[6-6-6] of 2018 Part 1: New Releases

It’s that time of year again where I spend three days going over my favorite music from the last 365 days. Just like the many music blogs I follow, you probably won’t agree with this list and also just like those sites I’m not really qualified to recommend anything to anyone … Just like last year, I’m breaking this down into three posts: 6 favorite new releases of 2018, 6 favorite NOT new releases I rocked hard in 2018 and 6 songs I killed my eardrums with — both new and old — in 2018. Because there were a few close calls, I’ve chosen to provide 6 honorable mentions as well.

All three sets are in no particular order.

This is Part 1/3


Anal TrumpThe First 100 Songs
Release Date: (November 6, 2018)
My Favorite Tracks: That Makes Me Smart; To All The Broads I’ve Nailed Before; Prayers

I’ve said many times before that the older I get, the more extreme I need my music to be. I’ve also felt like punk rock was on the verge of being completely dead. Alas, there’s Anal Trump. While not punk rock, per se, Grindcore is a subgenre that spun off as a result of punk and hardcore. I’m not a big Grindcore fan (my taste rarely goes past Napalm Death) but what Anal Trump has done here using our freaky commander in chief as not only the subject matter but using his quotes — verbatim — as lyrics and song titles is brilliant. I mean, it’s also scary that an American president’s words can be flawlessly used as Grindcore content but what Rob Crow (famous mulit-instrumentalist known for his work in Pinback, Goblin Cock and more) and bandmate Travis Ryan of over-the-top death metal act Cattle Decaptiation have put together is a masterpiece. It’s a punk rock work of art that should be celebrated despite the very disheartening reality that is the songs’ subject matter.

This album (released by indie label Joyful Noise) is actually made up of eight EPs the band released themselves. Each of the album’s eight tracks is made up of the EPs, so the proper tracks are made up of anywhere from 10 and 30 tracks each — there really are 100 songs on this album. And, true to Grindcore protocol, the whole thing still clocks in at under 12 minutes.

Zeal & ArdorStranger Fruit
Release Date: (June 8, 2018)
My Favorite Tracks: Gravedigger’s Chant; Don’t You Dare; Row Row

I first learned about Zeal & Ardor shortly before their first proper album Devil is Fine was released. That album, released as a solo act by Manuel Gagneux, hit me like no other band had in a very long time. It took the rough edges of black metal and combined it with the soulful, often painful sounds of negro spirituals. Gagneux is on record as saying the project is a result of his attempt to depict what spirituals would sound like if the slaves had embraced Satan instead of Christianity …

… and he hit the nail on the head. There’s no better way to describe it. Now, Gagneux is back with a full, touring band and a new record. Stranger Fruit picks up where Devil is Fine left off with the same spiritual wailings, monk-like chants, blues elements and the grinding guitar style ever-so prevalent in the black metal genre. I often find myself lifting HEAVY while listening to this record. The passion tears through your heart; the heaviness demands your attention; the mashup of musical styles leaves you begging for more. I hope to catch these guys in concert soon.

Ethan LuckLet it Burn
Release Date: (October 30, 2018)
My Favorite Tracks: Crash and Burn; Only Gonna Get So Far; Let it Burn

You know, you just can’t go out and play ska or reggae, man. You’ve gotta have that shit in your soul. In what was one of the highlights of my year, I stood outside in the VIP section of the Secret Stages Music Discovery Festival in Birmingham drinking a beer and talking about ska and reggae with the one-and-only John Davis, vocalist of the Lees of Memory (the band I was there to shoot) and formerly the late, great Superdrag. I played it cool but I was erupting with excitement over the fact that I was talking about my favorite kind of music with one of my favorite songwriters. The subject came up because they’d brought along a friend — Ethan Luck — to play one of many guitars during their set and Ethan was about to release his solo ska/reggae album Let it Burn. In fact, at that moment, I had a promo copy of it in my back pocket, delivered by Ethan, himself.

As the former guitarist for Christian ska sweethearts the OC Supertones, one could easily say Ethan knows his shit when it comes to ska and that truly comes out on this record. He takes ska down to its roots — none of that ultra-hype third-wave bullshit (that I still love). The songs are chill, yet danceable. All of the key elements are there from the horn sections to the guitars to the vocals (which Ethan’s are truly unique and a beautiful addition to the recording). You guys know I’m a ska snob and this is easily to best record the genre produced in 2018. Trad ska still exists, you just have to know where to find it, and Ethan Luck has mastered the art. John’s right — ska is in the soul — and Ethan’s is on fire.

Release Date: (June 1, 2018)
My Favorite Tracks: Rats; Faith; Miasma

Like I mentioned earlier, my musical tastes have gotten more extreme as I’ve gotten older. I think it has a lot to do with how easily bored I get with most forms of art — that and when it comes to metal, my attraction comes from a place of needing to be frightened. I want to be afraid of what I’m listening to. I want epinephrin to kick in when I hear it. That’s how I got into black metal, that’s how I got into death metal and that’s why I’m not afraid of the devil anymore.

And then there’s Ghost. A band that’s not really extreme. I mean, they’re evil, make no mistake, but they’re so accessible. They’re heavy, often fast and their lyrical content is pure S-A-T-A-N but they’re so melodic that most listeners will neither hear nor care about the fact that what they’re listening to is Luciferian — tongue-in-cheek though it may be. With each album’s release, I’m ready for the novelty to wear off yet it doesn’t. With Prequelle, fans of all aspects of Ghost’s appeal will be satisfied whether it be the banging finale to Rats, the heaviness of Faith, the 80s-influenced foot-stomper and hip-swinger Dance Macabre or the notable instrumental track Miasma.

Each Nameless Ghoul in the band is extremely talented in their own right and every character frontman Tobias Forge has played over the years is not only entertaining but perfectly fits into the saga that is Ghost. Forge’s current persona — Cardinal Copia — is a young man, a dancing machine and a charismatic leader that will take this legendary band into a beautiful future where they’ll leave their mark forever.

SkeletonwitchDevouring Radiant Light
Release Date: (July 20, 2018)
My Favorite Tracks: Fen of Shadows; Temple of the Sun; Carnarium Eternal

When I first saw Skeletonwitch, they were opening for Ghost at the Bijou in Knoxville and I didn’t want to give them a fair shot. I mean, Skeletonwitch? “I bet these guys are SOOOOO extreme” I said with an eye roll so fierce it nearly cracked my skull. When we showed up at the theatre, however, I was greeted by 45 minutes or so of pure death-thrash with shredding guitars, thundering drums and a vocalist (Chance Garnette) like I had never heard before. That with their then-recently released single I Am Of Death (Hell Has Arrived), I was hooked. I was a huge fan of this wild-ass band.

Like so many people, I was distraught when Chance was forced to leave the band in 2015 and didn’t have much hope when their EP The Apothic Gloom was released in 2016 with Wolvhammer frontman Adam Clemans taking over vocal duties. I mean, it was good, but it wasn’t “The Witch.” That disappointment has since been reversed with the release of Devouring Radiant Light — an album that embraces a black metal influence that, while always present, often took a backseat. Adam is back and his vocals are incredible. The band is tighter than they’ve ever been, the recording is top-notch quality and the songs are varied enough that while they’ve only given us eight tracks, they’re each very unique. There’s even a portion of Temple of the Sun that beckons a singalong and powerful chanting that I will most definitely take part in the next time they come through this part of the world. I love this band so, so very much.

Pig DestroyerHead Cage>/i>
Release Date: (September 7, 2018)
My Favorite Tracks: Army of Cops; Terminal Itch; Mt. Skull

Honestly, this spot was reserved for A Patient Man by Cult Leader but the more I listened to this record, the better and better it got. While I realize I said earlier that I wasn’t a big fan of grindcore as a genre, Pig Destroyer kind of eliminate the few things I dislike about the genre while simultaneously staying true to it. I mean, this album is often downright GROOVY. With only one song clocking it at longer than 3:30 (album finisher House of Snakes is 7:07) the guys blast through 12 songs in 30 minutes.

I’m always looking for good, heavy music to workout to and the closing lines of Army of Cops make the track perfect for any workout playlist — “Why would god create something so weak unless he wanted it to suffer?” Sounds like a challenge to stop your goddamn suffering if you ask me.

And it burns.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats Wasteland
  • Aborted TerrorVision
  • Iron Reagan / Gatecreeper split
  • Devil Master Devil is Your Master
  • Cult Leader A Patient Man
  • High on Fire Electric Messiah



On Record Store Day 2014

record store day 2014

“I’m throwing some of this stuff out” Erin said and I gazed upon a collection of books and movies she had collected into a growing pile. I pushed some aside, glancing at a few of the selections she had chosen, images and words I couldn’t put together or even remember after seeing. But then I found a small collection of vinyl records…

…My records…

…My country music records! Waylon, Willie, Johnny – they were all there. Conway was in there on top of about four Alabama records.

“No! You are NOT getting rid of these country music records, they are MY country music records!”

Then I woke up. It had been a dream. A bad one.

I was happy to wake up, both because I knew Erin hadn’t really intended to throw away my country music records but also because today is Record Store Day, 2014! My alarm was set for 7am and here I was, awake after a nightmare, at 6:30am. Monday – Friday Justin would have gladly rolled over and went right back to sleep for the extra 30 minutes but Record Store Day has turned into a yearly favorite of mine, very much like the day after Halloween. I got up, started some coffee, had a shower and at 7:30 I was ready to hit the door – wallet in one pocket, keys in the other, travel coffee mug filled to the brim in one hand, iPhone in the other with a charger cable around my wrist because I knew I’d be Tweeting like a freak.

I rolled in to my first stop – Wild Honey Records at 7:45. The store opened at 8:00 sharp and there was a queue of about 20-30 people already gathered outside the door. I told Erin this afternoon that I wanted to make my normal comment about record store freaks (like myself) and bearded hipsters (I guess like myself, too) – how it was like standing in line with Mumford and Sons, but despite the sea of skinny jeans, striped slim-fit polos, beards and flannel, it was more like a bunch of Eric Foremans awaiting entry to the earliest-opening record store. One of the owners staggered outside with a crate of RSD swag, including sampler CDs, Record Store Day 2014 Ambassador Chuck D pins, stickers, patches and posters. When the doors opened it was a friendly and somewhat organized free-for-all as RSD exclusives literally went flying off of the wall and into the hands of eager collectors. Not being one to throw elbows or get down and dirty, I merely drifted through the store, thumbing through the New To Store sections and keeping my eye on the surrounding walls lined with RSD exclusives. My haul from Wild Honey was light in comparison to the rest of my day, but musically it was quite heavy:

Amy Winehouse: Lioness: Hidden Treasures
OFF!: Wasted Years
Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, hologram cover, RSD Exclusive

I got out of Wild Honey with plenty of time to make it to Chapman Highway, home of Disc Exchange – probably the most popular destination for RSD fans. With the store opening at 9am, I pulled in my parking spot literally in the back of the lot at 8:40 and found myself at the corner of the strip the store is located in with probably 100 people queued up ahead of me. Even more people joined the line while a young filmmaker stalked around with a DSLR on a tripod apparently shooting a RSD documentary. When the doors flung open 20 minutes later the crowd poured in quickly and turned into immediate medium-style clusterfuck. Most people formed a line and made their way around the store hunting and picking their favorite exclusives while others handled the situation salmon style and fought against the stream of people while still others took a serious asshole approach and poached records from behind the racks. Here I was able to pick up a couple of other RSD exclusive: Fishbone’s self titled record on blue vinyl and the Specials Sock It To ‘Em J.B. 45. After picking up a few other titles to beef up my metal and hip hop collections, I found the very long check out line and waited patiently for my turn to get out of there. Treasures found at Disc Exchange:

Skeletonwitch: Serpents Unleashed
The Specials: Sock It To ‘Em J.B. (Dub) 45rpm single, RSD Exclusive
Ghost (B.C.): Infestissumam on red vinyl
Fishbone: Fishbone on blue vinyl, RSD Exclusive
Dr. Dre: The Chronic

Finally, I was off to my favorite record shop nestled in Happy Holler: Raven Records. The shop opened at 10 and I rolled in about 9:50 to find about 10-12 people queued up outside the door. Raven has always taken good care of me and usually forces me to find a hidden treasure on RSD such as the soundtrack for Jamaican film The Harder They Come starring Jimmy Cliff two years ago. The store is cramped as it is so while there were relatively few people in the shop compared to my previous two stops, it was sort of hard to get around – especially if you planned on getting near the RSD exclusives. I didn’t bother fighting the pool of bodies fishing through the small exclusives section. Instead, I thumbed through the reggae, hip hop, metal and punk sections. When I finally found a place in the chaos around the front section, it had been mostly picked through but I did pick up a nice RSD Exclusive in The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Bollywood before finding a few other gems and checking out. I was also told the Raven Annex was open with the “cheap” stuff and was encouraged to check it out so I did and I picked up a bunch of other things, most of which I’d never heard even once. In all, my haul from Raven Records included:

Various: The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Bollywood, RSD Exclusive
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Murder Ballads, bootleg
The Louvin Brothers: Satan is Real
Apocalypse Hoboken: Jerk Lessons, 12″ EP
D.O.A.: Show Business Giants, 12″ EP
Fishbone: In Your Face
Bad Manners: Forging Ahead
Sarah Brightman: As I Come of Age
Bad Manners: Mental Notes
Eric Thompson: Eric Thompson’s Bluegrass Guitar
Various: Country Gospel Classics

Finally, I received my favorite RSD goody from Raven Records: After spending the required amount of cash, I could choose from a few different pieces of Raven-branded merch and I chose this sweet slip mat:

Jazz, punk, hip-hop, metal, ska, blues, bluegrass, country, opera and Bollywood? I think my Record Store Day 2014 was a musical success.

Please support your local record store – here are mine:

Wild Honey Records Website
Wild Honey Records on Twitter @WildHoneyRecord
Wild Honey Records on Facebook

Disc Exchange Website
Disc Exchange on Twitter @DiscExchange
Disc Exchange on Facebook

Raven Records on Twitter @RavenRecords
Raven Records on Facebook

Also, please show Record Store Day some love:

Record Store Day Website
Record Store Day on Twitter @RecordStoreDay
Record Store Day on Facebook

If you have time, I’d appreciate it if you follow me on Twitter @justintfirefly

Happy #RSD14, everyone!

Build Your Own Role Model!

To be asked who your “role model” is can be a seriously tough question. I mean, I have a couple of canned answers, but the reality of the matter is that our role models change based on what we’re currently doing or how we’re feeling. We may have a role model that we want to be just like / look just like / really admire but it’s rare that you feel that way about them at all times. It’s hard to love and accept a happy, positive role model when you’re feeling – as one of my college professors once said – “brown” so we’ll often look to someone else that we feel knows where we’re coming from – someone we know would handle the situation the way we want to, ourselves.

And so SoulPancake has recognized this and have asked users what aspects of what people they would pull from to create the ultimate Frankenstein Monster of a role model?

For me…

David Beckham for his insanely good looks and athleticism. I do not, however, have any desire to play soccer – just wear my hair like he does, have his style and physique.

Steve Jobs for his ability to make his “reality distortion field” work, his vision, honesty and his determination.

Jean Michel Baquiat for his ability to know what he wants to say and his ability to say it through his truly unique art.

Justin Warner for his desire to not only live “outside of the box” but his absolute refusal to acknowledge its existence.

Aaron Barrett for his persistance because even through countless lineup changes in his band he’s stuck with it and made an admirable career out of it. Some albums rocked, some albums sucked and he’s been there through them all.

This is a [life’s little lists] writing prompt from SoulPancake and can be found here. I highly recommend you check out SoulPancake, buy their book and share your input on the site!

This is post 14 of my very first time participating in NaBloPoMo, a “Blog a Day” project for the month of November.

Follow me on Twitter @justintfirefly