Autobiographical Order No. 233: Slayer – Reign in Blood

Earlier this year I made a very non-controversial statement in saying that if you love metal, you absolutely are required to love Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Those are the two prerequisites. Don’t like those bands? Get back to twee-folk or whatever, because metal clearly isn’t for you.

I’m very tempted to say the same thing for Slayer. But it’s more specific than that: If you love metal, you love Reign in Blood. I’ll admit that my journey into metal didn’t go through the canonical choices first. A lot of my education was kind of roundabout, picking up the classics on ROCK 102.1 back in the day (Sabbath, Judas Priest) along with some alt-metal stuff like Danzig and Alice in Chains and Faith No More, and then The Deftones, back to some newer stuff like Mastodon and Boris and then consuming everything I possibly could from there.

I had plenty of friends who loved Slayer when I was a teenager, and I think the first album of theirs I ever heard was Divine Intervention, which I thought was pretty cool but now realize that’s when things started their downward turn. But Slayer always appealed to me because they had more of a punk sensibility and tended to burn through their intense thrash tracks without wasting a moment. Reign In Blood is less than 30 minutes long, for instance, and it’s pretty much a perfect thrash album.

Because of how short some of the tracks are and how fast they are, there are sequences that blur by at high speeds, and the songs themselves aren’t always the most important thing. It’s the feeling and the intensity of it. But then again, there are some actually amazing songs, like “Raining Blood,” for instance, which is one of the greatest metal songs of all time. OF ALL TIME!

Reign in Blood is perfect. Slayer, however, is not, and they’ve released plenty of subpar albums. They’ve also done a lot that has made me cringe in recent years, from firing Dave Lombardo (and it ain’t Slayer without Dave) to Tom Araya’s political bullshit. (Kerry King was a Clinton supporter so I’m not sure if they just don’t talk about it or what, but c’mon Tom.) So yeah, Slayer ain’t perfect. But this slice of furious thrash metal (which I picked up on clear vinyl when Nuclear Blast reissued it)? You bet it is.

Rating: 10.0

Sound Quality: Great

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Autobiographical Order No. 230: Dum Dum Girls – Too True

It’s always a good idea to check in with bands you don’t necessarily love on first listen. There are a good number of bands who make an essential debut album (and sometimes can’t follow it up—it’s a curse as much as a blessing), but by and large it takes most bands a while to build up to their best record. Dum Dum Girls is just such a band.

I remember hearing their debut album around the time my wife and I got kicked out of our house in South Park, and while I liked “Jail La La,” it seemed undercooked. Decent, not great garage rock. And the fact that I had associated the album with a traumatic time in my life certainly didn’t help matters. But over time they got better, their second album a marked improvement over the first, and an EP released after that an even stronger effort.

Too True, however, is the band’s best album, and ended up being their last (for now anyway?) since Dee Dee is now performing as Kristin Kontrol, which is pretty decent too. Too True appeals to my sensibilities because it’s the band’s most goth record. It has a bit of a vintage 4AD sound to it, as well as some elements of Siouxsie and the Banshees. It’s super catchy, glossy goth pop that I loved on first listen. In fact, I heard “Lost Boys and Girls Club” in an exercise compiling upcoming releases and didn’t really expect much from it. It quickly ended up making Too True an album near the top of my list of anticipated 2014 releases. And though Dee Dee is a San Diego music scene alumna, I bought the record in New York City (where she lives now, I’m pretty sure).

Dum Dum Girls have always been an image-heavy band, and this is no different. The cover art is a little over the top—Pitchfork made a joke about it being the goth version of Bangerz, which is their second best gag. (The first is giving a favorable review to emo rap hack/dufus Lil Peep.)

It’s not a mind-blowing album, but it’s stylish, catchy and a lot of fun. Plus I have the pretty baby-blue splatter vinyl, and that’s cool. But I listen to it a fair amount, and if I had written the band off entirely, it wouldn’t be in my collection. And who knows how long it would have taken to correct that mistake.

Rating: 9.0

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 213: Boris – Pink

I can probably write thousands of words about how I got into metal, and what the most important records in my discovery of heavy music were. In fact, I wrote a lot of words in 2015 about the life-changing metal albums in my own experience, which included Deftones, Baroness, Deafheaven and Slayer. But one album I didn’t write about, one that was actually pretty crucial, was Boris’ Pink.

In junior high and high school, I actually liked a lot of heavy music, both metal and hardcore, and my first real concert was seeing The Deftones at SOMA. But somewhere around college, or maybe my senior year of high school, I thought I was done with heavy music. I’m not sure if I thought I was too sophisticated or whatever, or maybe it’s because I was subscribing to some societal idea that these are adolescent concerns that no longer are relevant to a REAL ADULT MAN or some stupid thing, but yeah, I liked Iron and Wine. I wasn’t a metal guy.

Funny thing, though. In 2004 I heard Mastodon’s Leviathan and thought, “huh, maybe I still am a metal guy.” And then I heard Jesu, and thought “huh, yeah, maybe there’s something to this.” And then I heard Boris’ Pink, and thought “Hell yes I’m a metal guy!”

Pink is an interesting album. It’s really all over the place, with a mix of songs that are super sludgy (“Pink”) or shoegazey (“Farewell”) or droney (“Blackout”) or just straight up rock ‘n’ roll (“Woman on the Screen”). Pink became a favorite of mine pretty quickly, and ended up being a gateway to a lot of great heavy music in the ’00s, not to mention showing me that Southern Lord Records has a ton of great releases. It’s like a metal mixtape, it’s always changing shape and direction and it’s a whole lot of fun. And HEAVY!

There’s also a few different versions of this that exist. Boris routinely releases different versions of their albums with different mixes and edits of their songs. For Pink, which I found on red vinyl at the San Diego Record Show (!), it meant using a 2xLP vinyl format to release a longer version of the album. For instance, “Pseudo-Bread” and “My Machine” are each 10-minutes-plus in length, whereas on the CD the latter is just two minutes! Crazy.

This album kind of changed my viewpoint about heavy music in a lot of ways, not just making me excited about it again, but making me realize that it can take on so many different shapes that it defies stereotyping. Boris opened my eyes, and for that I’ll always hold them in high esteem.

(Btw, I interviewed them recently!)

Rating: 9.6

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 201: Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Some bands just know how to pull off a great rock record. In fact, Japandroids has it more or less down to a science. Each of their albums is eight songs—enough to fit on a single LP, not too many to hurt the fidelity of the record. And each one is loaded with anthems. Surely many have argued that their new album doesn’t have as many anthems, but it’s still pretty rockin’.

Celebration Rock, though, is pretty unstoppable. Their single “The House That Heaven Built” ended up being the official anthem of the Vancouver Canucks, which is kind of crazy (but totally warranted! Imagine not feeling like you could conquer the world after hearing this…) And just about all of its songs are perfect or close to it. The one exception, which is a little ironic because I love the Gun Club, is their cover of “For the Love of Ivy.” It’s fine, just nothing special.

The rest though, damn. Not long after I picked up this record, on white vinyl no less (lookin’ good!), I spun it during one of our traditional sunday cleaning sessions. (Every sunday morning, we do a thorough cleaning of the house—it’s routine, it’s stability, it’s solid. Don’t rock the boat. It’s also necessary because we have two cats and they make a mess. Don’t let anyone tell you cats are “clean”.) By the end of the first side, my wife says, “Damn! Every song on this is a hit!” She’s not wrong!

I ended up picking this up with a gift certificate I got from winning a contest to guess the most frequently recurring 91X year-end list artists via my friend Adam’s Yer Doin’ Great blog. I don’t remember what I guessed. Red Hot Chili Peppers maybe? U2? Maybe it was The Cure, for the goth cred? Can’t remember. I do remember I got sixth place. Still enough to get me some new records. Not bad for winging it.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 200: Deafheaven – Sunbather

Deafheaven is a divisive band. I understand why—they aren’t following the rules of black metal, they’re not catering to a specific metal audience, and they appeal to hipsters. I get it. I also reject it.

Metal has this weird problem with getting caught up in this-is-our-clubhouse minutiae that never made much sense to me. I mean, I’ve been to plenty of indie rock shows where people were being insufferable dicks, so I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND when metalheads don’t want those people showing up to their shows. I sympathize. I really do. But I also feel like, the more the merrier, right? Especially for the bands, who probably wouldn’t mind, I dunno, making a couple bucks?

But Deafheaven also did something that a lot of metal bands haven’t: They bridged the gap between metal and non-metal audiences, showing people that HEY, this is good music and maybe you should explore more? That, to me, is more important than any perceived slight. Metal is a genre that’s historically been given short shrift, and if a band can make people rethink certain styles or sounds, then that’s significant. I’m 100 percent in favor of that.

Now, me? I love Deafheaven. I’ve seen them live about, oh, five times? And when Sunbather came out it almost immediately became my favorite album of 2013. It’s an intense album, but more than that it’s a beautiful album. It’s a black metal album, for the most part, but it’s also post-rock and shoegaze and dream pop and screamo and various other things. It’s a lot of different things at once, and it comes together in an awesome way.

And maybe it’s not for everyone, but I know more people who had a significant moment with this record than not. And that’s generally a sign that a band is doing something right. A few months later I saw the band play the album front to back at The Void (later The Hideout and now SPACE) and it ruled. Helluva night. Helluva record.

Rating: 9.6

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 195: The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

So, if you’ve been keeping up with this series, you should recall that I bought a Grace Jones album on Record Store Day. For a buck. And left without buying anything else. To some that probably looks like a victory (and it was, I suppose), but it’s worth remembering that we actually went to a few stores on RSD on a mission to buy some specific things, which we didn’t even find. One of them was this reissue of The Cure’s seminal 1987 album, on red vinyl, and out of curiosity, I checked out what it was going for on eBay. Median price was around $45, which was more than the retail price by about 50 percent or so. Maybe more. Some were definitely going for upwards of $75, which to me seemed insane. After all, this was a pressing of something like 3,000 copies. As far as vinyl goes in the 21st century, that’s not that limited.

I did still want to grab a copy though. The thing with eBay, collector’s items (ostensibly anyway) and Record Store Day is that you sort of have to time it just right. And in this case, that means not buying something right away. On Record Store Day, when everybody’s frustrated that they didn’t get a copy, it’s easy to get people to pay three times what something’s worth. That’s the other thing about Record Store Day that annoys me: Flippers.

It only took me about a week or so to find a copy selling for about $30. I bought it, avoided the markup and felt pretty good about it. The irony is that it’s now one of the most valuable records in my collection, with the high on Discogs at over $80, and the median around $60.

The thing about this record is that it pretty much had to find its way into our household no matter what. My wife is the biggest Cure fan I know. And this essentially became a catalyst for filling in the rest of the gaps in our Cure vinyl collection. Which is to say: Most of their albums. She had a lot of 7-inches and 12-inches when we combined our collections, but for some reason not most of the full-lengths. And let me tell you, a record collection that doesn’t have the complete Cure discography up to Disintegration isn’t complete. And this, of course, is one of their best. If you don’t feel a tug at the heart strings when you hear “Just Like Heaven,” I don’t know what to say.

Rating: 9.4

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 187: KEN Mode – Entrench

It’s always a bit of a strange thing to have that one band you absolutely love, but for some reason have a hard time getting other friends into. That’s a bit what it’s like with KEN Mode, a band I first got into back in 2011, but who became something of a top-ish tier favorite in 2013. Around the time when they were getting ready to release Entrench, I went to Austin for SXSW (my third time there). We did a video interview with the band, and having a half-hour or so to spend with the band was super fun. They were really nice guys, super funny and awesome to work with. (And the video ended with an endorsement for Gold Bond foot powder, so there’s that.)

Live, they were something else. Frontman Jesse Matthewson (at a SXSW day party) put a g-string on his face like a surgical mask, and gave one of the most terrifying stares at the audience I’ve seen from a vocalist. And then they tore the place down with their blend of metal and noise rock. Super fun. Super intense.

It helps that the material is good. Entrench is a kickass album, with a good mix of furious barnburners and slower, more nuanced material that reminds me of Unwound (which is a great thing—remember, I gave their swan song a perfect 10). “Counter Culture Complex” just straight-up rips, while “The Terror Pulse” builds a pretty fearsome level of tension and “Daeodon” is one of the best post-hardcore tracks I’ve heard in the ’10s.

But, you know, either because of low name recognition or just fitting into a weird niche, I feel like I’ve had a hard time turning people onto them. I’ve seen them several times since then, and each show has been great, but the last one was attended by maybe a dozen people, which really stung. With bands you love, you always want them to have a great crowd. It doesn’t always work that way, but they played like hell regardless.

But hey, great record, great band. Plus the orange vinyl is pretty sweet, and the pictures of decapitated clay goblins really tie it together.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great