Finding the Grove [Notacat Saga Pt. 2]

As far as groves go, there wasn’t anything particularly exciting about Fael’al Whain.

Extraordinarily beautiful?

Maybe. That is, if tall, moss-covered gnarled oaks dotted with fresh dew was your thing. Surrounded by marble statues long stripped of any varnish. And dryads. Or two. Maybe a few deer, frolicking about, eating the most pristine, virgin underbrush you’ve ever seen.

But outside all of that — and the magical blueish wisps passing to and fro, signaling the eternal passing of the wheel of time — you know, it wasn’t all that special.

Oh. And the crystal cat statue with sapphire eyes that sat at the center of the grove. That was kinda dope, I guess.

A pure ray of moonlight traced a stark line down Etheril’s skin, perfectly accentuating her copper skin, her emerald eyes catching the light just enough to glow.

The moon blessed her. Nature’s gift made her beautiful.

And, you know, the makeup and hour of skincare and magical cream.

But she was hot, right? And that’s what matters. That’s, honestly, all that matters. You learn some nature magic, you do your best to make your grove look groomed (but, like, not so groomed that it looks like you’re TRYING, there’s a balance and she wasn’t about to go on and construct a fountain that’d be, ugh), and uh, well, that’s it. You sit here.

You sit here and wait.

For what?

Another druid? Wildlife? Yesterday a cute tiger wandered up to the grove. That was interesting. Maybe it was a panther. Earnestly, she should’ve known, but magical cats can get weird, you know?

God, she was bored.

A hundred years? Was that how long she was stationed here? That might be an exaggeration. Who knows. She didn’t. God. Etheril looked down at her hand, flipping her nails over. “What I would do, you know, just to,” she sighed, “just to SEE another person. C’mon, nature goddess, or some shit, PLEASE! Anyone! Company!”

Off in a distant land, the kobold’s paw slowly curled.

Not but a minute after those words left her lips, Etheril heard a sound coming from the forest.

“Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa….”

Her long ears perked up. Could it be…?

“Doooooooooooooo…”

A person! A voice!

“Wooooooooooooo…”

A shiver went down her spine. Was she sure? Was she sure this was a person? At first, the noise sounded like it came from a sentient creature. But now she wasn’t sure. It was piercing. Foul.

“DaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA…

Was it thrown on the wind?

“DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

Was some twisted spell sent to torment her?

“WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

Her eyes darted from oak to oak. The grove was still. She was alone. A pit opened in her stomach. Company? Maybe. But she was certain, nothing good could come of that noise. This was her end. Pray her soul to rest in nature’s peaceful grasp.

A body burst through a bush, tumbling down the embankment. Twigs and leaves followed close behind, scattering in the body’s path. Slowly, the creature came to a stop, only to spring straight up.

Etheril leaped back.

It was a human. A short one. A woman by the looks of it… but there was something different about her. The human was smiling.

Etheril squinted. “Hello?”

The woman shook her whole body, freeing a branch from her knotted hair. She took a few large steps forward, almost bouncing toward her. She smiled, wide.

“Hello! I am K’atgirl! That is my name. I am here for training. I am here to train. To be a cat. No — to be a girlcat.” She hacked loudly, as if removing a thorn from her uvula. “HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA,” she growl-gagged.

Etheril’s brows knotted together in disgust. What the fuck?

“EXCUSE ME! Sorry. Had a problem there, sorry. But did you hear me? Can you understand me? Oh, you’re an elf,” K’atgirl said. She cleared her throat — with much less theater about her.

“BEEPITY BOOPITY? BEEPITY BOOPITY BOPPITY BEEPITY?”

What the fuck?

“No — okay, excuse me, I speak — I can understand you.”

“BOOPITY!”

“No — I mean, before. I understand yo — this language I am speaking, you know, now. Not… uh, whatever it is you were doing.”

“Okay.”

It was then that Etheril realized just what she was looking at. The human — presumably — in front of her was wearing… makeup? She wasn’t quite sure. She had perhaps the worst smokey eye she’d ever seen, paired with four lines drawn from her nose out toward her cheeks on both sides, eight in total. Additionally, she was wearing two clumps of fur, crudely sewn together on her head, connected by some sort of band. Behind her — only visible between her legs — dangled what looked like some rope that had been wrapped (crudely, once again) in hair of some vintage.

What type of barbarian was this?

“Excuse me, you said your name…”

“KATGIRL!”

“Cat… girl?”

“Yes.”

“And you are here…”

“For training.”

“For what?”

“Training.”

Training. She was here for training. Gods, this is what you asked for. This is what you got. You were desperate. Desperation is manure for the flies of bad luck.

“What… training?”

“I want to be a cat girl.”

Oh no.

The lines. The fur. The rope.

It clicked. She suddenly — and she really hated this — understood.

The winds had carried her a message months ago. Other druids at other groves, all telling of the same message: a girl had visited them, one that they couldn’t adequately explain. Depending on the humidity and barometric pressure, the winds sometimes referred to her as a cat that wanted to be a girl, or sometimes a girl that wanted to be a cat. Most mentioned that she refused to leave without being pointed in the direction of grove that could help her shapeshift. Usually the messages were coddled in a sandwich of profanity.

One particular breeze carried only one message: big phallus, girl of cat, beware. She was certain that they were all playing tricks on her.

But alas, her she was.

Though, that last message still didn’t make sense.

“I want to be a cat girl.”

“A what?”

“A CATGIRL!”

“Excuse me — could you just, like, explain to me what you mean by that? A cat-girl? What is that?”

“A catgirl,” Katgirl paused briefly, sucking in a vast quantity of air, “is a CUTE and ADORABLE friend to felines who can also BECOME a feline. She is cute, and adorable, and she can transform into a cat, but most importantly she is a hybrid of both who is TOTALLY COOL AND RAD and can completely fuck up her enemies if she wants to while also seducing boys who like that sort of thing.”

Etheril stood, in awe of the thing in front of her.

“And one more thing: a large penis.”

Oh. There it is.

“I want all of that. And. A. Big. Dick.”

“Okay, so I guess — and I’m sort of ashamed to admit this — but I guess I can follow the first bit, but why exactly do you want a big, er, dick?”

Katgirl grabbed her chin. “Hmm…” A pause. She then proceeded to gyrate her hips.

“I want to spin it around real fast.”

“…that’s it?”

Katgirl shrugged.

“Well, I can’t help you do that.”

The girl looked absolutely devastated. She might’ve just told her that all of her relatives were murdered by bears. And then the bears shit in her mouth. And then she was the bear, and she shit in her mouth, too.

“Noooo…” Katgirl whimpered.

The noise was utterly pathetic. She couldn’t believe it. She felt her heart break, right there. How in the world? Was this girl some sort of mind control demon? She couldn’t believe she suddenly felt so sorry for this… catgirl? She filled her cheeks with air, slowly letting it out from behind pursed lips.

“Look, the dick thing. I can’t do that. But maybe the cat thing. I might be able to do that.”

Katgirl fucking exploded. She leaped forward, tackling Etheril, knocking her to the ground.

“I BELIEVE THAT I LOVE YOU.”

Etheril stared upward, the filthy human firmly locking her against the ground. She caught a glimpse of the moon through the trees. She gritted her teeth.

Fucking nature goddess bullshit.

A Journey Begins [Notacat Saga Pt. 1]

Bogthir’s shop had seen good, it had seen bad. Many winters. Lots of them. Brutal cold. A crack had erupted in the floor during the last freeze – impossible to miss, really. Bogthir threw a rug on it. It wasn’t a particularly good rug, though. Not fancy. Not purple. Not really, well, what you’d call a wizard’s rug. More of just, like, something you’d grab from the store to cover a stain. That wasn’t accidental. No fancy rug, no need to examine rug, no need to see the malformed foundation that (may or may not) lead to the place collapsing.

Spring was rough, too. Constant rain. He looked over at the rug – a yellowish green stain etched its way through the second-class embroidery. Turns out water settles in cracks. Turns out that when cracks are in rocks, the water sits there for a long time.

Now summer was here. Now his shop smelled like shit.

Bogthir sighed, jabbing fingers into his matted, smoky beard. He dug them through the tangled mess, attempting to pull out a knot. Or a squirrel. Or a bit of barbecue sauce. Hard to tell the difference without a scryer, really.

A chime sounded, and the door to his shop creaked open.

His palms went to his robes – once regal blue, the honorary robes of a wizard in his prime – now crusted over with muddy splotches and, uh, some moss. He tried to make ‘em look good. Professional, even. A professional wizard. A real legend, you know. Once saved a princess. Killed a dragon. Good deeds, sloppy, porny magic sex. Used a spell to make his dick look like a giraffe that had swallowed an oak whole.

Mucous dripped down the back of his throat, cleared away by a series of powerful grunts.

“Yes! Yes! Welcome to Bogthir’s shop of magical enchantments! When you’re here,” he paused, outstretching his arms, “you’re family!”

A robed figure stepped into the shop, hood obscuring their features.

“Ah! Yes, welcome! What is it you need? Staves? Robes? Mystical balls? Spells? Grimoires?”

The figure was silent, approaching the counter Bogthir stood behind. They weren’t very tall – maybe coming up to his chest. Bogthir continued. “Charms? Scrolls? Pointy hats? Grails? Enchanted rings? Herbs? Spices? A magic bowl of never-ending sticks of yeast?”

The shrouded figure remained silent.

Bogthir forced a smile. He hated ones like this. Now, it wasn’t that he didn’t get it – he was a fucking wizard, you know – but come on. Why the act? Why the hood? Bogthir knew the type: hell, he was there once. Adventurer, just out on their first journey. They’ve stuck a decent amount of coin in their purse, and now they think they are such a badass – such a brutal, legendary fighter. Ah, Bogthir remembered. He remembered hard. Nostalgia. Memories. Giraffe dick.

“Okay, look, we have lots of things, just point and I’ll grab it for –“

The cloaked figure unfolded a piece of paper from their pocket, placing it on the counter. They smoothed it out with their hand, pushing it forward.

Bogthir picked it up. He squinted.

[Paper.]

“What the fuck is this?”

The cloaked figure pulled their hood back. A woman. A woman with two crudely stitched cat ears strapped onto a band of fabric wrapped around her head. A woman with three thin black lines on her cheek, all of which pointed toward her nose.

She frowned.

“A cat girl! It’s a cat girl! I want to be a cat girl. I was told you had scrolls for everything here, so I want to be that. I want to be that thing. I want to be that.”

Bogthir sighed. “Look, I can maybe give you a grimoire to turn into a cat for a few minut—“

“No!” Her voice. Gods, her voice. It was loud. Piercing. You know that voice you use when you’re making fun of a ladyfriend of yours? That voice? That sounds nothing like an actual woman? It’s a caricature in every way and anyone who uses it should be ashamed of themselves?

That voice.

“I want to be a cat girl. A cat, but a girl. A cute, fluffy tail. Fluffy ears. Hear everything for miles! A big dick.”

“Look, I don’t have anything,” he stopped, mouth agape. “Excuse me, did you say a big dick?”

“Yes.” She nodded. Twice. Sure as shit. A big dick.

“Um. Okay, so we have something for that, but look lady – in all my years of wizarding, I’ve never, ever, ever – are you gettin’ this? – have ever heard of something that can make you an, uh, cat girl. Cat, or girl. Either or. Not both. You can’t stop in the middle. That’s not how this works.”

Her face scrunched up, the black lines smudging on her cheeks.

“I want to be a cat girl!” Her finger hammered her sketch.

“You can’t. Not from me, at least. I don’t have what you need.”

She folded her arms, staring at him.

“I don’t. I can’t do it.”

She continued to stare.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Staring continued.

He’d run this shop for years. Ten, to be exact. That’s when he decided he was done with going out into the world, dealing with adventurers. Dragonborn who wanted to play gods-damned hopscotch before going into a dungeon, monks who ran around like idiots, trying to go at whatever damn thing they thought might get them a legend. He rubbed his temples. Talking cupcakes…

But he didn’t want that. He didn’t. He’d gotten away. For ten years. Shop was cracked, smelled like shit, did no business, but he didn’t have to deal with it anymore. No more. A fly landed on his shoulder. He swatted at it. No more. He was done.

And now everything was coming back. Crazy was in his shop. Crazy wanted to do business with him. Crazy wanted to be a cat girl. The door chime rang again. Two more adventurers came into his shop. They were jingling their coins in their hands – gods, he could see them. So much. He had to get this girl out of there so he could do some real business.

“Okay, level with me. What’s your name?”

“K’atgirl.”

“No it isn’t. No it fucking isn’t.”

“It is. K’atgirl Notacat.”

Are you shitting me? What did he do to deserve this? Neverwinter was saved. He did that. He had a legend… somewhere. A statue! These robes, they came from the corpse of a lich! A lich! He’d braved dungeons. Caves. All of that didn’t matter, all of that had gotten him was this shop, which now had K’atgirl in it. Which was not a real name.

The two adventurers were tapping their feet. One grimaced, pointing at the strange girl.

“Look, okay. Okay K’atgirl. I’m sorry. I can’t do it. I can’t help you. There’s nothing I can do for you. There… there really is nothing. I mean, can you even do magic? Do you even know what to do? Like, if I told you I could make you turn into a cat… girl, like, right now – could you do it? Do you know how to do a ritual?”

She shook her head left to right a few times. Of course. Of course not.

“Okay, see – you, you’ve got to figure that out first. You’ve got to do that. Figure that out. You know, baby steps? Er, kitten steps. Try that first. And you know…”

K’atgirl perked up. “What! What’s the next step!”

“I don’t, I don’t kno—“ Druids. Druids can be cats. They can’t be catgirls, but you know what? It sounds like it makes sense. “Druids. Be a druid. Find a druid. Druids turn into animals – it’s easy for them. Try that. Maybe that will do it.”

“My quest,” she said, grabbing her crude drawing. “My… my quest.””

“Your quest,” Bogthir said, waving the two patient customers over.

“Thank you, kind sir. I will never forget this. I will remember you!”

“Uh-huh.”

Sunn O))) Live: It Took the Night to Believe

a wall of sunn amps and random speaker cabinets

Many people describe seeing Sunn O))) as a mystical experience. Depending on who you ask, their performances are either transcendental and borderline heavenly or the actual sounds of souls being torn from bone and sinew by a cackling, merciless Belial.

I can’t really say that’s how I saw them, though.

I can’t really say I saw them, either, to be fair.

me, obscured by clouds

How could you? Sunn O)))’s shows start with a blast of dense fog that overwhelms you. A guy in front of me reached back, putting his hand on my shoulder. I could feel his fingers dig in a bit. He turned, and immediately apologized.

“Sorry man, I don’t get claustrophobic… but I just got claustrophobic.”

Normally this kind of thing would make me bristle, but not now. I got it. I understood. Seconds ago, I could see the far back of the stage perfectly fine. I could see the Exit signs, no problem. Now? The hand that was just on my shoulder seemed like it emerged from a Lovecraftian mist, threatening to rip me into the abyss.

sunn live

My buddy who was with me laughed. The dude who experienced an (understandable) sudden pang of terror did, too. We all did. There’s a camaraderie at metal shows, and that’s amplified a bit more when you’re all crowded into the basement of an old building so that you can be blasted with 100+ decibels of holy shit.

The suffocating fog wasn’t just for ambience, though — it was also a courtesy. This was now the time to get your fucking earplugs in. If you didn’t bring your own, that’s fine — a Sunn O))) veteran made his way around the room with a large backpack, handing out plugs. He tapped me on the back and asked me if I needed some. I told him no, and pointed to my own ears (happily plugged up by the best ear plugs I could find on Amazon). I came prepared. I knew what I was in for.

(I didn’t know what I was in for.)

The first riff (Chord? Riff? Primal cacophony?) ruptured through the fog, the sheer force of vibrating air seemed to push the mist away. I was immediately caught in the chest. My lungs vibrated. I could feel, without exaggeration, the air in my throat tingling. I could feel the contents of my sinuses twitch (thanks, historic allergy season!).

Wommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Another.

Wommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Another.

Wommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

One guy to the left brought out his phone, showing a decibel meter. 113. That’s what it read. And it’s all bass. Sure, there are louder bands out there — but I’m not sure any of them can top the magnitude of low frequencies that Sunn O))) brings to the table. Or the rush of air. Or the crushing, suffocating feeling of a wall of speaker cabinets just trying to vibrate the entirety of Callowhill Street.

Your clothes vibrate. I can’t stress enough that this isn’t me using flowery language. Your. Clothes. Vibrate. They dance on your skin. Once again, maybe “dance” is taking it a little far, but you absolutely can feel them bouncing on your flesh. That’s real. That’s what I experienced.

Your hair will stand on end. You’ll feel it in your guts. Your body is not used to being vibrated like this. You itch all over, but then the sound just keeps vibrating you and the urge to scratch it fades.

The air current created by the movement of sound cause the aforementioned fog to swirl and dissipate. The machine cuts in again and floods the room with more. Rinse, repeat. The lights change. There’s a rhythm to it. Meanwhile, Sunn O))) is on stage, moving as if their guitars are magical scepters. They aren’t just strumming them — they’re moving them. You’ll watch as they hold their guitar up, swooping it down, the vibrations against the strings changing based on where they are in proximity to the speaker cabinets.

a member of sunn holding his guitar up

This creates a unique sound: one I’ve never earnestly heard before. When I was kid, my dad took me to an airshow that was next to his work. An F-14 flew over my head, followed by the air crackling behind it. This was like that — just more.

You ever hear of a downburst? They’re a meteorological phenomenon where air rapidly cools and plummets to the ground, creating a momentous wall of wind. People describe them sounding similar to a tornado: like a freight train.

Well, I’ve never heard one before, but I’m absolutely sure “like Sunn O))) when they do that guitar drop thing” is a way more accurate sonic comparison.

It’s just an hour and change of that. Just pummeling you with visceral sound, over and over.

No one moves, either. Everyone is transfixed.

The band — both Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson — occasionally break through the mist. They’re utterly intoxicating to watch: just two robed figures sloshing about the thick, soupy air. Red and blue lights cut through, embracing their figures. Their hands and arms move slow, speeding up in unison to strike against strings. It’s alien and uncanny.

Combined with the sound and the light and the stillness of the crowd, it pulls you in. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s just so bizarre.

Every now and again someone will pull out their phone to snap a picture. Normally, everyone gets pissed at the dude taking picture in the front row — but not here. Everyone else does it eventually, too. It’s hard not to. What are you seeing? What are you feeling? You’re not taking a picture as social proof. You’re doing it to prove to yourself that you’re seeing this. That you’re feeling it.

But the sound, the standing still, the fog — all of it is tiring. After an hour, you’re spent. My buddy admitted that he almost walked out. I felt the same.

But at that point, it just gets weirder. The noises get stranger. One of the members of Sunn O))) strummed his guitar, held it up, but instead of dropping it back down, he put it on an amp and slowly walked through the mist toward the stage, bowing and raising his hands toward the sky — like he was praying.

sunn live

Have you ever seen someone play a riff and then just walk the fuck away?

Amazing.

That’s how the show ended. They both did that. The guitars kept playing.  The amps kept processing the chaos. The speakers kept spewing it at us. It only stopped when they both walked to their pedal boards and slowly cranked their foot on their respective volume pedals.

It was over. The crowd erupted. Both members mouthed “thank you” over and over to the crowd.

Seeing Sunn O))) was always a bucket list thing for me. I always wanted to do it. I’ve been told many, many times that it’s a hell of an experience, and it was. But that’s the thing — it is an experience. When you see Sunn O))), you’re not really seeing music live. That’s not what you’re here for. I know it sounds pretentious, but going to a Sunn O))) show is like seeing a performance. It’s art. Maybe it’s more than that.

After all, you’re here to have your body vibrated alongside a crowd of people that wants the exact same thing. You’re here to close your eyes and just focus on how your body reacts to being assaulted by sound, without remorse.

You’re here to experience the vibration, through everything. Through everyone. And you’ll never forget it once you experience it.

Ah, fuck. I guess it was a tad mystical, wasn’t it?

Where did all of the content go? (Or: Hello!)

Hi!

My name is Chris. Nice to meet you!

The page that you’ve landed on is my blog — not in the SEO-y, let-me-sell-you-AFFILIATE-LINK-HERE sort of way. No — this is old-school. LiveJournal style. Despite the fact that I’m an SEO expert by trade, I kinda despise what the Internet has become. For the last decade or so, I’ve had this domain basically as a dumping ground for my thoughts.

At times, it’s been a place where I’ve dumped relationship thoughts. Or thoughts on music. Or video games. Or bits and pieces of papers I was working on. Or poems, short stories — whatever.

It’s also been a place to connect with friends (or anyone else that’s trying to reach me). I’ve been part of many communities over the years, and whenever I’ve moved on, I’ve pointed people here.

Anyway, let me answer some questions:

Are you that guy from…

  • The Scarlet March, Storm, Hatred, Anesthesia, Somnambulism, etc: Yes! I was known either as Royastrasz, Strasz, Royan, or Sauce, depending on which one of those guilds you knew me from.
  • That SEO Class? Yes! I’ve taught (and continue to teach) a few classes on SEO through my job at The Content Factory. I’m that guy, too.
  • That guy doing band PR? If you mean PR for my wife’s band, Cabinets of Curiosity, then yes! I’m really proud of the work I’ve done for them, but I’m currently not looking to represent any other groups at this time.
  • Were you a professor? At one time, I was an adjunct professor. I taught English. Unfortunately, I no longer teach. I miss it, truly — but I also need health insurance.
  • Some other old Internet community? There’s a good chance I might be the guy you’re looking for. If you’re curious, feel free to DM me on Twitter. That’s probably the best way to ask. (Alternatively, message me on Discord: strasz#0001)
  • Grad school? Yeah, probably — if you’re looking for the guy that liked to talk about critical theory, video games, and well, basically anything else, that’s me.

And, of course…

I came here from a search engine/link/I knew you before/something else, and what I’m looking for is gone!

Yeah, about that…

This site has been a repository for my thoughts for a little over a decade. Ultimately, I just wasn’t very comfortable with some of the stuff that was posted here — at least not for public consumption. I’ve left some of the music stuff, but I’ve hidden the rest.

Likewise, the last time this blog was seriously active, I was mostly just posting stuff from grad school. I’m kinda embarrassed by that stuff, to be honest — mostly because it was all a work-in-progress, and it wasn’t representative of my final papers.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

If you’re an old friend, please reach out — I love talking to people from my past!

If you’re a random internet stranger — hello! I hope you’re having a nice day, and I hope you enjoyed a peek into someone else’s life.

— Chris

Anathema – The Optimist

Anathema albums are never easy to review. That’s not just because of the ephemeral nature of their sound from album to album, but because reviewing an Anathema album always seems a bit like pulling apart the gray matter in Daniel and Vincent Cavanagh’s heads. Every Anathema album is drenched in emotion — or rather, emotions. There’s never just one, and it’s not always clear which is driving the music forward.

That swirling, permanent state of emotional conflict might is, once again, at the heart of The Optimist, Anathema’s 11th album. The Optimist is, according to the band, a direct response to A Fine Day to Exit. That album — which seemed to slightly turn the band’s sound slightly more “alternative” — featured a cover with a set of coordinates on a note stuck to the dash. Those coordinates, 32.63n 117.14w (Silver Strand Beach in San Diego, if you’re curious), are also the title of the first track on the album. An ambient piece that begins with the sounds of the ocean mixed with the heavy breathing of the protagonist, it ends with an electronic beat that fades into the next track (but not before we hear the radio flicking between stations, of which at least one is playing an Anathema song).

From that point on, the album mixes a good deal of Anathema’s past styles, and while it still falls heavy on the sort of the electronic neo-prog / post-rock stylings of the past three records, shortly after the record starts going, there’s a thematic tone that slips in that has only passively played a part in Anathema’s recent catalog.

My first time listening, I got halfway through before it hit me:

“Oh. This is a doom record.”

Doom metal is one of those weird genres — there’s something about it that’s strangulating. It has tendrils, and they’ll never let you go. This is especially true for musicians who dabble in it: they might move on, but you can always hear the threads, and you can always feel the genre’s pull on them. I suppose you could argue the same thing about other genres — punk or other types of metal, maybe — but there’s something different about doom.

Doom attracts two sort of people: on one hand, you have the individual who listens to depressing music for the same reason that some people drink wine. There’s something oddly cathartic and refreshing about it, even though you know that too much is poison.

On the other hand, there’s the alcoholics.

No matter how far they run, that’s not changing. I don’t think it’s an accident that most people I’ve met who are into doom metal (or who are creating it) are mentally ill. This isn’t music created while depressed, it’s music about what the world looks like when you are.

Now, of course, this isn’t doom metal — and I’m not about to make an argument that it is, but those tendrils are present here, and while they are always on Anathema records, it’s been awhile since they’ve been as present, as visible, as suffocating. The past three records have felt like responses and rebukes to their past attitudes. Sure, there’s a direct connection there, but it’s distant. It’s looking over the shoulder at what once was. The man — or band — in triumph.

The Optimist isn’t — it starts that way, much in the same way previous Anathema albums have started — but it quickly shifts, bringing back that feeling of despair that lingered oh-so-close on earlier Anathema records (and yes, prominently on A Fine Day to Exit).

That record is very much about a man in crisis, trying to figure out where to go, ultimately ending up on a deserted beach in San Diego. With the sound of the waves crashing, I always thought it was obvious what was to happen next.

The Optimist looks back at that moment — and at the drive back. It’s painful, and when we realize it’s a flashback of sorts, we realize that, no, our protagonist didn’t die on that beach. He found his family. He went back. But that doesn’t change the fact that those waves are always nipping at his feet, always calling him to the sand. He isn’t going there today — and he desperately doesn’t want to — but that doesn’t mean there’s never a relapse.

The Optimist is a powerful record — and while it isn’t my favorite from Anathema, it’s a worthy addition to the band’s repertoire.

Best music, 2016.

Every year I usually list the albums that left the biggest impact on me. These are from no particular genre, and fall in no particular order. As a note, while I try to listen to a pretty diverse pool of artists every year, I generally fall back into a few favorite genres. If you’re looking for a massive, all-encompassing end of the year deal, this ain’t it.

Anyway, to the albums:

Sorceress – Opeth: So, I’ll jump right to the cut: this album is the only one in Opeth’s catalog that really suffers from bad production. That might seem like an odd way to start a review, but after sitting with it for quite some time (and also having the chance to see them perform three of the tracks live), I’m convinced that something odd happened here. Tom Dalgerty isn’t a bad producer, Mikael Akerfeldt knows what a good record sounds like — and like, everyone knows Steven Wilson, right? Seriously, though. What happened?

Looking past that, Sorceress is a much more memorable record for me than Pale Communion. The title track, Chrysalis, A Strange Brew, and The Wilde Flowers are all standouts. But is the rest of the album good? Eh. I feel like it Heritage’d me, in that the record is actually really fucking good, but I can’t get past what it could have been. When the title track first dropped I thought Akerfeldt might’ve wanted to bring more doom into the mix. Sadly, that isn’t really the case. Still, it is heavier than the past two records — it feels like it should’ve been the record that came between Watershed and Heritage. I realize I’m not doing a great job of “selling” Sorceress, and there’s a reason for that. I like it, and it’s here because I’m an Opeth fanboy, but I can’t really see this being anyone’s favorite record of 2016. Choice track: Sorceress

The Fall of Hearts – Katatonia: With the exception of The Great Cold Distance, there hasn’t been a single Katatonia record I’ve really loved upon first listen. Yet, six months after the album drops, suddenly it’s all that I’m listening to. The Fall of Hearts is no exception. At release, there wasn’t a single song that caught my attention. It sounded, more or less, just like the last few albums Katatonia has released.

Yet, Katatonia has kind of quietly been killing it with their unique brand of… whatever this is. Quiet metal? Alt-rock doom? Post-doom? Heavier-than-alternative-but-still-alternative? Gothic rock? Gothic doom? Seriously, since The Great Cold Distance they’ve essentially formed a genre, party of one. There are other bands that copy their drab style, but Katatonia isn’t really about any particular feature (sans Jonas’s voice, which should probably be sold as a recommended item alongside a particular Hitachi product). There are many other bands who try to make this kind of music, but none own it like Katatonia does. This whole album drips with a weird, Scandinavian jazz swagger draped in melancholy. Choice track: Serein

Magma – Gojira: Let’s start this with a confession: with the exception of, like, two or three songs, I’m not a fan of Meshuggah. Gojira is the reason why. Gojira has always sounded like the band I wanted Meshuggah to sound like. Yes, there’s rhythmic complexity. Yes, there’s the feeling that you’re slowly being John Proctor’d by sound. But Gojira is just more interesting. Instead of settling into this place where rhythmic complexity is all there is (with everything — even the vocals — falling into a wall of chug), Gojira layers in catchy as fuck (but still brutal) little hooks. Stranded is the epitome of this, as is Pray.

I’ve seen some people say that this isn’t as good as the rest of their catalog, because it’s a tad more chuggy. Who cares. Listen to this album. Choice track: Magma

RTJ3 – Run the Jewels: just this Choice track: Call Ticketron

Holding Patterns – Devin Townsend Project: Wait, what? For the unaware, Transcendence’s deluxe edition contained a second CD titled Holding Patterns. It’s a scattered collection of ideas, some of which are very fleshed out. Okay, I lied: they basically are all fleshed out. Polished? Not really, but if I’m going to slip on an Opeth album that has terrible production, why not let in on a bonus disk full of demo material?

None of this is to imply that Transcendence is a bad record. It isn’t. If you are a fan of Devin Townsend, or prog metal in genre, it’s a must have. But the bonus disk? This shit, team.

There’s a song called Canucklehead that’s a metal/country mashup about how the world is garbage, but Canadians are really friendly. There’s another song called Time Overload which is an industrial track that I demand to hear live (but know I never will). Oh, and there’s Victim: a track that I’m pretty sure is a Strapping Young Lad B-side.

Oh, and Failure is a great track of the record this is attached to. Choice track: Time Overload

Lighthouse – iamthemorning: 2016 was a shit year. Surprise! I’m positive that’s a unique opinion I share with no other human. But yeah, personally it was bad, and while it’s easier to listen to something angry, hateful, or just generally CHUG CHUG CHUG FUCK THIS SHIT, WHERE’S KILLER MIKE? BURN IT DOWN FUCK, the reality is that no amount of pouring acid down your gullet into a pool of bile is going to help you with the process of dragging one stump and putting it in front of the other. That isn’t a ruler to the knuckles of anyone who surfed on seven layers of justifiable rage in 2016, though. Like, I get it. You do you.

But I aint that, and I have reflux, and once the agony and pH just tap my esophagus in just the right way, I’m not getting anywhere (though the contents of my stomach might).

Lighthouse is piano heavy. It’s very acoustic, very contemplative, and very playful (even when it’s nibbling at very dark bits of story). But it’s creative, fresh, and just good in ways that are very unique to my ears. Choice track: Libretto Horror

Outer Edges – NOISIA: A lot of people are pretty happy with considering NOISIA “bass music” and, hey, why don’t we talk about The Avalanches? Or Elysia Crampton? But nah, that ain’t my jam. To the former: alright, but disappointing. The latter, on the other hand, reminds me of being in a particular grad class as a student gave a presentation on his end of semester paper. I remember feeling uncomfortable as he read through his plans. It wasn’t coherent. It was just a mess of ideas, loosely used out of context, with no form or reason or purpose. I was expecting some sense of worry from the professor. None came. A fellow student told me later that he thought it “sounded interesting.” We attended a conference together later, and I got to hear his finished product. It was not interesting.

Outer Edges, though, is. NOISIA have essentially made a career out of picking off sounds from neurofunk and darkstep drum and bass, mixing in their own taste, and then just letting ‘er rip. The end result isn’t always to my taste, but it always gets my attention. Outer Edges is an album that’s more or less full of tracks like that: I don’t necessarily like them all, but they deserve to be listened to. Much like Deadmau5, they have a lot of critics, but there’s no doubt that you can hear a single blip from a track of theirs and know exactly who it is — even if you don’t know where it’s going to go. Choice track: Collider.

Voice of the Void – Anciients: This list isn’t in any particular order, but if it was, this would be my number one — and while RTJ3 comes close, nothing else does. When Anciients came out in 2013 with Heart of Oak, they received a ton of attention. This release, for whatever reason, didn’t receive as much. That’s fucked up, though, because this is a better record. With Void of the Void, Anciients have cut out a huge chunk of the Mastodon influence that hung over their past record. In that same place, they’ve put riffs. Just riffs. Just a lot of fucking riffs. Oodles of riffs. Riffs of riffs. A volcano of riffs. Just a fucking lot, okay?

Anciients lives or dies by the strength of those riffs. That isn’t to discount the rest of what’s here, but hey, the band knows what you like, and they throw them at you knowing full well this is what you came for. One of the reasons I’m so okay with Opeth going full-on prog is because Anciients popped in to fill the void that they left. Just listen to the choice track if you don’t believe me: there are like a million Opeth-clones now (or at least bands that are so very obviously influenced by repeated listen-throughs of Blackwater Park), but Anciients shits on all of them and deserves your ear. Choice track: Following the Voice

As far as other stuff, there are a few mentions:

Eponymous – Cabinets of Curiosity: This is the debut EP of MY WIFE’s band. It’s good, obviously.

Thief – Thieves Hymn in D Minor: I ordered this EP on a whim earlier this year, and I love it. It’s chilled out, dark triphop that heavily samples Gregorian chants. Outside of a spin of Tarkus (:(), it was the only thing that sat on my turntable all year.

From Wolf to Peacock – The Vision Bleak: This song, off of The Unknown, is awesome. I wasn’t huge on the rest of the album, but… yeah. It’s gothic metal that’s a little harder than most of what’s out there — very much in the vein of something like Ghost Brigade.

Winter’s Gate – Insomnium: This gets its own space, not because it doesn’t deserve to be up there with the other albums, but because it’s just… different. First, a bit on Insomnium. As a band, Insomnium has always had a special place in my heart. Above the Weeping World is, easily, one of the best melodeath albums of all time. It’s perfect. With that said, since that album, Insomnium has been opposite In Flames. Instead of evolving, they’ve stayed in their lane. As is such, they’ve released a bunch of average albums. When someone asks me about ’em, I say grab Weeping World, and stream the rest to find a few songs you like.

Winter’s Gate, though, is different. They didn’t just make an album that includes a few new melodic tools, they made a 40 minute long song that twists and turns, bringing in every trick they’ve ever learned in their career (and a few new ones). The result is a project that is just purely memorable. It’s weird to be proud of a bunch of dudes you don’t know, but yeah. That’s this album.

Into the Night World – Machinae Supremacy: Another one that (probably) would have been up there, but two things: first, I’ve only really listened to it twice since it came out. Second, following Phantom Shadow, it’s a much less ambitious record. It’s catchy, and it delivers everything you’d want from a Machaine Supremacy album (and if you’re new to the band, it’s as good of a place to start as any), but man, Phantom Shadow was such a high point that it’s hard not to compare this to it.