10 April 2011

2010: Harvey Milk, High on Fire

Harvey Milk
A Small Turn of Human Kindness

Released May 18, 2010 (Hydra Head)

High On Fire
Snakes For The Divine

Released February 23, 2010 (Koch Records)

Lin: A- (Havey Milk)
Alright, so, this album is right up my alley, though if you don't like it, I'll understand. Big, thick, crunching chords. Vocals halfway between singing and growling, a rougher Danzig being the closest comparison. Lyrics as bleak as a dead forest in winter (check out that album cover) with song titles to match: "I Just Want To Go Home" and "I Am Sick Of All This Too" being just the first two. There's this moment about three minutes from the end of the album, where a full soaring electric guitar comes over the top of the sludge punctuating the rhythm in the higher octave, and its beauty captures the primary beauty of A Small Turn of Human Kindness: it's not particularly noteworthy (I miss it half the time if I'm not paying attention), and it's not "traditionally beautiful" in the way that, say, late 90's Flaming Lips are. What it is, is an accent to the darkness, the light that shines letting you know just how bad things are. That oversells the point a bit as the catharsis allows the otherwise depressive atmosphere to dissipate enough to handle. One of the finer metal releases of the year.

Lin: A- (High on Fire)
And then there's this one, also one of the finer metal releases of the year. But while Harvey Milk mines the doom and sludge, making a plodding and deliberate album, Snakes For the Divine has a brighter sheen: not quite the clean production of, say, Mastodon -- there's too much stoner rock here left over from guitarist/singer Matt Pike's previous band Sleep. This is indeed a very good thing: 80's thrash isn't a bad comparison here, particularly South of Heaven-ish Slayer. Still, my favorite track here -- "Bastard Samurai" -- is the least Slayer-like and most doom-y of the bunch, taking almost four minutes before the song opens up (...slightly).

I think sometimes about how I'd go about getting folks into metal since I'm, more or less, the only one of my friends who really dig it. (I'm having a hell of a time trying to find company to Maryland Deathfest.) Sometimes I'll take the cue of the mainstream indie press and recommend something like Mastodon, something with enough good and cred, even if I don't particularly like it. Or something that's less "metal" and more rock (like Clutch, perhaps, who are nevertheless awesome). But I think High on Fire may become my go-to. While it's not as good as, say, the Agalloch album I can't stop gushing about, it's far more accessible, lacking some of the more divisive metal devices. Point is, this is a great place to start.

Brandon: B (Harvey Milk) / B+ (High on Fire)

More than anything else I’ve learned since we started this little project, I’ve really had an opportunity to think critically about what kind of metal I like. Because I’m not a metal guy (I never even went through a high school phase--I was a punk rock/post-punk/indie rock kid with strong classic rock leanings--never so much as owned a single mid-1990s Metallica record, not even S&M, the epically bad Metallica-meets the SF Orchestra record that came out in 1999 just in time for my Weezer-loving college girlfriend to pick it up), I struggle to come up with interesting things to say. This is why it’s been a slow week at She’s Making Whoopee in Hell--with two metal records back to back, it’s wicked slow-going for me to make time to listen and write up.

Mostly as a result of Lin’s intercessions over the years, I’ve accumulated a share of metal records that represent various facets of the last 30 years of the genre’s history (two years ago, I actually had to add a “metal” genre to my carefully constructed metatagging system to accommodate the 31 records currently on my hard drive). And so, I can say with some certainty that I’m not really into the heavy, sludgy, proggy sound of a lot of the metal I’ve heard over the last few years. When I reach for metal, it’s typically either late 1970s British (Motorhead, Judas Priest) or early 80s American thrash/speed-style (by which, in a really crude way, I mean early Metallica and Slayer). The slower, heavier stuff just doesn’t really move me all that much. I’m a Screaming for Vengeance kind of guy, god help me.

So that makes the Harvey Milk record a hard go for me. I can hear that it was writted, performed, and recorded with care. I can hear the raw emotion poured into the slowed down, loose-stringed riffs that linger in the air. But I like it best when they let the songs breathe a little--”I Know This is No Place for You” is, for all the heaviness, a little easier to for me to get into than the denser songs. If you like dark, slow metal, it seems like a decent place to start.

High on Fire’s Snakes for the Divine is a bit more indie friendly--grounded in stoner rock, but also some more familiar thrash notes. especially on my favorite track, “Ghost Neck.” [ed. note: I’ve started to recognize that when I write about music I have a hard time feeling strongly about, my reviews start to sound like wine tasting note--”notes” of this, “hints” of that. Weird. -B] This record, which has earned some well-justified praise from the indie rock set, is a much easier listen for me than any of the metal records we’ve reviewed thus far. This is aggressive, cathartic music that’s (despite the kick-ass cover art) not conceptual, or filled with arcane references. It’s straightforward, hard, and fast, and by far the best of the metal bunch thus far for non-metal people (although the Agalloch record should be heard, even if I think it’s a bit daunting for beginners like myself). It’s recommended.

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