Judgment of the Dead: Some Thoughts on Terry Jones

I remember May 15th, 2015 quite vividly. It was a pretty typical morning at the end of the semester for my second year of my Masters program. It was the year I was supposed to graduate but ultimately I had to spend another year in the program. My drive to complete my education was waning, especially after I had to decline an offer to attend a doctoral program at another university. Needless to say, my self esteem was at an all-time low. It was around this time when I started to notice an increase in my drinking, but that is another story for another day. The first thing I do after waking up, like many of us these days, is grab my phone and check my facebook notifications. I don’t recall if there was anything interesting there, but as I started to scroll through my news feed I saw a post by Annick, the lead singer of Canadian metal band Cauchemar, that announced the death of Terry Jones, vocalist of the legendary English doom band Pagan Altar.

People that know me know how much I care about Pagan Altar. I listed their album “Volume I” (AKA Judgment of the Dead) as my favorite doom metal album of all time. I traveled 800 some miles to see them live in Baltimore for their first-ever live performance in the US where I headbanged and screamed along to every lyric with Annick and my friend Sarah, both of whom I just met moments before their set. For fuck’s sake, I have a portion of their logo tattooed on my shoulder. Aside from a few other bands, Pagan Altar are one of the bands that I can listen to over and over again without ever growing tired of them. Nevertheless, I was not shocked to read this news. I knew that Terry’s health was wavering for a while, but like any death of a musician, it hurts. I remember sulking away to the basement of the greasy college townhouse I was living at the time and immediately started crushing Hamm’s while the first few notes of the song “Pagan Altar” started playing on the speakers. Everything that I had planned on doing that day was gone and this was what was most important. But I don’t want to dwell too much on my own personal feelings that day and instead talk about what this article was meant to be about: Terry Jones.

Without going too deep into the history of the band, Pagan Altar are one of the oldest and revered doom metal acts around. Metal Archives shows that they initially got their start in 1978, roughly the same time as other legendary doom acts like Pentagram, The Obsessed, and Saint Vitus. But while Pentagram were blues and hard-rock influenced and Saint Vitus were punky, Pagan Altar had this sense of vastness that really set them apart from other bands of their ilk. Their compositions are typically longer than most Pentagram or Obsessed songs and feature more lead guitar flourishes instead of having an extended solo section while at the same time being extremely dark. It is a little difficult to describe in words, so I would just encourage everyone to go blast these bands immediately and see for yourself.

Perhaps even more defining than the song structures are Terry’s vocals. In the early recordings, Terry and his son Al admit to being sick at the time of recording and what resulted is this extremely eerie, Sabbathian-esque wail. Terry’s vocals perfectly complement the dark, ritualistic atmosphere of the music and increases the the listener’s experience. While listening to “Volume I” I find myself sucked into Pagan Altar’s world. I can feel myself attending a black mass in some dimly lit medieval church in the middle of nowhere England. That transportation is the real appeal of the band, Few other traditional metal (by that I mean non-extreme) bands can achieve this effect and Pagan Altar might be the best example of total immersion in the concept of an album.

I should also mention the lyrical content of the band. At least in their early days and on “Volume I” Pagan Altar wrote heavily on the occult and Satan. These concepts were nothing new to the metal community, but were primarily featured in the more extreme styles of metal, generally speaking. With “Lords of Hypocrisy” and “Mythical & Magical” the band evolved their sound and pursued more folk and fantasy concepts into their music. Those albums are equally amazing so I don’t want to sound like I am favoring “Volume I” but I think the lyrical content of that album really makes it stand out. There is just something about the way the darkness of the music works with the darkness of the lyrics that makes the album downright evil sounding. There is a line in the song “Judgment of the Dead” that mentions “Judge Satan” sitting at the head of the courtroom wearing “a cloak of black, that hangs to the ground” and passing judgment on the dead “without even a sound” that is so evocative that it would be possible to paint this scene. And that’s just one line from the album! This juxtaposition between lyrics and music would require an explanation that is beyond the boundaries of this article, so before I start babbling like a mad man just keep an eye out for an article by me coming out that explores this topic more and includes a discussion on the band’s connection with England’s greatest poet: John Milton.

I want to conclude this article by talking about myself again. Back at their performance in Maryland, I left the front row to grab a few pints of Yuengling for a buddy and myself and ended up losing my position a few feet back. Not a big deal when I ended up having such a great time with my new friends Annick and Sarah. After their set, I remember making my way to the barrier and shouting at Al while he was packing up his gear. I managed to get his attention and I proudly rolled up my shirt sleeve and to reveal my newly acquired Pagan Altar tattoo. His eyes bulged and he shouted at Deano, the drummer, who shouted something and proceeded to come down to the barrier to talk to my buds and I. I can’t remember the extent to that conversation, but he showed me his own tattoo that was of the same Zeus/Wizard face that adorns several of their covers. I ended up getting a personalized drum stick from him which I have sitting somewhere in my closet back at my parents place (I should probably frame that or something). He did mention that the band would be around later that night and he would meet up with us to do a sort of “meet and greet” with the other guys in the band. The day’s festivities carried on. In fact, I believe Pentagram played that night as well, but I failed to find any of the members of the band. After four straight days of treating your body like garbage with too many beers to count and real shitty 3am walks to Subway, your body starts to get mad at you. After the night was over and all the bands were done, I walked back to the hotel to rest. Shortly after, my friends texted me to come back to the venue but I refused, as I was currently straddling the porcelain throne of the Holiday Inn. Moments later and much to my chagrin, I received a photo from my friends with Al and Terry themselves. They were at the bar just shooting the shit with the fans. To this day, I regret not wiping my ass and racing back to the venue to fanboy gush all over the band. I guess I hoped and kinda assumed that I would see them again one day before they disbanded, and yet the worse happened.

But I DID see them live. That is something that I will never be able to do with the likes of Ronnie James Dio (who passed away a day later in 2010), or Lemmy (whom I wrote about in the past) and I know plenty of my friends that worship the band just as much as I do that cannot say the same. And I think it is really telling of the integrity of a musician that willingly meets and chats with their fans. That, is the type Terry Jones was. Honest, humble, and most importantly, friendly.

R.I.P. Terry Jones Aug 24th, 1945 – May 15th, 2015.

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Top 10 Albums of 2016

I should probably make a few comments pertaining to the lack of posts the past few months. I have nobody to blame but myself for that. A lack of motivation combined with a post-graduate student work ethic means that I never really feel like writing anymore. Needless to say, I finally fucking finished this one though. I apologize that it’s four months too late, as we are already a quarter of the way through 2017 (fuck…) but better late than never right? I apologize to anyone that might have actually wanted to see more posts from me. I will do my best in the future to make these blog posts more often. But with all that being said, here is my Top 10 Albums of 2016 ranked with a little write-up about each album. There might be a few surprises in here for some people who know me, and I’m sure that there are several albums out there that I have overlooked that would cause me to rethink this list, but I wrote this list back in December and fuck it.

It might come as a surprise to see an almost complete lack of attention to death and black metal on my list, but I have an easy answer to that: I don’t give a shit. Okay, it’s not that I dislike those genres or anything, I just fail to really care enough to actively keep up with new albums from bands in those genres. It’s nothing personal, it is just where my musical tastes have evolved to now. However, I do give a shout out to one of my all-time favorites so whatever. Feel free to comment your own top 10 albums or rail me a new one for forgetting some future classics in my list. 

10) Church of Misery – And Then There Were None…

I was never too keen on Church of Misery until I heard this album and I’m not entirely sure why. I think I lumped them in with all the other stoner doom bands that are around and never found any standout material, but then I saw that their new lineup features members from Blood Farmers and Internal Void and my interest spiked. Dave Szulkin’s influence oozes through Tatsu’s typical doomy riffs and I just cannot help but bang my head furiously. Some of these riffs sound like they could be a part of some Blood Farmers b-sides or something and anything Blood Farmers related gets an A in my book. I have since explored the rest of their discography and found what I was missing. This is aggressive, dark, and doomy doom that is almost impossible not to enjoy. 

9) Blizaro – Cornucopia Della Morte

I was a big fan of “City of the Living Nightmare” so it came as no surprise that Gallo’s second album pleases on all fronts. It was certainly worth the 6 year wait. “Cornucopia Della Morte” channels that old Italian doom of Paul Chain and Black Hole people seem to overlook these days. Gallo’s doom jams are soaked in layers of organs and keys that are reminiscent of old Argento and Fulci film soundtracks and perfectly capture that strange, psychedelic atmosphere. Mike and Mark complete the rhythm sections adequately but the real highlight here is the riffs and those keys. I’m a sucker for cheesy Casio keys in my doom. Oh and John, if you do read this, we should work on getting that Orodruin/Olórin tour going or at the very least a split release! 

8) Wretch – Wretch

It’s kind of interesting that my top 10 list begins with these doom releases considering that doom happens to be my favorite genre, but hey, sometimes you really cannot compete when you have the following 7 albums. Karl Simon’s “Wretch” follows the heels of The Gates of Slumber and the passing of the great Jason McCash. This is a deeply personal album for Karl as it recounts his struggles with loss, depression, and drug addiction. It is kind of a hard album to get through as the music draws the listener into the same world and I can see it becoming one of those albums that just keeps getting better and better with age. 

7) Angel Sword – Rebels Beyond the Pale

There is not much to say about Angel Sword’s “Rebels Beyond the Pale.” The album doesn’t particularly new or all that interesting, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for by just being so damn fun. Harkening back to the glory days of 80s hard rock and metal ala Manilla Road and Trance, Angel Sword pounds its listeners with heavy riffs and deliciously catchy hooks. The album will not disappoint any who digs the aforementioned bands and any and all things 80s metal. Don’t skip this one.

6) R.I.P.- In the Wind

R.I.P.’s “In the Wind” isn’t your typical doom album. Gone are the drugged out dirges and the sorrowful elegies that plague the genre. Instead, R.I.P. replace them with mid-paced, ball cracking jams like “Smoke and Lightning” and “Black Leather.” The band clearly takes a big influence from the faster Saint Vitus tunes and the punky Obsessed songs that are often overlooked in this style. Each song is layered with that thick, Reverend Bizarre-style bass and Fuzz’s vocals sound like a tortured Bobby Liebling. “In the Wind” sweats gasoline and bleeds oil. Unique and refreshing, “In the Wind” is the perfect album to check out if you’ve been sick and tired of your usual tunes and want something a little different. I love this stuff.

5) Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire

It’s my own fault that this album isn’t higher up on my list. I was obsessed with Eternal Champion’s breakout demo back in 2013. I followed the band religiously and found every youtube clip I could find so when they announced that their full-length album was finally going to drop I had the highest expectations. It certainly delivers on them, but I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve heard half the songs before the album was even released. “The Armor of Ire” features one song from their 2013 demo, another live favorite that I used to blast on youtube daily, and the band released the first two tracks on the album shortly before it’s release. When I sat down to listen to the album, I kind of felt that the remaining songs weren’t as good as what I’ve already heard, especially considering that two of the remaining songs are instrumentals. I know, I know. This is my fault, and not a fault of the albums so despite my own personal problems, the album absolutely slays. Tarpey’s vocals channels old Mark Shelton put through a series of effects that perfectly accompanies the atmosphere of the album. “I Am the Hammer” and “Invoker” are particularly noteworthy songs that really shows Tarpey’s talent as a lyricist and a vocalist. The backing band is excellent as well, and Rizk’s production expertly captures that old school vibe without sacrificing quality. I just couldn’t help but want more.

4) High Spirits – Motivator

Professor Black and Chicago heavy metal heroes High Spirits are back with what might be their best album yet. Like the jet that adorns the cover, “Motivator” takes off with a punch and soars high. Songs like “This is the Night” and “Do You Wanna Be Famous” showcases the band’s trademark sound: stupid catchy hooks and delicious guitar harmonies at their finest. Black’s vocal performance is as good as ever and his lyrics are at their all-time best with songs like “Haunted By Your Love” and “Down This Endless Road.” Any longtime fan of the band should be pleased with this record. If other bands on this list please you (like Eternal Champion or Angel Sword) then High Spirits should be among your top priority.

3) Tarot – Reflections

In 2015, longtime vocalist Terry Jones of Pagan Altar fame passed away. However, his spirit seems to have left one body only to occupy Will Fried (AKA The Hermit), guitarist and vocalist for modern classic doomsters The Wizar’d and his new project Tarot. “Reflections” sounds like it could be some long-lost Pagan Altar tracks, and anything Pagan Altar is always a good thing. “Reflections” makes excellent use of Uriah Heep-esque organs and keys that really enhances the old school 70s rock feel. Everything about “Reflections” just feels like it was written and recorded in the 70s. The production sounds a little thin at times and perhaps even a bit dry, but it works and is just part of what makes this album special. Seriously, go listen to it.

2) Sumerlands – Sumerlands

When Sumerlands first hit the buzz was huge, and for good reason: this album floors its audience with massive riffs and insanely catchy hooks. The album features Phil Swanson of Hour of 13 and Briton Rites fame on vocals and he kills it with his typical, howling wail. However, Phil really shows off his range with a few well-placed falsetto lines that sound eerily alien for him. “Sumerlands” also features the excellent guitar work of Arthur Rizk, drummer of the previously mentioned Eternal Champion. Rizk’s guitar tone sounds incredibly massive and in-your-face and perfectly matches the modern but throwback atmosphere of the album. There has been some criticism of the album, however. Some people have complained that the production is too clean and the album sounds overproduced, but that is sort of the point of the album. “Sumerlands” attempts to mimic the old arena-rock bands with their huge snare sounds and overly clean guitars and vocals. Perhaps more convincing is the argument that all the songs sound the same, which is true as most of the songs are written in the same key. However, this doesn’t bother me so much because the album is short enough that it never feels dull or samey. I do admit that its initial appeal has worn off a bit since its initial release, but the album is still a powerful and catchy listen from start to finish.

1) Wytch Hazel – Prelude

If you can imagine that the NWOBHM hit during Middle Ages, the bands would probably sound like Wytch Hazel. Dual-guitar harmonies coupled with catchy hooks and cheesy vocals make up the appeal of this album. It’s like if Thin Lizzy and Jethro Tull had a child that was really into Christianity. Yes, Wytch Hazel are quite Christian in their lyrical concepts. I know that a lot of people have a hard time looking past that, but if you can get past them then there is a lot to love with this album. A problem I have with a lot of christian music is that it can sometimes sound too preachy in their message, but I feel that this album does a good job praising without casting judgment. The production is super clean but it never feels like it’s “too clean” or anything like that. The real draw with this album is just how damn fun it is to listen to. Songs like “Mighty King” and “He Shall Reign” are simply too catchy not to belt the lyrics at full volume in your car. More importantly though is how I feel after listening to the album. Too many metal bands have such an angry and negative message behind them, so it is nice to see an album that is promising and hopeful. I genuinely feel good after listening to this album. Perhaps that has something to do with the lyrical content, but I’d like to think it’s just because the album is simply too fucking fun. “Prelude” is not an album for everyone, but if some positive messages and a little spirituality do not bother you, then this album should be right up your alley. I fucking love this stuff.

Honorable Mentions:

Spiritus Mortis – The Year is One

Antaeus – Condemnations

Gehennah – Too Loud to Live, Too Drunk to Die

No Class: Some Thoughts on Lemmy

When I heard the news a year ago that the iconic Lemmy had passed away, I was vacationing in New Mexico with some friends of mine. The entertainment for the 1200 mile car ride consisted of radio talk shows courtesy of Bob and Tom, your average “classic rock” radio stations that we tuned into between cities, my friends’ horrible taste in pop music (seriously, who listens to remixed versions of Drake songs?), and a few stints of Thin Lizzy while I was behind the wheel. I practically begged my friends to let me put on a few Motorhead albums, but most of my buds are not interested in listening to heavy metal for 18 hours straight. So, my honor to Lemmy would have to wait until I got back. I remember thinking how significant this day was going to be, as Lemmy just ushered himself into an exclusive club of mine that is, sadly, growing larger and larger by the month. 

I never had the privilege of seeing Motorhead live. I’m not entirely sure why. I blame myself mostly, as I never really considered myself a Motorhead “fan” until a few years ago. When I first got into metal only 10 years ago, I was immediately exposed to the extreme stuff first, as my friends were already into the genre. I remember being really huge into tech death bands like Nile and Necrophagist before really branching out into other forms of death and black metal. Back then, I rarely listened to the more traditional styles of metal. These days though, my tastes have switched and I have a hard time caring about death and black metal. Looking back, I regret not being “into” traditional metal as much and, as a result, I never got to see things like Lemmy or Dio live (I heard they did a tour with Judas Priest at one point? God damnit). And it disgusts me. It is not like Lemmy just decided to end Motorhead or that Dio decided to leave music; that would imply that they could come back at some point in my life. No, they are dead. There is no coming back. On Dec 28th, 2015 Lemmy became the next person in my “Will never see live” club.

And that is okay, as I have had the opportunity to see plenty of musicians and bands that are no longer with us, but this article is not about them. It’s about Lemmy. Over the past few years, and especially the last one, I’ve grown to greatly admire the speedfreak. Of course he’s a legend in more ways than one: he’s been known to drink a half-gallon of Jack Daniels daily for years; he allegedly has had sex with over 1000 women in his life (even with that nasty growth on his face); he’s been involved with and played with countless musicians from roadying for Jimi Hendrix to the likes of Dave Brock of Hawkwind and my personal idol Wino; and, of course, he’s a founding member of Motorhead. However, I admire him for his dedication. The man just oozes rock n roll and might be one of the last actual “rockstars” out there. To the day he died, Lemmy drank, did drugs, and most importantly performed despite his declining health. Lemmy is the type of person that would rather go out early doing something that he truly loves than holding on for another dozen or so years desperately trying to stay alive.

It makes me think of my own mortality and the type of life that I want to lead. Now, I know I will never be even remotely as awesome as Lemmy in my future, as I doubt that I will have that much dedication when I get older, but I do hope that I continue to lead a life that values experiences and memories over wealth and comfort. I hope that I can continue to travel thousands of miles each year to concerts and festivals just to hang out with my buds old and new. I hope that I will continue to meet strange people at some greasy dive bar on a Tuesday at 9:30 in some podunk country town in the middle of nowhere who tell me the story of that one time they saw Black Sabbath. I hope, and I will. That is what Lemmy’s life means to me: it’s the perfect embodiment of a life filled with nothing but pleasure and love. Happiness with sadness. A life with no class.

lemmy1986

Lemmy. Dec 24th, 1945 – Dec 28th, 2015. The fucker couldn’t even die at the perfect age of 69.

Into the PanDOOMonium

pandemoniumFor my first post I wanted to clarify more about the purpose of this blog than what the “About” section details. If you want a simple description of what Into the PanDOOMonium is about, go ahead and check that out. However, if you are one to think “tl;dr” all the time (because, I mean come on, we all can get a little tl;dr at times) then I would suggest that you stop reading right here and go check out another blog. This one is not right for you. I am not going to simplify my writings for an audience that just wants to get their information and leave; this isn’t a newspaper. For those of you that want to get more out of your articles and want to engage critically and thoughtfully about your music then stick around. I think you will like what you will read. But before I begin that, an explanation about what this blog does is in order.

Into the PanDOOMonium is, of course, a play on the Celtic Frost album “Into the Pandemonium.” I know, clever right? The album is not my favorite Celtic Frost record, nor is it their best (that title belongs to To Mega Therion, but we all know their first two EPs are supreme) but the album title works perfectly to connect two major aspects of this blog: music and literature. Throughout my education I was taught to look extensively at literature, be it extremely close readings of a few lines in a poem to larger social/political/whatever connotations the text might have. While I was studying, I kept noticing a connection between these interpretations and the music that I loved and I could not stop thinking about how I could apply my skills analyzing a text to the music I loved. Then it hit me: why not use these skills when I listen to music? Why not do some close “reading” (or, perhaps in this case, listening) to a few passages in a song or ponder over what the album is attempting to convey through its atmosphere. After all, music, like literature, is just another form of art.

However, music is different from literature and should be analyzed using different methods. What works to interpret a novel might not work to interpret an album. Therefore, my methods for writing these articles are going to be different from what I would do in graduate school. I’m not being graded on the accuracy of these articles, nor am I (probably) being peer reviewed by experts in the field, so these articles will most likely not have as much evidence to support my claims. These articles are going to be more introspective and are more concerned with what the music means to me than what I think it means to others. Do not be surprised if you completely disagree with something that I say, as the way that someone experiences art is different from another. I will, however, strive to present the strongest argument than I can make in my articles to prove my points.

The other aspect to the title that is important is the word pandemonium. For those who have not had the pleasure of reading Milton’s Paradise Lost (seriously, go do yourself a favor and read it), Pandemonium is the capital city erected by Satan and his legion of demons in Hell after being thrown out of Heaven by God. Pandemonium is where Satan delivers his first speech in the epic poem and it’s where Satan and his fallen angels agree to “make a heaven a hell, a hell of heaven.” It’s the place where serious discussion occurs between the demons; it’s a place of thought and decisions. And it’s in hell, so that is pretty awesome. Therefore, choosing to name my blog after Satan’s home not only reinforces the connection between music and literature that I want to emphasize, but it suggests the concept that this blog was meant for critical thinking and serious discussions. Also, Milton is an amazing poet and one of my first articles you will see will be a brief look into Milton’s “Satan” and similar depictions of what scholars call the “Miltonic Satan” in heavy metal, so stay tuned for that one.

With all this being said, not everything in this blog is going to be so elaborately focused and critically analyzed. I fully intend to write some rather simple reviews, conduct interviews, and create some terrible top 10 lists that I just love to write down, so don’t be afraid that all the writings in this blog will be so serious. There is a time and place for complexity and there is a time and place for simplicity. Now, the time in the night has come where I leave my home to sit at some sleazy bar and subject the fellow patrons to the musical stylings of Blackie Lawless and Phil Lynott, so I hope that this article helps explain the purpose of this blog and the kinds of things you will be reading in the future. If this made you more confused, well, tough shit. I got beer to drink.