October was a scary good month for metal

by Mike Heral, Senior Staff Writer

Heavy metal observed the year’s scariest month appropriately, with releases ranging from a band returning from the dead to one trying to make sense of death. It’s another impressive month for a year that will be remembered as one of the best in heavy-metal history, but that subject is for a different column. Enough wasting time: let’s look at what the best musical genre gave us in October.

Slipknot — “.5: The Gray Chapter” 

2 stars out of 4

The funky title refers to this album being the kings of nu metal’s fifth studio album. It’s also the band’s memoir to its bassist — the late Paul Gray, who died of a drug overdose in 2010. Born in Los Angeles, Gray was a rarity to the Des Moines, Iowa, based band. But his city roots factored into Slipknot’s genre-spanning sound by adding an urban sound to his mate’s cornfield crazy licks. It’s natural, then, that his band would honor him in the same way that AC/DC’s “Back in Black” album was a 10-song tribute to the late Bon Scott. But while AC/DC pulled off a masterpiece that will remain in heavy rotation as long as classic rock radio survives, “.5: The Gray Chapter” is the sound of Gray’s former band not being sure who it wants to be.

The issue isn’t with the up-tempo songs —“Lech” and “Custer” nail the band’s violent survivor guilt. Slipknot still does angry moodiness well and can continue playing their simple riffs layered with comic-book DJ effects until the band headlines the nursing home circuit. But the reason why this album fails rests with lead singer Corey Taylor. Too often, he subverts Slipknot by inserting the tepid mall metal that his alternate band, Stone Sour, is known for. The album is already bloated with 16 songs and a one-hour-plus run time, but six of those songs are ballads. Strip those six songs away from Taylor’s influence and “The Gray Chapter” not only works, it could become a classic.

At the Gates – “At War With Reality”

4 out of 4

Some bands run hot for a short amount of time only to resurface years later for no valid reason (looking at you, Motley Crue), and then there’s At the Gates. Their last album was not only 19 years ago, but it was the most melodic death metal album of the 1990s. Every band that followed had “Slaughter of the Soul” in its “do this!” library. Even though death metal has never gotten its due — I mean, seriously, how can the world fawn over someone thematically limited as Taylor Swift while ignoring artists built to play faster, stronger and better — At the Gates was the band with the sound every riff ranger wanted to imitate. So it’s impossible for the boys hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, to live up to the pressure, right?

Wrong. While they don’t surge back to life as adamantly as Carcass did last year, At the Gates overcome the hype by redefining the model. While a death metal album usually starts with an instrumental ticking towards sonic detonation at the transition, At the Gate defuse the climax. Each song is meticulously crafted to remain within itself instead of sloppily crashing over the edge and splattering on the sidewalk. Nineteen years ago, the band told their contemporaries to stylize their speed. With “At War With Reality,” they are telling them to change musical reality through restraint. That’s welcome advice for a genre that got stuck thinking more is more.

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