I've spent the last few days taking a much-needed vacation in Boston, so I thought I'd give a shout-out to a few of my favorite metal albums from in and around the area. Boston's traditionally more of a hardcore town (both Siege and Converge, two Boston acts that were important for the development of metal in general, started in the hardcore scene), and its metal tends to be overshadowed by ho-hum Massachusetts bands from further west like Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall and All That Remains. But Boston's had its fair share of inventive bands over the years, and here are five great albums from 'em, in chronological order:
1) Only Living Witness - Prone Mortal Form (1993)
Thank you to Decibel Magazine for hipping me to this excellent, defunct hard rock/metal band. Only Living Witness were the toast of the town back in the early to mid-90s but never rose to the level of popularity that other jammin' metal acts like Rollins Band, Quicksand, Soundgarden or (early) Tool were able to achieve. Too bad, because the blistering riffs and Jonah Jenkins' strong singing voice (always clean, never squeaky) made for a killer combo that probably could have made small waves commercially if given the chance.
2) Grief - Torso (Pessimiser, 1998)
Every major American city has a great sludge band, and Grief was Boston's. The doom riffs pour slow and thick a la Eyehategod without the blues; tortured howls and depression are the only thing you'll find emitted from Grief's black pit of despair (that's basically what's happening on the cover). Southern Lord has released a couple rarities and live discs from the band in the last few years, and they half-heartedly reunited in 2005. But Torso remains the definitive document of Grief's no-frills, pained doom metal, as slow and nasty as this stuff gets. No less an authority on doom than Ryan Lipynsky of Unearthly Trance told me that this was one of his all-time favorite doom records.
3) Maudlin of the Well - Bath (Dark Symphonies, 2001)
This prog-death collective was Toby Driver's band before he formed the equally uncategorizable Kayo Dot and moved to New York, a city whose musical climate is more in tune with his band's serious avant-garde proclivities. There's more post-rock and death metal with Maudlin of the Well than Driver would use in his next band, less of the experimentation with free jazz and modernist classical composition techniques. It's just as pretentious as Kayo Dot, but more limited in its ambitions, which means it connects way more often, too. Try listening to Bath without remembering what would come next and you might very well end up preferring Maudlin of the Well to Driver's later work. Entrancing, often beautiful stuff.
4) The Red Chord - Clients (Metal Blade, 2005)
The following quote is reprised from my Prefixmag list of the top 15 albums of 2005. While it's no longer the most ferocious album in my collection, I stand behind my assessment: "The Red Chord play a grinding amalgam of death metal and hardcore that somehow never oppresses the ears like so many out-and-out brutal bands do. Clients was the most plainly ferocious album in my entire CD collection until I read the lyric sheet and realized that the vocalist was saying silly shit like "I'm not a Democrat/ I'm a conversationalist/ If your aunt had balls/ she'd be your uncle." Now it's the silliest, most ferocious album in my collection."
5) Ehnahre - The Man Closing Up (Sound Devastation, 2008)
This is one of my new favorite records. In 2006, 4 members of Kayo Dot quit the band at the same time, towards the end of a tour. Toby and Mia from KD continued recording and reconfiguring the band, but I hadn't heard anything about the ex-members until I received Ehnahre's debut in the mail. Imagine the cyclical death metal atonality of Demilich, the uncomfortable ambience of Portal and the Schoenbergian tone-rows of...well...Schoenberg, and you're somewhere in Fenway, metallically speaking. To be sure Ehnahre shares KD's nomadic sense of song structure and texture, but there's no bones thrown to beauty on The Man Closing Up, just millions of shades of black, rendered in millions of shades of metal. Totally brilliant.