ALBUM OF THE DAY: 1349, DEMONOIR (AND OTHER Y,NT ALBUMS)
There’s nothing I shouldn’t like about 1349’s latest album, Demonoir: it’s the band at blazing black-metal-at-grindcore-speed again, and its experimental parts feel appropriate, even necessary. But something feels about it hollow: the flesh, bones, and organs are all there, but is there any soul (even a black one) beneath them? How could an album with so much in common with one of my favorite black metal albums ever — the band’s 2005 eviscerator Hellfire — leave me cold?
Then it dawned on me: Revelations of the Black Flame, the album between the two. A dull, pointless affair with experimental black metal (and I even LIKE the genre from time to time: Wold’s Screech Owl and Leviathan’s A Silhouette in Splinters got quite a few spins back in the day), I tore it a new asshole back in ’09 and still stand by that action; after the straightforward destruction of Hellfire, it was a confoundingly sharp left turn for a band doing so much right. The parts on Demonoir that I would usually enjoy felt empty because of this, in that perhaps they were being employed to get back into the good graces of the fans they’d possibly alienated. There’s nothing tangibly wrong with Demonoir, but I can’t help but feel its revived sense of purpose is cold and calculated.
And this isn’t the first time an album has come across like this, nor will it be the last. It falls into the realm of what I call the Yeah, Nice Try album (or Y,NT album). Like with the above-mentioned example, it’s a return-to-form record by a band that just doesn’t feel right, even if the band is returning to a form you once enjoyed. It usually follows a strange album, lousy album, or string of strange and/or lousy albums. And whether intentional or not, it feels like the band treading familiar waters for the sake of familiarity in lieu of having anything new or interesting to say. Other notable Y,NT albums are:
- Isis’ Wavering Radiant: After the directionless plodding of In the Absence of Truth, Wavering Radiant saw a return to the epic dynamics and relative focus of the band’s earlier work. But the album still felt off, too deliberate compared to their slow-burn masterpieces. The band broke up afterward, never letting us know if they’d ever truly go back to their awesome roots, or if that was something they were even capable of at that point (which, um, could be why they called it quits).
- The Red Chord’s Fed Through the Teeth Machine: For those too young to remember, Fused Together in Revolving Doors was like a kick to the throat when it came out. In the windy void left by Calculating Infinity, it was an album nimble enough to weave back and forth between admirable technicality and absurd heaviness. Clients, though a more straightforward follow-up, showed more of the same. Then came Prey for Eyes, an excellent album for a mediocre death metal band, but a criminally dull one for dudes as forceful and dominant as The Red Chord. So when the band returned to being off the goddamn wall for their next album, Fed Through the Teeth Machine, something wasn’t right. Sure, it was plenty heavy — the band sounding just as ridiculous as a four-piece as they did as a five — but were they brilliantly chaotic as a natural state, as their first two records would have us believe, or was it something they had to strive for, as Prey for Eyes‘ autopilot tendencies would imply?
- Of course, the alpha dog of Y,NT albums is Death Magnetic. After almost two decades (or, if you ask me, more than two decades) of, for lack of a more eloquent visual, violently shitting on their poor, loyal fanbase’s chest via album after album of rubbery, lukewarm YEAH rock, Metallica decided to revisit to their Big Four glory. And while there were certainly sort of excellent moments — the return of Hetfield/Hammett guitar chemistry was particularly impressive — only about a third of it was exceptional, with about another third being infuriatingly inconsistent and the remaining third being the barely digestible crap they’d been reliant upon since the mid-’90s. What was supposed to be a bone thrown to their long-suffering thrash fans wound up being a few sorta-decent songs taped to a brick. If they really were this passionate about being a great metal band, why didn’t this come out right after The Black Album?
Of course, Y,NT albums aren’t always bad, or even bad as a rule (Fed Through the Teeth Machine will probably fare better over time as The Red Chord keep putting out great albums, and Godflesh’s swan song — Hymns, probably one of their best albums — was a return to form after the massively disappointing Us vs. Them). But that empty feeling you get when you hear an album by a band who put out something shitty a few years before, well, there’s a name for it. Or at the very least, an annoying acronym.