Here’s what The Culture Tsar has been listening to for the past week. Check out highlights from each album on The Culture Tsar’s Weekly Highlights playlist on Spotify to listen for yourself.
1: The Birthday Massacre: Under Your Spell (2017)
The Culture Tsar has a soft spot in his black heart for goth music, so this band is pretty much everything he ever wanted to hear. Simply put, I loved this album from the first track to the last and it made me want to never go out the front door again without leather and black eyeliner. Listening to The Birthday Massacre is like dancing on an Ecstasy-induced high in the Pacific Northwest’s coolest goth club in 1997. I’m honestly shocked I’ve never heard of this band before since they’ve been around since the early 2000s. The Spotify algorithm spit one of their older songs into my player after my playlist concluded, probably inspired by the fact that I’d put a London After Midnight song on the list. Their latest album is probably my favorite, although Superstition (2014) and Pins and Needles (2010) are quite good as well. They sound a little bit like a turbocharged version of classic 80s goth bands (The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees) mixed with elements of symphonic metal (Nightwish, Xandria), only without sounding completely ridiculous. The lead singer has a beautiful voice, and she really reminds of Sarah Brightman for some reason (incidentally, if you remember Brightman’s 1995 album Fly, The Birthday Massacre kinda sounds like the coolest possible alternate universe version of that album). I became very excited after hearing them, thinking that I’d be able to find similar bands through the Spotify “Related Artists” listing, but most of the other bands in this genre are terrible. At any rate, The Birthday Massacre is great. Check them out if you’re at all interested in goth rock.
2: Sinistro: Sangue Cassia (2018)
This is a bit of a cheat because I was already familiar with this band. I saw them open for Paradise Lost last year and heard some of their debut album, but I hadn’t given them an in-depth listen. A Portuguese doom metal band with a female lead singer (who sings all the lyrics in Portuguese), Sinistro has a pretty unique sound. Most of their songs are quite slow, with crushing riffs interspersed with serene moments. The lead singer’s voice is haunting, and they sound like something you’d hear in the background while you were performing a séance in an abandoned house at midnight. My primary criticism is that they’re one of those metal bands that had fairly lengthy songs with multiple parts to them, so it’s a bit hard to distinguish one song from another. This is an album I think I’d have to listen to several times to really get the most out of it. The whole thing is a bit of a detuned blur upon first listen and it’s not the type of music that gets stuck in your head. If you’re into bands like My Dying Bride or Opeth, you’ll probably love them. Casual metal fans will probably get a bit bored, though. This album also has an absolutely great cover of “Nothing Sacred,” one of my favorite Paradise Lost songs.
3: Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss (2015)
An interesting album by an interesting artist. I found Wolfe on Spotify after listening to Myrkur (a black metal project by Danish pop singer Amalie Brunn; it’s awesome). It’s a bit hard to describe what this album sounds like. Not really metal, not really ambient, not really goth, but rather some ever-shifting combination of the three. The album suffers a bit of the same problem as Sinistro’s in that it’s hard to distinguish one song from another after only a single listen. Wolfe is incredibly talented, and this album has some powerful moments as it careens from one style to another. There’s a thematic darkness holding everything together that’s very compelling, even after only a cursory listen. She’s one of those artists that you have to put in some work to get the most out of, but you know it will be worth the effort. Although I think her most recent album, Hiss Spun (2017), a bit more accessible than this one, Abyss is a great artistic achievement that I’m looking forward to listening to again.
4: Peter Murphy: Lion (2014)
You might know Peter Murphy (AKA: The Godfather of Goth) from his work with the Bauhaus or his (sort of) classic 1989 solo album Deep, which featured the hit song “Cuts You Up” (and the equally memorable “Deep Ocean, Vast Sea”). He’s one of those artists that’s been around forever, had a few hits here and there, but never really stayed in the public eye for prolonged periods of time. After listening to his most recent studio album, though, I’m having a hard time understanding why. Simply put, Lion is awesome. The album has that rich, echo-laden sound that makes each song sound absolutely gigantic, like its bouncing off the walls of a 200,000 seat arena (just for the record, these don’t exist). Murphy’s voice is great, showcasing far more range than a lot of his older material. I’ve always thought that his solo material sounds a bit like a collection of David Bowie B-sides (albeit very good ones), but this album reminds me of what a Bowie-Depeche Mode collaboration in 1994 might have sounded like. The production is great, and there are a number of memorable, standout tracks. Although the second half of the album fades a little bit, the first half is good enough to make up for the fact that it kind of runs out of steam by the end.
5: Metallica: Hardwired…to Self-Destruct (2016)
Okay, look: I know they’re still one of the biggest bands in the world and this album was a huge seller. The fact remains that The Culture Tsar didn’t listen to it when it came out and hasn’t heard anything off it since then. Since I own every other Metallica album and have been listening to the band for 20 years, I had an obligation to listen to it eventually. So what’s the verdict? Actually, it’s pretty good. Maybe great. It didn’t blow me away at first, but I found myself enjoying it more and more throughout the initial listen. The last track “Spit Out the Bone” is good enough to bump the album up half a letter grade (or it would be if I was doing ratings). As happens to a lot of bands, Metallica has entered that phase of their career in which their music becomes more of a showcase of technical proficiency rather than straightforward songwriting. That’s kind of a fancy way of saying they overthink everything. Riffs end up being a measure too long and most of the songs could be two minutes shorter if they took out at that one unnecessary movement that sounds different from the rest of the song. A bit of dead weight aside, though, most of the songs are pretty good. Some of the guitar work has a very Iron Maiden sound to it, and it was nice to hear them dip into their mid-90s sound at times. The Culture Tsar holds the rather unpopular opinion that 1996’s Load features Metallica’s best work, so he certainly enjoyed songs like “Dream No More” and “Now That We’re Dead.”
That’s it for last week’s selections. Tune in next week for an overview of this week’s albums:
Cut Copy: Haiku From Zero
The Warlocks: Songs From the Pale Eclipse
Process of Guilt: Black Earth