Life Drive – The Year in Un-death Metal
Hi there. This is Schuler from Death Drive 90.5, WUSC’s Saturday night death metal date with the county coroner. It’s been a banner year for quality death metal releases, and if you’re into that kind of thing, check out Death Drive 90.5’s TWO end-of-the-year countdown shows; the first is Saturday, December 14th from 10PM to midnight, and (assuming I keep my time slot over Winter Break) the second will be Saturday, December 28th from 9PM to midnight. You can also find album covers, band info, and other cool stuff related to my favorite 2019 death metal releases on the Death Drive 90.5 Instagram, @deathdrive90.5.
I love my show, but the thing about it being exclusively death metal-focused is that there’s a decent amount of stuff I listen to that I can’t really play there. So I thought I’d take a minute here on the WUSC blog to shout out some of the non-death (life?) stuff I was really into from the past year. After all, the time to kill is not always now. Sometimes it’s time to dance.
HONORABLE MENTION: HEALTH – Vol. 4::Slaves of Fear (Loma Vista Recordings)
One of the coolest things I did in 2019 was start DJing at WUSC. I’m a third year PhD candidate and composition instructor here at U of SC, so my schedule is pretty packed and my life is pretty hectic. Spinning music at the station for a couple hours a week has been such a fun, constructive stress reliever for me, and I hope to continue doing it for the rest of my time at the university. During new DJs’ first semester on air, they’re required to run a free format show that covers a number of genres, and that includes a lot of stuff that’s in current rotation (new music that the station is actively promoting). Additionally, every active member of the DJ body is required to review new music before it enters rotation. The combination of these two factors put me in a position to broaden my horizons and step outside my comfort zone back in the spring semester, and I was lucky that the first album I reviewed for WUSC turned out to be one I really enjoyed. HEALTH is a potent mixture of dark industrial and noise rock with the occasional dream pop twist thrown in to keep things interesting. Vol. 4::Slaves of Fear is a dynamic record that’s full of curves and angles, and the fact that it’s catchy as hell kept it in my personal rotation long after it left regular airplay.
Recommended tracks: “Feel Nothing”, “Strange Days (1999)”
5. Blood Command – Return of the Arsonist (Fysisk Format)
This is a short & sweet EP from Norway’s premiere pop punk outfit, Blood Command. What’s amazing to me is how they’re able to blend elements from some pretty disparate influences into such catchy, memorable songs. If you wanna hear what happens when you throw Rolo Tomassi, Millencollin and The Bronx into a blender and pour it over the first Paramore record, this EP is for you. I got back into running in 2019, and I honestly think I put down at least 100 miles with this EP in my earbuds.
Recommended tracks: “Afraid of Water”, “S01E02.Return.Of.The.Arsonist.720p.HDTV.x264”
4. 3TEETH – Metawar (Century Media Records)
On their third full-length, industrial metal resuscitators 3TEETH return with their burliest, shiniest set of songs yet. While the band hasn’t totally scrapped the Godflesh and Ministry worship of their self-titled debut, it’s largely taken a back seat to the digitized guitar-driven magic that gave heavier music a commercial appeal at the tail end of the 90’s and into the new millennium. Think of the most accessible moments from Fear Factory’s classic lineup with a more pronounced electronic presence and a dose of Meshuggah-level tonal percussion from guitars tuned low enough to sound like lawnmowers. The lyrics feature some wryly clever political hot takes, and the album’s capped off with a cover of “Pumped Up Kicks” that’s way more malicious and imposing than the original.
Recommended tracks: “Affluenza”, “President X”
3. Grave Pleasures – Doomsday Roadburn: Live at Roadburn Festival 2018 (Svart Records / Deathwish Records)
I can take or leave most live albums, but this one is a real treat. Grave Pleasures are in top form as they hammer out the best stuff from their two albums, as well as classic cuts from the band’s previous incarnation, Beastmilk. The band’s charismatic, dancy live presence stands in stark contrast to the otherwise bleak atmosphere of Europe’s Roadburn Festival; hopefully there’s video of this performance somewhere. As an added bonus for completists like yours truly, two extra b-sides from the band’s Motherblood album sessions are tacked onto the end.
Recommended tracks: “Infatuation Overkill [LIVE]”, “There Are Powers at Work In This World”
2. Wednesday 13 – Necrophaze (Nuclear Blast)
While I like a lot of my horror straightforward and harrowing, from time to time, nothing beats some carefree, tongue-in-cheek shock schlock. Wednesday 13’s music is the audio equivalent of a movie like Cabin In The Woods: there’s blood and guts for the slasher freaks, but enough wit and self-awareness to let everyone else in the audience know that it knows its place. While he started out doing horror punk with Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13 and Murderdolls, singer and chief songwriter Wednesday 13’s solo outings have moved further and further into the electronic-tinged metallic rock of late 90’s Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson; Necrophaze is the furthest he’s journeyed into this territory. These songs are the grooviest and punchiest of anything he’s ever delivered, the production is slick, and the more prominent inclusion of keys and symphonic elements give the album the horror flick feel it seems like Wednesday has always strived for, but never quite achieved until now. Take out your brain and have fun.
Recommended tracks: “ZODIAC”, “Bring Your Own Blood”
1. Idle Hands – Mana (Eisenwald Records)
Speaking of Grave Pleasures, they put out a brilliant record called Motherblood back in 2017, and that’s the first thing I thought of when I heard Mana, the debut full-length from Portland goth rock death dealers Idle Hands. That’s not at all to say what Idle Hands are doing is derivative; on the contrary, given how much I love Grave Pleasures, pairing the two is some of the highest praise I know how to give. Idle Hands flex some pretty heavy, fast, melodic bangers like “Nightfall” and “Cosmic Overdrive”, while “A Single Solemn Rose” is one of the most charming dark semi-ballads you’re likely to ever hear. This album is just as much dirge as it is salvo. Think the music of the first two Iron Maiden records meets The Ramones’s “Pet Sematary” with Danzig’s little brother (let’s call him Ken Danzig) on vocals. Don’t sleep on this one.
Recommended tracks: “A Single Solemn Rose”, “Nightfall”