In this very special 50th episode of The Ex Man podcast, Doc welcomes legendary guitarist, Tosin Abasi, as a guest to discuss Afro-Futurism, the conflict in the metal world between commercialism and credibility, how he became such a prolific guitar player, coming up in the Baltimore hardcore/metalcore scene, how the band Reflux with Ash Avildsen came together, the genesis of Animals As Leaders through meeting Misha Mansoor, cultivating the Djent sound, political identities, the unexpected success Animals As Leaders and he have experienced, the Generation Axe tour, and his launch of Abasi Guitars and his signature Fishman guitar pickups.
This episode features the song “All Came To Light” by Cerebellion from the album Regeneration, and “Ectogenesis” by Animals As Leaders from the album The Madness of Many.
For some reason or another, no metal website asked me for my top albums list this year, so I figured I would release the list on my own. I should probably include a few disclaimers beforehand: First, I listed my favorite albums that I have listened to in the last year, not necessarily the albums that were released within the calendar year of 2014. Secondly, this was a really great year for music and heavy music in particular, and frankly I just didn’t have time to check out everything. I know Machine Head and Slipknot and many other bands put out killer records, but it would be disingenuous to put them on my list when I haven’t really dug in and spent time with the albums like I would like to. Thirdly, I am listing my favorite albums regardless of genre. There are two kinds of music: good and bad.
10. Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed
Supergroups rarely pan out how we hope they will. Killer Be Killed is one of the few exceptions where the end product is the perfect meeting point of what you envision the individual artists will bring to the table based on their original band’s influence. The meat and potatoes of the music is more Sepultura than anything, but I suspect Greg Pusciato on 2nd guitar had a hand in reinforcing the modernized thrash direction. In an era of musicians striving for brainy, cold instrumental and computational perfection, it was refreshing to hear something that just crushed inside your gut. Visceral and joyous.
9. Nothing More – Nothing More
I first heard of this band when Metalsucks.net posted a blog attempting to shit on the band. I checked it out and was blown away. It sounded a bit like some of the more radio-oriented “Active Rock” that is so common these days, but there was something next level about this band. When people ask me what Nothing More sound like, I say Mars Volta meets Sevendust. I am patting myself on the back for such an accurate description as I type this. This album is pretty good, but they have one GREAT song, “This Is The Time (Ballast)”. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
8. Animals as Leaders – The Joy of Motion
Although I had listened to this record a bit earlier in the summer, I didn’t fully appreciate this album until my friend Luke began playing it on repeat, and I became hooked. I feel like genre titles can often be used as weapons to discredit bands. Animals as Leaders is so much above a limiting genre name like “Djent”. The musicianship is obviously in an elite stratosphere, but the playing rarely feels self indulgent. These are compositions that take us on an emotional journey. For me, it hearkens back to Steve Vai’s Alien Love Secrets, which was my gold standard for virtuosic instrumental guitar albums.
7. Opeth – Pale Communion
Opeth are one of a few bands that, for the vast majority of their career, every creative move made was unimpeachable. They could do no wrong. None of us could argue with Mikael’s genius. Admittedly though, I didn’t really like Heritage. It wasn’t bad music per se. It just seemed noodly, aloof, and lacked the hooks and somber quality of what we think of as Opeth. Pale Communion isn’t any heavier or metallic than Heritage, but it just feels more like Opeth. Which is just that…a feeling. The atmosphere they create is so distinct, to be in it is intoxicating if you are a true fan. They are masters of creating that feeling.
6. In Search of Sun – The World is Yours
I get sent lots of music from bands via social media; Links to Bandcamps, Reverbnation sites, Soundcloud, and Youtube clips of up and comers. I try to listen to everything. Surprisingly, most stuff is good, but rarely great. In Search of Sun’s manager sent me one of these links to the title track “The World Is Yours”, and I was blown away. It’s a heavy metal hit. If you aren’t listening to this band, you are fucking up. To me, they are 2014’s Twelve Foot Ninja. Not that they sound like 12FN, but they are on a similar trajectory of doing something dynamic, fresh, with tremendous command of their craft, and still remembered to write an actual song. It’s an antidepressant in a world of downer metal.
5. Wovenwar – Wovenwar
I almost feel like this pick is skewed, because like many of you guys, I was rooting for this band to succeed from the jump. I still wore this damn album out because it’s so fucking good. Musically, it’s not dissimilar from As I Lay Dying, but clearly this band felt limited by the tropes of Metalcore, i.e., incessant screams and breakdowns. Because the arduous circumstances ending As I Lay Dying, these guys had a long time to work on the material. That time paid off because you can hear the work that went into sculpting and molding every detail of the instrumentation, arrangement, and production of these songs. I am really proud of how this band persevered, and turned something negative into something positive.
4. Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu
I really discovered Gary Clark Jr. when I was working for the NBA at the beginning of 2014. Christina Aguilera was supposed to perform at halftime at the All Star Game. She canceled, and GCJ was one of the artists chosen to perform in addition to doing the National Anthem with a slide guitar. He was incredible, and I fell in love with Blak and Blu. The album is pretty much half Blues and half slickly produced Pop infused R&B. Needless to say, I gravitated to the Blues tunes. This album and the song in particular, “When My Train Pulls In”, was the soundtrack to my journey driving cross-country when I moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles. Gary Clark Jr’s Blues helped get me through the challenging journey.
3. Bad Rabbits – American Love
I have one person to thank for my fandom of Bad Rabbits, Mike “Scuzz” Scuilara, whom I was playing with in Unearth and also plays drums in Extinction A.D. Bad Rabbits reminds me of some of my favorite R&B from the 80’s and early 90’s. Morris Day and the Time, Bobby Brown, Rick James, Tony! Toni! Tone!, etc. These are party jams. If you know me, you know I like to party with the best of ’em. The thing that sets Bad Rabbits apart from modern “Urban” music is that they are a real band. No drum loops or samples. Just great players with a great singer. Check out “Can’t Fool Me” if you want to smile, and go watch the band live. Spectacular show!
2. At The Gates – At War With Reality
It’s difficult to talk about the new At The Gates album without mentioning last year’s Carcass reunion album, Surgical Steel. There are too many parallels not to draw a comparison. Both bands were probably equally the most influential Melodic Death Metal bands off all time, broke up relatively at the same time, both became more popular and legendary after they split, and now they’ve both managed to put out classic quality albums nearly 20 years apart, which seems like an impossible task. There have been countless imitators, clones, wannabes, including the guy writing this, but something about these 5 guys playing together that just sounds caustic and medieval in a way that is supremely unique and filled with character. Color me lucky because I NEVER thought there would be new records by either of these bands; let alone great records.
1. Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal
This album came out in 2013, but I supposed in my mature age, some things tend to find their way to me after the fact. Now, I’m going to do something the makes me look really stupid. I’m going to compare Bring Me The Horizon to the Beatles. Aside from being British, both bands started as more style than substance and evolved into true artists and innovators. BMTH hasn’t made their Abbey Road yet, but they have made their Revolver. In my humblest of opinions, Sempiternal is the first true classic of the Scenester, Warped Tour, Altpress, “Boy bands with guitars” genre. I can’t even tell most of those bands apart, but this record moved me. I felt that thing I felt when a truly powerful heavy record makes you punch your steering wheel when you are listening in your car, and head nodding hard as fuck on the subway with your earbuds in. I felt like a kid again. There is real passion in these songs, and I am glad that someone is moving the needle and thinking big, even if I’m late to the party.