Friday, October 31, 2008

Coroner - Punishment for Decadence (1988)

Though the debut R.I.P. was the record to set the stage for this Swiss trio's brand of dark, classically inspired thrash metal, it was Punishment for Decadence which would solidify Coroner as one of the most frighteningly talented and unparalleled thrash acts of the 80s and beyond.

Pushing the limits of technical proficiency, songwriting skill and mesmerizing atmosphere, behold the birth of a legend. The album opens with the complex "Absorbed", a bewildering array of thrashing, dark, melodic riffing beneath Ron Royce's proto death metal vocals (mildly reminiscent of Tom G. Warrior). Even the breakdowns in this song are puzzling and proficient. "Masked Jackal" follows, perhaps the most famous track from this album, due to both its infectious thrashing, shredding and it had also had a video.

Worshipped... by the masses
Leader... with ulterior motives

We haven't even arrived at the meat of the matter yet. "Arc-Light" is an awe-inspiring instrumental piece, loaded in atmosphere and Tommy T. Baron's heavily classical guitar wizardry. With it's sad intro and descending chords, exploding into sheer triumph, "Skeleton On Your Shoulder" is one of the most memorable thrash metal songs I've ever heard. "Sudden Fall" and "Shadow of a Lost Dream" are entirely killer, in particular the latter with its wild bridge after the verses. "The New Breed" is another extremely complex track with its anesthetic riffing and samples. "Voyage to Eternity" closes the album with some amazing leads and atmosphere. There is a cover of Jimmy Hendrix's "Purple Haze" on the CD version, I usually never count it, since it's decent but not much like the originals.

The frightening thing about Coroner isn't just Tommy T. Baron's masterful guitar work, but the bass playing can match it almost note for note...and yes, I've seen him do it live. It's not a joke. The production here may seem average for the 80s, but really allows the music to breath. Lots of reverb, tinny drums, and a lot of atmosphere to the vile vocals. Alongside its follow-up No More Color, this is truly the high point of this amazing band's career. It's a sad thing they are no longer with us and have no real plans to re-unite, unlike every dime and nickel thrash/speed metal band these days. But what they leave us with is a legacy. A legend. A fucking masterpiece. Bands are not made like this anymore. Dark, inspirational, and indisputably one of the most adventurous and complex pieces of thrash metal ever produced on Earth.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (I'm in here...nowhere, inside looking for a key)

The Evil Dead (1981)

In 1981 Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and several other very little known actors, as well as a tiny and inexperienced crew, set off into the woods of Tennessee to make a horror unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

On a shoestring budget of $120,000 they produced a splatter flick with one of the most basic horror movie premises imaginable: college students vacation to an isolated cabin, only to be confronted by a nearly unstoppable demonic force.

Although the film wasn't released until 1983, but went on to be a modest success at the box office despite almost non-existent promotion, helped along only by word of mouth.

The film gained cult status as it reached VHS and was an unquestionable influence on horror directors everywhere. It's visceral. It's terrifying. It's unforgettable. It's a fantastic achievement of imagination, considering what the director and modest crew had to work with.

The film's setting, the isolated cabin, was found to be in a near-dilapidated state by the cast and crew upon arriving in Tennessee. Animal shit literally covered the floor, and was dutifully shoveled out by none other than Bruce Campbell before repairs by actors and crew themselves went on to bring the place into shape.

From there the cabin was reluctantly a home for everyone involved with the picture. Actors underwent grueling conditions for the duration of the shoot. The cabin lacked heat and electricity. Special effects makeup methods, specifically makeup which was paint specifically not meant to be applied to skin, were crude, and when "possessed" the large and painful contacts to white out the eyes of the actors effectively blinded them.

During the long shoot the only actor of the film to remain on for the duration was Bruce Campbell, others leaving after they had fulfilled their contracts, only to be replaced by local folks as stand-ins when they were required in a shot. Nobody worked harder on this film than Bruce, and since he's become somewhat of a legend in the film industry for his tenacity on the shoot of The Evil Dead -- not to mention a hunky, charming cult movie star that we all love.

All this makes for an interesting story surrounding the film, but the really special thing is what it became. There is plenty of dark humor and originality, as well as shocking, gruesome scenes. They certainly don't make horror films of this caliber on this kind of budget anymore, and perhaps the only thing preventing me from calling this the very best horror movie of its kind is simply the fact that the special effects are crude enough to occasionally distract.

Nonetheless, check this out, if you dare! A perfect Halloween flick, to be sure.

Verdict: Epic Win (we can't bury Shelly, she's a friend of ours)

Gloomy Grim - Under the Spell of the Unlight (2008)

I've been sitting here for a bit, trying to think of music to listen to as tribute to the greatest of modern holidays, and this is my choice. What could go better with Halloween than tongue-in-cheek horror black metal?

Gloomy Grim are, at the simplest level, a symphonic black metal band. In fact, the extremely polished sound on this album is highly reminiscent of Dimmu's latest, In Sorte Diaboli. But wait, wait, come back! This isn't just another synth pomp-laden commercial black metal band riding on Dimmu's coattails. No, not only do Gloomy Grim create intense, driving, and catchy music, but they do so with a combined sense of humour and seriousness.

Under the Spell of the Unlight is an album that tells the story of a haunted house, covering topics ranging from evil mirrors to things that go bump in the night. Here, let's look at some lyrics:
I heard something moving under my bed
raised my feet because i was so scared
i ask if there's someone there
it was too quiet, nothing was heard
suddenly closet opened
i saw something i had never seen before
Kinda goofy, eh? That's the genius of the band, and it permeates every aspect of their music. While Agathon's lyrics mimic classic, almost cliche, horror story tropes, he delivers them with the scathing vitriol of a manifesto against Christ. At the same time, he retains a bit of fun in his tones and (what seems to me) intentionally inconsistent or mispronounced English. He's serious about having fun.

Now take that asthetic to the music itself. Their pummeling black metal, often supported by atmospheric synths, is peppered with the requisite choirs and "creepy" keyboards that come packaged in every box of sympho black metal. But alongside that comes actually ominous ambient sections and samples, not to mention some absolutely evil riffs. Careful attention is payed to every song's dynamic, always keeping the absurd balanced with heartfelt terror.

Under the Spell of the Unlight hearkens back to the days when horror movies had meaning, before they became solely marketed at 13-year-old girls and reduced to inconsistent copy and pasted stories slopping around in a deluge of gore and extremity. Wait, was I talking about movies?

Verdict: Epic Win [5/5] (the king-sized bar amongst tootsie rolls)

Carpathian Forest - Defending the Throne of Evil (2003)

Carpathian Forest has always stood out among the Norse black metal scene because of their uncanny self awareness. There is of course their propensity to create some of the coldest, most evil black metal ever to grind its bones and saunter forth from a crypt or cavern, but you get the feeling that just about everything you find amusing about them, they'd be laughing alongside you with a beer and a grim smile. And yet, somehow, they avoid becoming a caricature of the form.

Regardless, this is an extremely impressive band, releasing masterpiece after near masterpiece. Defending the Throne of Evil is their fourth long-player, and no exception to the dynasty. There are some songs here which I have not stopped listening to in the five years since the album dropped. "The Well of All Human Tears" is not only one of the best song titles ever in this genre, but it's also one of the best songs, with that doom laden trudge towards oblivion kicking off at around the 1:00 minute mark. Yes, you know the one I'm talking about. They retain their ability to simplify some of their riffing into a more rock structure, but never losing the black metal edge. So much to love here. "It's Darker Than You Think" with its melodic bridge and great lyrics. "Ancient Spirits of the Underworld" and "Skjend Hans Lik" are two of the more straightforward, metal tunes.

The album also has its experimental edge. "Cold Murderous Music" is actually a trip hop number with a saxophone following Nattefrost's amazingly grim vocals. He's still got one of the best tones in all black metal. There is "The Old House on the Hill", a piano horror piece, also featuring his vocals.

It's practically impossible to go wrong with this band, and while Defending the Throne of Evil might not be their very best material, it certainly comes close and even features some of their best tracks. This means you must have it. Why are you still here?

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(still cursed, haunted and alone)

Cannibal Corpse - Gallery of Suicide (1998)

I'm in the minority when it comes to Cannibal Corpse. I find many of their earlier albums passable, occasionally even enjoyable, but I don't think they really hit their stride until they added George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher to the lineup. Not only do I prefer his vocals to Chris Barnes, but the band seemed to have stepped it up musically, to create not only more complex songs, but more memorable, evil riffs. Vile was a step in the right direction, but aside from The Bleeding, I consider this the first truly 'great' Corpse album, and still remains one of their best.

There are 14 tracks here, each is an exercise in both brutality and a passion for roots death metal riffing with a focus on evil. "I Will Kill You" starts us off with a rather profound truth, because that is just what this record is going to do. "Disposal of the Body" features a classic Corpse 'trill' riff but is also fast. "Sentenced to Burn" is a brutal thrasher. The title track is perhaps the most memorable here with its eerie intro riff, alternating in a kickass old school death metal verse worthy of old Death. This is but a taste, of course, all the songs are worthy.

Alex Webster's busy bass is a real anchor for the riff orgy being unleashed, and the album is the perfect setup for its successor, Bloodthirst, which in my opinion their masterpiece. But this is the first Cannibal album I would find myself listening through completely, and then pressing repeat. Though they were already massively popular by this point, this is where I first felt the musical output lived up to the hype.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (the taste of death must consciously be savored)

Dumbland (2003)

I would like to preface this review by saying that I greatly enjoyed Eraserhead, but have not seen any other David Lynch movies (aside from Dune, but that's not an original production). So, upon hearing that my friend had a copy of an animated feature by him, I was certainly intrigued.

Seeing the cover of the dvd, I knew it would either be absolute shit or...something else, but I was banking on absolute shit combined with hope. How did it turn out?

I have never felt that anything was so irredeemably stupid. Random flash animations are generally entertaining to some simple degree. Really, it's kind of a testament to Lynch that he could make something this egregious.

Yes, there is of course a point to it all and a statement to be had. Dumbland is Lynch's take on contemporary adult cartoons with a focus on a stereotypical Yankee family. It is immediately apparent that he is trying to show how banal this type of life is, while at the same time mocking shows such as The Simpsons and their humour. The problem? There is nothing clever about it, and it's torture to watch. I wasn't angry at it or anything - all I could form in my head was an exasperated why? Why did you make this, and why did you put it on a dvd for people to buy?

I could go further into the failure of Dumbland's thematics, but it would be a complete waste of time. There is no way to convey how stupid this is. I can say, however, that all interest I had in his other movies is now gone.

Verdict: Epic Fail [1/5] (30 minutes that I never want back)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bolt Thrower - Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1989)

You stand alone
The final parody
As you realise - your mortality
For you cannot change your destiny
To die at the hands - of the unknown enemy
Your death - you can't deter
As the silence - returns

By the time 1989 rolled around, the world had already had its first few delicious tastes of the death metal. Chugging away in their English basements, war-gaming fanatics Bolt Thrower were slowly mutating the filthy, thrashing death hybrid of In Battle There is No Law into something more simple yet far more punishing. Slow-paced, down-tuned brutality, yet with occasionally forays into faster tempos and desolate grooves. Stir in the wargaming influence of the Warhammer 40K universe from Games Workshop, and you've got what is perhaps the first 'conceptual' masterpiece of the death metal genre, an album that has only rarely been surpassed, still standing today as one of the pinnacles of this extreme expression.

The vocals of Karl Willets created the perfect guttural helmsman to steer this war machine into its battles across an eternity of corpse littered alien worlds. The guitar onslaught of Thompson and Ward was never complex, it was determined to simply crush all hope, and weighed down by the plodding bass lines of Jo Bench and the drumming of Andy Whale, all hope WAS crushed. The album was the perfect accompaniment to the universe of its subject matter, and in return the sci-fi geek elements crossed this band over past the borders of the standard metal listener. Suddenly you were moshing out with the kid down the street who kept his nose in his books and dice most of the time. And it was cool! It still fucking is.

If I had to record the highlights of this album within the narrow boundaries of this review, it would be impossible. Just trust me that every song is damned unbelievable, whether it's "Plague Bearer" or "Lost Souls Domain". Sure "Eternal War" and "Through the Eye of Terror" may have had some of those famous grooves to them, but there is nigh a moment of imperfection across this bloodied landscape. It's a flawless expression of doom and gloom in a belligerent shell. This album is more doom than most actual doom metal albums. That it came candy coated with artwork from Games Workshop artists themselves was an idea born of brilliance, the two mediums converge in grisly harmony on this album. And while Bolt Thrower later would steer away from this precise subject material into other battlefields, it's not something that really needed repeating. This concept was mastered in 1989. Period.

Are you a poseur or not? There is no time for peace. Only eternal war.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (this world now twisted, brought to its knees)

Behemoth - And the Forests Dream Eternally EP (1995)

Let us return to simpler times, before Behemoth made their notable transition into Morbid Angel, Jr. And I mean no insult by this, their death metal records are generally impressive. But there was once this obscure little black metal band from Poland, and they put out some good EPs and even an album or two.

And the Forests Dream Eternally is one of the crowning moments of this early period, an EP of extremely cold and well executed black metal that can inspire nostalgia at the drop of an ax. "Transylvanian Forest" begins with a steady pace as its desolate, dissonant walls of guitar flood the listener with imagery of newsprint woodland terror, of bleak and monumental castles and the stalking of bloodthirsty wolves at your heals. Enter "Moonspell Rites" with its excellent Bathory vibe, grinding bass and charismatic heathen vocals. There is a different version of "Sventevith" here, the title track to their debut full-length, and it completely kicks ass. "Pure Evil and Hate" is perhaps the most punky and feisty of the tracks here, it seriously makes you want to strap on your shit kickers and find your local convent. The EP's closing track "Forgotten Empire of Dark Witchcraft" is a mellower track, with acoustic guitars vibrating alongside the distorted butchery. This tune aptly conveys the light touches of folksy atmosphere the band once incorporated into their sound.

Granted, these days are a far cry from the early sound, but I do miss it, and have always hoped they would return to an album like this at some point. Nergal has already proven he can fly and be a dominating mountaintop figure in his recent videos, how about soaring down into those cold valleys like a raptor of prey and delivering us yet another glimpse into this ancient woodland past. It would be more than welcome.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (like black statues born in the heart of winterevil)

1349 - Beyond the Apocalypse (2004)

Thank God that your Savior sleeps below the Earth eternally in a fictional repose, for if he was alive and in the world today, and he heard 1349, he would weep tears of blood and mourn the futility of human hope.

Who could blame him? 1349 is the audio equivalent to an entire battalion of World War II tanks rolling over your peasant fucking skull. Take everything you've ever loved about black metal, and now make it 10x faster and more brutal. After the lackluster Chaos Preferred EP they unleashed their excellent debut Liberation, but even that is not this, this is a fucking monster.

Beyond the Apocalypse is generally fast as fuck, and it offers absolutely no apologies. Frost is even more a beast behind the drum set here than in Satyricon. "Chasing Dragons" is your standard spell of destruction, a fast and unforgiving experience in grim perfection, slowing only for a moment to creep you out. How is it possible that something could be even more manic than this? Well, once the title track enters the fray, you'll see that it's certainly possible, with spastic riffing on both guitars and bass under the percussive barrage. These are followed by two of my favorite tracks on the record, "Aiwass Aeon" and the savage, venomous "Necronatalenheten". But don't expect a weak link anywhere, tracks like "Singer of Strange Songs" and "Blood is the Mortar" will murder whatever is left of you. The album simply inspires violence in my soul. I just want to beat my fist into a bloody pulp on whatever is nearby when I hear this.

The album also has this reverberating, grim vibe to the production which truly drives home the blazing riffs and vitriolic Ravn snarl. Just add a heaping dose of Satan, and you've got the very best album released by 1349 yet, even better than the comparable Hellfire. It's just that vile.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (Let the world see me drag you to hell)

Desecration - Forensix (2008)

Veterans of the 90s UK death metal scene, this is now the 7th album for Desecration. Boasting two members of Extreme Noise Terror, Forensix has all the polish you'd expect, with a pro mix, excellent drumming, and busy riffs. Yet it never really capitalizes on all the talent behind it, and ends up another sort of middling brutal death metal record.

A lot of the same criticisms I have for other recent albums of this genre (Dementor and Queiron, for example) apply here. There simply aren't any riffs worth remembering, no "holy fuck let me hear that again" that usually saturate or at least pepper a great death metal album. Sure it's brutal, these guys have some serious strength in their digits to pound these chords and drums like this. But it's never creepy, scary or morbid feeling like the best material by a Morbid Angel or a Cannibal Corpse. There was a riff in "Dissecting the Departed" which started to get me rocking until it just erupted once more into boring start/stop blast monotony. I've felt this way about many of this band's albums, sadly. The fact that vocalist/guitarist Ollie Jones is actually a mortician does little to help affairs.

Average death metal here, nothing more. I don't want to pick apart a band who has an obvious passion for their style to stick to their slabs thick or thin, but half the time I hear albums like this they feel phoned in. The legacy of Carcass and Bolt Thrower yet looms, just waiting for someone to come along and snatch up their twin thrones. So someone snatch them up already, for fuck's sake! Or else I'm giving them both to Mithras.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

Queiron - The Shepherd of Tophet (2008)

Veterans with a decade under their belt in the Brazilian death metal scene, Queiron now unleashes their third full-length album. I was not a fan of Impious Domination but Templars Beholding Failures did show some promise a few years back. Unfortunately this latest offering comes across a little average, but with its heart in the right place.

Queiron are fast and brutal, their style will immediately bring to mind the last decade of Behemoth records, as well as Morbid Angel and a little of their countrymen Krisiun. There is a barbaric velocity to their sound, like a serial killer breaking his restraints and murdering everyone in the psychiatric ward. The musicianship is competent, the beats are blasting, the vocals of Brutallik carry the expectant gravity of the David Vincent style. None of this is a problem, it's just the songs fall ever so slight of being memorable. A few had some promise, like the pure death metal barrage "Impalement Ritual Assembly" with a little early Sepultura groove and some cool, snarling off-vocals. "Entangled in Carnal Compulsion" is another good tune with a great little bass spasm at the beginning and them some nice, evil break riffs.

The album has a pretty raw tone to it, but this wasn't a problem for me as I thought it really did well by their style. If you are enamored of every brutal death metal with a pulse to come along, then you can't go wrong here. But there are just so many better albums coming out in the death metal field, with catchier riffs that never sacrifice brutality, that I can't find much of a reason to return to this.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Murderplan - Let's Roll (2008)

Alright, when Fredrik Soderlund (who you may be familiar with from a large host of other Swedish bands, like Octinomos, Puissance, Algaion, etc.) says "Let's Roll", he is not kidding. And unlike a Michael Bay Autobot blowjob, he does not disappoint. The other members are culled from a stoner/doom band called Supraload who I am not familiar with (yet).

This is his latest project, a frenzy of exciting death metal with snarling blackish vocals, never at all afraid to just rock the hell out. The old school death metal influence in some of the riffs is also quite fun. And while it's not going to set any records for speed or quality, the excitement on this debut is rampant and infectious. Also, the album opens with the bizarrely named "Rainbow Snowflakes", a stage setter if there ever was one. The following track "The Great Delusion" has some excellent classic metal lead work over its classic melodic, Swedish riffing. The charging "New Babylon" with its shred and groove makes a nice capoff to the one-two-three knockout punch, but it doesn't end there. "Not the Only One" thrashes with abandon. The other five tracks aren't shabby either.

This is a pretty dynamic album, it should appeal to fans of a myriad of Swedish death, from Centinex to Dimension Zero. It's a thrilling, good time, and hopefully a project that will continue on!

Verdict: Win [7/10]
(and the price is just one soul)

Esoteric - The Maniacal Vale (2008)

First album in four years from funeral doom classics Esoteric? Yeah, this was anticipated. When I first listened to this upon its release, I lost interest quickly and shelved it away. I was reluctant to give up on it, but I just wasn't in the mood.

Now, I'm back to it again with the bass cranked. And I like it. The Maniacal Vale has a very recognizable funeral sound and style to it at first. Long, drawn-out segments of spacious and glacious riffs, anguished cries that fade like memories, keening guitar leads, and drums filling up the lonely, empty spaces - it's all there. You know it, you've heard it before, and you know how you feel about it. In relation to their older material, The Maniacal Vale is more solid sounding, with a clear but rich professional production.

So what's to be had here besides a big shiny package? Esoteric have stirred in a lot of touches to mix things up. "Circle" and "Quickening" show off their focus on space with some suitably astral synth and ambient work, making way for "Caucus of Mind" and it's aggressive forays on death metal. Starting the second disc, "Silence" and "The Order of Destiny" feature more proggy guitars alongside the requisite crushing doom, and "Ignotum Per Ignotius" finishes it all off with some astral wind ambience-fueled material.

It's all great stuff, really rather a tiptop effort by one of the biggest names in funeral doom, but...this album lasts one hour and fourty-one minutes. Yeeeah. Experienced doomsters that are in the mood will enjoy the trip, but it's still a bit ridiculous. Oh well, doom will be doom.

Verdict: Win [4/5]
(worthy of Epic, but who the fuck has the time to listen to this all together?)

Icewind Blast - Necropolis (2008)

I admit when I see a band's name being Icewind Blast I am obviously expecting a bunch of Immortal clones who worship those Forgotten Realms RPGs which came out a few years back for PCs. Not the case with this album. Hell, I don't even see anything grim and wintery on the cover, it looks more like a scene from The Stand or something.

This is the debut from a melodic death metal band out of Russia, who have a rather middle of the road, simple style with a lot of keyboards. Comparatively, their style falls closer to the Finnish bands Kalmah, Children of Bodom and Norther than the Swedish scene. Unfortunately, these guys don't have that frenzied pace which makes many of the peers of their genre so interesting, though they do try.

The production on the album is crisp, clear and in your face. Not always an easy thing to pull off with a keyboard player so prevalent in the songs, but it works here. The band are all competent musicians, vocal/guitarist Max Zalutskiy has a pretty average bark for this genre, not exactly impressive but suited to the songs. As far as the songs, most of them were decent, but few really stood out. "Burnland" is a pretty good track, and one of the more frenetic tracks on the album. "Where the Icy Wind Blows" follows suit, and "Coming to the Deadline" might just be my favorite, another track where they pick up the pace.

If you are really into that Finnish style of melodic death infused heavily with keys, this is a band to watch, but they really aren't at the level of their peers quite yet. However, they're not at all bad and there is no real downside to the album.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Dir En Grey - Uroboros (2008)

The seventh full length from the popular gothic J-rock band has arrived, and though I've never been a huge fan, they've always offered up something that was at least a little bit different, something mildly interesting. This album is no exception, and in some ways its their most mature album to date.

"Sa Bir" begins the experience with some eerie pianos and strings, before the moody "Vinuskha", a diverse song which ranges from soft, mellow Zeppelin-like acoustics to a raging spaz metal section akin to Mr. Bungle or Faith No More. "Red Soil" is a choppy metallic number, with some bizarre tempos, chugs and guttural vocals. "Doukoku to Sarinu" is another heavy one, with a very interesting progression which made it one of my favorite tunes on the disc. Two of the tracks are including in both English and Japanese versions, the single "Glass Skin" which is almost a powerful atmospheric post-rock piece that constantly reminds me of that metallic edge under the skin waiting to erupt. "Dozing Green" also begins mellow but then has some raging chorus bits with a myriad of vocals. Other highlights are the spastic "Reiketsu Nariseba" which is like a circus nu-black metal hybrid, and the creepy gothic rock of "Bugaboo".

There are some crappy nu-metal groove elements still to be had in the band's sound, but for the most part this album comes off rather original, if you could imagine a cross between Faith No More and Sigh then you might not be far from the truth, though this band isn't quite at that level of songwriting talent just yet.

Still, they are veterans of their scene, have always done things a little differently than the rest of the big J-rockers, and this is perhaps their best overall record to date. If you enjoyed their previous albums then this will probably blow you away. As far as myself, the positive qualities simply aren't in enough quantity for me to truly appreciate it.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Waverly Hills - The Nurse (2008)

Ah, a bit of worthy doom for the day. Although Waverly Hills claim to be strongly inspired by Rigor Sardonicus, I'd like to skip over that and make a different comparison. Do you remember our good old friend, Nortt? I see that you do. Much like our Danish companion, Waverly Hills peristaltically deliver a stiflingly cavernous branch of doom full of dense guitars and even thicker reverb. Vocals are deep and vast; inhuman bellows of buried leviathans. Although I don't believe that the drum beat ever changes, it was lovingly chosen, emitting a truly ponderous crash. Unlike our ongoing comparison, however, Waverly Hills do not dilute their sound with questionable ambient filler - once The Nurse begins, it doesn't let up until it's done.

The album is rough and simple, but not in a baby's first doom album way. No, it hints at a single-minded channeling of what makes funeral doom worthwhile. Tossing aside pretensions at progression or complexity, Waverly Hills focus on imbuing every aspect of their music with pure, suffering damnation. It also gets an extra handful of inverted crosses for the child's laughing in "The White Plague" (I wonder if that has anything to do with Frank Herbert's book?) because kids are fucking creepy.

I have to revoke some of those crosses due to the lackluster title track and the fact that this is really for funeral doom lovers only. Otherwise, this gets the meta seal of approval. If you've ever caught yourself humming the catchy refrains of a Nortt, Tyranny, or Senthil single, you'd do best to go out right now and pick up The Nurse off your nearest Starbucks easy-listening rack.

Verdict: Win [4/5] (removes hope in seconds!)

Pantheist - Journey Through Lands Unknown (2008)

Whether specifically religious or not, Pantheist's sound goes for a distinctly spiritual vibe. Airy synths make for a light, almost uplifting atmosphere, almost as if the listener were being lifted in a shaft of dusty light up to everyone's favourite children's story. Snarkiness aside, the album isn't preachy by any means.

In fact, it's not too shabby. Whereas I found their previous albums to be disinteresting, this one keeps my interest at times. The songs are relatively busy and are structured well, keeping them from dragging on as funeral doom is wont to do. Progressive elements, such as the organ that shows up periodically or the acoustic and harmonica interlude of "Haven", also lend a unique feel. None of it is rather exciting, but it's executed well.

My problem with it? The vocals. While the classic growling serves its purpose, much of the clean singing and spoken passages that litter the album fall completely flat. They just don't work well at all. That these are used so frequently is even worse once you notice that every now and then, as in, only a few times on the entire album, a tortured Bethlehem-esque cry rises up from the background. It sounds fantastic, and it's a damn shame that the prevalence of these roles isn't reversed.

There's material to enjoy here, but on the whole, the album just isn't that compelling.

Verdict: Indifference [3/5]

Grant Morrison, Dave Klein - Batman: Arkham Asylum (15th Anniversary Edition) (2005)

It's April Fool's Day and Commissioner Gordon receives a call from the Joker -- the inmates have taken over Arkham Asylum, and are demanding to speak to Batman.

As you might have guessed from the cover, Batman has to descend into the heart of darkness; Arkham Asylum, the former ancestral home of Amadeus Arkham turned mental hospital for the criminally insane after his mother committed suicide after a lifelong struggle with mental illness.

The one-shot graphic novel chronicles from many different angles the descent into madness, from the flashbacks to Amadeus Arkham and his encounters with specters and dread shadows in the halls of the old house, to Batman's own interactions with the criminals: Two Face, The Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, and Clayface among others.

The dialogue and story are top-notch, and the superb and creepy lettering play perfectly with the bizarre painted art. That art is really what makes the comic -- although the story is certainly good, the art pushes it over the top from just a good read to something very special.

Overall it's one of the best graphic novels I've ever picked up, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes comics, Batman, creepy surreal art, or just a good spooky story to enjoy with a steaming cup of coffee on a lonely October night.

Verdict: Epic Win (who cares for you? you're just a pack of cards)

Kludde - In Den Vergetelheid (2008)

Most bands meshing together black metal and sludge/stoner rock find a depressing medium in which to indulge their doom, but the Belgian Kludde offers something different. This is still very black metal, with the simple edge offered by forefathers Hellhammer, but it's got an almost uplifting, sludge rock awareness. Yes, uplifting. The album rocks the fuck out for most of the tracks, only occasionally slowing to the expected crawl on tunes like "Reglement" and the creepy "Nachtmaer".

The production is fantastic here, while many comparable acts prefer a noisier edge, this is clear and professional, allowing you a balanced glimpse at each lick, each vocal, each percussive hit. If there is one element holding me back from truly enjoying the album, it's the riffs, which are simple and fit well for the style, they just aren't unique enough to hold my interest. In fact, it is when the band diverts from its more rocking side, as in "Het Zout der Mistroost", where some more interesting guitars take place. The vocals are monstrous throughout the entire album.

Still, this is only a debut album. They have a pretty strong style here, and their union of the two forms is a successful one. The production also sets them apart, very well done. With some slightly catchier riffing on their rockers, this will be a force to contend with. I also enjoy some of their lyrical inspiration, rooted in Flemish folktales. Interesting.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (bordering on Win)

Virus - The Black Flux (2008)

Born of his previous project Ved Buens Ende, this is the latest vehicle for the unique and complex musical perspective of Carl-Michael Eide (i.e. Czral). Carheart was a fascinating debut, surely, yet The Black Flux takes this haunted aural vision to new levels of desolation and rapture.

The sound of Virus has been compared to Voivod, and while I can hear some similarity in the bass groove and discordant riffing akin to Nothingface, I think that's only a starting point. The haunting vocals of Eide truly set it apart from almost anything else. Menacing and beautiful at the same time, like a Norse Nick Cave channeling Barrett or Gilmour. The musicianship is likewise phenomenal, the jangling, swerving guitars paint bizarre, dissonant landscapes which compel me to hike them repeatedly. The bass playing and drums are the perfect compliment, and the trio has a wonderful harmony (dating from their time together in Ved Buens Ende.)

Highlights are many, the bass walk below the jarring chords of the title track, perhaps. The amazing riffing of "Shame Eclipse" or "As Virulent As You". The playful journey that is "Lost Peacocks", or the dense and disturbing "Archives". I don't think it's a perfect album, but that potential is still here to earn, as I am simply not yet worthy of comprehending all its grace. For the time being, let's say that Virus have entered the upper echelon of trend-setters to emanate from the Norse metal cosmos, alongside Ulver and Arcturus. If you seek a compelling, complex and different album, read no further, go order the CD.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Insurrection - Prologue (2008)

If this only is the Prologue, I can't wait to hear the main body of the band's work, because this is quite the debut of groovy, progressive death metal from this Canadian band. Well-crafted, infectious riffing permeates each of the seven tracks, and while the album is on the short side, you are never left for wanting.

Album opener "Festin d'entrailles" is a balanced salvo of winding, grooving riffs, with just the right amount of discord to add a subtle, second layer of depth to the more obvious brutality. Stephane Jomphe's vocals are the typical brutal grunts you'd expect, but they work well enough. It's just difficult to lift the thunder on this album away from the excellent guitar work and drumming. Just technically enough to appeal to the tech death crowd, but never losing an accessible quality.

The quality of the tracks is extremely consistent, although I was mildly partial to "Entretien Avec la Bete", "Mephisto", and "Fear Tomorrow". The album sounds fantastic, it was mixed by Jef Fortin who has also worked with other Canadian death metal like Neuraxis. And that's perhaps a decent comparison, if you've enjoyed the past few albums from that better known band, you should definitely find something to enjoy here.

An exciting new band, can't wait to see where they take this in the future.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fastway - Trick or Treat (1987)

Let's just forget for a moment that this album is the soundtrack to one of the shittiest abortions of a holiday horror movie to ever foul up a cinema, and count it for what it really is: a kick ass, entirely fun hard rock record and one of the highlights of this band's career.

Fastway was the brainchild of Fast Eddie Clark (Motorhead) and Pete Way (UFO), sheer heavy metal dynamite featuring the high pitched, catchy vocals of David King (who currently sings for Flogging Molly, of all bands...). The songs are simple and fun, the lyrics are complete fucking cheese, but that doesn't matter, because this isn't about being about deep, it's about rock.

Yes, that same tongue in cheek irony rock thing that you see every time a kid picks up Guitar Hero or Rock Band. This album must have like a hundred utterances of the word 'rock' (akin to an early Saxon album), and for some reason, that's okay with me...because these tunes are so good.

The production, as with a lot of these big budget 80s hard rock records, is quite wonderful. A lot of space for all the instruments to thrive in, and while the vocals are very loud in the mix you can still make out everything else. The first quartet of songs on the album are all killers. The title track for the film is unforgettable. "After Midnight" just makes you want to pick up some big haired broad at the downtown diner and shag her in the bushes while stroking your mullet and chugging a can of Miller draft. Just keep your lighter away from that hair. "Don't Stop the Fight" is somehow more mellow and profound than either of these tunes, yet just as memorable. "Stand Up" has a great intro riff that reminded me of Saxon a lot. In fact, aside from the vocals, Fastway sounds a lot like that better known UK band, at least on this record. That can only be a good thing.

Track this down if you love obscure 80s hard rock/metal and want a good time. All nine tracks range from decent to eternal bliss. "If You Could See" is another hooky one, sort of a semi-ballad. And yes there is a song called "Get Tough" with a doomy intro. Ha! I am both repelled and masturbating at the same time.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (it's only fading moments)

Sigh - Hail Horror Hail (1997)

Sigh is one of the best metal bands in the world, but until this release, they were simply a very good black metal band from Japan, doing a familiar style with a cool ethnic influence.

Well, this is where the levee broke, and Sigh would never be the same again. And neither would I. The titular track opens with a volley of Mirai's mad snarling, and 70s influenced blues leads over a raging metal riff. You are immediately confronted with several layers of melodies, the guitars are fucking everywhere and despite this being a very evil metal album, they manage to give you that real good feeling. But it's not over, for the latter half of this opening song is full of lush, beautiful orchestration which recalls classic, romantic theater productions and then relapses into more Mirai snarls...and this is all happening to simplistic slasher/killer lyrics like this:

Beyond all morality into insanity
I plunge my knife in you again and again
Torture your corpse before it's cold
I seek to devour your life and soul

What the fuck? Right? And this is only the first song! The 2nd track "42 49" brings back some of that earlier Sigh feeling where you are reminded of Celtic Frost/Hellhammer...but wait, what is that? Psychedelic robotic vocals only a few seconds into the track? Folk guitars? What is going on here. I demand an answer.

What IS going on here is an already brilliant band has gone stratospheric in their mushroom-addled ambitions, and concocted one of the best original sounds to ever exist in the wide world of heavy metal. A style so unique it belongs up there with the Voivods of the world, the few and far between.

The rest of the album is equally engaging. The frightening, discordant orchestral doom groove of "12 Souls". The pure piano dirge of "Burial". The shimmering, epic "The Dead Sing" and electro-orchestral number "Invitation to Die". And you haven't even got to "Curse of Izanagi" which is one of their classic go-to songs.

Hail Horror Hail isn't Sigh's best album. I'd reserve that title for Imaginary Sonicscape. But Hail Horror Hail is still an extremely beautiful work of art, which belongs in the collection of any person of taste. It was truly the turning point that skyrocketed them into the upper echelon of metal genius minds.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (and shadows conceal the sharpest knives)

Deceased - Fearless Undead Machines (1997)

Ever the hybrid heralds of classic thrash, death and speed metal, Deceased have always been one of the treasures of the US scene. This 1997 opus is their strongest and most memorable work, and quite possibly the closest any conceptual metal album has come to capturing the pure zombie horror of the classic Romero 'trilogy'.

We're not talking simple slash and gore here, or 100 ways to eat a brain, what I mean is that King Fowley and crew have turned in a zombie album that is actually insightful, with ponderous lyrics that cover more than just the marching of the dead, but the scientific and religious implications of such an extinction level event. Does it have an answer? No. But it asks the right questions. You can feel the immediacy of the survivors of the outbreak, and their plight.

Musically the album is highly melodic and memorable without ever ignoring the energy and aggression of its death and thrash metal foundation. Fowley's distinct, gritty vocals are the perfect vehicle for this necromantic dystopia, while at the same time recalling the feel of Venom, Hallows Eve, and Tyrant. The true fuel for this undead fire comes from its raging guitars, churning out riff after riff of classic metal bliss. The production is organic, it almost sounds like you are listening to the band in their rehearsal room. Nothing is overdone, but the mix is perfect.

"The Silent Creature" opens with a sizable barrage of speed death and some satiable breakdowns and leads. "From the Ground They Came" is a lovely little instrumental piece setting you up for the excellent speed metal namesake "Night of the Deceased". Some of the better tracks like the raging "Beyond Science" and "The Psychic" compose the latter half of the album. Now it's not perfect, there are actually a few riffs among the crowd that weren't as interesting, though never truly detrimental to the vibe. The leads are memorable throughout, and kept fairly simple. Fowley is one of the best drummer/singers in the metal scene, and he's a great, busy drummer with an onslaught of beats.

This was over a decade ago, but for its time it was really a fine example of retro done right. Taking what has come before, paying your tribute yet putting together something new from the ashes of the 80s scene. Technically, they WERE part of the 80s scene, having formed in the middle of that flourishing decade. To that extent, this was a raging success and I don't believe I've heard a Deceased album since to match it. A lot of what made this so great carried through to the followup Supernatural Addiction, so if you love this you'll want to hear that too, as well as their back catalog previous to this. Essential listening for any fan of classic 80s speed, thrash and prototype death metal, or horror metal with more than typical depth to it.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (in death's costume now I live a lonely, empty corpse)

In Gowan Ring - Hazel Steps Through a Weathered Home (2002)

Ok, I'll put it to you straight - I really don't have any interest in American folk. Yeah, Tom Waits is a badass, I like me some Joanna Newsom songs, and I can take the Decemberists as background music. But it just doesn't do anything for me. I absolutely hate acoustic power chord strumming, and your "heartfelt" lyrics aren't going to help any. High school is over, move on already.

Neofolk, and European folk in general, is a totally different story. Not only does it generally stir feelings within me, it also has the spiffy feature of music worth listening to. Sappy teenagers playing "My First Acoustic Song" versus manly renditions of centuries-old Scandinavian melodies? Not a difficult question.

Alright, let', wait. Before I actually start doing the review I'm supposed to, I want you to look at this picture on the right. Look hard. Stare deep into those soft, squinty, slightly feral eyes. Revel in the long curls of his flowing locks.

No, what I want to point out is the gorgeous instrument that B'ee (yes, that's what he goes by) has crafted. Making your own instruments? Hot. Making goddamn beautiful instruments that not only sound fucking great but look cooler than Odin burning churches? Instawin.

This album is fantastic. And yeah, it is from the US. That sounds rather suspect, but somehow B'ee has resisted the banal corruption of Hollywood and channeled his ancestors into the softest folk you've ever heard. Rather than going for the hairy-chested Euro approach, In Gowan Ring is the sound of a young lad, dreaming of being a bard as he plays himself to sleep in grassy meadows. It's so good I had to write such a cliche description, mmhmm.

While some of his other work is pretty lovely, and his other project Birch Book provides more straight-forward folk numbers for the Colonists, Hazel Steps Through a Weathered Home is my favourite of anything B'ee has done. Elegant folk melodies and singing tiptoe quietly between neofolk and psychadelic traditions, making the most peaceful music you could ever want. I spent every day this summer listening to this and watching the shadow of tree leaves on my windowshades.

Verdict: Epic Win [5/5] (I love you)

Gaia Prelude - Promised Land (2008)

Young Yakul used to listen to instrumental stuff all the time. The last instrumental album that I was completely in love with, despite completely hating Dream Theater, was LTE 2. That was a few years back now and even so I was pleasantly surprised to discover Gaia Prelude. They are a neo-classical metal outfit from Japan, and I half expected a Sigh ripoff, half expected a bad (!) Dragonforce, which would be a crime against taste and humanity. Luckily! they are neither. Remember when you were first discovering the guitar and you heard about Yngwie, but before ever hearing his music you thought of all the possibilities, and then he never quite measured up? Gaia Prelude might just fill in the gaps.

There is an impossible amount of music to talk about here in one review, and it definitely is not for everyone. During about the third or fourth song I was thinking to myself that the band could benefit a great deal from vocals, something to anchor the songs around. An uncountable number of solos abound, both guitar and keyboard. Unlike the aforementioned Dragonforce though, this band has ideas! And while they might catch a break with a more traditional band sound, they surely excel in their current format.

Each song plays like it is the final battle in your favorite 16 to 32 bit jrpg; the part where your teammates have to prove that they have the power of the human spirit to over come the Dark Lord of whatev. Take the half way point in “Illusion,” the hook comes through in a memorable, but simplistic keyboard melody between two furious solos. It is the slow and easy parts like that which catch the ear. However, the leads and solos aren't just there for show. Many times the insanely fast guitar work features enough repetition to be workable as a rhythmic section, parts that might be catchy enough to stick with you a bit. This is something I'll have to investigate with a few more listens.

It isn't all 65 lbs of Japanese muscle burning up the fret board non-stop. The title track “Promised Land” plays like an elegy to some fallen warrior, slow and mournful. I feel like these albums always come up short late in the game, but the last song “Mystic Formula” features an absolutely dazzling interplay of guitar and keys, which gives way to a somber outro. Of course that only lasts for a few minutes, because this is a band that goes out at top speed.

Verdict: Win (with a side of epic for guitar and key enthusiasts)

Pyramids - Pyramids (2008)

Driven by indie longstanders The Autumns' mainman Matthew Kelly, Pyramids jumped into the scene this year with their self-titled debut. Part blissed-out shoegaze vocals and shimmering walls of texture, part blackened nightmare and unrelenting drums, Pyramids occupy an indie niche of metal that hasn't been particularly capitalized on.

Their sound is, as I like to think of it, that of heat-sickness. The dry, ethereal, perturbed sound evokes the discomforted agitation of sleepless summer nights. Surging, distant guitars fight through weightless waves of heatstroke. And, on another plane of awareness, drums pound like feet on the unyielding ground.

Is it a one-trick pony? Yeah, basically. Much like their now defunct soul-sisters The Angelic Process, Pyramids use heavy delay and glowing distortion to craft simple music into something far beyond the sum of the parts. In fact, if you found yourself enveloped by the caress of The Angelic Process, this will most likely do you some good. If you found yourself bored to tears, I'll go ahead and wager you'll feel the same here.

There's a second disc of remakes by other Hydrahead artists that comes with the album, but, even barring my inherent dislike of remixes, there's not a lot to talk about here. It feels rather redundant to have offerings done by such groups as Nadja and Blut Aus Nord due to the similarities already present in the music. Oh well, I guess it was a nice thought, and it's not like it costed extra.

Verdict: Win [4/5] (metal ambience)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October Falls - The Womb of Primordial Nature (2008)

Finland's October Falls have been going for a good bit now, albeit more or less outside the realm of metal. Mikko's sublimely simple blend of acoustic and piano folk melodies stood alone until last year's The Streams of the End, which marked the first substantial move into black metal. This ep had a pleasant style, sounding more or less as one would expect but not going much further.

The Womb of Primordial Nature was a bit of a surprise for me. Not only does it refine the sound of the ep with a clearer sound that allows the folk elements to shine through, but it also upped the intensity. Are you sick of every folked-up black metal release being described as epic? Well, stop reading, because there's really no way around it - the sound here is goddamn epic. From the bright, soaring guitars to the pounding immediacy of the drums, I find myself holding my breath as I get caught up in it all. Mikko's vocals could be described as monotonous, yet they're placed strategically throughout the songs so as not to wear out their welcome.

Rather a success, wot! Managing to preserve and imbue the classic folk tranquility in such a whirling piece of black metal is something that October Falls have pulled off with aplomb. You could fault the album for being too short (a complaint common to all of his releases), but I find that it keeps the album fresh and ready for relistening, and I don't have a problem with that.

Verdict: Epic Win [5/5]

Burial Stone - Langolo To (2008)

Death/doom's power lies in the ability of the artists to present slow and heavy music with enough atmosphere and doom to keep it interesting. It has the unique task of making slow death metal interesting and emotional, rather than just sounding like the band can't play their instruments very fast.

Burial Stone is not a top-tier project. Rather, almost close to the upper end of the low-tier, in an early 90s sort of way. Located in some vague no-man's land between the less restrained style of dISEMBOWELMENT and more funereal efforts, Burial Stone keep a rather ineffective pace. When the riffs aren't literally oozing boredom, they're hammered into the ground with all the respect of a fencepost. The vocals are kind of interesting, having a croaky growl reminiscent of old death metal experimentation, but often are more grating and irritating than anything.

I have to say, though "Mulo Felelem", "Vezget", and "Szarnyakon" are decent songs, getting the right amount of reverb and crunch to lend some character to the guitars while reigning in the distracting vocal sound to a small extent.

Doesn't save the album.

Verdict: Fail [2/5] (power chords are not cool)

Supercontinent - Vaalbara (2008)

Every time I think I'm finally, completely fed up with the trendy post-rock/doom/sludge scene and don't want to hear another goddamn record, some band has to come along and ruin it for me, releasing an album that I get lost in and enjoy.

Vaalbara is no perfect record, mind you, but once I relaxed and let it carry me I found myself enthralled. In particular I noticed I could find little hints of genius in many of the songs. The beautiful little melodic metal guitar flourishes in "Earthrise", and that melodic groove riff which comes in about 2/3rds of the way through the track. The ambient instrumental percussion and psychedelia of "Rain Gives Rise". The spacious acoustics alternating with the droning sludge "In Rust". The hard grooves of "The Monolith". It's all well and good, and Supercontinent pulls it off as good if not better than many other bands in this scene.

Do you like the recent albums by Isis? Mouth of the Architect? Rosetta? The Ocean? Callisto? Cult of Luna? Pelican? Well then it's a pretty safe bet you'll find a lot here to admire. It's a solid debut effort from a young American band with a good grasp of their style and the imagination to captivate you through it, rather than just bore the piss out of you.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Catamenia - VIII: The Time Unchained (2008)

In the mid to late 90s there was a noticeable surge of what we'd call 'melodic' black/death metal coming out of Sweden and Finland. The harsh black metal vocals were present, but they resided over more glowing, warm guitar riffing and generally solid studio productions. Catamenia has been a staple of this style throughout their career, unswerving as this is now their 8th album and they have yet to change tunes. This has been both a blessing and a curse, while much of their music has been basically 'fluff', they've put out a few decent records, like their debut Halls of Frozen North.

Unfortunately, while this new record maintains the level of melodic sheen and warmth they are known for, there are some clear weaknesses dragging it down. The opening track "The Garden of Thorns" features some all around weak vocals, from the kind of poorly mixed snarls to the atrociously weak 'clean', tortured vocal which just sounds like shit. Unfortunately these vocals are used to the detriment of other tracks like "Alive...Cold...Dead!" and "The Time Unchained", which would have been so much better without them. "Dominion" is another example, would be a great song without these shitty, post-Hetfield vocals.

Otherwise the guitars are mixed all shiny and nice, the riffs are catchy, and the production is killer. It just really, really sucks in the vocal department. The only exception would be the death metal vocal parts, and if the entire album had consisted of only these, it would have actually been quite a lot better. As it stands, it's kind of like waking up for a nice bowl of Frosted Flakes only to find out the frosting is actually bird excrement.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Avian - Ashes and Madness (2008)

Avian is a US melodic power metal band featuring the prolific Lance King (of Pyramaze, Balance of Power and others) on vocals. His presence is quite a bonus here, because he is able to elevate some average 80s-influenced metal tunes into something soaring, i.e. the avian of the band's namesake.

That's not to say I was exactly blown away by this release, but if you enjoy his work with Pyramaze or other, mid-paced, simplistic power metal with a lot of melody and a central focus on the vocals, or even 80s metal like the US Warlord, Fates Warning or Apocrypha, then you'll likely enjoy it.

Most of the songs move at a fairly slow pace, this isn't quite the European anthemic style many have gotten used to. It's deeply entrenched in the 80s. I found "Never Fade from Me", "Into the Otherside" and "Beyond the Hallowed Gates" to be some of the catchier numbers. Solos are provided by Bill Hudson, formerly of Cellador, and this band has had some interesting members in its past, like David Ellefson (ex-Megadeth).

I'm afraid there's just not a lot riding on it without King's vocals here, but this isn't a bad sophomore effort for fans of classic metal in simpler times. The riffs may not stand up well on their own, but as a whole it's not bad. The production is decent too.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Isis - Not in Rivers, But in Drops EP (2008)

One of the more popular acts to originate in my neck of the woods, I've always had kind of mixed feelings on Isis. I thought their early material was plodding, boring, and extremely overrated metalcore. But I have enjoyed some of their later releases, their shift into a more experimental direction of post-rock and drone has opened up so many elements in their sound.

This new EP is a good example of the latter, and I'm happy to say I really enjoyed the title track. It's hooky, it flows so well together, from its dreamy opening to its rock out riffs and even the desolate growling which pops into the middle. There's also a live version of the track, which sounds okay but you'll be too engaged in the studio track to care. The other track here is a Thomas Dimuzio remix of "Holy Tears", and it too is a delight.

If you love Isis, you're in for a treat here. Both of the studio tracks are well worth hunting down and you'll listen to them repeatedly. Being not the biggest fan in the world, I still really enjoyed this. You also have to love that cover art, one of the most striking cover images I've seen in some time.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Outcast - Self-Injected Reality (2008)

The French have been offering quite a few quality offshoots to the Meshuggah-inspired brand of mathematical metal. You've got the excellent Gojira with their brooding, organic flow to the formula. You've got GTI who are a pretty impressive clone of the Swedes with a few riffs that could even show them up. And now you've got the sophomore effort from this band, which is, frankly, un fucking real.

Lavish the mathematical chug and groove of that 'M' band with excellent solos and technical thrashing riffs which recall the excellent German scene of the late 80s and you might formulate an idea of what this band is capable of delivering. Rinse all that in some meaningful, decent lyrics, and dry it all off with a re-formatting of groove and musicality that will have you listening over and over, many times.

Yes, this is THAT good. It's as technically impressive as it is memorable. The guitar work is insane, which might not be that much of a surprise if you consider Nicolas also plays in the French progressive death metal band Symbyosis. I could go into a lot of detail on this record, all the songs are so good and have so much depth, but I'll pick out a few for now lest this last for pages on end. "Allegiance" begins with a complex, grooving thrash riff which instantly draws the ear. Erupts into a sick math/death metal groove, then the vocals arrive and it gets even denser as an all out Meshuggah-like, yet faster section enters. And then the breakdown...gods what a breakdown. Wilfried's vocals, while the most monotone aspect of the album, are that perfect math metal bark which roots the entire album in aggression.

Most of the songs have this consistency of welding together the perfect elements of aggression. "Hysteria". "Autonomy in Progress". "Denial of Elapsed Time". All fucking scorchers. Even the breaks in the action are great, like the blissful "Materia Prima" and its subtle guitar textures. Perhaps the most glorious track "Deviance" is saved for the very end, it's incredible.

Any fan of extreme, progressive metal need check this band out immediately, it's one of the most impressive things I've heard this year and one that I won't stop replaying for quite some time.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(jesus christ, listen to this already)

Wastelander - Wardrive (2008)

It would be almost impossible for someone of my tastes to not appreciate what this band is bringing to the table on their debut. This is a three piece featuring Xaphan (perhaps best known from Summon and Wind of the Black Mountains) on guitars, and Ian Pit Viper from Superchrist on the drums. The vocals and bass are provided by Matt War. What manifests here is a great play on traditional filthy punk and crust, all wrapped up in a blackened, thrash metal shell, and it's hella fun throughout the duration of its entire track list.

You could compare this to the classic three piece bands like Venom or even Motorhead, but what might be the closest would be a more punked out Celtic Frost. Does that sound sexy? Because it is on this album. A brief intro leads you the title track of the album, with some very simple, infectious riffing and a good plodding bass, moving at about D-Beat pace. The lyrics are very 'metal', and I dare say retro in the sense they would remind you of bands like Razor and Wehrmacht. But while this might turn me off from other modern bands, they are executed so lovingly and well that it's hard not to get caught up in them. The rest of the record is equally bad ass, I truly enjoyed "Days of Hell", "Mindsweeper", "Baptized in Ashes", and "Final Combat", but there is nothing really weak here, it all follows suit.

This is an exciting release for fans of old school thrash, heavier punk, and crust metal, and the proto-black metal icing on the cake makes it that much more delicious. Don't let the deceptively simplicity of this turn you off, it's very enjoyable to blast in your car or when you want to shove your nuclear boot up someone's ass. I personally can't wait for more! Kudos to you dos. Proof that Michigan can rock. Actually this album almost makes up for Kid Rock and Eminem.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Provocation - Towards Total Annihilation (2008)

It's not often you get a death metal band focused on social and political subject matter, aside from Napalm Death and a few others that took their queue. Provocation does exactly this, instead of laying on the gory smackdown so many other bands settle for, or the occult/Satanic path.

How well they accomplish this is up in the air, for the majority of the album is quite boring chug/blast alternation with a decent production. A few songs like "Poor in Resources, High in Conflict" stand out from the rest with slightly better riffing, and they do have some cool bits like the trippy sampling of "Do We Learn to Perceive the Unity", but much of the rest I could completely pass on.

Alright, there is ONE bit of gore here, but it's a cover of Pyaemia's "Gorging on Mucus and Bile", and musically it fits right in with the rest of the album. While I'm excited there are bands out there who want to play death metal and convey it through lyrics that may bear some social relevance, the album doesn't quite succeed as a musical statement. However, they are young, this is only their debut, and the potential certainly exists here for better.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

Behemoth - Ezkaton EP (2008)

The latest EP offering from Poland's corpse-painted death metal superstars is an interesting mix of material. You've got a few live tracks spanning their career. "From the Pagan Vastlands", "Decade Ov Therion" and "Chant for Ezkaton 2000 e.v.".

There is the studio version of "Chant for Ezkaton 2000 e.v." which is rather dull, and the far superior "Qadosh".

But most important here is the excellent choice of covers. They do a pretty hardcore cover of "I'm Not Jesus" by the Ramones! This is a classy cover here, from one of the punk gods' best and most underrated albums. And Behemoth make it their own with aplomb. Brutal! The other cover is "Jama Pekel" from the great Czech black Master's Hammer, one of my favorite bands from that country... and it sounds quite awesome in the hands of the Polish pretty boy brutes Nergal and company.

The covers alone make this EP worthwhile, and if you're a diehard for the past few albums you are also really going to enjoy "Qadosh". I could do without the live tracks and the "Chant for Ezkaton" wasn't so interesting, so in all I'm going to grade this in the middle.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (but a great choice of cover songs)