Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chris Cornell - Scream (2009)

Hearing the golden throat of the Evergreen State try his dice in the hip-hop/R&B market seems like an absolute disaster on paper, and in fact it's quite near a disaster in its execution. Chris Cornell is one of the most distinct American male vocalists we have. His legacy with Soundgarden was spotless, and though Audioslave and his first solo album were mediocre at best, it wasn't for the lack of a good voice. Carry On, however, was quite good, a more accessible take on his final years in Soundgarden. I also loved his Bond theme "You Know My Name".

So what we have here was originally a remix project, a team-up between Cornell and R&B/pop mogul Timbaland, that took on its own life and turned into a slew of new originals. Timbaland's influence here is obvious, you could have just as easily used Ginuwine or Justin Timberlake's vocals over some of these tracks and not had much of a difference. Some of the tracks just flat out suck. I mean who wants to hear Chris Cornell, who once fronted brilliant albums like Ultramega OK and Louder than Love, chanting:

That bitch ain't a part of me
No, that bitch ain't a part of me
I said no, that bitch ain't a part of me
No, that bitch ain't a part of me
I said no, that bitch ain't a part of me
No, that bitch ain't a part of me
I said no, that bitch ain't a part of me
No, that bitch ain't a part of-part of-part of me
I love the girl, I'm lovin' the dress she wears
She's got a hold, got a hold of me neck, oh yeah
I wanna cry, the way that she moves
I want the girl, but not what she's going through

Who exactly thought this would be a good idea? Is Cornell desperate? This holds true for a number of the tracks on Scream, but here's the kicker...which I admit with great trepidation. There are a few moments where this team-up actually *clicks*. "Take Me Alive" has a nice Middle Eastern spin to it despite it's layman hip hop beats which any 3 year old could program in 5 minutes, driven home by Cornell's scintillating mid register vocals and a chorus which ALMOST recalls the rock. "Long Gone" is an extremely fetching love song despite the Beverly Hills 90210/Melrose Place emo guitar line which breaks forth in its chorus. This latter is the best song on the album and hopefully its used as a single. "Climbing Up the Walls" is also pretty nice, a moody atmospheric. "Never Far Away" is like a Kelly Clarkson song but with Cornell. It works.

The album is true Timbaland, I do like his use of very 80s pop synths amidst the more modern and robust beats. Say what you want about the host of shitty, trendy artists he has produced, but the guy has an ear for sounds that stick with you. The biggest distraction is all the chorus and R&B effects used on Cornell's voice, often these fail. You cannot contain this man's vocals with studio wizardry. He's got one of the most glorious throats in the goddamned world. Badmotorfinger, anyone? Yeah. It doesn't belong over a cheap throwaway get up! jump up! pop track like...err..."Get Up".

In the end, Scream doesn't entirely suck, it's an interesting collaboration. But I truly hope the man returns to form at some point, as he seems to be entertaining an ever downwards spiral of bankrupt ideas. I just feel I have to point out the obvious.

Chris Cornell.
Shake out that Hollywood, California crack.
Take it back, man.
Take it back.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]


Svarttjern - Misanthropic Path of Madness (2009)

Svartjjern is a straightforward Norse black metal assault with HansFyrste (of Ragnarok) on vocals. The style here is nothing you haven't heard before if you're into bands like 1349, Nidingr or Swedish bands like Dark Funeral and Mork Gryning, but it's decent for a debut. The shift between its blasting forte and slower thrashing chug sections is pretty much guaranteed to incur some whiplash in its listeners. For the rest, there's the eyecatching, wrecked corpse of its cover snuff model, spattered in dark blood.

"Code Human" blasts forth from the crossgates of hopelessness, breaking down into a mid-paced thrasher over the steady double bass. "Ancient Shadows Revelation" continues this stream of thought with a continued double bass through its verses, picking up into some ravenous chords below HansFyrste's deep throat spew. The album's stronger numbers include the savage and thrashing "Stillborn Acolyte" with its taps and trills amidst the thrust and blast; "Passions of 7" flows like a river of bloodied grace and memory before breaking once again into the mid-paced chugging; "Finally the World Shall Shape" opens with a sinister riff worthy of vintage Slayer.

The mix is dense and dark, but all instruments cut through like sawblades, their sharp steel teeth filed perfectly by the brutal vocal delivery. Several of the songs have the same formula: blast to rolling double-bass thrash, then blast again, and so forth. This doesn't make them bad per se, but it does feel like a rehash of the same continuous idea and gets a little old. I'm more a fan of Ragnarok (and they're working on something new) but this is a decent album which should tide over fans of 1349, Myrkskog, etc until they produce some new material.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Vanmakt - Ad Luciferi Regnum (2009)

Vanmakt deliver their second outburst with a mix as thick as thieves at the bazaar; loud and resonant and in your face, pretty much the antithesis of the bedroom black metal majority. The guitar tones are both vibrant and caustic; the drums are like a battering ram being thrust against the gates of heaven.

"The Second Key" opens with a haunting acoustic and bluesy lead melody, soon smothered in chugging, death growl/chants and eerie female wails. Then the warfare begins as the drums grind angel wings into abyssal dust. M. Svensson's vocals are a little louder and more abrasive than I'd prefer, more on this later. "Brethren of Lucifer" focuses on some mid-paced thrashing breakdowns to offset the nihilistic blasting. "Endless Myth" has a nice break where you can hear the blasting and bass and then the guitar volley slowly lifts in volume, quite cool. "Re-incarnating Hatred" is just monstrously sick and twisted, hyper black metal, Satanic bass grooving through the vitriolic mesh of octave chords and battery. Other cool tracks include the title with its use of graceful yet horrific melody over the blasts; "Id Xiii Inferni" which is another pure holocaust of unrelenting, hellish wind; "The Ascension" being a nice break from the otherwise very fast album, this is perhaps the best track on the album with some nice atmosphere too it, again the light use of female vocals.

Vanmakt doesn't have the most original of sounds, drawing from the influences of well-produced Swedish and Norse black metal. Still, their sound is pretty rare for the scene today, a fusion of devilish grace and percussive terror. The biggest obstacle for me was the vocals, they had that over the top feel you get from some other artists (usually deathcore or metalcore, but in this case it reminded me a little of Fernando's black metal voice in Moonspell). He doesn't have a bad voice, mind you, but had these been laid back in the mix a fraction, I would have become more immersed in the songs. Otherwise, the music is quite moody and well constructed, and if you favor the professional black metal sound then this is certainly worth a spin.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Monday, March 30, 2009

Mortuus Infradaemoni - Imis Avernis (2009)

The band totally had me at the cover art here, for I truly love to stare at labyrinthine abyssal cityscapes while I am listening to black metal, dark ambient and other forms of 'extremity'. It all goes back to sessions of Into the Pandemonium worship for me. So I admit that it may have prepped me up for something more atmospheric than the rather bare bones, savage strategy at play.

Mortuus Infradaemoni are a German black metal band and they play a lot like many of their peers: straightforward, with no perks or gimmicks, black metal in the vein of Mayhem, Dark Funeral and others who keep it real. There are only two members of the band, Nathaniel and Profanatitas, both formerly of fellow Germans Lunar Aurora. The tracks seem to alternate between very mundane and dull, to face-shredding misanthropic purism. For example, first track "Obscuritas Ubique Et In Aeternum" barrels through almost 10 minutes of blast beat/speed picked repetition without ever truly invoking any ferocity. Yet "Darkland", not much different in style, is more effective with its haunting sneers and a few subtle chord shifts which flayed my flesh clean. "Imis Avernis", the title track, centers on some slower chug riff that aren't very good, and doesn't get much better even when it picks up speed. "Bastard" and "Merihim" deliver a pure photocopier black metal beatdown, moving at rapid pace and reminiscent of much of the loyaly to its core influences that perpetuated much of the mid to late 90s scene. "Der Tod" is another devastator.

The album's sound is effectively raw and the band certainly comes across as a horde of savage barbarians who take no compromise as they offer libations to the occult. There aren't any real surprise riffs that come out and snag you, the entire effort is quite predictable but this is not always a bad thing. I can't recall the band's previous album in order to make any comparisons, but I can only recommend this to fans of 100% straightforward black metal of the grimmest, no hope variety.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Sons of Seasons - Gods of Vermin (2009)

Sons of Seasons is a new project formed by keyboardist Oliver Palotai (Kamelot, Circle II Circle, Blaze, etc) with an emphasis on a darker side to power-prog. If ever there were a truly 'gothic' flavor to progressive metal, it would sound a lot like this. The song structures are familiar, with lots of excellent keyboard playing, and a constant interplay between metallic grooves and softer prog rock tones. The result isn't the most memorable, but he's assembled a good lineup and there are some flashes of brilliance in a few tracks.

Metalium's air raid siren Henning Basse handles the vocal tracks, and he does so with a grittier edge than normal. There are still the hints of his crystalline delivery which he subtly supplants throughout the material, but for the most part he remains in a lower register that better suits the concept. Silent Force bassist Jürgen Steinmetz and former Blaze skin-beater Daniel Schild flesh out the lineup, and together they wander across a dozen tracks of introspective, melodic and razor edged metal. There is a lot of piano here, but Palotai excels at atmosphere and the intro "The Place Where I Hide" sets the tone for the entirety of the album. The title track "Gods of Vermin" runs the gamut of material from the heavier verse riffs to the quiet breakdowns and a big chorus where Basse busts out the mid-ranged pipes. I found some of the better tracks on the album to be its most ferocious, like the blazing "Belial's Tower" or "Dead Man's Shadow", but the band can incorporate balladry or epic, slower moving numbers such as "Third Moon Rising" to great effect, and the album balances its delivery enough from track to track that one never becomes bored. There is an occasional use of vocal layering or female vocals which present themselves nicely. The themes of the songs fall on historical subjects or the madness of men and civilization.

I don't have many complaints. The album simmers in a top notch professional mix, though the guitars could use a little more crunch to liven things up (keeping in mind that Palotai is not foremost a guitar player). Certain tracks are a lot catchier than others, but the album is consistent to its theme, you feel this almost insane asylum aesthetic throughout which recalls Savatage, Circle II Circle, Evergrey and other brooding conceptual prog/metal bands. Sons of Seasons are pretty original, this should work in their favor if they continue this project. Gods of Vermin may not be a masterpiece debut, but it wears its effort and talent on its sleeve. If you're seeking out some new prog metal and favor the sounds of any band I listed in this review, give it a listen.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Unanimated - In the Light of Darkness (2009)

It seems the forgotten Swedish titans of the 90s continue to crawl forth from the woodwork of their celebrated scene to rekindle the early fires of black/death metal and show the new blood just how it's done. This was the case with Seance and is now also so for Unanimated. Though the band's previous albums In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead and Ancient God of Evil were cult classics of aggressive melodic death metal, they never garnered the success of a band like Dissection and fell by the wayside as the genre shifted more towards the modern crop of highly melodic death (In Flames, Dark Tranquillity) or flag-waving At the Gates clones (early Soilwork, etc). After 14 years the band returns with their third opus, and it's more than a match for either of its predecessors.

In the Light of Darkness sounds devastating, a crushing effort which offers both yearning melodies and pure Swedish death metal bordering on some blackish tendencies. The haunting instrumental intro "Ascend with the Stench of Death" serves as but a teaser for the spider weblike opening riffs and dense atmospherics that precurse "Retribution in Blood". Winding verse melodies, and a bridge riff shimmering with evil as it bears the weight of its six-string archways, declare WE HAVE RETURNED. "The Endless Beyond" opens with a creepy and beautiful melodic picking while the chords crash in like a bleak abandoned vessel upon a churning sea. "Diabolic Voices" nails the coffin with a mid-pace, explosive snarls erupt over driving blast beats and daemonic chords. The title track plods methodically forward through an array of excellent melodies to cap off the chugging mutes and slowly grinding chrods. Other tracks of note include the glorious "Enemy of the Sun", the ghastly tones of "Serpent's Curse" and the closing acoustics of "Strategia Luciferi".

The album sounds quite incredible, the chords attain molten depths while the acoustics and leads simmer and soar through the bombastic strides. The band is out in full force yet emphasis is focused solely on the crafting of atmospheric rhythms and bloodsoaked, simple aggression. In short, it's not a far cry from their previous efforts. Just resurrected and re-invigorated for the 21st century. Unanimated prove once more that they're worth your time, and this album is a no-brainer for fans of Swedish black/death metal ala Dissection, Sacramentum, etc.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cobalt - Gin (2009)

In the midst of the metal community collectively blowing their loads (or shaking their heads) over the new Mastodon, Isis, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Candlemass releases, it's understandable some albums may fly under the radar. Gin from avant-garde black metallers Cobalt is one of these releases, and if you have any interest in the nastier and more creative side of metal you should do yourself a favor and cop this disc at your first opportunity.

Beginning inauspiciously enough, the title track to the album could be the intro to any number of radio rock songs... if it weren't for the underlying current of doom that you can feel. This subterranean serpent soon makes its presence felt as “Gin” launches into a tom-tom beat and messy, sloppy distorted guitars take the stage. Cobalt doesn't quite have your full attention, at least until the blastbeats and black metal wails come front and center, and now the snake is staring you dead on, venom dripping from its fangs, orange light reflected off the sodium streetlamps to your back. Mutated, tattered jangle-pop chords put through a blender like a corpsepaint laden Origo-era Burst lazily flop around, leaving sick slime behind them as McSorely belts out some heartfelt and truly pained screeching. Cobalt flips the script again and throws in the velvety 1990's slide groove hardcore riffs ala Helmet. The attack does not let up, intensifying with faster strumming and double bass, until the mournful “Dry Body” comes to break it all up, the vocals coming from the walls of a deserted cathedral with haunting tribal verses echoing and destructive, buzzsaw choruses that sound like a dark, alternate-universe version of Tool.

This is just the beginning of the album. The rest of the album lies in wait for the listener. It's going to lull you into security with the quiet and dark parts, gently running razor wire over your neck, and then proceed to decapitate you just when you think you can relax. While their closest progressive kin Wolves in the Throne Room and Nachtmystium favor a bit of ambience and psychedelia, respectively, Cobalt instead goes for the grit. Wolves in the Throne Room might take you through some dark, foggy forest at midnight with a full moon, Cobalt has you drug behind a truck on a dirt road at midnight. The feel of Gin is uniquely American through and through, and as a result the theatrics and mysticism found in a lot of black metal is absent. The concept behind Gin are the bands literary heroes, Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway. The spirit of the two authors is found in Gin, but it's the moreso their influence on the band from the get-go than any sort of attempt to throw the two legends into an audio form like Mastodon did with Moby Dick on Leviathan.

Elements of Neur-Isis-styled crescendo buildups, Tool-esque chug, the abrasive dark magic of black metal, crustcore, hardcore, and even modern rock are dashed about a sonic field and the listener is shot through this field, bouncing from style to style like a pinball. It's never jarring, although it can be sudden. Cobalt has managed to find a way to make their album pummeling, emotionally charged, genre-straddling, and protean all while placing their menacing patchwork on the same corroded fabric throughout the album. Even the closer, “Stew Craven/...”, which is nothing more than a slave chant and hammering, sounds appropriate.

This album is not perfect. There are some small sections where it feels like Wunder lets the beats kind of go. I get he was probably aiming for it, but they tend to break up the tempo of the songs. The 3 minute “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and the 2 minute “Throat” could've probably either been cut down to 30 second intervals or just simply absorbed into some other songs. Both of them start out promising enough, especially the awesomely moody Blue Oyster Cult-ish “Throat”, but they tend to overstay their welcome.

One of the more interesting things about Cobalt is vocalist Sergeant Phil McSorely serving overseas in the Persian Gulf for the U.S. Army. While a lot of black metal frontmen contend they know about suffering, tragedy, war, and the ungodliness that can come from humanity, McSorely is one of them that I believe. He's a cav scout, one of the guys who goes out from the wire and sees the kind of action that send a lot of men into the loony bin. Being in the service myself, I salute McSorely, and the authenticity of his words is almost palpable to me. This guy means every fucking word, no hollow symbolism or clichéd stock Hollywood run-off. This is the real deal. This is war metal.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Psyopus - Bad Senses (2009)

Tweedle tweedle bwonk bang dwong dwong tweedle tweedle chugga eee chugga eee chugga eee skreeeeee.

What the fuck did I just listen to?

No, I don't mean I didn't understand Chris Arp's raging noodle-wall of guitar voodoo, accompanied by meth-riddled tangental bass noodle from Michael Horn, and the almost mechanically precise drumming from Jason Bauer. I love me some technical worship, and of all the bands on earth (Even you, Origin), nobody defines technical-for-technicals-sake quite like Psyopus. What I mean by “What the fuck did I just listen to” is that, after each listen of Bad Senses, I completely forget what I just listened to... but I kinda think it was pretty cool... I think.

It could be argued that Chris Arp is the most technically proficient guitarist in the world, and I wouldn't disagree with that statement. It could also be stated that on this album, the single best technical bass and drum performances ever have been laid down, and I could see some merit in that assessment. The dextrous and precise way these three gentlemen display their dedication to their craft of instrumental virtuosity is self-evident, and anyone who worships at the Altar of Li or Malmsteen because of their callous-chipping stringplay has yet to hear this band. The ridiculously fast tremelo picking leads way to chunks of ether shot out at all angles to dissonant bits being played off of sections of the fretboard I don't think anyone has used yet, ever, all at light speed with barely anything resembling a break. Bass and guitar often play off each other like some off-kilter sonic game of Hot Potato. Snare rolls are ungodly-tight, and the variety of drum beats here is superhuman. The result? Caustic, alkaline hardcore and technical death interwoven and covered with an avant-garde sheen.

What's most interesting is the dynamics used on the album. Instead of quiet/noisy, or melodic/dissonant, or even fast/slow, there seems to be a gradient scale of just how fucked up they can make sections. The intro to “X and Y”, for instance, would be a weird piece for any other band to use in their songs... for Psyopus, it's the closest thing to sanity they get to on the entire recording. After that? Ever seen the movie Eraserhead?

What has been sacrificed to the gods in order for these people to play like this? Well, in a word: Songwriting. There are numerous bands out there who fall under the same umbrella as Psyopus. Behold... the Arctopus, Capsule, The Dillinger Escape Plan. All of them are noisy and inaccessible (to varying degrees), all of them have unconventional song structuring and tooth-chipping, immediate ferocity, but I can recall things from the other three. If I'm trying to recall something from Bad Senses, despite over a dozen spins, I have to put the album back on. And even then whatever I just listened to slides out of my head when I put something more interesting on.

Psyopus continues to amaze people by their ability to shred where no one has shredded before, and as long as that's their schtick I can see them continuing to be a novelty act. Listen to this album for the amazing skill, I recommend you do so. However, like a kid who can do six hundred flips in the air off of the uneven bars but is unable to stick the landing, I'm going to have to go with a...

Verdict: Indifference [5/10] (Whiz bang!)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mistaken Element - Mind Over Matter (2009)

Seeking modern thrash with progressive tendencies, and ability to groove without diving deeply into the math metal or crappy nu-crop of bands? Mistaken Element has found the answer with their sophomore effort; a bludgeoning balance of technical thrash chops, interesting song structures and brutal, blunt vocals still capable of holding a melody within schizophrenic layers.

"Lost" sets the album off with dense, chugging triplets as Yann Ligner barks his meaty and oppressive vocals. The verse transforms into a lattice of thrashing ferocity, giving way for a melodic chorus full of atmospheric chords and some cleaner vocals. "Mind Over Matter" launches with a seriously excellent, repetetive thrash/groove. Some of the riffing recalls Testament, but modernized. "The Chosen One" lurches with a sick breakdown: limbs will be broken to this song at some point. "Save Me" has a slightly math pace to it, point blank chugging that explodes into a Prong-like groove. "My Chapter Ends" features another of their slinky and mesmerizing grooves, occasionally channeling a bit of countrymen Gojira. Other tracks of note: the mostly instrumental "No Sound Disturbs the Silence" for its tranquil acoustic flow, and the chaotic, hammering "Duality".

Yet another example of how France is starting to dominate the world of modern, grooving thrash focused intensely on the simple punishment offered through its delivery and tone. Alongside Gojira and Outcast this is one of the better bands I've heard pushing the style, though Mistaken Element have a pure thrash foundation. They are capable of cleaner chorus parts without coming off too cheesy like a lot of the metalcore crap out there. The songs here are consistent and the album is well worth your time if you favor thinking man's metal with pit appeal.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Architect - Ghost of the Saltwater Machines (2008)

Ghost of the Saltwater Machines is the sophomore effort by the New York (or Pennsylvania, or both) based metallic hardcore band Architect. In a contrast with their modern metallic hardcore contemporaries like August Burns Red or Parkway Drive, this type of metallic hardcore hearkens back to bands like Botch and Coalesce. Fretboard gymnastics have been replaced with a tide of vicious belt-sander riffs punctuated by slithery one-string sections ala Intronaut or anything Dimebag had ever played on. The guitarists Timothy Seib and James Bailey don't do any clever little tricks, no switch-off solos, no alternating rhythm and lead. They wrench sledgehammer riffs out of their guitars and mash them together, creating a substance not unlike C4 frozen in time, mid-explosion. It's jarring, it's meat-and-potatoes, but it fucking works... for the most part.

This is an unrelenting album. From start to finish the jagged-edged and varied song structures crash into each other with the ferocity of plate tectonics. In a contrast to most modern bands of the “core” persuasion (even Converge these days), Architect has no desire to incorporate melody and shys away from its use like it has leprosy. The closest thing they include here is the opening 32 seconds of the album and an off-key, satirical bit of “America the Beautiful” at the end of the monster track “I Am Become Death”, and even that ends with what sounds like a gunshot. Oh yeah, like most hardcore bands they're political.

The unbridled brutality and thick-sounding songs of Ghost of the Saltwater Machines are aimed squarely at the pit. This is bruisecore without the tough-guy bravado of Lamb of God or the obvious Pantera worship of Throwdown, propelled by the competant-but-not-great rhythm section of Thomas Calandra and Anthony Michel. The vocals from Keith Allen are a bit one dimensional, going from a mid-tone scream to a slightly higher mid-toned scream, but fortunately these never deteriorate into “cookie monster” vocals, bree-brees or pig squeals. There are occasional group-chant moments, but even those seem to be coming directly from an open hole in the ground that leads straight down to hell.

While the dedication and focus on making some of the most flat-out brutal metallic hardcore I've heard for years is appreciated and refreshing, the album starts to all kind of blend together after a while. There are a lot of variants, and a lot of nice riffs to be found, but the dynamics are a little flat. And while there are numerous ways to shred someones skin off, in the end all you're doing is shredding their skin off. These guys have massive potential, and they're a band to definitely watch.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

White Skull - Forever Fight (2009)

White Skull is a band who have steadily improved since their roots. I found some of their early albums like Tales from the North to be quite bad, but the band had been writing better material after they replaced their original female vocalist with Gus Gabarrò. For their 8th full-length, Forever Fight they have parted with Gabarrò and replaced him with a new frontwoman in Elisa de Palma. While I'm not a big fan of the new vocals, she's at least a serious power metal singer and the band does not revert to the pompous and operatic fairy metal format. Elisa's got a nasally voice reminiscent of much German power metal (which means she fits in with White Skull quite nicely) like Gamma Ray or Mania.

Unfortunately I just couldn't get into the tracks here. They are performed well, with diverse tempos and a crisp and clear mix, but few feature the memorable riffing and chorus prominent in all the best power metal. The band tends to move at a medium pace which rarely gathers much force as it rolls down the mountain, when they pick up the speed the riffs tend to be glossed over in keyboards, which detract from the thrusting power of the guitars. The better songs here are those such as "Spy" where the guitars are really surrouning Elisa's vocals, but even this gets slathered in organ sounds. Some of the gang vocals are also pretty weak, for example in "Heavy Metal Ares" the backups just sound as if they'd been phoned in.

The band isn't just your average Rhapsody or Helloween clone, they sort of weave between these anthemic styles. Elisa's accent is a little thick and it does make some of the vocals feel sloppy, but those of you into the underground Italian power metal have since grown use to this. I can't give Forever Fight a huge recommendation: it's superior to their early work, but the band has it within them to create better albums than this (i.e. The Ring of the Ancients or the XIII Skull). Fans of female-fronted power metal might want to give it a spin.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Pestilence - Resurrection Macabre (2009)

It's been 16 years since the release of the jazz-infused Spheres, and throughout this period the legacy of Pestilence has spread through the underground. New generations of fans have grown to appreciate their influence and superb body of work, from thrashing death roots to the incorporation of fusion. To me, they are quite possibly the greatest death metal band ever. Consuming Impulse, now 20 years old, stands as one of the most effective and brutal offerings in all metal music.

Resurrection Macabre is a return to form after such a long hiatus, and I could not be happier. When I first heard they were releasing new material, I wasn't sure if they'd be moving 'forward' from Spheres, or returning to reflect an earlier period. It has turned out to be a mesh of their first three albums: the stark brutality and groove of Consuming Impulse, the deceptively simple riffing of Testimony of the Ancients, and the pseudo scientific, sociopath lyrics of Mallevs Maleficarvum. Complete with a modern production standard, a renewed vigor of aggression, and the addition of percussion master Peter Wildoer (Darkane, etc) on the drum kit, this new album simply destroys. It's like an old tank you thought was lost to decay, returning yet again to the warpath for another volley of glorious murder.

"Devouring Frenzy" opens with a brief fluster of blasting mayhem as Mameli vomits forth the song title repeatedly (a trend he continues with many of the tracks, which threw me off until I realized it is somehow intentional). The track is laden in choppy groove riffs reminiscent of early Pestilence. "Horror Detox" is like the rebirth of "Land of Tears" but even more intense. You'll notice that a lot of the songs have very familiar riffing, minor alterations on past tracks, but this would probably only amount to an issue if you didn't enjoy the band to begin with. I happen to fucking love this band, and I accept the consistency here. "Fiend" alternates creepy minor chords with thrashing acrobatics, reminiscent of "Trauma". "Hate Suicide" is again similiar to earlier tracks (from Testimony of the Ancients) but weighted in a sick, grooving afterbirth. "Synthetic Grotesque" and "Neuro Dissonance" again weave the band's proto-thrash/death into frightening compositions which conjure both nausea and neurosis. Intense. "Dehydrated II" is a great sequel track which forges ahead despite some stylistic similarities to the original. The title track is a chugging, lurching track which erupts into some brilliant speed. "HangMan" alternates a frenetic burst with a churning frenzy in the verse. "Y2H" is anthemic brutality. This is a year to hate! Yesss!! "In Sickness and Death" closes the album with another tune similar to material from Consuming Impulse. A raving mad octave slide transforms into an escalating series of breakdowns.

As if the 11 new originals weren't enough, we are also treated to some re-recordings. "Chemo Therapy" sounds sufficienty brutal to match the new material, and it's good to hear with Mameli's vocals, even if it lacks the purist charm of the original. "Out of the Body" sounds quite the same with the exception of the vocals. "Lost Souls" probably fares the best of these three, since it was Mameli to begin with and this is just an update as far as the production. All members of the band excel here. Mameli and Uterwijk have not lost any of the savage and effective axemanship. Tony Choy returns on bass, and Wildoer simply dominates the kit. Assuming this reunion continues, perhaps we could have some van Drunen and Foddis guest spots next time around? The sound of the record is crushing and bright, one of the best I've heard in a long time.

As happy as I am, the album's not 100% perfect. As I mentioned, many of the songs sound familiar. This is by no means a negative trait, but for a band which was constantly breaking new ground in their day, I was surprised. It will be curious to see how this album galvanizes the band's fanbase, since there are those who only enjoyed the fusion jazz of Spheres and might not find this so interesting. Regardless, it's a fantastic reunion album, one of the best death metal releases I've heard this year so far, and thank fuck that Pestilence is back.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Zerstörer - Declaration of War (2009)

Black metal. War. Germany. The stage is set for the sophomore full-length of Zerstörer ('Destroyer'), and the band metes out an effective set of tracks which capture the grim desolation of the battlefield as well as the majesty and memory of the fallen. Essentially the album plays out like a Panzer Division Marduk, only slower.

The band has the ability to create dark and glorious atmosphere through a surge of simple chords and carnal vocals. "Hatred Rising" is a great example of this, a driving piece which on the surface seems like any other raw black metal track except that it encapsulates a graceful power in its higher range of chord selection. "Slaughter of Divinity" surges with a slower pace as double bass lays down a tank tread of blasphemous apocrypha, whilst the riffs conjure hopelessness. "Pick Axe Blasphemy" opens with grisly melodic lead over a misanthropic hyper blast, escalating into a proto black/thrash riff. "Life Absorber" seethes with menace through a vile selection of minor chords to counteract its winding death mtal picking. Other epics include "Shattering Universe" and "Total Frost", the latter of which is a nice pun/play on the track's obvious influence.

Granted, there is nothing new or original to be had here, so if you don't like your black metal true, you're in the wrong place. The mix is good and powerful yet primal. The chords sound solid and the vocals blunt. You can hear Mayhem, Burzum, Bathory, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, and some early Satyricon in their style, so they cover the basics but never sound too much alike any one band. Though unlikely to be a major contender in such a vast and vile library, it's yet another good offering from the German scene, worth your time if you enjoy the simplicity and power of pure black metal.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Shackles - Traitors' Gate (2009)

A release through Hell's Headbangers almost guarantees a particular sound: a devotion to the razor filth of carnal death, thrash and black metal which is often lost amidst the studio overdubbed wankery of modern metal. It's a breath of stale toxicity which some of us gladly inhale. Australia's Shackles embody this aesthetic with their debut Traitors' Gate, a barbaric onslaught of pure blackened thrash/speed metal peppered in sporadic leads and do it yourself attitude.

It took me a few listens before the album grew on me, the riffs aren't exactly the type of memorable fare which you'll instantly want to replay. But taken in its savage whole, the album is pretty entertaining and has a nostalgic, dark glow to it which has slowly won out. Specific highlights include the girls' chanting at the opening of "Cat O'Nine Tails", which creates a mesmerizing effect alongside the doom-laden guitar trills. Pretty damned evil. "Exhumed from a Watery Grave" is a flowing acoustic instrumental, actually a sweet break from the aggression of its environs. For the more brutal fare, "Malignant Expulsion" and "Orgy of Corpses" are good slower tracks; "Iron Crosses" and "Exorcised Remains" handle the speed.

The mix is raw yet vibrant, adequate for this style of dark early speed metal. Punk fueled riffs are captured with energy, drums sound straight from the rehearsal room, and the leads glitter on the horizon. At times I couldn't make out the bass much, but it's there. Shackles should appeal to fans of early, raw thrash metal like Possessed, Venom or earliest Kreator. I'd also liken them to Order from Chaos in that they seamlessly mesh the death, black and thrash elements into one. It's not perfect and it's not immediately catchy, but if you're a fan of the type of album Hell's Headbangers are known for pushing, then this is directly up your alley. I know it was up mine.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Punisher: War Zone (2008)


It will be interesting to see if 3 strikes = you're out in the bloated world of comics 2 film, but for what it's worth, Punisher: War Zone is superior to either of its predecessors. I went into the film with every expectation I was going to loathe it, and wound up getting a few laughs and some rather brutal, violent entertainment. Good cinema this is not, but as a way to kill a few hours it is sufficient.

I'm not a fan of Frank Castle (i.e. the Punisher) in comics or film. Though he's forever ingrained into the category of 'iconic' Marvel super heroes, his simple back story of revenge and often one-sided persona do little to satisfy my geek spot. A vigilante executioner running up limitless kills across the criminal underground of the Marvel universe, including numerous masked villains and he's also defeated some of the heroes. He's not got the super powers of a Spider-Man or Hulk but he's equally effective. In the first scene, he interrupts a mafia dinner and kills everyone at the table (molls included) in a different way, then suspends himself upside down from a chandelier and takes out a small army of goons. We get it. You're a bad ass who will walk straight through the movie with little to no opposition.

The strengths of the film lie almost exclusively within its cast. Ray Stevenson (who you may recognize from Outpost or the Rome HBO series) really embodies the look of the comic book Punisher. He also manages to balance the brutal edge of the avenging killer with a few moments of tenderness, without coming across as too lame. Dominic West is quite funny as Jigsaw, a handsome mafioso who has his face scarred and deformed in a fight with Castle, then decides to run with it. A new character was added into the mythos with 'Loony Bin Jim', brother of Jigsaw, portrayed by Doug Hutchison, who is sprung from the asylum. I've heard many complaints about the character's presence and his over-the-top dialogue, but I found him quite hilarious, especially in his exchanges with Jigsaw. The two work off each other well as a pair of misanthropic, macabre tough guys. And thankfully Loony Bin Jim is in the film, because he's the only character that gives Punisher even a semblance of a hard time in their bathroom battle. The supporting cast ranges from entertaining. Some of the thugs are pretty entertaining, in particular the doe eyed glares given by Mark Camacho as Pittsy and Keram Malicki-Sanchez as his son Ink. T.J. Storm appears as a part-pirate, part-parkour street runner. Of course, these three are all easily dispatched, but for the moments they were on screen they shined. Dash Mihok is passable as the police agent responsible for tracking Castle's movements. Colin Salmon is forgettable as Lawrence Fishbur...I mean Special Agent Paul Budiansky, though he is given some nice lines (while sitting in church with Castle, Budiansky quips "They don't call them the Ten Suggestions".) Wayne Knight is very good as Microchip, and has some of the better scenes.

The plot is pretty much A to B. As part of his genocidal crusade against organized crime, Castle accidentally kills an undercover agent, which brings his family (and agent Budiansky) into the fray. Then he has to kill a LOT of people. The action is fierce, bloody, and brutal. No punches are pulled, and I was kind of surprised since director Lexi Alexander is rather new and hadn't done a film like this before. In the climactic battle, Castle (with the indirect aid of a Russian mafioso out for revenge) has to gun his way through an old hotel against numerous stereotypical gangs (Asian triad, African-American gangstas, and of course them evil white skins & punks!) into a final showdown with Loony Bin and Jigsaw. As one sides as most of them seem, the fights are well choreographed and ugly as they should be in a Punisher film.

Some of the musical choices are passable (Rob Zombie, Slayer and Machines of Loving Grace) but the rest is quite a bit of nu-metal or pop punk garbage which is horribly queued into certain scenes. The original score from Michael Wandmacher fares slightly better, and I would have prefered them to stick with these serious tones and leave out the nu-metal altogether. The cameras work a little magic here, capturing a world of colorful nightscapes across which the violence ensues.

War Zone (and most Marvel properties, unfortunately) cannot excel in a medium which has produced such works as The Dark Knight and Watchmen to the big screen successfully. The source material here is simply not that strong. Thankfully, Alexander doesn't hit us over the head with a lengthy exposition of the character's origin (it is referenced in a few flashbacks and comments briefly). She throws us right into the action, and the actors have what fun they can. The film is superior to the 2004 Thomas Jane vehicle in all departments. It's not as sad or pensive, it cuts right to the comic book violence and over the top villains. Stevenson, Knight, West and most of the thugs chew up the scenery, but the times they're not on screen it becomes less exciting. If you love the source material then this is probably the best on-screen version of Punisher you are going to get. Otherwise, it's not the worst 104 minutes you'll spend in the cinema or in front of your TV.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
(blood in the urine, early indicator of kidney failure)


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dead Head - Depression Tank (2009)

Dead Head are yet another of the myriad underrated European thrash bands to emerge during the 'Golden Era' of the genre, beginning in the mid 80s and then fizzling out in the early 90s. They held the torch a little longer than most, having just begun to issue full-lengths in 1991 with The Feast Begins at Dawn. That and Dream Deceiver were decent efforts if not instant classics, but the band has never disappeared, releasing Kill Division in 1999 and Haatland in 2005. It's really a good thing they've stuck it out, because their 5th album Depression Tank is both the best and most exciting of their career, thriving with an intensely hostile disposition most younger bands are simply incapable of.

The band sounds pissed. Most of the album moves at a single pace: full speed ahead. New vocalist Ralph de Boer isn't a far cry from his predecessor, his voice is like a menacing hybrid of Schuldiner and Schmier. "Dissolved in Purity" alternates between a Slayer-esque chug-fest and hyper rhythms below the shredding leads. "Green Angel" implants discordant chords over a frenzied start and stop blasting verse, sounds like the dead end of a crack overdose but then busts out a total 80s crossover thrash breakdown. "Cryptocynic" is incendiary. It's nearly impossible to not LOVE this track if you're a fan of Bay Area or German thrash metal in the 80s, it's thrust matched by its propensity for catchy riffs and angry vocal spew. "The Swing" is a swing at religious phallacy. And a home run. "Daemonique" features some spastic and noodly riffing along with its thrusting chords. "Firegate" has been made my new life soundtrack...a beautiful portrait of everything I've ever loved about thrash (and death) metal. The remainder of the tracks are equally violent and excellent, in particular "Nero Dies" and the punishing "Pesticide".

The mix is just as professional as you could want from a thrash album, the guitar tone is crunchy and vocals are just right: spitting hatred and virtue in the same breath. If the band's previous albums haven't cemented them into the annals of thrashistory just yet, Depression Tank will seal the deal. It's an impressive statement from an overlooked band.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


Believer - Gabriel (2009)

The list of quality Christian metal bands in the course of metal's history is not long, especially when it comes to the more 'extreme' incarnations of the form (thrash, death, etc). Pennsylvania's Believer are one of the few respectable bands to truly break this mold. Their lyrics have hinted at their convictions without becoming preachy in tone and treating the listener like an imbecile. They are capable of abstraction and intelligence.

Believer produced a pair of pretty good albums in the 20th century: the technical thrashing of Sanity Obscure and the more experimental Dimensions. It's now been 16 years since their last full-length, and for this 4th album they return to the thrash with a progressive influence manifested in the use of synthesizers, adventurous leads and riffs. The band seems to have hardly skipped a beat, and Gabriel is possibly their best effort yet. "Medwton" combines tech thrashing riffing ala some of the late 80s/90s best with hints of chant and Kurt Bachman's venomous vocal delivery. "A Moment in Prime" features some slower grooves with dense bass and spurious sound effects that almost transmute you into another dimension. "Stoned" uses some interesting, swinging riffs and effects. Other great tunes include the pensive and vocally layered "History of Decline". The poetic and sampled progressive piece "Nonsense mediated decay". The morose and unearthly tones of "Shut Out the Sun". And the return to speed and thrash of "Focused Lethality" in which the band intones:

We are the crazy ones
Hated are we
Crush the false strength
Only we will see
Blood filled eyes
Horor flows with ease
Shut up you fools
Bow on bloodied knee
Increase the pain
Endgame release

Not so subtle there! But it rocks. The entirety of Gabriel has a nice crisp tone which recalls the tech thrash of late 80s greats like Paradox, Destruction, Mordred, etc. The leadwork is intense and the band's use of samples and effects is both complementary and effective to their conceptual style. Whether you agree with the band's message or not, this is an album worth hearing for the fan of progressive, rifftastic thrash metal. Good to see them return and good that Metal Blade has picked this up for release.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
(crown of life engaged)


Despondency - Revelation IV: Rise of the Nemesis (2009)

Despondency are one of the foremost German bands when it comes to an emulation of the extremely guttural, slamming brutality birthed out of the USDM and then tempered all about Europe and the civilized world. Bands like Deeds of Flesh, Internal Bleeding, Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse all come to mind, as well as their countless progeny. While Revelation IV does not aspire to much beyond this, what I can say is they've created one of the best sounding albums of this extreme death metal subset.

What you get here is much like any other album of its style. Chugging groove riffs alternated with the occasional blasting and guitar squeals. The vocals of Konstantin flow across two planes: guttural and then extremely guttural. The album is extremely mosh-tastic only I find it difficult to imagine the pit full of freaks who could keep up with it. It's exhausting and unrelenting in its brutal endeavor. This band does not use much in the way of melody, aside from the occasional series of chords and harmonies that counteract the chugging, the guitars are used almost exclusively as percussion. Occasionally it works damn well, I could not resist the call to start splintering my neck to "Steps to Supremacy" or "Screams of the Forsaken". Perhaps the most interesting track is "Silent Extinction" with its creepy atmosphere and wonderfully plucking acoustics, evolving into a simpler chug and slug fest than many of its peers on this album.

The album's true strength lies in its mix. The instruments are balanced extremely well, you an hear the subaudio sewer groove of the base below its percussive bludgeoning guitar riffs, and the drums offer an ever-busied exercise in double bass and blasting which perfectly suits the songs. The vocals are far from unique but their placement is chosen well. When it comes down to the wire, Revelation IV isn't much different than hundreds of other albums of its type, but the band's commitment to great production and unapologetic groove upon groove have won me over in the end.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Inevitable End - The Severed Inception (2009)

Relapse has recruited themselves another riot act. Flogging at the borders between extreme thrash metal, death and grind, Inevitable End discharge a punishing debut of spastic intensity which will likely enthrall the key demographics (grind or extreme metalcore fans take note, and I'm not talking the everyman shite metalcore, but keystone acts like Coalesce and Converge). While I found my head lunging this way or that to the band's myriad of fluctuating, fast rhythms, I found the album lacking in memorable tracks.

Nevertheless, if speed and brutality is your modus operandi, you could do a lot worse. This is essentially a form of musical acrobaticism, with a lineup tight enough at their individual instruments to pull it off. Songs like "Collapse in Reverse", "Perverting Incitement" and "Embracing the Origin" incorporate blinding death/thrash rhythms with crisp complexity, but never shy away from the change to shift into intense and spasmic breakdowns. To be honest, the track I enjoyed most was "Apprentice Luminous Acquaintance" for its slower pace, plodding distorted basslines and freaky post-metal riffing. Sort of like a grind Voivod. Of the faster material, "The Art of Corruption" had my blood quickening and pulse pounding in my skull with its hyperactive, slamming maze.

The album has a crisp tone to it which emphasizes their catalogue of riffs. The drumming of Joakim Malmborg is the perfect anchor to this slugfest, and the bass is likewise a menace. The vocals range from your grinding snarls to a more barking deathcore style, and while I didn't care for their presence much I can't fault them with why I didn't enjoy the album more. The band has enormous potential and often creates an extreme webwork of intensity, but I'd like to hear some catchier specific riffs on future efforts.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Razor of Occam - Homage to Martyrs (2009)

Razor of Occam is a vicious black/thrash hybrid featuring members of Deströyer 666 and Macabre Omen. Though the project has been around for some time, Metal Blade Records has done right by snagging the band for its debut full-length (and to balance their ever expanding roster of trendy American melodeath/metalcore). Homage to Martyrs is a violent and ballsy introduction to the style of thrash and black metal pioneered by bands like Impaled Nazarene, Maze of Torment and Bewitched. The Australians approach this with an unswerving brutality, as if their songs were a wall of pure force.

"Altar of Corruption" flows like tank treads through the rank and file of infant flesh. Punishing double bass anchors a barrage of cohesive riffs. "Bite the Dogmata" seems a direct continuation in terms of pace, but the repetetive riffing creates a mesmerizing effect. "Day of Wrath" starts with a killer series of venomous guitars accented with horrifying and subtle leadwork. "Heat of Battle" creates a maelstrom of high velocity razor winds and shrill leads that will begin feasting on your bones once your flesh has been stripped. Other worthy tributes to blasphemy include the catchy and circular rhythms of "Pattern on the Stone" and the violent wrenching metal assault called "Flame Bearers".

This album will appeal to just about any fan of black or black/thrash metal, in particular those bands I listed above, certainly Deströyer 666. The production is perfect, guitars sharp as knives and an intense drum performance from Peter Hunt (formerly of UK bands Marshall Law and Dragonforce.) Vocals offers with a perfect sneer and the bass audible and punishing.
Quite a find for Metal Blade and quite an effort for a project which had yet to see its day.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Metal Blade Webpage

Chronic Torment - Wind of Infections (2008)

Yet another Swedish class act wielding the banner of the old school revival, Chronic Torment deliver their third album with brutal efficiency. Employing a crushing sound that walks the line between early Vader, early Pestilence and a dash of Morbid Angel, they stick out from their peers in that they don't produce the typical Dismember/Entombed worship.

The title track is nihilistic breath of primal savagery with some creepy keyboards akin to something like "Chapel of Ghouls". A great tune. "Born in Sin" begins with a thunderous thrashing before its spring loaded, bouncy verse. "Demonished" opens with a thrust of speed picked necrosis, a killer old school riff which opens into a series of grind chords. Light use of synths is once again made here. "Urban Death" has a slower groove to it which reminded me of classic Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death. "Alcoholocaust" is another death/thrasher with some nice structure to its speed, the uncaged nature of Tommy Alcohol's vocals on this track reminding me of classic Van Drunen. "Blood on My Knife" begins with the best riff of the album, a somber and desolate melody morphing into another semi-thrash verse. The brutal and slow "Abyss" closes the album with some great melodies lending atmosphere as they alternate with a chopping verse riff.

The album is rather short at 25 minutes but I feel like it was time well spent. No filler material, just seven bursts of crispy old school death metal; in and out. The mix is effectively dark to capture the dark, crunching tones of the guitars, the drums have a nice, dry pop to them which complements the chugging and grunting. The band is not afraid to dress up the appropriate segments of their songs with atmospheric keys that never feel excessive or unwarranted. Chronic Torment are a band to watch amidst the old school death metal revival in Europe, their passion for their craft and host of excellent influences have produced an album true to what I consider real death metal. You can sample and download most of their material over at the site linked below.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Mastodon - Crack the Skye (2009)

You know those albums that come out that will do nothing more than cement the already fanatic fanbase of a band, but not turn newcomers on to their particular brand of music?

Yeah, well guess what, brother: Crack the Skye ain't one of them motherfuckers.

Let's just get it out of the way now: Crack the Skye is not as heavy as Remission. It's not even as heavy as Blood Mountain or Leviathan. If this twists your stomach as an automatic turn-off, then dasvidaniya. There's nothing more here that you need to read.

For the rest of you who stuck around after this revelation, well, let me just be blunt: Crack the Skye is easily Mastodon's most cohesive album to date... and if you can take some melody and classic rock with your angular sludge prog riffage, well then welcome to Nirvana, Heaven, the Elysian Fields, or Scarlett Johanssons bicycle seat (Your preference). This album is a corker from it's auspicious opener “Oblivion” to the multi-part finale “The Last Baron”, leaving you nodding your head the whole way through.

On your first spin you'll notice a few changes to Mastodon, and the first and foremost change will be Brent Hinds much-improved vocal performance. No, his voice isn't great, sometimes going from a younger, more tuneful Ozzy to an impression of Phil Collins yelling at a fence in the middle of a PCP rage. After a few spins, you're going to notice the biggest (and most important change) of the Mastodon sound: Catchy, solid, and extremely memorable songwriting. Gone are the meandering sections of The Mars Volta-lite indie bullshit that were only cool the first time. All of the songs, in every part of the album, are placed upon a concrete bed of musicality that never waivers. The fact that they've cut the amount of tracks to half of what was found on their previous releases and focused on only seven compositions shows, and in a big way. Each song has a unique sonic fingerprint, a unique feel, but the album itself feels like a complete thematic singularity.

What all that means is that when one of these songs gets stuck in your head, its consistency is peanut butter. It doesn't mean the music is radio-friendly (any more than their previous stuff was), but it's listener friendly. You want to greedily soak up these delicious tracks like the most ripe cantaloupe, instead of choking down a bunch of shit to find a couple peanuts that weren't digested.

Get this album now.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] ("The Last Baron")


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Queensrÿche - American Soldier (2009)

As if Operation Mindcrime II weren't enough punishment for the masses of poor fans who longed for a glint of hope along the Queen's sodden path of mediocrity, we have now been inundated with this stinking heap of shit. And it doesn't take long for the odors to snake themselves about you.

I don't know what in the name of FUCK would prompt Geoff Tate and company to incorporate hip hop stereotypes into their songwriting. I mean...why? I understand this is a concept album about the US military, but listen to the hip hop bullshit that dominates opening track "Sliver". Was this meant to be a drill sergeant like Jamie Foxx in Jarhead? The shitty lyrics make the music simply unlistenable. This wouldn't have even been cool in 1992 you fools. "Unafraid" is like some unusable outtake from "Empire" complete with groovy sludge bass and samples that just don't sound good. "Hundred Mile Stare" has some nice vocal melodies to it, an uplifting ballad which sounds like any random song off Tribe. It's not as terrible as most of this, so I'll include a few points to cover it. But then of course it's followed by ANOTHER balladic track "At 30 Thousand Ft." "A Dead Man's Words" is spoiled by a dull note selection and more hoo haa shouting by whatever alter ego Tate is performing from. "Middle of Hell" is...you got it...another slower paced track with samples. "Home Again" is ANOTHER shitty ballad, this time featuring a child vocalist in its letter to daddy overseas.

Where's the fucking metal? It does not exist here. How could these be the same people that wrote "Eyes of a Stranger" or "Surgical Strike"? The truly saddening thing about American Soldier is that it's not the concept which reeks (I especially like the idea of exploring military relationships and marital betrayal), but the delivery. In addition, it's the waste of a perfectly good voice, because Tate still has that silky feeling to his chords which would lend itself quite nicely to actual songs of worth. In the end, the album is mildly superior to Operation Mindcrime II, this time it's like the reek of movie theater restroom rather than outhouse.

Verdict: Fail [3/10]
(the blood on the ground is almost dry)


Uncelestial - Born With Lucifer's Mark EP (2009)

Finnish black metal. Few things could ever sound so sinister, and Uncelestial is out to continue this trend. It is no surprise to me, as this is the continuation of the great and overlooked Uncreation's Dawn who released such wonderful atrocities as Lightning Hammer Falls and the monolithic horror of Death's Tyranny. Here on the first EP under their new namesake, the band offers a visage of twisted black metal, but not afraid to incorporate hideous death growls or an occasional doom riff.

A haunting and desolate piano piece serves as intro to the barbaric "Werewolf Winter", which enters the fray with sliding guitars and rampant basslines below Diabolik's hoarse vocals that fill the atmosphere like an unchained titan running amok in the caverns of Hell. "Raging Hordes" is exactly as it sounds, the loosed legion of the underworld about to steamroll you in a typhoon of twisted blades. The breakdown here is disgusting, channeling some slower Slayer but undercut with agonizingly beautiful melody. "Accursed Ram" titillates like a virgin's bloodied breast, steam rising from the fresh and lovely wound into the unrelenting winter evening air. The title track ends off the EP with a powerful, slower drive beneath some jangling guitars, like the torn flesh awnings of the Abyss wavering in hellish winds.

Uncelestial has lost none of the charm of its former incarnation, and if this 4 track EP is any indicator they are poised to release their most venomous concoctions yet. Grim, lethal, and true.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Obscure - On Formaldehyde (2008)

Obscure is the new band fronted by former Enslaved guitarist Roy Kronheim, a hybrid of traditional doom and power metal with an exciting retro vibe. The vocals range from the higher register reminiscent of St. Vitus or other Sabbath-derived doom metal bands, with the occasional Tom G. Warrior grunt. The melodies are lean and mean, prepare for a balls out rocking.

"Conversensation" breaks the ice with some straight laced old school doom, and by doom I don't mean slow and boring, but a series of chords selected for both their nostalgic feeling and primal Sabbath grooves. "Methamorphosis" cuts in with a wall of groove akin to running a truck over your kneecaps, the use of dual vocals here are very trippy, almost as if Ozzy, Pink Floyd and Clutch were jamming after an herbal session. "Veins of Steel" is faster fueled, like punkish bluesy doom metal with a nice four chord selection which cuts away for speedier thrashing metal riffs akin to Venom. The deep magic of "Abra Macabra" is more than enough to stone you like a mother fucking crow, without any need for sedative substances outside your own psyche. Other standout numbers are the plodding "Giants", the hippy slugfest "Subserialist", and the wild grooving out on "Abraxas".

This is the perfect get high type of record, for its nostalgic influence, yet there is a witty and modern edge to the lyrics which stands Obscure apart. Still, if you value your traditional flavored doom: Cathedral, The Obsessed, St. Vitus, Witchcraft, etc. then you'll find the Norse equivalent has arrived. It could be catchier, and a few tracks are lucklaster compared to others, but it's a fine start. Good to hear Kronheim throwing down some good material post-Enslaved, and I hope we get more.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Nachtgeschrei - Am Rande der Welt (2009)

If you've been lacking some melodic German folk metal of late, then you may wish to sample the sophomore effort of Nachtgeschrei, which serves up a slice of liter metal fare with some moving bagpipes and synthesizers, ever tasteful and used solely to drive the ghostlike native tongue of vocalist Holger Franz. Though the band cites In Extremo as an influence, and there are some similarities, this is far catchier.

The simmering acoustics of "Fiur" lament the day before the heavier guitars accumulate with some searing melody, parting for the first vocal track "Muspili" which features some great pipe playing and hard rocking verse. Franz' voice uses a mid range here but each line is delivered with passion, his performance throughout the album is memorable. "Herz aus Stein" and "Fernweb" are both pretty amazing pick me ups with vibrant melodies soaring atop well selected, driving metal chords. "Niob" has some shaky and haunting vocals with a big chorus breakdown. "Lauf" flows from grooving acoustics to another wall of majestic melody. Other good tunes include "Der Totmacher" and the wonderful closer "Glut in euren Augen".

This is pretty much pure pagan folk, but if you're expecting snarls or growls this is not the place. The band sounds fantastic thanks to a high production standard, whether it's the acoustic builds or the infallible sense of melody across the soaring chorus. The vocals are original, captivating and never descend into the silly antics of similar bands. This is one manly, excellent album, well worth tracking down if you like your folk metal on the playful side i.e. Korpiklaani.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Crystal Viper - Metal Nation (2009)

Crystal Viper is a female-fronted power metal band out of Poland, and they temper this sophomore effort with enough guts and glory and old school fervor to have rocked my face off on a Saturday afternoon. This is a superior effort to The Curse of Crystal Viper and it should appeal to both young and old fans of melodic metal with some bite to it.

"Breaking the Curse" leads off, a symphonic intro comprised of acoustics and glorious synthesizers, weaving a tragic and brief tale to herald the arrival of "Metal Nation", which uses some of the same base melodies to create a nice continuity. Vocalist Marta Gabriel, errr...excuse me, Leather Wych has a pretty raw tone to her voice that I appreciate, you also catch a hint of her accent. Works for me. This is not fairy metal, so if you're seeking ridiculous operatic vocals and songs about teenage vampires and wizard academies, you'd better fuck off. Leather Wych occasionally busts into a higher register which seems a little too pompous for the album's sake, but these moments are brief. The leads are scorching, pure Euro power metal and the band can really fire you up like in "Bringer of the Light" or "The Anvil of Hate". I wasn't big into the more balladic side of the band as on "Her Crimson Tears", but at least it has some nice leadwork. Other crushers include "Gladiator, by the Blade" and "Legions of Truth".

The album sounds tight but not overproduced like many other power metal efforts. The guitar tones are crunchy and Marta's vocals truly soar. There are also some great guest vocal appearances from Lars of Stormwarrior and fucking Frank Knight of X-Wild (oh yes, it's true!). Both fit straight in opposite the frontwoman. There are some less than original riffs present (it's power metal...) and the album is far from perfect, but it's a rousing good time if you like some fury and melody with your traditional fist pumping. Fans of Helloween, Gamma Ray, Scanner, Iron Savior and others should check it out.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Cropment - Dead Soil (2009)

Cropment is a death metal outfit from Switzerland, ever brutal but not entirely technical or complex. They utilize a lot of chugging breakdowns on this second album which remind me of of US bands like Dying Fetus or Skinless. The vocals range from mid-ranged hostile grunting to a lower vomited style, and often these alternate at a rapid pace, creating a furious chaos.

The band does have some occasional old school edge to their tunes, reminiscent of early to mid 90s material, and this is the point at which their riffs usually shine. I found a few of the songs pretty dull like the shifty pit anthem "Insidious Insanity", but then others picked up the pace and offered some better riffs; tracks like "Bobby Loser" and "Manifestation of Deepest Horrible Dreams". Yet even these have a few of the utter chugging breakdowns with guitar squeals that lack a catchy note selection (an example is "Pinned and Skinned"). The album ends with one of its strongest tracks in "Depressive Deeds", a whirlwind of shifting breakdowns and pummeling destruction.

Dead Soil is not a bad album, it has a few moments of polish which bely hints of a greater band. Though it's unlikely something I will want to revisit, fans of stomping death metal honed for the mosh parlour (Skinless, Devourment, etc) might like to check this out.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Ramp - Visions (2009)

Although practically unheard of in the crowded underground, Portugual's Ramp have been around for 20 years now with their modern/groove approach to thrash. Visions is their fourth album and while it does feature a few of the bombastic nu-grooves which stagnate many a band of this type, there are some solid thrash riffs here, with a lush Daniel Bergstrand production. Rui Duarte also has a voice which can range from tough guy metal angst to catchier chorus melodies without coming off contrived.

The band is not above using hints of strings and other instrumentation to increase the potency of their compositions, in the opening track "Blind Enchantment", one of the better songs with a brickhouse rhythm section and some killer vocals. There are occasionally a few of the tracks where the vocals feel too tough for me, like "Single Lines" where Duarte sounds like a hybrid of Phil Anselmo and Sacred Reich during the aggressive vox. But even this track has a decent vocal hook in the chorus. I would like to point out that the band is truly at its best when thrashing out a faster number such as "The Cold" which almost takes on a Carnal Forge vibe during its thrust; or "Shell" which has its share of grooves but some of them are mighty catchy.

I'll admit I wasn't in love with the majority of the album. There was a little too much nu-ish groove for me and the deviations in which the band starts to kick ass are too few. However, I can say that the band is captured well with a superb mix, and the vocals have a nice range which might be better served in a pure thrash or power metal band. And if you're fond of stuff like Machine Head, Slipknot, recent Soilwork, and the like then I'd make a natural recommendation towards this album.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Friday, March 20, 2009

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Looking at the title, Shaun of the Dead is obviously a zombie film parody, but the great thing about it is that it is better than the vast majority of zombie flicks out there. Written by Spaced alums Edgar Wright (also directing) and Simon Pegg (starring), with numerous others appearing in the cast from that memorable, short-lived UK sit-com. The film revolves around Shaun (Pegg), distraught electronic shop employee seemingly stuck in a dead end job, with a girlfriend growing tired of his repetitive barfly social life (among other things), and tension at home between his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) and his other flatmate, Pete (Peter Serafinowicz). One night, things erupt for Shaun. It's just his shit luck that at this same time the dead are rising in London.

The film is riddled with pop culture references of all kinds, a la Spaced, usually revolving around other zombie films, Spaced itself, or various Star Wars movies. However, where that show had frequent flashback/fantasy sequences, Shaun of the Dead moves through at a steady clip. Clocking in at 99 minutes, it's only a little over an hour and a half, and yet it feels nothing like that, not dragging at any point and leaving you wanting more after the credits are rolling. Performances are good all around. Sarcastic comic/actor Dylan Moran puts in a memorable and hilarious performance as Shaun's girlfriend's friend's flatmate (phew) David, cast wonderfully.

Spaced and Shaun of the Dead both have a particular charm about them that is hard to put into words, combining dick and fart jokes with clever gags that connect seemingly normal comments to later incidents, as well as the fact that the movie is shot beautifully, with two identical extended steadicam sequences coming to mind. Shaun travels all the way from his flat to the corner store and back -- once as things are normal, and the second during the midst of the zombie invasion, with Shaun oblivious to this, hung over. As for action, there is plenty of it, as well of course hilarious and disgusting gore.

Shaun of the Dead is just all around executed to perfection as a zombie spoof, and it's unlikely that if you are reading this blog you haven't seen this movie. However, if you haven't, what the fuck are you waiting for? Find it, watch it, enjoy.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (you've got red on you)