The Year in Review: Music | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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The Year in Review: Music

Reader writers tackle the past 12 months from six different directions

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Live metal Philip Montoro

This year I went to so many metal shows in Chicago that it was hard to whittle down my favorites to five—I eliminated Yob's two dates because I'd picked the band in 2011, but I had a tougher time knocking off Autopsy, Vektor, Behemoth, Lord Mantis, Agalloch, Hammers of Misfortune, and Vattnet Viskar, to name just a few. Well, I can think of worse problems to have. Here are the survivors, in chronological order:

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Ghost at Bottom Lounge 1/24 I don't get why so many fans of a genre that counts Alice Cooper among its progenitors have come down on Ghost for playing poppy songs and wearing campy, ghoulish costumes. I love the whole production: tolling bells, backward chanting, blasphemous stained-glass windows, an anonymous hooded band, a skull-faced pope with eerie white contact lenses who sings while daintily swinging a smoking censer. And of course there are the gleefully satanic lyrics and addictive hooks.


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Meshuggah at House of Blues 5/15 The Swedish kings of progressive death metal specialize in an alien sort of tension—their "grooves" often sound like nests of massive eccentric gears milled from blocks of a gray extraterrestrial alloy—and at one of their shows, where shuddering detonations of light flare in time with the colossal riffs, resisting that tension is as futile as struggling against the gravity well of a collapsing star.


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Dragged Into Sunlight at Ultra Lounge 6/9 This Liverpool four-piece plays noisome, misanthropic metal that heaves and shrieks and reconfigures its suffocating bulk at the speed of thought, like a Lovecraftian horror that feeds on our terrified imaginings of it. At a live show, where the music roars out of a thick fog lit only by a blood-red glow and a spasming strobe, it feels like a massive evil seizure—imagine being trapped inside Dr. Jekyll's brain at the instant he turns into Mr. Hyde.


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Pallbearer at Beat Kitchen 9/14 The desolate, stately doom metal of this Arkansas band acquires an entirely new sort of gravitas onstage—the kind that comes from a bass tone the size of a gas giant. It was so deep and full that for most of their first song you couldn't hear or even feel the kick drum—it was still miked to the specifications of opener Royal Thunder, and the engineer had to scramble to boost the highs and make it audible. Seeing Pallbearer live was like being very slowly and gently hit by an avalanche.


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High on Fire at Double Door 12/7 This was the most apocalyptic set I've ever seen from Oakland's lords of barbarian metal. Their maniacal focus surely owed something to the improved health of front man Matt Pike, who's "sharper and stronger" (in his own words) after rehab for a drinking problem, but their bloodthirsty drive still comes from drummer Des Kensel, whose thundering style has the furious, implacable momentum of a galloping Mongol horde—just the thing to make you want to burn down villages full of unbelievers.


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