There’s nothing I like more than music that challenges me. A band that comes along and literally records whatever the hell they want and my or anybody else’s opinions be damned. Harvey Milk is one such band, and this self-titled re-release is a clear example of not only how much they don’t give a fuck but also just how gifted a group they really are.
This album has the band in a much more experimental phase than their last studio offering and it’s a welcome phase. So few albums, even good ones, keep you guessing from song to song and even fewer deliver on every surprise. Harvey Milk move effortlessly from Melvins’ style heaviness to darker Godspeedyoublackemperor type ambient tones with maybe a dash of Neurosis and Eyehategod thrown in for good measure. They also mimic those bands in that they transcend genre completely.
Harvey Milk opens with “Blueberry Dookie” a slow and plodding riff of incredible weight that bashes down on your skull while the vocals gargle out like they’re being sung through mud. Not being content with just that Harvey Milk flows into “Plastic Eggs” which intros for nearly two minutes with just a guitar ring before launching into a heavy doom style riff for the remaining five minutes. From there the music literally goes anywhere and everywhere before dumping you out on the other side.
Huge riffs pop up from all places, played over flailing drums and deep throbbing base tones. At times the songs seemed designed simply to mess you your head as with “My Father’s Life” a nearly ten minute opus that opens with a quiet one note guitar sound alongside even quieter vocals. Without warning the floor drops out as another crushingly slow and swamp like heavy fuzzed out guitar sound kicks you right in the nuts. One particular song I loved was “F.S.T.P.” which reminds me of an old Helmet record slowed down to about half speed.
Listening to Harvey Milk is akin to getting beaten up by a robot with sixty pounds fists that thrives on thrashing you really, really slowly. This is the kind of music that, much like the shark in Jaws, shakes you, tenderizes you and down you go. What has allowed Harvey Milk to remain a step ahead of other experimental heavy bands is that they follow no formula and that allows the music to remain interesting. I know I harp on this a lot but I love when a band puts out an album that demands to be heard as one piece of music. We live in such a quick fast easy to digest world that a record that’s also an artistic statement is incredibly rare.
Harvey Milk has been kicking around off and on for nearly twenty years and have yet to repeat themselves. Musically speaking the band is constantly playing around with styles and influences and that has given them a record of releases that’s beyond reproach. If the world of music isn’t ready to give Harvey Milk their rightful place in the hallowed halls it doesn’t matter, they’ll smash, crush and beat their way in.
Meanwhile, from the same dark abyss come Rotting Christ and their new album Aelo, an album that vies between really cool thrashy grooves and full on Death Metal blast beats. Rotting Christ have always had their own style when it came to Death Metal and with Aelo that effort helps to keep the album from drifting into cliché territory. Don’t get me wrong this is still Death Metal and Rotting Christ don’t throw in too many curve balls however what they do is their own thing, it doesn’t mimic anybody else out there. Anybody who listens to Death Metal knows just how rare that can be.
Aelo has a lot of weird parts and even orchestration to the songs that manage to connect them into something bigger than just another Death Metal album. For instance the way the title track kicks off with these bizarre almost Broadway Chorus style vocals or how the guitars play off each other on the song “Eon Aenaos”.
At times this album almost feels operatic. Rotting Christ create music that I could totally see being played at the Metropolitan Opera House while some incredibly involved production brought the band’s vision to life. Few if any Death Metal groups operate on such a grand scale and it’s awesome to see Rotting Christ embrace that.
Don’t let my pretentious ranting sway you though, this is head banging Death Metal at it’s finest. Rotting Christ don’t try to overstate their importance nor do they feel the need to throw in everything but the kitchen sink to seem like they operate outside the box. It’s all drums, guitars and bass here it’s just that the execution is a lot more interesting than most of the other bands who just play fast and scream.
One of my favorite songs “Noctis Era” is a classic Thrash/Death Metal tune but there’s something different about it, something I can’t put my finger on and that’s what makes it interesting. Rotting Christ’s personal twist on Death Metal is what makes their music special and allows it to stand tall in a genre so often mired by mediocrity.
Not everything is perfect on Aelo but when Death Metal features odd wind instruments and almost Celtic sounding backing vocals I can forgive little chinks in the armor. True I’m not a fan of the barking vocal style but that’s more a genre thing than anything Rotting Christ is doing wrong. I also have to give credit to the guitar work here, the solos, the riffs; this is a guitar player’s wet dream.
I don’t even care that much for super flashy guitar stuff and I was amped on what I heard here. I’m not sure if it’s their heritage or culture that inspires Rotting Christ to create this kind of epic Death Metal or they just don’t want to be pigeonholed. Whatever the reason I commend them on Aelo, one of the best Death Metal albums I’ve heard in a long, long time.