The International Year of Quinoa (oof) was also the year that gay marriage became legal nationwide, and the year that Edward Snowden blew the whistle on secret surveillance programs. Also, Greta Thurnberg and Quvenzhané Wallis turned ten!
The hottest doomsday year since Nostradamus was, in my opinion, also the best year for music this decade. Our last solar transit of Venus until 2117, the discovery of the Higgs boson, the birth of Tardar Sauce (aka Grumpy Cat).
The beginning of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement; the launch of the Curiosity rover; the release of Rebecca Black’s “Friday”; the deaths of beloved authors, musicians, and Macho Man Randy Savage.
Because you don’t get that many chances to look back on a whole decade.
It’s high time I finished my 2018 favorites list (or at least the thorough reviews).
Every year, I try to get into a new style that pushes my appreciation of extreme music just a little bit further. In 2017, I took a deeper dive into grindcore with some classic Napalm Death and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. This past year, I attempted to grasp the appeal of the super-dissonant side of death metal. Portal are probably the best known band in this style right now and are still well beyond me, but I think I’m more invested at wrapping my head around Gorguts at this juncture, as their melodic sensibilities are more pronounced and I’ve been a Colin Marston fan ever since I first heard “You Will Be Reincarnated As An Imperial Attack Space Turtle”.
That said, after 2018, I think Anachronism might have been the band I was looking for this whole year. After hearing the first couple tracks of Orogeny, which I believe to be their second album, I was pretty sure Anachronism would be a great gateway into the thick, murky, dissonant ends of the death metal spectrum. Orogeny ended up exceeding my expectations on every front and was one of the strongest albums I heard this year. (Also before the cut I need to tell you that this album shares a name with the magic system in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, which you absolutely must read if you’re up for some heavy-hitting fiction.)
Alright, let’s say you’ve got an album by a band called Rivers of Nihil (spooky), and they’ve got a real spiky logo (at least it’s legible) and the album cover is a Dan Seagrave (he’s done all their album covers)–you, and most everybody else, will probably conclude that this is a metal album. But from the very first chord, if you’re even remotely familiar with the genre, you can further guess that Where Owls Know My Name isn’t going to be just another metal album (and if you’re not, you’ll come to the same realization around when the first saxophone solo kicks in). Even then, you still might not expect how beautifully written, how emotive, how powerful an experience it ends up being.
Buckle up: this is the one that almost got away from me, and it’s my favorite non-metal album of the year.
There’s a degree of irony to the fact that the Old School Renaissance is producing some of the best and hottest artwork, modules, and GM resources in the tabletop roleplaying game industry right now–isn’t “old school” by definition staid and played out? As with all gaming communities, there’s a component of tabletop RPG culture that is grounded in nostalgia; the best OSR content is like a classic car that’s been retooled with all-new parts, parts that have emerged from thirty to forty years of deep thought, experimentation, and winnowing on the topic of game mechanics. The folks behind that movement might have grown up on AD&D or the white box, but me and mine, we grew up on version 3.0 or 3.5.
I’m probably past the point of providing an unbiased review of a Nine Inch Nails release. Over the years, I’ve immersed myself in Trent Reznor’s music to such a degree that I feel I can address his work in totality, with a scope encompassing the ongoing life cycle of Nine Inch Nails, and, to a degree, industrial music in general. Given that, I regret to report that Bad Witch is kind of a lackluster release, and presents a less-than-fulfilling conclusion to the trilogy of EPs that began with Not The Actual Events and continued with Add Violence.
In my senior year of college, I wrote, directed, and acted in an adaptation of Hamlet set to the music of Nine Inch Nails. After the final performance, while being grilled by my professors, I realized that, with no intention of doing so, I’d created a misogynistic piece of art. (For those of you unfamiliar with Shakespeare, there are two female roles in Hamlet: Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and Ophelia, his girlfriend. Neither of them fare terribly well in Shakespeare’s script). In my desire to keep the play’s story intact and get inside Hamlet’s head, I had consigned Getrude and Ophelia to their tropey fates and validated the tired Madonna/whore complex that Hamlet uses to reduce them to caricatures. This would have been understandable if I were staging a more traditional Hamlet. But somehow, even though I was bringing in projections and smoke machines and rewriting the entire script and replacing huge chunks of it with sordid industrial rock numbers, there was some part of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that was sacred to me, that I couldn’t bring myself to reshape or discard: the fundamental arc of its story. I was blind to two things at the time:
- That story uses the death of women as plot points to amplify the desires of men to kill each other, and if I was comitted 100% to telling that precise story, I could not escape that crappy trope, and
- If rearranging, recontextualizing, or completely destroying the plot of Shakespeare’s masterwork was going to offend anyone, I was probably going to lose those people right around my version of Act I Scene 2, where Claudius lip-synchs “Big Man With A Gun” accompanied by lasers and lots of gyrating pelvises. No one who remained would be upset if I gave the women more agency and depth.
So, yeah, that’s how I put about two years of mental energy and weeks and weeks of blood, sweat, and tears into a piece of art that betrayed my principles. All of which is to say, let’s talk about intent of the artist vs. message of the work.