Home Sweet [Haunted] Home


Above is the text my wife sent me shortly after I entered a haunted house with our kids. She heard an employee mention it moments after we walked in. Evie and Wyatt seemed so exited at the time. “Can we go to the haunted house now?” is what they’d been asking for the last 4 hours. My phone was buried in my pocket so I never saw her text, but I’m guessing it was around the same time I realized what a horrible idea this was.

The state fair in Minnesota is quite the spectacle, and by spectacle, I mean 320 acres of sheer madness. I can find out my blood type, get a Henna tattoo, win a stuffed dog I can’t physically carry while attempting to stand up a Corona bottle with a shower curtain attached to a string tied to a stick, and grab some hot dish on a stick on the way back to the shuttle bus I took from the school down the street from my house. Madness. Naturally, within all the chaos, there is a haunted house, and for some reason my kids wanted to go. As the sole horror enthusiast in my house, I was somewhat confused but mostly elated by this.

Before we walked in, I huddled with both kids and let them know that in no way did they have anything to be scared of, nothing was real. It’s just a bunch of kids in costumes trying to scare them. All was good. I grabbed 3 tickets and we made our way inside. The first scene was a coffin that opened with some other figures standing near it. Evie jumped slightly, but I let her know it wasn’t real and she was cool. As we progressed, much like one would expect, more figures appear and they got a bit more aggressive with their actions. After about 2 minutes the kids completely lost their shit. They were both producing blood-curdling screams, sounds I’d never heard from them. In my mind, I was working on the speech I would give after I received the ‘Father of the Year’ award.

It’s amazing how quickly you can get out of a haunted house. I approached the first normal looking employee (presumably a female college student, drama major) I could find within the pitch black chaos, carrying one child and holding the hand of the other, both screaming in horror (Sully and Mike Wazowski would be proud). She just waved her arms and all the monsters in our path disappeared, completely opening the walkway to the nearest exit. It was almost magical. Once outside, the kids cried for probably another 10 minutes, but just like always, mom is the cure for everything in this world.

I get it, I took 2 kids, ages 6 and 8, into a haunted house. What should I have expected? I accept and own that fully, but a heads up from one of the four haunted house employees we interacted with as we walked in would have been nice. The kids went to bed okay that night, and nobody woke up screaming as I anticipated, but I fear that this will come back to haunt me some day via their teenage years, to which I will tell them I did it on purpose. Based on the photo below though, taken shortly after the Amityville experience, I’m optimistic that we can just pretend it never happened…because that always works out in the end. Cheers!


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Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Cryptopsy & Abysmal Dawn

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As we rode a shuttle bus from the Itzehoe train station to the grounds of the Wacken Open Air Festival, the last leg of an eventful 36+ hour journey, I knew this would be an experience that bonded the 3 of us for life…I just didn’t know how exactly. Leading up to the festival, I read updates regarding the amount of rain they were getting, but for some reason I wasn’t concerned, perhaps because the measurements were metric and I’m not smart. Even on the bus, a group of people had been conversing on the excess of mud. I still saw no concern. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As the bus pulled in to the grounds, there were only 3 things to be seen: people, tents and mud…oceans of mud. Fortunately there was a solid bed of rock to step on as the 3 of us exited the bus. Looking back, as our feet crossed from the stability of rock to the infinite sea of mud, I was reminded of a young Archie Grahm in the movie Field of Dreams, about to permanently alter the course of his life as he stepped from the corn field to the baseball field. Things were about to change for us as well. I’ll save the longer story for another day. That weekend was a challenge to say the least, and yet, easily one of the best times of my life, both in terms of camaraderie as well as the music. We bought some rain boots, bought some beer and saw some of the most amazing performances. Obituary and Cannibal Corpse, pure, unfiltered old school death metal, were among the finest.

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After returning home from Germany, we parted ways. Months later though, when the Cannibal Corpse/Obituary tour dates popped up on my radar, I felt it was the perfect occasion for a reunion. We convened at the Surly Brewery for some quality beer, quality pre-gaming and reflection on our Wacken travel. After which, we migrated to The Cabooze, a cozy little venue and pretty much the polar opposite of an outdoor European festival. I only have 3 words to describe the evening: absolutely, fucking and brutal. That’s it, honest. We’re talking about 4 considerably distinguished death metal bands with over 100 years of savagery between them (I’m serious, do the math). What could possibly be more metal than that? Perhaps the fact that the entire place was a colossal mosh pit continuously pulsating over the course of 5 hours. We held the stage left position most of the night, with the current thrusting us to the right occasionally. We couldn’t have been happier.

Abysmal Dawn and Cryptopsy were solid…brutally solid. Cryptopsy had also been at Wacken this past summer, but scheduling didn’t allow us to see them, something that had bummed me out, but this tour brought me piece of mind. Obituary stood out the most this night. Like previous, their set was as dynamic as it was relentless, destroying tracks across the entire spectrum of their catalog. What I love most about Obituary is the honest, gritty coarseness to the sound they’ve been churning for the last 30+ years. Cannibal Corpse was true to form as well. Their brand of horrifically brutal death metal never gets old. They tore  through the full range of their catalog as well, intermixed with George’s life commentary. I always enjoy when some dickhead throws something on stage and George immediately lashes out with death threats. That too never gets old.

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Over the course of the night, I had two epiphanies. First, death metal bands have the most elegant hair. I mean that as a genuine compliment. Every band has at least one member with ass-length, pristine, lush hair. As a man in the throes of a slow, painful balding, I would kill to have hair like that. Is a L’oréal sponsored tour out of the question? Agenda? Think about it.

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The second epiphany, which was probably more of a reawakening, was the idea that death metal is timeless (which is obviously true for a lot of metal). It’s not something I didn’t know previously, but seeing 4 of the worlds finest death metal bands, back to back, helps rejuvenate and enlighten. Death metal doesn’t need to be anything other than itself. It doesn’t need to get faster, louder, more technical, more progressive, more deathy or anything…it just needs to be. I’m sure there’s a great Shakespeare quote I could reference, but alas, I hath not one. At it’s utmost core, death metal is brutally honest, and honestly brutal. In a universe comprised of countless sub-genres, most which I mingle with in some capacity, death metal has been my metal of choice. It’s the metal that’s shaped me most, not just with the brutality of it’s sound, but with it’s attitudes, it’s artwork and even the term death metal. I was 15 the first time I heard death metal. I have Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to thank for that. Cannibal Corpse made a cameo, playing what I would later find out was “Hammer Smashed Face.” I was all in at that point, and never turned back. 22 years later, the 5th time I’ve seen Cannibal Corpse live, and “Hammer Smashed Face” is still as relevant and brutal sounding as was back then. When Obituary plays songs off of Slowly We Rot (please forgive the lack of specifics), it engulfs you the same as it did back in 1987, if not more. The whole concept is so simple…yet so brutal.

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Tonight was about 3 comrades reuniting for an evening of death metal. 3 dudes bonded for life after an extended weekend of surviving a mud-soaked heavy metal festival armed with only rain boots and beer. A bond that will hopefully bring us back to Wacken in 2017, but if not, will give us many more evenings of exceptional beer and deafening music. Tonight was also about my reunion with death metal, not that’d we’d spent time apart, but rather, taking the time to stop and appreciate a genre for what it truly is.

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Listen to Show Me The Wolves

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So Valentine’s Day…not the most metal of holidays, but one that still exists, and one that few hitched individuals can escape, myself included. Fortunately, my wife is pretty laid back about the whole event, at least from what I can tell. Last year I got her Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, and granted, I could be setting myself up for an amazing episode of Dateline, but it felt like a success. This year we did dinner. The restaurant was called Travail, go there if you haven’t, just for the experience. We were seated at a table with 3 other couples and over the course of the next 2.5 hours, there were 18 different tastings, one of which was Pop Rocks in liquid nitrogen. Somewhere in the middle of the meal, my wife asked me how many kinds of metal there actually were, her tone implying doubt that there could be more than one. As I tried to process her question, most likely gracing a “WTF?” look on my face, trying not to make a scene in public, and remembering I had exchanged vows with this woman, Show Me The Wolves popped into my head.

The World They Took Over is an album hard to categorize, other than the fact that it’s so honest and gorgeous in the way that slightly blackened, dirty sludge radiates beauty. It’s what I believe to be the second release from Iceland’s sole-membered Show Me The Wolves and it’s literally all over the place, while at the same time, reflects a single narrative. Opening with erie synths worthy of Twin Peaks charm, the album immediately begins to ascend into a sludge-driven chaotic opus smattered with progressive undertones, wicked synths, blast beats, complex dirty melodies, and even subtle splashes of post-hardcore and grunge, which, based on my youth, are what most likely pulled me in the most. So far this year, I’ve felt a stronger gravitation to albums of this sort…not exactly black-and-white in their genre classification. It also makes for a fine exhibit in explaining to the non-metal people of our world (the majority), or in this case my wife, how vast the landscape of metal truly is. Unfortunately though, these explanations typically fall on deaf ears outside of our metal walls, but then again, isn’t that exactly what we want?

 

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Listen to Ancestor’s Blood

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We’ve tried to teach our kids, that instead of saying that they “don’t like something,” to instead say, “it’s not my favorite.” It sounds so much better, and a lot less winey. That said, synthesizers aren’t my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the synths, but with the exception of Children of Bodom and a handful of other bands, I’ve just never been passionate about an overabundance of the keys my metal. The other day though, I listened to an album called Hyperborea by Ancestor’s Blood. After a few days passed, I realized parts of the album were still audibly embedded within my mind. Which parts you ask? The synthesizers, naturally. They were literally stuck in my head. It was like the plot of some psychologically horrific sci-fi flick, acting as the soundtrack to my thoughts, while simultaneously hypnotizing me. At some point would my head explode? Possibly.

Hyperborea, the third album from the Finnish quartet, is a darkly melodic voyage, lush with atmosphere. It’s an album, at times is lead by synthesizers, that’s only describable as…epic. It progresses in a narrative fashion, opening with ambiance and slowly ascending…closing identically but opposite in direction. The title track provides that same ambience around the middle. The ambiance feels a little “health spa” at times, not that being massaged to this album would necessarily be a bad thing, but the rest of the album is a brutal antithesis. It’s filled with constant rhythms blended with building, hauntingly melodic synths that take on an almost sonic appearance, then contrasted with the harsh, scraping vocals. While I’m reminded of Enslaved at times as I listen, Hyperborea is a distinctly, intriguing exploration of metal virtue, synthesizers included.

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1349, Tombs, Full of Hell & Pestifere

1349

Last night, in case you hadn’t heard, I was amazing. I just didn’t realize how amazing until I woke up this morning. I was curled up on my dog’s bed in the middle of our living room floor (my dog sleeping next to me on a blanket)…and I was still drunk. Amazing. I’d love to tell you how amazing the show was last night, that I was able to see local openers Pestifere and how Full of Hell tore my face from my skull. Tombs & 1349 followed suit, pummeling my soul until I conceded to watching the Full House reboot (in a single sitting). I can’t tell you any of that though. Following a series of events which included a bike trek, happy hour and Uber, I strolled into the Triple Rock, and shortly thereafter became “that guy”. The douchebag too drunk to be at a show, desperate to be best friends with anyone and everyone.

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Upon entering, I grabbed a beer and headed for the stage. Full of Hell was in the process of setting up. I got close, and based on the above photo, I was struggling with the concept of spacial bubbles. In my mind, their set lasted about 3 minutes of abrasively, destructive grindcore. I now realize, in trying to be humorous about effectively communicating my lack of sobriety, the concept of an opening grindcore band having a 3 minute set isn’t really all that absurd.

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I held my position for Tombs, still showing no regard for spacial bubbles (again, see above). I’ve been waiting to see Tombs for roughly 5 years…5 long years. From the moment I heard Path of Totality, I became completely entranced with their sound (along with post metal as a whole). Aside from opening with “Thanatos” (I think), a fist pump with Mike Hill and a handshake with Ben Brand, everything else was a blur, to which I’m still shaking my head in self-disgust. When Firehouse is in town, playing at one of those bars situated within a strip mall, that’s the show you get hammered at, not Tombs.

After their set, I thought it might be wise to head out (my most logical thought of the evening), but as I was navigating to the door, I ran into a co-worker and his wife. After striking up conversation, I decided to stay. Lucky them.

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Fortunately, I had seen 1349 previously. The first was in 2010, they were on a bill between Skeletonwitch and Cannibal Corpse at Station 4. Yeah, I know. The second was later that year at the Wacken Open Air festival. Again, I know. It was a small consolation that didn’t necessarily make things better, but rather suck a little less. 1349 always puts on a brutal set and from what I could tell, tonight was no exception. Being at such an intimate venue only amplified that brutality (not that I would know). Something I’ve always respected about 1349 is their accessibility. They still spend a considerable amount of time on this side of the pond and more specifically, Minneapolis-St. Paul, making me feel fortunate to live here. This is me getting all deep and sentimental.

Overall, I think the damage was minimal. My co-worker and his wife got a round of drinks out of the deal, on me of course. At the bar, I ran into 2 of the guys from LynLake Brewing whom I recognized, but didn’t actually know. I bought their beers as I babbled. At some point, again at the bar, I was standing near Todd Haug from Surly. Not actually having met him either, I started babbling on about Powermad and who knows what else. [Sorry Todd, I’ll file the restraining order against myself. LOVE Powermad (and Surly for that matter)!!]

At some point, I vanished. I vaguely recall an Uber ride to my bike and somehow peddling home. I’m confident there were at least 3 solid wipe outs, would have been amazing to watch. At least I made it home. I’m not exactly sure where things went fully awry this night, I didn’t really drink much more than I normally would. Regardless, let’s keep Mr. Hyde in the other dimension.

Obviously, the amazingness continued into the next day. It was probably around lunch when the out-of-body experience I was feeling began to subside. I could actually make full sentences without effort. At that point I needed to go home and crash, but my day was just getting started. My daughter had dance after school, and my son and I were her dates. It would take some effort to stay awake on those cozy chairs at the dance studio, but in the end, there’s nothing more metal that an evening with my little ones \m/.

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Thou, Fister, False & Näive Sense @ The Triple Rock

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I always thought that seeing Thou live would be the equivalent to getting the shit kicked out of me, and because of events that transpired earlier in the day, I was right. No, I’m not a split personality-bearing, soap maker, spending his evenings engaged in activities he can’t talk about (or maybe I am). I attempt to lead what some call a “healthy lifestyle”, the key word being attempt. In doing so, I take advantage of the fitness center where I work, but this puts me on the radar of something commonly found in fitness centers: crazy people. Said crazy people where I work, who are actually wonderful people, organize themselves on Fridays over the lunch hour for what they call “bootcamp”. On this particular Friday, I let myself get roped into 35 minutes of sweaty, grunt-filled, muscle-annihilaing madness. These people willingly punish themselves…and enjoy it. I barely had the strength to take off my shirt off when it was over, let alone any other normal task throughout the rest of the day. The show, a mere 9 hours away, felt insurmountable in my current condition, yet at the same time, a light at the end of the tunnel.

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I was embarrassed at how battered I felt, but my sights were set on a few solid hours of metal. Eyes on the prize. Fortunately, The Triple Rock has a lovely tap selection, all of which were lined up and happy to ease my pain (HammerHeart on tap!). Näive Sense have the taste of blood in their mouths. The local Minneapolis quartet’s immensely intense level of gritty hardcore rawness kicked the evening off. Singer Natalie Grace McKay’s voice sounds as though she was reaching the outermost threshold of her vocal range, something that speaks volumes to the purity of their angst, while warming my heart at the same time. Any loose skin on my face was stretched thin as they possessed the stage, like a vice grip of aggression. Staying true to the characteristics of the traditional hardcore and punk sound, Näive Sense draws on the keyboard to inject elements of electro and noise, giving their sound an added layer of dimension. My body already felt better.

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I saw False for the first time this past August at their release show for Untitled. To say their set was amazing would be a vast understatement. Since then, I’d spent much time with Untitled, gaining a solid familiarity and love for their brand of black metal, along with a strong desire to see them again. As they began to set up this evening, a sense of sinister giddiness grew inside me. As their set commenced, I was consumed with the feeling of both amazement and enlightenment. Hearing songs from Untitled, in the flesh, only amplifies the euphoria of their sound and the layers of their depth. The wall of noise becomes a more of a circle surrounding you. The chaos, even more intense, gives greater importance to the interludes that you wish were longer…yet you don’t. It struck me most during “The Deluge” as the song gradually begins to recede, continued only by the melody of the guitars. The true beauty of False’s live show is the intricacy with which they perform, both in the technical note-to-note aspect, as well as the unity of six musicians coming together to create one harmoniously dissonant sound, from which you can’t escape, nor do you want to.

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In recent months, instead of researching the bands on a given bill that I’m not familiar with, I do nothing (out of sheer laziness, not some cool concept, but I’ll try and make it sound like that). I let their performance be my first encounter, and tonight, I met Fister. The St. Louis trio broke the ice with a display of piercingly, harmonious feedback cascading into to what I took for their signature filthy sludge-doom sound. Bassist Kenny Snarzyk and guitarist Marcus Newstead provided array of tag-team vocals while drummer Kirk Gatterer completely crushed the low end. I’ve never paid more attention to a drummer’s relationship with their toms…pure art. It was a pleasure meeting Fister, a band with a little more death in their doom, and a little more crust in their sludge.

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The instant I read that Thou would be town, I immediately lost consciousness, waking up a short time later, only to find a ticket confirmation in my email and lacking any clues tattooed on my body. Every time this show was mentioned, the word “Thou” was always followed by the phrase “(only regional show)”. This only re-affirmed my swiftness in purchasing a ticket.

Take the most brutal death metal album you’re ever heard and slow it down to half speed, maybe even quarter speed, but then imagine that it still posses just as much brutality at that slower speed as it does at full speed, maybe more. That’s Thou. When Heathen first came out, I gave it a spin and didn’t think much of it. When year-end came though, I saw it popping up on lists all over, so I gave it another listen. I was visibly shaken and upset at how amazing this album really was, but more so at the fact that I’d written it off. Grateful was I for this opportunity. Their set was just as I’d imagined…complete and utter sludge-infused-doom destruction. Singer Bryan Funck’s eye’s tell the story in full. The fire and intensity are an accurate visual representation of Thou’s sound. I’ve never felt chords hit so hard, like literally impacting my body. Interlaced with their brand of tragic melodies, the periods of simmering slowly burn themselves and crescendo up to complete dissonance. Two songs in, I had a flashback to Bleach, only to realize they were indeed crushing a track off Nirvana’s debut (I think, not knowing the exact song at the time, I assumed I could figure it out later, except that didn’t happen). Later in the set, they re-visited the grudge poster children with “Scentless Apprentice,” a track off of In Utero, giving me another unnecessary reason to love this band. From what I could tell, the majority of their set was Algiers and Heathen tracks (along with 2 renditions of “Happy Birthday”). I need to note that while it’s clear Thou are not from these parts, Bryan did a wicked job layering his clothing. I was nothing short of impressed as each layer came off, only to reveal another, and all long-sleeved.

When their set ended, around 1:30 a.m., I had indeed witnessed Thou and I indeed felt like I’d had the shit kicked out of me. The next time I’m able to attend the bootcamp class will be too soon, but I can’t say the same for the next time I see Thou. Of the countless show’s I’ve been to throughout my life, there are only a handful that I truly feel fortunate to have seen. This was one of them.

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2015: The Year in Metal

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year. No, not the holidays. I’m talking about the countless hours of discussion devoted to the topic that matters most in my and many other’s existence…the best metal albums of the past year. List after list after list, album after album, I read and read and read. Next, I make a spreadsheet, inputting all the lists I got my hands on, and then I just sit and stare at them, much like my 12-year-old self did to stacks of Playboy magazines neatly tucked away, hiding within a toolroom in our basement, or so my parents thought.

Let’s be clear, even though I put a fair amount of time evaluating and compiling a list each year, I’m fully aware that it has no bearing whatsoever on the fate of our metal culture…nor that anyone reads or cares about it…but I’m given purpose by the process, and so forward we move. Normally, the end of year lists begin to appear out of nowhere, and in droves. I get overwhelmed, panic and a child-like internal shit-show ensues. This year though, I made a conscious effort to make a list of potential albums as I found them. As expected, this made things ridiculously easier, but what I didn’t expect, was seeing the semi-consistency of my list over the course of a year. I chose not to rank these releases, I don’t have the emotional capacity to do so, but instead have them all stand on the same platform. So, without further adieu…

Dead in the MangerCessation

dead-in-the-manger-cessationThe first album I took note of for 2015 was Dead in the Manger’s debut full length Cessation. A band hailing from an apparent unknown location, my guess would be a US zip code of some kind, Dead in the Manger introduce themselves as atmospherical, spacey black metal, but that’s just the beginning. Their shape transforms itself into a blend of sludge-soaked doom accented with sprinkles of death and grindcore. [Cessation is available via Bandcamp.]

PanopticonAutumn Eternal

panopticon-autumn-eternalOpening with the call of a Loon, perhaps signaling closure in the pilgrimage from Kentucky to Minnesota, the third piece of Panopticon’s trilogy, beginning with Kentucky and continuing with Roads to the North, Autumn Eternal reminds us of a key black metal ingredient often overlooked…nature. Solely comprised of mastermind Austin Lunn, Panopticon crosses the genre spectrum, utilizing an overarching melody that transforms itself across the album, visciously soaring above the chaos and deeply embedding itself within the tranquil. [Autumn Eternal is available via Bandcamp.]

Black Fast – Terms of Surrender

black-fast-terms-of-surrenderThis St. Louis quartet’s sophomore effort is riddled with luscious riffs and melodic hooks, so addicting they’re worthy of an entire season of Dateline, which people will refer to as “To Catch a Shredator.” Endlessly relentless yet charmingly raw, Terms of Surrender is a welcome addition to the ranks of those destroying the myth of the sophomore slump. [Terms of Surrender is available via their website.]

 

FalseUntitled

false-untitledOn their debut full-length, Minneapolis-based False continue where their 2012 identically-titled EP left off. Truly a narrative, composed of 5 songs and coming in at just under an hour, this album is meant to be experienced in it’s entirety. Their brand of black metal is both beautifully hypnotic while horrifically raw, and could quite possibly serve as the score to the most supurlative horror film not yet made. [Untitled is available via Bandcamp.]

 

Minsk – The Crash and the Draw

Minsk-The-Crash-And-The-DrawI feel for my co-workers somedays. I listen to metal all day, but because I’m always focused on projects, most of said music passes through my ears without much absorption. The Crash and the Draw, Chicago-based Minsk’s fourth album, was one that pulled me in immediately, like a tractor beam (I’m in the middle of a Star Wars marathon in prep for seeing Episode VII tomorrow). Their brand of psychedelic sludge easily distracted me from every concept, tagline and proof I was working on. [The Crash and the Draw is available via Bandcamp.]

Vattnet ViskarSettler

vattnet-viskar-settlerFortunately, my cousin, at times, will metaphorically dunk my head in a toilet, an effort to capture my attention, most recently to let me know how amazing Settler is. In a year tightly interlaced with USBM nuances, more than previous years from what I can remember, the New Hampshire-based quartet takes a deeper approach to their sophomore album. Settler, loosely referenced on the cover, touches on themes relating to the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, more specifically, the aftermath and those affected by it. Themes aside, Vattnet Viskar epitomizes solid, intensely raw, spacey (no pun) black metal. [Settler is available via their website.]

Rivers of Nihil – Monarchy

rivers-of-nihil-monarchyI was completely enamored with 2013’s The Conscious Seed of Light, to the point of knowing that this Pittsburgh quintet’s sophomore effort would be just as brutal, and like the delightful soothsayer I am, my prediction was correct. With Monarchy, Rivers of Nihil continue with their pulverizing tech-death, injecting doses of prog, intensifying the depth of complexity, on top of the already intricate barrage of turbulence. [Monarchy is available via Bandcamp.]

 

Bosse-de-NageAll Fours

The fourth album from San Francisco’s Bosse-de-Nage is a opus of pure raw passion, both literally and metaphorically. All Fours is a blistering noise exhibit that displays beauty and richness throughout it’s unpredictable chaos. Living mainly within the walls of post/black metal, their story touches on moments of post-hardcore, sludge and doom, among others, but overall, it was the bitter rawness, notably heard in the guitars and drums, that kept me coming back. [All Fours is available via Bandcamp.]

 

KhemmisAbsolution

khemmis-absolutionThe debut album from this Denver quartet is devastatingly slow and low, harmonized with the weighted melodies completely engulfed in fuzz, complete with an album cover worthy of The Dark Tower series. On Absolution, Khemmis  has created a factory of guitar chugging majesty blending it with semi-hypnotic yet soaring vocals. Hopefully the Pallbearer comparisons are taken as compliments. [Absolution is available via Bandcamp.]

 

 

SannhetRevisionist

This Brooklyn trio’s brand of gripping experimental black metal spans the spectrum of guilty associates. Ranging from ambient, spacey doom to deep, dirty sludge contrasted with the speed and chaotic rawness of black metal, Revisionist is an album worthy repeating…for an entire day, or week depending on how your’s is going. They remind me a lot of Year of No Light, the sole metal band my wife actually likes, building melodic chaos that sometimes finds resolution…and sometimes not, which works just as well. [Revisionist is available via Bandcamp.]

 

Honorable Mentions

Cattle DecapitationThe Anthropocene ExtinctionGhost BathMoonlover Leviathan – Scar SightedLamb of GodVII: Sturm und DrangDeafheavenNew Bermuda | Chelsea WolfeAbyss | Fuck the FactsDesire Will Rot | Temple of BaalMysterium | UfomammutEcate | OshiegoCrossing the Bridge of Siraat

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HammerHeart Brewing Company

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Most of my life has been filled with bad decisions, a habit that’s only gotten worse with age. During the spring of 2014 though, I bought tickets to see Agalloch, a really good decision…for two reasons. The first was that tonight was an evening I didn’t think would happen, so when signer John Haughm confirmed it was the first time Agalloch had played in Minneapolis, (noting that it was a “fucking mistake” to have waited so long), the evening promptly went from live music to a near out-of-body experience. The second reason was a beer entitled Serpensblot, brewed specifically for this show by The HammerHeart Brewing Company. This area is home to an explosion of craft breweries, but this was the first brew I’d tasted from HammerHeart (let alone the first time I’d heard of them, sadly). I was deeply intrigued after only a few sips, realizing there was a journey before me. I knew on this day that I would eventually travel to the city of Lino Lakes to visit the taproom of The HammerHeart Brewing, Co.

A few months had passed and I had yet to make the trek to HammerHeart. I did though, find myself at something called The Beer Dabbler. It’s a gathering of 100+ craft breweries pouring beer over the course of 4 hours, all of which were contained within a minor league baseball field (insert Field of Dreams pun). As the evening progressed and my sobriety dissipated, I had the pleasure of chatting with Austin Lunn, HammerHeart’s Brewmaster and co-founder. It was one of those moments when your drunkenness is at a level that requires a crippling amount of effort and focus simply to construct complete and meaningful sentences. Regardless of my stupidity, Austin was great. Hearing about his experiences brewing in Norway, along with his migration to Minnesota, left me feeling grateful for the opportunity to chat. The rest of the night was a blur though. It was the weekend before I got married, and “moderation” wasn’t a word my cohorts were using. The next morning, as I laid on a bed in urgent care (reasons not relating to the previous evening), the nurse asked me if I wanted Novocain for the incision she was about to make in my arm. I passed, letting her know that the pain of the blade cutting open my skin was the only hope of distraction I had from the repeating sledge hammer throb in my frontal lobe, something I woke up with. Clearly the sign of a good night.

Over a year had passed since I met Austin that night, and we had yet to venture north to the brewery. I was having a hard time looking at myself in the mirror. Plagued by the increasing self-hatred as a result, Aaron and I finally made our way north. Upon entering the taproom, we were greeted with the sounds of death metal. After an almost 2 year wait, we were finally home. The taproom was reminiscent of a Northwoods lodge, adorned with Norse-inspired artwork complimented with multiple sets of antlers hanging from the ceiling. People filled the tables, bar stools and other various seating options throughout the space. The first word that came to mind was cozy. I quickly realized that I didn’t just want to drink…I wanted to move in. After grabbing a seat and starting to sample a flight, it was clear that the founders of HammerHeart did the world a favor the moment the embarked on this journey. Their beer possess an intense richness and complex depth, distinguishing itself from the countless peers. This is perhaps a reflection of the Nordic and Celtic cultures they’ve built their brewery on. Of the 4 beers in my flight, Valkyrie Tears, a double IPA, garnished the most favor with my inner-Norse demons. Measuring up at an impressive 13% ABV, I understood why my gums were starting to tingle. My flight was rounded out with Black Cascade (Black Pale Ale), British Invasion (British Style Pale Ale) and the Barrel Aged Flanary’s Brew (Bourbon Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout), all of which were distinct yet delicious. I finished the evening with a pint of Bergtatt, a Juniper Pale Ale, equally pleasing. As we headed south, clearly only having scratched the surface of Hammerheart (and wondering what an apartment goes for in Lino Lakes), it was unspoken yet assumed we would return, not just to experience more of their beer, but rather to continue the journey that we started…the journey that is their beer. Kemst þó hægt fari.

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Black Dahlia Murder, GoatWhore, Iron Reagan, Entheos & Artificial Brain @ Mill City Nights

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Tonight was a special night. Holiday metal is the best. This was easily the most pre-show excitement I’ve had in years. I’m at a loss for decent metaphors, but I doubt there’s one that can accurately describe my hysteria. The anticipation was literally constricting my airway. The leading factor being the opportunity to see GoatWhore live for the first time. Whenever I hear their name, I think of that scene in Anchorman, when Ron yells at Veronica to “go back to your home on Whore Island,” except in my mind he says “GoatWhore Island.” The other factor, a close second, was that tonight we were a trio instead of our usual duo status. For years, my cousin, whom I call A.A. Ron, and I  have been hitting shows together across the globe. Tonight though, my brother-in-law Jim, in town for Thanksgiving, was tagging along. Maybe he was mildly interested in hitting up a metal show for the first time, or perhaps he just wanted to get out of the house for a few hours. Jim lives in Texas, has 2 kids, does the white collar thing and only listens to metal when I force him, which is basically twice a year on a drive to the liquor store during an extended family weekend. He’s courteously optimistic and humors me most times, so we felt privileged to be graced with his presence. Using the sounds of Kendrick Lamar as a common thread between us, we hit the road.

It seems that no matter what show we go to, the guy (never a girl) whose gotten himself completely and utterly annihilated before the music even starts, always seems to find us, like a fucking bloodhound. Our contestant tonight was named Ryan. He was from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin and sporting a stylish “Bomb Squad” jacket. I thought he was doing some type of yoga stance or wicked stretch, but the dude was legitimately trying to keep himself upright…and failing. Noting that he’d had 5 PBRs and an inaudible amount of Jack Daniels, he had switched to water (as though water’s going to make any kind of dent in this disaster) when he stumbled into us. Reminding us that we could punch him in the face, he was on the “less annoying” side of the drunken spectrum, but after attempting various methods of using each of us to physically support himself, it was time to part ways.

entheos-1Sadly, we missed Artificial Brain, but strolled in about halfway through Entheos’ set. I love the fact that Jim got to walk into what he perceived to be the typical male guttural death vocal, only to find out the he was really a she named Chaney Crab. So moved was he, Jim later moseyed over to their merch booth, learned she was an native Iowan (much like himself), and left their booth with a signed t-shirt. I was elated. Entheos was solid. I had given their Primal EP a quick listen in the weeks preceding, but it wasn’t until after the show that I learned Entheos was comprised of already established musicians in some form or another. They were definitely tech-savy deathcore with some small splashes of prog. Again, timing didn’t allow me to see much, but I look forward to hearing more Entheos in the future.

iron-reagan-1Iron Reagan is a fucking party. A thrash-alicious soiree of decadent hardcore elegance. What the hell does that even mean? I’m not sure, but it’s all you need to know…that, and they have a song about stabbing eyeballs. Embracing certain visual characteristics (wicked facial hair (mustaches), cut-off sleeves, genital-smothering denim, etc.) of the cold-war-era time period responsible for producing their name, Iron Reagan are the modern-day standard of anti-establishment. With that though, they bring energy and aggression. There were a few flickers of life that scarcely formed a circle pit earlier in the evening, but once Iron Reagan took the stage, that junior high dance of a pit morphed into a hurricane. I made the genius move of standing on the edge of the circle and lost a full can of Furious to some dude’s bicep smashing into me. Utilizing tracks from both full lengths and few from the Spoiled Identity EP, their set was literally a onslaught of thrash including a 5 song blitz lasting probably 8 minutes. Frontman Tony Foresta made light of this (and pretty much everything throughout the set) noting that they had “3 songs left so give us 5 more minutes.” In the end, this is a band you could put on literally any tour, and they would kill. Just ask Jim, he bought one of their shirts too.

aaron-jim-dadofnortherndarkness-1After their set we took a group shot in front of the stage. I wanted Jim to have evidence of his head banging antics, and possibly for black mail purposes. While posing, we noticed a horde of security guards slowly crossing the floor, flashlights shining brightly and assisting a slouching figure. Had someone been injured during the set? Nope, it was just Ryan being escorted out. How does one, beyond wasted, get themselves back to Chippewa Falls on a Saturday night? What does that Uber ride look like?

goatwhore-1I’m not horribly familiar with the works of Shakespeare. I wish I was, but I don’t have that kind of time (I’ve got a copy of his complete works; it’s on the bucket list). Regardless, I’m certain what I’m trying to articulate somehow lives within the depths of his catalog. I’m thinking of a sorcerer-type character, one whose words transfix people’s minds effortlessly. It’s the tone and cadence of his voice that mesmerizes. To the unaware, he’s perceived as “evil,” but you can’t help but see him as anything but. Obviously I’m describing GoatWhore frontman Ben Falgoust. When Ben spoke, we listened. When Ben kindly asked everyone to move to the front, assuring people, “If someone spills your drink, they’ll buy you a new one,” we did because I believe every word. If Ben would have told us to “Go the distance,” I would have built a baseball field in my backyard without question. I recognized a lot of their set as newer tracks, “Cold Earth Consumed in Dying Flesh” standing out the most in my mind, mostly because of it’s slower, more doomish feel in contrast to the quartet’s unrelenting brand of blackened thrash. It was a brutally pleasurable set, even better than I imagined, and I had the bar set pretty high. Closing it out with a hi-five from Ben clearly made us best friends, at least in my mind.

black-dahlia-murder-2I saw The Black Dahlia Murder live for the first time back in 2006 when the were touring in support of Miasma. I was unfamiliar with them at the time but the intensity of their show is something that stuck with me. I enjoy their music from album to album, but after you see this band live, you understand that that’s what they’re meant to do. Periodically, I hear people talk about the idea that bands never sound as good live as their albums…I would disagree, but if that were truly the case, The Black Dahlia Murder is not a band that theory applies to. Starting their set with “Receipt,” the opening track off Abysmal, The Black Dahlia Murder spent the next hour completely destroying the place. The intensity that I referenced from 2006 still exists today, but to a higher degree. It’s literally one song after another; they don’t stop for small-talk. Their style of death metal riffs are brutally catchy, without sounding like anything I would describe as catchy. It’s the single note aggressive picking (fused with chords), song after song, that sets their music apart. I could watch guitarist Brian Eschbach kill it for hours, his hands do not stop moving. With it being the 10th anniversary of Miasma, they slammed out a few classics from that album, solidifying the concept of always seeing certain bands when their in town, with The Black Dahlia Murder topping that list.

 

 

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Deafheaven @ The Fine Line

A Deafheaven/Tribulation tour? At The Fine Line Music Café? I’ve been to The Fine Line all of 2 times. The first was years ago for a band called Boogie Wonderland (70s & 80s covers). Normally, these are details that would have left my mind long ago, but I ended that particular evening with a hickey on each side of my neck. It’s not as cool as it sounds, and at the same time, probably even more absurd than it sounds. It was our friend’s 21st birthday. She looked a lot like Wynona Ryder, except better, and she was studying to become a nurse (think scrubs). At one point we were secretly into each other, but the stars just never aligned (she always had a boyfriend; I was always a loser). Regardless, that evening, in her voyage through 21st birthday drunkenness, she decided, while we all stood in a group talking, to shop-vac my neck and give me a massive hickey. As if that wasn’t awkward enough, my friend’s to-be wife, truly one of the best humans I’ve ever met, who may have been just as drunk, followed suit and put an equally large hickey on the opposing side of my neck. The real icing on the cake was that I headed to Duluth the next morning to do the whole visit-family-while-at-college thing. With my mom and her family being devout Roman Catholics of Polish decent, my 21-year-0ld self was expected to join in the Sunday church ritual, but this time, against my will (think Mommy Dearest),  I strolled into church with a striking pair of Band-Aids on each side of my neck, and not the flesh colored band-aids of today, these things could be seen from 100 yards. If this sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever, you’re right. Sadly, I can probably top it…for another day though.

My last time at The Fine Line though, with some false hope of turning the tone of this post around, was to see Mastodon. It was their Crack the Skye tour. They played the album in it’s entirety, at which point, I was beyond amazed as well as thinking it was time to call it a night. They came back out for what I thought would be your typical 2-4 song encore, but instead they played 14 more songs. Brutally crushing and ridiculously amazing. My body physically hurt in so many ways… and it was beautiful. I didn’t even mind the guy with the abnormally large head swaying back and for the entire evening… at least I had a clear view for half the time.

Back to my initial statement, the self-described complexity of this event was something I couldn’t wrap my mind around. Why would Deafeaven be touring with Tribulation? I’m certain I had a pained look on my face every time I asked myself. And because Tribulation had to cancel, I actually struggled with the concept until the day after the show…but why? The reality is, I thought Tribulation was actually Inquisition. Have you ever done that? Does anyone really care? Upon pulling my head out of my ass, Tribulation seemed like a much better partner of a road companion.

So, Deafheaven. From what I hear and read, most people either love or hate this band. I see the term “hipster band” used a lot, which may or may not be true, but hopefully most people don’t put too much weight in disliking bands because of other’s tastes, especially in this scene. I’ve been a Deafheaven fan since Roads to Judah appeared on Brandon Stosuy’s year end list for 2011. I’ve always been a sucker for USBM and the various takes and re-interpretations of it as well as a sucker for solid melody. I had missed a few opportunities to see Deafheaven in previous months and years, at a more fitting venues, but I was actually pretty stoked to finally be seeing them live tonight.

I was flying solo tonight for the first time in a long while. Once I got in, I grabbed a beer and claimed a spot on the floor. It was great to look around and see about 9 of myself: short hair, dark glasses, black t-shirt, jeans, bearded and constantly staring at an iPhone. Individuality…yeah. Not yet knowing that Tribulation had fully cancelled when I arrived (initially it was reported that the bands were switching spots because of Tribulation’s van issues), I spent the next 90 minutes enjoying a few beers and taking in the crowd. Cool haircuts, cool glasses, big watches, ugly sweaters, and poor posture…basically an H&M fall catalog photoshoot. What I was really doing in that 90 minute span was trying not to bum a cigarette. I accidentally parked myself next to the smoker’s door. I was 7 days into not smoking for the 500th time and the doppelganger to my right had a cigarette behind his left ear just screaming my name. I pretty much become the Jason Bourne equivalent of the nicotine underground when my mind has nothing to focus on except repeated waves of tobacco indulgence.

Deafheaven sounded exactly how I anticipated…intensely amazing. The fact that someone in the crowd had the most refreshing scent made it nearly impossible for me to do anything but completely enjoy the show. Seeing a security staff who looked more like members of a wedding party only added to the magic. They were so professional about breaking up the slightest shred of any mosh-like activity. Deafheaven predictably started their set by with the opening track off of New Bermuda, “Brought to the Water” followed by the second track, “Luna.” Continuing  mostly with tracks off the new album, it was near the middle-end when they played “From the Kettle Onto the Coil,” an unfamiliar song to me, but clearly a worthy member of their catalog. They spent the latter portion of the set on Sunbather tracks, with their 2-song encore consisting of “Sunbather” and “Dream House.” While New Bermuda is a pleasantly welcomed, edgier Deafheaven, their overall sound still navigates between avant-gardish USBM and blackened shoegaze. My only criticism of their actual sound is that they almost sound “too good” at times, if that makes any sense. There are moments where I hear shimmers of The Smashing Pumpkins piercing through. I love the Pumpkins, but not necessarily looking for that here. During their set, they would have brief, ambient interludes between each song, which I assumed were meant to lead into the next song, but I started to noticed they would abruptly stop before each song stated, just enough to make it sound awkward. Regardless, it was finally worth the wait to finally see Deafheaven live, even if a sequel of matching hickeys wasn’t in the cards.

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False – Untitled (2015)

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Thinking back, he was like the Nordic equivalent of The Most Interesting Man…at least that’s how he resides in my mind. A mythical, long-haired, bearded man, a savage warrior who possibly drives a Cadillac, guzzles champagne (from a chalice) and belongs to a local men’s club. Clearly, I’ve created this in my mind. The reality is, I ran into him at the Tripe Rock one night and he had a girl on each arm. Nothing all that crazy, but the myth only grew from that moment. Regardless, it was our initial meeting where the story begins. My cousin and I were at Station 4, the line-up of the night slips my mind, but we somehow struck up a conversation with this particular gentleman. I only remember 2 things he said:  he was from Duluth, and that I should listen to False.

Like anything truly good these days, I had to do a little digging to find me some False…I like them already. Eventually, I landed on the Gilead Media website and ordered myself their 2011 Untitled EP on vinyl. It’s crazy to think that the concept of a vinyl-only releases was so foreign to me at the time, but I had a record player that needed some new blood so I took the plunge. When it showed up, I immediately threw it on the turn table and dropped the needle. I had no idea what hit me. The only question it left me was to whether I got some ice packs before I listened to it again. Untitled, rather False, was a bridge connecting the utter angst of crust-punk and the sinister, chaotic ferocity of black metal.

Flash forward 4 years. The again-titled Untitled full-length release sees False continue where they left off. The 5 song tracklist comes in at just a hair under 60 minutes. The basic math of that feels good. The album starts with a quick hum of bass, a burst of feedback and then instantaneously plunges into the depths of False’s sinister, chaotic nightmare. I say nightmare because this album could truly be the soundtrack to the most preeminent horror film ever made (speaking as though it hasn’t been made yet). Just over 3 minutes into the opening track, “Saturnalia,” the atmosphere declines to a brooding interlude of doom essence, as though giving you time to catch your breath, just as you realize you’ve been completely engulfed by this haunting narrative. And there’s still 4 chapters to go.

By definition, False are a black metal band, and the characteristics of this genre that they display are meticulously unnerving (as they should be). Blast beats, scorching vocals, tremlo picking, not sounding over produced…all present. These 5 tracks (chapters) though, are an anthology of unpredictable entropy fused with distressing yet melodic harmony. I find myself drawn…more than I am to your typical black metal. It posses that wall-of-distorted-noise quality, while being fed underneath by melodies that are even more sinister sounding than the blood-curdling vocals. Near the end of “Deluge,” the scattered double-bass and growling vocals stop and the song slowly leads into a choir-like vocal arrangement that left me feeling like some type of resolution was coming…maybe the end of the first act…but instead the song fluidly moves back and forth between the slow melodic and the sinister build before hurling into self back into the chaos. The outro of “Entropy” transforms itself into church-style organ-like keyboards as it leads slowly into the final track. I can’t say enough about the overall sound and production either. This album, at times, literally sounds like a faster-paced occult record from the 70s, or like I stated previously, the soundtrack to a horror film of the same time period, but clearly better, somehow better produced, while sounding less produced at the same time.

At some point, I need to pay it forward. I need to tell a stranger that they should listen to False. Maybe I just did. I don’t always listen to black metal, but when I do, I listen to False.

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Children of Bodom – I Worship Chaos

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I like Children of Bodom. When they release an album, I listen to it pretty much non-stop for a few weeks. When I think about taking the big step though, and using the “L” word…I start to hesitate. At the same time, it’s not that I don’t love Children of Bodom, because I do, but I don’t love them in the way I do say…Cannibal Corpse or Obituary or The Atlas Moth. Yes, this parallels the conversation one has with someone when breaking up. I love you…but as a friend. Before this turns into an After-school Special, I’ll get to the point. I love Children of Bodom because their music falls into 2 distinct categories: 80s movie music and 8-bit Nintendo game themes (this feels very Trebeky), but really well done movie (more specifically The Lost Boys or Commando) and video game themes. I’ve always felt this way about Children of Bodom, and honestly feel like kind of a dick for it…until now. I Worship Chaos offered me a sense of…justification, which I’ll get to later.

The album opens with “I Hurt” whose main melodic progressive riff has to live somewhere in the depths of Contra. If you’ve never spent countless hours of your childhood thumbing in the code Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, in place of having a life and possibly losing your virginity…you’ve never lived. The next song that literally pulls my face in is “Prayer For the Afflicted.” This has Lost Boys written all over it, starting with an haunting establishing keyboard intro that binds to the guitar and slowly builds to 80s doom-esque ambiance. The main melody subsides into the background as frontman Alexi Laiho sings, but immediately reappears for choruses. “Prayer For the Afflicted” is really a blueprint for Children of Bodom. The keyboard guitar fusion is literally Intervention-caliber addicting. Moving forward, the chorus of “I Worship Chaos” is nothing short of pounding.

With all this retro talk, it’s important to stop and reflect on the fact that Children of Bodom is pure, legit talented metal. Composed of extreme power metal, speed, trash and smatterings of melodic death, Children of Bodom offer a diversified 401(k) portfolio of sounds. As I sat at work the day I Worship Chaos came out, I simply clicked on the first track and listen as the worshiping of chaos unfolded, which is to say I didn’t look ahead at song titles or anything of that nature. As the 12th (bonus) track began and I heard the lyric “Revvin’ up your engine, Listen to her howlin’ roar.” I immediately thought that I had moved onto the next album in my queue, but after I stopped, checked and saw that I was still listening to Children of Bodom, I promptly headed to the men’s room, because if I hadn’t shit my pants yet I soon would. After all these years, feeling guilty that I loved Children of Bodom because they exhibited characteristics of a previous depressing decade was eating me alive…but now I can sleep. Hearing “Danger Zone” pumping through the ghastly speakers built into my coporate iMac gave my life a sense of closure. Maverick, Goose, Iceman, patterns being full, silhouetted French kissing, feeling the “need for speed”…1986 came rushing back like a bogie out of nowhere. Justification. Perhaps their next album should contain a cover of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” I don’ know, and maybe I don’t really care. Maybe I just want my wings. Now that I think of it, I read last week Val Kilmer was cast in the sequel to Top Gun. Perhaps this was just the beginning.

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