It’s Halloween, 2016. There’s an election coming up, and then 2017. People across the political spectrum fear that their worst nightmares are about to come true. Majorities of citizens are voting against, not for. Heavy metal is dystopian by its very nature, and the implications of this election provide much grist for the mill. What worst case scenarios wait on the horizon?
Submitted for your disapproval, the best of the bad, post-millennial metal for Halloween, and our times.
Immortal: “One by One”
Aeons ago the legends tell we rode onward,
Led astray by the northern chaos gods.
These opening lines evoke the violent territory traversed by Norway’s most famous black metal band. Immortal disbanded in 2015, after which lead singer/guitarist Abbath formed his own eponymously-named band. The new iteration is tight, well produced, and musically accomplished. But there’s plenty of nostalgia for the original Immortal—aka black metal’s KISS—who at their pinnacle headlined gigantic European festivals like Wacken Open Air.
In “One by One,” the lyrics tell of ancient and fantastical battles, and warlike tribes for whom conflict is the stuff of life. The track becomes greater than the sum of its parts when a punishing main riff, a coronary-throb bass, and the hoarse croak of Abbath’s vocals combine in unholy alliance.
We’ve seen too much of the grim reaper’s harvest afflicting our planet in evermore gruesome forms. In “Seed of Filth,” SFU has the guts (if you’ll pardon the expression) to unrepentantly celebrate the original Lord of the Flies.
Lead vocalist Chris Barnes once fronted death-dealing speed merchants Cannibal Corpse, but went his own way with SFU, slowing the groove down, allowing the mid-tempo material its own festering niche. His sandpapered Cookie Monster voice is the big draw here, but there’s also a lead break that sounds very much like, yes, flies swarming around something that has perished.
One of the gnarliest compositions about decomposition ever.
The metronomic beat that guides this cautionary tale about the rise of Nazism will be recognizable to metal fans who first heard it on Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell.” A new generation of rockers, like Sweden’s Sabaton, is putting their own brand on the product.
What this track has going for it are the change-ups that occur on the way to Hitler’s triumph. The original main riff is permutated after the second verse, and there is a poignant interlude that contrasts with the relentless march of National Socialism. At times seeming like songs within a song, a drum-driven parable if ever there was one, “The Rise of Evil” retells an all too familiar tale. This homemade video captures the vibe.
Late Type O vocalist and bassist Peter Steele (1962-2010) sang his own epitaph with this haunting number from New York City’s talented Goth-rockers. After a Sabbath-worthy breakdown beginning, mortality is poetically explored; sadness and loss find narrative expression.
Technically pre-millennial (released in fall of 1999), “Everything Dies” showcases Steele’s brooding baritone, but also highlights the band’s ethereal keyboard embellishments, which seem to herald the singer’s entry into the afterworld.
Steele sings in falsetto in a pre-break bridge, sending chills. With Steele’s death, there are no plans to revive the band.
Be afraid, when evil comes in beautiful colors, and with pretty melodies. For all the horror and carnage of the previous entries, Ghost’s paean to the enjoinment of dark power may be the most thematically and artistically unsettling of all.
There’s something particularly dreadful about the idea of satanic worshippers getting together. Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” rivals William Friedman’s “The Exorcist” for that reason. The demonic possession of Regan MacNeil sent people running out of theaters, but novelist William Peter Blatty’s Satanists down the hall were more believable, and just as frightening.
Ghost, who hail from Sweden, distinguish themselves with echoes of Blue Oyster Cult: clean vocals, clean production, and even clean crunch. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, the subject matter of their music is about as unclean as it gets.
“Monstrance Clock,” for all its melancholy charm, is ticking down to something you probably want nothing to do with.