August 2002 would seem a strange time to release a record so steeped in the eerie beauty of winter as The Mantle. But released it was, and fans were treated to an ambitious 70-minute winter landscape set to metal music. Even the term “metal” is used very loosely here, so varied are the songs. With generous sections of strummed acoustic guitars, folk instruments and ambient sounds, Agalloch is sometimes deemed to be a progressive band. Even the most straightforward metal-type song here, “I Am the Wooden Doors,” still indulges in twin acoustic guitar backdrops and solos to go along with its double-bass drum attack and rasping black metal vocals. To me, the doors symbolize the stoutness of the human spirit, a break in the overall wintry melancholy of The Mantle.

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I wrote this in late 2015, only a few weeks before Lemmy passed away. I have left it unedited since then, as a tribute to memories of a better time when he still walked and rocked this earth. Godspeed.

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The Fallen – Lemmy Kilmister

December 29, 2015 — 1 Comment

I originally planned to take the rest of 2015 off from writing so I could plan Head of Metal’s 2016 year ahead.

But I cannot, and will not, avoid the death of yet another one of my favorite musicians. As saddened and pained as I am today at the news, I have to quite literally force myself to sit down and write for the first time with the knowledge that my buddies and I will never get to see another Motorhead show.

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Coming up with a truly definitive heavy metal album (that most headbangers can generally agree upon) is a dastardly difficult thing to do. It’s difficult because of the rich variety of sounds falling under the metal umbrella, and also because of metalheads’ passionate loyalty to their favorites.

That being said, in all the discussions I’ve had over “the” metal album, I have found minimal resistance to this album, “The Number of the Beast,” taking the prize. That’s the kind of power this album has.

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Ah, I remember when this came out,” my dad observed when this live document arrived in the mail. “When Deep Purple played in Japan, that was unheard of for the time…they were huge.”

Recorded over 3 nights in August 1972 in Osaka and Tokyo, “Made In Japan” is sometimes considered to be metal’s first great live offering, even before Japan hosted Judas Priest for “Unleashed In The East.” It was Deep Purple’s most beloved lineup at the height of its live prowess, raw and distorted but also with a degree of technicality and precision that continues to inspire live acts today.

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Athens is one hell of a city for metal.

As is the case with much of Europe, metal has always been more popular here than in North America. Being surrounded by ancient history and epic landscapes gives the Greek metal community an inspired intensity that is hard to create anywhere else.

“I don’t know what is is with Greece, man,” says Iced Earth songwriter/guitarist Jon Schaffer, whose live album Alive In Athens was recorded here. “They just really seem to get it. They were so loud that they drowned out the PA system at times.” The shows on that album lasted about 3 hours and represented a highlight of the American band’s career.

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As I drove through the parking lot of Nassau Coliseum, the bass riff of “Dawn Patrol” thundering at top volume, I kept thinking about what a great deal my ticket for this show was: $40 for three of the most legendary and successful metal bands of all time (Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax, and if Metallica been added to the bill, that price would have easily climbed to $150).

It was the 20th anniversary of the 1990 thrash masterworks “Rust In Peace” and “Seasons In The Abyss,” so both records would be performed straight through. I’ve always enjoyed that, as it’s like a giant listening party for the benefit of the especially eager fans. When you’ve taken the time to love every song on the record, it’s rewarding for you and the band, since you both get to hear and perform songs you usually don’t get to hear live.

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When I first saw this album cover, I really thought it was one of the creepiest, seediest images I’d ever seen (the Catholic middle school I went to had uniforms similar to the one the girl wears on the swing). And on the back, you just see the empty swing swaying, as though the shadow on the front cover is now giving chase. Scary.

The band best known for launching the wildly popular “nu-metal” movement of the 1990s, Korn eschewed the fancy theatrical playing of traditional heavy metal music. They focused instead on minimalist, downtuned riffs and a tight, focused rhythm section to create intensity. Lead singer Jonathan Davis has one of the most distinctive voices in the genre, and even if it isn’t the “greatest,” he emotes such a vibe of barely-controlled rage that you never feel safe listening to him, feeling he may just explode at any minute (which he does on this record, several times!).

“…it was just plain crazy. Huge. This huge, huge sound that blew us all away. It was incredible,” guitarist Brian “Head” Welch writes in his book, “Save Me From Myself.”

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