkht Aräkh needs to take you; a cold bedroom being warmed and lit by a small fire. The needle of a record player impatiently telling him it’s time for side B. The tormented artist sits at a piano, his breath at its dew point clouds above his head. He twittles at the keys, improvising what he believes his soul might sound like had it the ability to speak instead of stab. Throughout the course of these ten songs, one can almost feel the artist pacing back and forth, on a desperate quest for release, melodious or inelegant. Whatever gets the job done, until finally he sings on the cusp of defeat…
“Gathering the stars for you
I rid myself of evil.”
Though on the surface it’s very plain, even close to nauseating and predictable, this music is so much more than typical. I say this comfortably and confidently, fully outed as a person who dislikes the Black Metal status quo. And what that says to me is that “Pale Horseman” by Këkht Aräkh is an exceptional piece of work, genre be damned. Really, quite a surprise.
Call of the Wild – Powerwolf
My First Impression:
Jesus Christ. I really don’t want to listen to Powerwolf. Like… ever. As I write this, I’m wearing a bit of a frown, because… it’s fucking Powerwolf. Power Metal, as stated previously, is among my least favorite sounding things within the entirety of heavy music. But what we’re learning here is that first impressions and preconceptions must be challenged!
If you listen to this record for exactly one minute and thirteen seconds, you will hear just about every reason I dislike this subgenre. Movie soundtrack beginning, song title chanted by a group of angry men with zero context, a four count on the high hat, melodic but predictable and entirely forgettable “riff” accompanied by a shitty sounding keyboard, then come the unintentionally swashbuckling vocals…
“Fists up in the air tonight
Leave the sane, unleash the wild
This is our time, this is our fate.”
One minute and thirteen seconds. Under normal circumstances, this would be enough for me. Power Metal fans love this shit, as evidenced by the fact that Powerwolf has been releasing records for sixteen years, and showing no signs of slowing down. To be fair, I have no idea how true that is, and I couldn’t care less, because… it’s fucking Powerwolf. BUT now that I’ve started poking myself in the ears with the shards of a broken number two pencil, why quit?
Update from the trenches: I can confidently report that the first three tracks are exactly the same songs with different words.
“Varcolac” and “Alive or Undead” are interesting enough, offering at least some variation. The latter in particular, although I suspect it would be a touch nauseating in a live setting. We’ll leave that up for debate, as it is unlikely I’ll ever find out, but I don’t mind the song as is. I’d probably have enjoyed it more if the next one, “Blood for Blood,” didn’t end up being the requisite Power Metal bagpipe tune, and “Glaubenskraft” the requisite Power Metal sung-in-our-native-tongue tune. And guess what, shocker!? Power Metal sounds exactly the same in German!
In title-track news, how’s this for a lyric:
“Call, call, call of the wild
We call to follow the wild
We call, call, call the wildest storm
We bring the call of the wild.”
Genius? Perhaps. I’m forced to consider what it might sound like in German, and now… so are you! Having fun yet?
The final trio of half-witted numbers, when strung together in a sentence, sounds like it might be a Tobias Forge composition in disguise, as we’re left wondering why a “Sermon of Swords” would “Undress to Confess” to a “Reverent of Rats.” I have no fucking clue, and neither does anybody else, but one thing I know for certain is that spending much more than forty minutes with Powerwolf is not something I’m keen to do at any point in the future near or far.
It’s a Power Metal record. If you like Power Metal, you’re good to go. You don’t need to know anything else, and that’s why Power Metal pisses me off.
“Hey guys! Do you want to write something interesting? Something a little different, perhaps? Change up the sound on the snare? Put an extra minor chord a the end of… what’s that? No? Okay, you’re probably right. We should just keep doing what we know already works, even though it’s a colossal waste of time and money to release the same record six or seven times in a row. At least we’ll change the cover art, right? Right? Guys?”
Marching In Time – Tremonti
My First Impression:
Mark Tremonti has an impressive resume. Finding the kind of mainstream success he has once, let alone three times, is ridiculous to even imagine for most musicians. I’ve only ever known him as a guitarist, and an impressive one at that, but I wasn’t ever a fan of Creed or Altar Bridge as bands, despite Myles Kennedy being so easy to like, so I never gave a shit about Tremonti. In fact, until I started listening to “Marching In Time,” I had no idea Tremonti was also a vocalist. Half way through the record, I thought to myself, “Why the fuck didn’t this dude sing for Creed?” An excellent question, the world may never know the answer to, and yet… as long as the airwaves are filled with the all at once shrill and dopish yack of Scott Stapp, it will persist.
Here’s a shocking revelation for ya. I really wasn’t looking forward to spending the time it would take to listen to this recording. Another hour of my life just plopping on the ground like a warm turd. But, again, the point here is to get out of my comfort zone and pay attention to shit I’ve purposely ignored, for whatever reason.
I took notes through the whole listen, but I’m not going to go into this one track by track. There are a few reasons for that, but mainly it’s because they might as well all be the same song. Each of the twelve tracks share enough of the same traits that, for our purposes here, let’s just call “Marching In Time” one gigantic Tremonti song. Broken down into easily digestible bits, of course, which is the goal of Heavy Pop Rock close to 100% of the time anyway. Wait… is that how one achieves mainstream success with three different projects? By remaining “appealing” to the average, non-combative listener? Something to ponder, but not for very long.
What the hell am I even talking about? See what happens when Tremonti is playing? If you can keep from nodding off, your thoughts wander about like a fuckin’ Hobbit on its way to Mordor! Just a mindless pilgrim, can’t afford second breakfast, lost a shoe in a mud hole out by the Dead Marshes. “But, Hobbits don’t wear shoes!” Oh, really? Because they don’t wear them in the books? Fair enough, but Orcs don’t cry in them either. Fucking hell!
Is this album really that bad? No, it’s not “bad” at all, to be honest. There are some standout moments, particularly with the unexpectedly heavy guitar work, complete with the kinds of solos that make players grin like little kids. They’re well written songs, at times reminiscent of Living Colour, or… like a slightly wimpier Stone Sour. So, technically it’s a “good” record. It just fails miserably at sustaining the delicate balance necessary to retain a listeners attention.
Just like the other albums we’ve been discussing here, anyone already a fan of this type of music isn’t going to be terribly disappointed. What you need to know is if you are the kind of person who will some day say, “You know what this road trip needs? A wimpier Stone Sour!”
Tales from Six Feet Under – Charlotte Wessels
My First Impression:
Charlotte Wessels, for those who don’t know, used to sing for a Symphonic Power Metal band called Delain. I know enough about Delain to tell you that I have never made it all the way through listening to a single one of their albums. Memorable only in how forgettable they are, Delain is another one of those symphonic bands, like Within Temptation or Visions of Atlantis. They’ve got legions of fans, but… why?
Now, based on this, you can imagine how delirious I became at the thought of listening to a Charlotte Wessels solo album. In fact, I considered skipping it entirely because I assumed it would just suck. And as fun as this new feature has been to write, I really didn’t want to spend any more time taking shits all over people who make music I simply do not understand. That’s the challenge you face when seeking out material to specifically annoy yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in hating on something, especially if you go into it with preconceptions that are already hilarious. Well, I’m glad I decided to see things through, because “Tales From Six Feet Under” surprised the crap out of me!
Right from the jump, Wessels ditches the symphony, and the metal, but absolutely none of the power. That she keeps. Even in a whisper, as her smokey soprano glides effortlessly over whatever lies beneath it. There’s a lot going on genre-wise, but mainly it has an electronic/pop aesthetic. Not quite as organic and singer-songwriter-like as Tori Amos, and not quite as heavy and theatrical as In This Moment, but sitting very comfortably somewhere in between the two.
Half way through, the song “Source of the Flame” has a bit of a Hooverphonic vibe. Extremely well-written and produced. That was a high point until…
“Is that…” I sat up in my chair, all smiles, as I realized I was listening to a cover of “Cry Little Sister” from The Lost Boys soundtrack! That, my friends, almost made me want to go back and listen to some Delain. Note: I did not do that.
As if “Cry Little Sister” wasn’t bad ass enough, the next song (“Lizzie”) is a gorgeous duet with Alissa White-Gluz. It’s nice to hear White-Gluz’s clean vocals, as Arch Enemy has no use for them. They can be heard a bit on some of The Agonist’s first three records, but they’re not nearly as prominent as they are on “Lizzie.”
Overall, “Tales From Six Feet Under” is a fantastic heavy Pop record. Learning that Wessels performed all of the instruments herself made me consider that maybe Charlotte should have replaced all of the dudes in the band and made a decent Delain record. In fact, this solo effort should go far in helping dispel the myth that “female-fronted” should even be considered a thing at all. These are just great songs, performed with energy and freedom, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the gender of the performer. Good shit. Check this one out.