Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tenet - Sovereign (2009)

What happens when three thrash metal legends get together for old times sake? In this case, something quite exciting. Tenet is the new project of former Exodus vocalist Steve 'Zetro' Souza, Forbidden guitarist Glen Alvelais, and living drum battery Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Strapping Young Lad, and a million other bands). Rounding out the roster are SYL/Canadian scenesters Jed Simon and Byron Stroud (appearing on the best metal release of their careers, in my opinion). Tenet basically sounds like what would have happened if Exodus kept 'Zetro' in the lineup and progressed into the future, instead of devolving into the suck that they are now. So, just think of this band as an explosive, slightly more technical Exodus with crisp, slick Forbidden-style riffing! Canada...the new Bay Area?

It's all here, folks, and all in the patented, unrelenting sneer of Zetro's lyrics. The man is simply one of the cruelest sounding frontmen the genre has ever known. The first few tracks "Being and Nothing" and "Indulge Me" like the force from a locomotive as you lean your face over the edge of the rails. Though fueled by passable riffing and Gene Hoglan having a grand ol' time, it's Souza that shines the most. "Crown of Thorns" dials up the asskicking with some gang shouts, rampant riffing and Souza about to give you a fucking coronary. If you can listen to this track without developing the desire to clout the nearest human being over the ears with a pair of bricks, you are doing it wrong. "Unnameable" creates a volley of sledgehammer grooves which sounds wonderfully sinister. The riffs themselves may seem a bit generic here or there, but with this exciting mix and Zetro's infallible energetic bursts of venomous hatred, they take on an entirely new life. Other amazing tracks including the flurry of "Hail! Hail!", the balls out crunch mute rocking of "Going Down" and vengeful slugfest "Watching You Burn".

Sovereign sounds insanely good, with a crisp production to ignite the long dormant fuels of its Bay Area thrash veterans. The leads are intense, the riffing constantly busy (occasionally nearing Artillery levels of prowess, though not as melodic). Whilst modern, this record doesn't miss a single element of what made albums from 80s Exodus, Vio-Lence and Testament so vibrant and memorable. I am glad someone from Exodus still nets a pair of testicles. A great debut, and a great effort from all involved!

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]


Ghost Brigade - Isolation Songs (2009)

Once in a great while, a band comes along with some new colors to offer the metal spectrum, even if these colors are merely mixed shades from previous palettes. Finland's Ghost Brigade is one such band, playing in a hybrid of melodic death and groove/sludge metal with an accessible sense of goth metal melody, without ever become fully assimilated into any of its constituent genres. Isolation Songs is the band's second full-length, following up 2007's Guided by Fire.

Whilst original, and capable of some quality songcraft, there are occasional misses, like the rather empty and dull grooves of opener "Suffocated". "My Heart is a Tomb" is immediately superior, with its flowing, acoustic intro (ala later Sentenced, Amorphis) to its driving power chords and friendly clean vocal chorus. "Into the Black Light" opens with a nice groove, once again reminiscent of Amorphis, but more of a college radio Amorphis. The big hooks and tortured vocals of "Lost in a Loop" strike you like a wall collapsing over your head, this is the one of the strongest songs on the album. "Architect of New Beginnings" has an excellent, thick flow of chords and basslines under the similar, strained vocals, with a very catchy chorus. Other good tracks include "Secrets of the Earth", another of the relatively Amorphis-like folk rockers, and the powerful "A Storm Inside", from its humble, mellow beginnings to its powerful apex.

Isolation Songs has a huge sound to it reminiscent of other modern metal records with an actual budget. This works in the album's favor, the guitars and vocals are delivered powerfully where needed and it can even give modern radio pop a run for its money. There are few bands I can really compare this to, aside from the previously mentioned (and to be fair, the similarities only emerge with the way they compose some of the vocals in the folkish sections). It's a good album to check out if you enjoy the accessible Finnish goth metal scene, or the simpler Amorphis albums where they were recording more of a rock sound. This is one of the more original records you will likely hear this summer.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


The Cleansing - Poisoned Legacy (2009)

A look at The Cleansing's roster reads like a who's who of Danish death metal history, as the band features current and former members of Corpus Mortale, Exmortem, and Panzerchrist, among others. For the most part, The Cleansing is the update to the band Usipian, whose 2005 debut Dead Corner of the Eye generated some buzz a few years back. Four of the members have forged ahead with this new project, a hybrid of roots brutal death metal and a slightly more technical edge (though never showy or bewildering). The band reminds me of a mix of their Danish counterparts Panzerchrist or Exmortem with a healthy dose of Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal.

This is a band whose forte is its ability to create very punctual death metal rhythm with razor like efficiency. Tracks like "Insects in the Void" and "The Prodigal Son" weave choppy, progressive death metal riffing with a suitable amount of discord to create a frantic, neurotic womb of misdirection and calamity. They also get adventurous with tracks like "The Domino of Phantom Effects" with its dark ambient/acoustic intro, or the grating, grinding "Architectural Infinity" with its great, almost industrial vibe to the riffing during some sections, meshed with some sinister death metal. The band's experience and professionalism translate well into their musical aptitude, though restrained, they are capable of fluttering into a manic lead on a simple whim.

The mix of the Poisoned Legacy is punchy and well adapted to saddle the blunt hammer vocals of Toke Eld, and the material sounds like it would crush in the live environment, breaking a great many human bones in the dance pit. I'll admit that I didn't love this album...there were few tracks or even riffs which I wanted to revisit after a single listen. But a few spins of the album in its entirety are assuring enough that fans of semi-technical modern death metal would appreciate the effort, the grooves and the interesting leadwork. A competent debut.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Daemonicus - Host of Rotting Flesh (2009)

I'm not sure how many old school death metal revival bands a single European nation can produce, but Sweden is testing the limits. Daemonicus is another in a long line of bands to form up in these past few years, forsaking the melodic side of the style for a trip down murder lane, to when bands like Entombed, Grave, Dismember, Unleashed and Grotesque were the cutting edge. Host of Rotting Flesh is the band's debut, after forming in 2006 and releasing a trio of demos. The album has left little impact on me, but there is certainly a wealth of old school fanatics who will chew it up for its sincerity.

To their credit, Daemonicus do not simply sound like another band ripping off the old 'Swedish' sound. When listening to this album, you would not mistake it for Left Hand Path. What this band creates has an even more primal sound to it, very simple bludgeoning death metal which recalls the days of the genre's youth. The riffs tend to range from slow grooves and slower, flowing death metal chords (ala "Carnage") to slightly faster death ("Unrest In Peace") which reminds me of early Florida style, Death, for example. Vocalist
Stefan Hagström has a deep, gruff throat which doesn't stand out much, but fits the riffs well enough. One of the band's stronger points is their capacity to create those good olde schoo, creepy leads which so few bands produce these days. There is nothing flashy or technical here, just a love of roots death metal. Of the stronger songs here, I'd choose the gloomy "Welcome the Dead" and the creepy doomlike "Swarm of Death" as the standouts.

Host of Rotting Flesh also boasts a very humble production, that dark and ominous jam room tone which dominated the proto-death of the very early 90s. There are no annoying grooves or breakdowns, nothing cheap or insincere about what they do. I didn't enjoy many of the songs, but there's nothing particularly negative to report about this. If you favor the really true, old sounding death metal which has recently seen a comeback, Daemonicus is at least worth a listen.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Empty - The House of Funeral Hymns (2009)

Perhaps it's just my 'inner goth' speaking, but there is something about a haunted house or funeral home which transfixes me, especially on an album cover bathed in moonlight. Fortunately, Empty has a lot more to offer than just cover art, and The House of Funeral Hymns is a solid album of driving, pure black metal with a great mix to boot.

The style here really drew my ears back to the mid 90s Norwegian scene, albums like In the Nightside Eclipse or The Shadowthrone. Empty weaves a lot of atmosphere into their compositions, whether it is through clean, distant crooning vocals, or semi-symphonic keyboards. But the crisp, full guitar tones on this record are its true strength, and through their careful conjuring the band creates a mesmerizing lull. "The Sense of No Being" is a ponderous nine minutes dominated by its sad, slower guitar lines and immersive howlscapes. "How Far I Am From All" cautiously escalates from subtle tones into a glorious charge of jangling black melodies. The title track opens with a familiar, descending acoustic guitar, accompanied by distant, harsh whispers and tranquil bass. The vocals do get a little silly, King Diamond silly, but the track is still tempting. Another strong track is the alluring "In the Somber Solitude" with its memorable, melodic hooks.

The House of Funeral Hymns sounds far more professional than most other grim/black metal albums, without catapulting the band into Cradle of Filth-like studio gloss. Simply a superb mix, great for your car speakers while driving at night down an empty highway or through an abandoned neighborhood. Empty isn't a perfect band and this is not a perfect record, there are a few moments where I was unable to focus my attention due to some occasionally mediocre riffing. Taken as a whole, it's a strong effort which should satisfy fans of the 'majestic' black metal fo the 90s, when it was all about castles and woodlands and suffering. Today, it's mostly just the suffering.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Sacrifice - The Ones I Condemn (2009)

The Ones I Condemn has arrived at last, another of those successful thrash 'comeback' albums which will leave your head spinning. Not only does it feel like Canada's cult thrash act retains all the vigor of their youth, but the energy on this album possibly exceeds that of their previous efforts. It's a great new album, and one of the best thrashings I've had recently, well on par with Apocalypse Inside or Soldiers of Misfortune.

16 years have not stripped away this band's penchant for snarling, mean sounding thrash metal, an approach not always the easiest to pull off. Their sound has always come across as the Canadian sibling to bands like Slayer, Exodus, Vio-Lence and Sadus: cruel vocals that deliver their message with aplomb, bursts of hook-laden guitars and a quickened pulse that would even have hardcore fans raising their fists in fury. "The Ones I Condemn", "Give Me Justice", and "Hiroshima" are all steamrollers of frenzy inducing 80s fury: listen loud, listen often. "The Devil's Martyr" nearly broke my neck, the vocals are wild and punishing, filthy and mean. "Ultimate Power Corrupts" features excellent old school rhythms, and for bonus kicks there are re-recorded version of "Burned at the Stake" (Torment in Fire) and "The Entity" (Forward to Termination).

From a production standpoint, the new album sounds a lot like their 90s output, but slightly better; but the writing more closely mimics their earlier efforts. It's really the best of both worlds, and if you've enjoyed any of their past four records then it's a given you should track this down. I know the 'comeback' album is quite a cliche these past 5-10 years, but I'm always happy to hear it done well. Sacrifice is successful in this. Now, if only Razor would put out a good new album...I would be complete.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Thronum Vrondor - Vrondor II: Conducting the Orchestra of Evil (2009)

Though it's produced some superb bands in the past, Belgium is not quite a 'haven' for breakthrough black metal, at least not so much as other European countries. Alas, Thronum Vrondor, a two-piece effort featuring Vrondor (Paragon Impure, Demonizer, and others) and Crygh, has taken me quite by surprise with this sophomore effort, a grim yet evocative landscape of ghastly black composed with subtle nuance and replay depth.

Conducting the Orchestra of Evil is not the type of album to sink its hooks into you with immediacy. Catchy melodies and gimmicks are nowhere in sight or sound. The strength of this band is their subtle ability to creep up on you, suddenly transforming their textures of carnal woe into unforgettable tracks. "Grief's Abysmal Valley" opens with some brief horror-like synthesizers before breaking into a straightforward blast beat under melancholic, driving guitars, pensive basslines and a bell or two. It's at the one minute mark where it suddenly slams you with this excellent, if reserved guitar rhythm, and you know you've just stumbled across an album of depth and character. "The Summoning" wastes no time driving the point home, a vortex of plucky whirlwind blackness which recalled to me the finer moments of countrymen Enthroned or perhaps Nemesis Divina - era Satyricon. The track also features some plucky melodies which kindle a blues-like sensation. "Evoking the City of Dis" seems to do just as its title would infer, creating circular glorious melodies that summon this metropolis forth from Hell. "Speak the Tongue of Hate" is a slower, sparse track for much of its length, but creates another dystopian sadness within its composition. "Ashes Falling Down" is perhaps the most driving track, but it too slows for an atmospheric interlude. "Where None Remain" is a mellow, haunting outro to the album with some subtle spoken word beneath its ringing, fuzzed out guitars. There is an amazing melody

The band's ability to channel sorrow is executed well through a very base production, not quite 'raw' or painful to behold but certainly stripped of any excess flourish. The result is a journey worth the time to travel, an album that will possess the listener through multiple spins. Very much recommended.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]


Ingested - Surpassing the Boundaries of Human Suffering (2009)

When it comes to brutal death, the 'slam' category is not something I typically derive entertainment from. So many bands of this style phone in boring rhythms offset with stolen Cannibal Corpse/Deicide riffs and dumb Earth Crisis breakdowns, smother them in gore and porn lyrics performed at the most guttural level possible, and seem to amass a great deal of credibility over nothing. So, how is the debut from UK's Ingested any different?

Because it does this well. On the surface, this is no different than a thousand other brutal/slam death metal albums you'll hear, but this young outfit impresses through their ability to craft their mosh pit extremity into cohesive songs that fuse the expected level of guttural violence with some truly crushing old school death rhythms. The riffs are kept simple throughout, but never once extraneous or dull. Most of the complexity comes through the insane battery of drummer Lyn Jeffs, truly a beast. The vocals are your typical pattern of brutal grunts, but they are offset by even deeper gutturals and harsher snarling, and thus kept interesting throughout. The absolute best moments of this album are on tracks like "Intercranial Semen Injection" where they bust out this insanely great, primal death metal riff astride a wall of Jeffs' berserk footwork. The material is consistently strong if you have the stomach for this level of punishment: "Stillborn" sounds like a heap of rotting corpses being fed into a trash compactor, and "Cremated Existence" is like a drunken juggernaut of dumb yet satisfying pit rhythms.

Surpassing the Boundaries of Human Suffering also benefits from a huge production. The drums are at the perfect, machine-like level, while the guitars sear. The record sounds deep and brutal yet clear as day. Thematically, I can't say the band is very creative, but this is not a genre of music where fans are seeking such things, so "Skinned and Fucked" and "Anal Evisceration" should be right up their alley. This is a good debut effort from a band who makes no compromise in their effort to trample your intestines. A labor of solid, grisly craftmanship.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mercyful Fate - Evil EP (2009)

After a decade of silence, Mercyful Fate has re-recorded a pair of tracks from their debut full-length Melissa, in concordance with their appearance in the Guitar Hero: Metallica game. If you don't have the game, the tracks are available as a digital download on ITunes.

Whereas I tend to shun many re-recordings of classic metal tracks, it's hard to fault what Fate have done here. The songs sound much like the originals, just clearer and cleaner through the marvels of modern production. King Diamond still sounds fantastic on the vocals, and Sherman and Denner provide their classic axework. With the EP, you get "Evil" and "Curse of the Pharaohs". The tracks are mastered by Andy LaRocque, unlike the Activision versions in the game.

This is really not worth more than a couple bucks, but if you're some n00b who has never heard Mercyful Fate, it's time to man the fuck up. Now is your chance, slackoffs. I don't play Guitar Hero or Rockband or any of these games very often, nor do I karaoke. I'd rather write my own music. However, if I WERE to suddenly establish the desire to play these games, I'd be honored to have Mercyful Fate tracks available rather than the radio lite shit that chokes up so many of them. Actually, skip this and just track down Melissa or Don't Break the Oath.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]
(you can't improve upon perfection)


Blodsband - Urminnen [DEMO] (2009)

Blodsband is a Swedish black metal outfit with an extremely raw, roots aesthetic. Urminnen is their second released demo, following last year's Intolerans. I don't have much information beyond this, as the band's myspace is a little vague. I couldn't tell you if this was a full band or a one band bedroom project, but judging by the sound of the material, I might guess the later. The band is wisely offering the demo as a download through that page.

The style of Blodsband is extremely harsh vocals, almost to the point of hissing, over blazing Scandinavian melodic black metal guitar riffs and dense but almost impenetrably obscure drumming...even the bass on this demo drowns out the drums. They hang at the very edge of your conscience. The band also drowns this in some piano elements that create a layer of grace to certain moments of atmosphere, such as the opening track "Arv" and the mid section of "Krigare". "Fädernesland" is a punishing and mesmerizing track, the vocals literally squelch out at you like a daemon on a late night radio show IN HELL. The pianos that open the fourth and final title track again exhibit the clash between grace and utmost fucking hostility, something this band is adept at.

Urminnen is really quite a good demo. Some might mourn the very low key drum programming, but it only adds to the charm. The guitar riffs are constant, melodic and full of sorrow and negativity, within an almost mystic, natural appeal. This is a noisy goddamn demo, reasonably original, and not for the faint of heart, but if you treasure grimness in all its forms then it's worth a listen, especially for free.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Faith or Fear - Instruments of Death (2009)

It's been 20 years since the release of Punishment Area, the sole full-length from this New Jersey thrash band, but they are probably best known as 'that opening band' on the Ultimate Revenge 2 tour/videos (also featuring Dark Angel, Death, Raven and Forbidden). Punishment Area was a pretty average release for its day, with one or two hooky tracks and the rest forgettable. With the hype they had behind them from the Ultimate Revenge 2 video, I sort of expected more, but the band disappeared for some time.

Instruments of Death is not really a new album, instead it's a collection of demo and unreleased material. The first four tracks are a re-recording of their 1988 demo Dehumanized (prior to Punishment Area), and the rest of the tracks are from recordings between 1989-1990 that never saw the light of day. Faith or Fear play a slower form of thrash, with meaty and pissed off vocals that have reasonable character (think Nasty Savage, Sacred Reich or Hallow's Eve for comparison). Surprisingly, it's not the new demo on this release that I care for, but some of the unreleased material. Tracks like "Sacrifice" and "Nightmare of a Lifetime" have an old school authenticity, just as good as anything off Punishment Area (save maybe "Lack of Motivation"). The style is pretty much what you'd expect from previous exposure to the band. Lots of mosh-like rhythms to offset the occasional faster riffs, which recall early Prong. "Darker Shades of Death" is also pretty good.

This release is a hard sell for anyone who isn't already a fan of the band's album Punishment Area, but if you actually remember and enjoyed that release, and don't think the style is dated, then you might not kick this out of bed for crackers. The lyrics are pretty weak, akin to many 80s thrash bands who simply didn't hold up, but I've heard worse. The music is decent, and the songs I named above induced some mild headbanging fervor in me, but there is simply so much superior thrash metal. That said, diehards will be happy to hear what the band has been up to in all this time. It might be interesting to hear what they could do with an entirely brand new album.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yggdrasil - Vedergällning (2009)

Yggdrasil is a pagan/folk metal project involving members of the Swedish power metal act Broken Dagger, including Magnus Wohlfart (Nae'blis, Folkearth, etc). Vedergällning is their second full-length and pretty sure to please fans of the more subtle and graceful, melodic approach to this category. At its heart, Yggdrasil is a black metal band, but they perform the slower, carousing, mead horn brand of anthems infused with an excellent grasp of lilting melody that gives the album a lot of replay value.

The bands I'd offer by comparison would be Thyrfing and Moonsorrow, but Yggdrasil is a little less pomp and hammer than the former, and not quite as 'epic' or often as lengthy as the latter. Vedergällning is pleasant and powerful enough at 45 minutes. "Oskorei" leads off with some natural ambience into pianos and a driving blast beat which settles in like fog over the fjords. Once it slowed to its fist pumping Viking grandeur, and the beautiful cascade of melodies, I was hooked. Wohlfart's vocals are nothing special, the expected snarling throat, but they're well laid back into the mix of the album as if just another component of a tapestry. The band also makes use of soaring deep male chorus vocals to reasonable effect.

It's a winning formula. Title track "Vedergällning" is excellent, I love the flow of the melody and the breakdown into a sobering, grim yet glistening crawl. "Vitterdimmorna" is the longest track on the album, over 9 minutes and this is where I was most reminded of Moonsorrow. Slow, steady pulse branching into proud, beautiful melodies. "Ekot Av Skogens Sång" has a great groove to its rhythms, like a fleet of dragonships landed and committed to war. "Svälttider" yet again ensnares with its perfectly planned wall of melody, and the remainder of the album is consistently good.

The strengths of Vedergällning lay in its mix. Rather than attempt the bold, in your face style of folk metal (Finntroll, etc) it creates a lush environment suitable to its inherent mythology. The music of Yggdrasil arrives at you from a distance. A boreal Scandinavian woodland, an atavistic soundtrack to a forgotten but much beloved time. It's quite mesmerizing. I did feel as if the clean, deep chorus vocals happened a few times too many, but it's a minor nitpick and the band have created an outstanding sophomore effort that pagan/folk metal fans will simply devour.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


Friday, July 10, 2009

Shining - VI - Klagopsalmer (2009)

Musical suicideers Shining waste no time in grabbing you by the collar in VI - Klagospalmer, the opening track notably different from their past works in its tempo. As ever, blistering black metal with relative diversity, yet this is something new. Haunting keyboards adorn the beat. A solo with some grooving that would be more expected on a Children of Bodom album works its way in, giving way to the end of the song -- and a riff that sounds like the afterbirth running down Ministry's leg. That's a minor gripe, however. VI - Klagospalmer is not the unfiltered sadness found in V - Halmstad, that much is clear already.

"Plågoande o'helga plågoande" is a spastic assault that segues to another one of Shining's patented acoustic/clean singing passages, and back to some curious and unclassifiable metal. There is a power-esque lead, with the tried-and-true Shining rhythm guitar and Kvarforth's screams buried amongst the aural darkness. The song ends in a xylophone melody. Yeah, they topped the cowbell from the previous album. The third track, "Krossade drömmar och brutna löften" is again furious, yet it waxes and wanes, the lead guitar eventually weaving a sorrowful incantation alongside Kvarforth's bellow.

"Fullständigt jävla död inuti" is a soaring, distinct piece, at once luscious and green with its Eagles-esque mellow clean guitar styling, and at turns dank and tenebrous. Quite something, and definitely worth hearing. After an acoustic filler track we are delivered to "Total Utfrysning". It's the most like previous works of the band, but enough comparisons. I'm a big Shining fan, and to be honest, this album was a surprise. In the past I had felt even though I could not understand the lyrics I understood the essence of perdition, of suicide, through music itself. With this album, I feel none of that. In fact, if I had to say, I'd say it's on the verge of being more upbeat than grim. That doesn't make it a bad piece of work. It's definitely enjoyable, one of the most diverse albums I've heard in recent memory. It just doesn't make me want to off myself. Oh well, there's always Dopethrone for that.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Umbrtka - Úplná Demontáž Lidstva (2009)

You may well be familiar with the Czech sewer black metal band Stíny Plamenù, but what of the prolific Umbrtka? Having released 14 albums since the turn of the century, you could argue that this was the most prolific project of Lord Morbivad. While Stíny Plamenù explores the world beneath the pavement of infested European streets, Umbrtka celebrates the machinery of our decay. And it does so through a series of rather strange concept albums. On the surface, they're pure, brutal black metal, but there is a level of engagement and atmosphere you won't hear in your garden variety grimness. They call this 'gray metal'.

Úplná Demontáž Lidstva creates thick passages of streaming, vile chords over rapid fire drum programming. Morbivad's painful vocals echo their posthumous poetry above the conjured imagery of industrial decay. If you're a fan of the Czech spin on gruff black vocals (i.e. Root, Master's Hammer, etc) you'll find a lot to like about this man's style and accent. There are some pretty straightforward black metal numbers like "Špinavá lávka" and the razor honed "Umbrtka Kat", but I actually enjoy it when the band gets stranger. "Šedá v úle" (trans. "Grey in Beehive") opens with the feedback of screeching, grinding metal...and a saxophone...before immersing you into its creepy, goth/industrial overtones. "Dítě z popelnice" (trans. "Under the Flag of Smoke") alternates intense blasting with playful, bass-driven spurts of oddness, ambience and acoustics. "Přátelé" is an excellent track, slower and ominous, industrial in parts, but flourished with progressive black metal: melancholic leads and droning vitriol. Possibly my favorite here.

It's clear Lord Morbivad and the musicians he surrounds himself with are hell bent on a little creativity, whether here or his other projects. Úplná Demontáž Lidstva is no masterpiece, but it's certainly captivating and a breath of fresh air. If you're a fan of Stíny Plamenù or perhaps the stranger Norwegian bands like Solefald, Ulver, Manes and Dodheimsgard, you would do well to check this album out. I found it inspiring enough to try and mine the band's extensive backlog, the interesting concepts they have produced.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Supreme Pain - Nemesis Enforcer (2009)

Aad Kloosterwaard is a busy man in the Dutch death metal scene, having drummed and fronted Sinister, and played in Houwitser, Infinited Hate, Blastcorps and Thanatos. With Supreme Pain he's joined forces with members of FondleCorpse, Putrefied and others to produce straightforward blasting death metal not unlike Sinister in construction. Nemesis Enforcer is the band's second offering and I like to think the title is inspired by the G.I. Joe villain...but that could be a stretch.

This album pretty much lives and dies by its direct brutality and the slight sense of elevated melody which haunts most of its tracks. On my first listen, I was rather unimpressed, but after a week I gave it another chance with better results, my attention held throughout. "Vengeful Wrath" opens with a Sinister-like burst, crushing quick death metal with riffs just hooky enough that you don't want to press stop. Wild, spastic leadwork and great blunt vocals compensate for the fact that a few of the riffs are blood average. "Legacy of Chaos" feels like a stop/start from the first song, it's fast and fun with at least one good grinding riff. "The Unholy Throne" is a step up with its moody, chugging opening segment, a guitar melody providing the mystique that was lacking in the first two tracks. I like the narrative style creepy vocals and the crazy leads, a nicely refined Morbid Angel influence in place here. Other winners on the album include the relentless thrash/death of "Threhold of Immortality", the Pestilence-like chugging of "To Serve in Slavery", and the sobering brutality of "Goddess of Divine Retribution".

Nemesis Enforcer is a little better than the band's previous album Cadaver Pleasures, the energy has picked up like an unstoppable rage. There are some truly fantastic moments on the record, and the Dutch style is always refreshing (falling somewhere betwixt the USDM/Florida roots and Swedish grinding tones). It's not the best death metal I've heard lately, but it's solid enough that fans of Sinister, Behemoth, Nile and Morbid Angel might want to check it out.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Tormented - Rotten Death (2009)

Tormented is the new project of former Edge of Sanity members Robert Karlsson and Andreas Axelson, but rather than revisit the big melodies of their alma mater, they have gone further back to the primordial menace of pure old school Swedish death metal. Bands like Dismember, Entombed, Grave and Grotesque come to mind, but this isn't simply a soulless copy, this actually rocks.

Pure grinding guitars and Axelson's worthy impression of the old school singers like Nicke Andersson dominate the hoarse, distorted bass and the crashing drum calamity. There are no surprises and no gimmicks, just 9 tracks of thrusting brutality. The band loves the old school chorus and really, is anything more needed? "Rotten Death" inaugurates the album with a ripping rhythm that would be equally at home on Left Hand Path or Indecent and Obscene. The lyrics are tidy: not grandiose or clever on any level, but efficient.

Lurking in the darkness, sinister and cold
Feast on human prey in rotten ceremonies of old
Bloody mutilation , sacrificing life
Unleash the armies of the walking putrified

"Vengeance From Beyond the Grave" is a better and nastier track, following the same basic style: big and simple guitar lines, pure 100% death metal with the thick punkish influence that created the 'Swedish sound'. Here you can make out even earlier influences, a little Venom, a little Motorhead. "Blood of the Undead" features a nice, edgy melody over its opening barrage of blossoming death. "Burning Torment" is just fucking sick, familiar yet at the same time fresh with an amazing onslaught of chords. "Death Owns the Night" creates a flowing stream of undeath above a brutal array of power chords. I'd also point out "Tomb of Corpses" with its incredibly morose and bloodied mass of surging violence, but there isn't a single song here which does not succeed with this formula.

I can't cite Rotten Death as an original album, more of a fun new project for true veterans of the Swedish death metal lineage. Where it does stand out is in its filthy, punishing mix. This album sounds like a sewer full to the brim with decaying corpses that suddenly start to rise, write and claw at one another as they crave the flesh of living. Its the perfect pedigree for this horror inspired band, sheer nihilistic noise patterned into percussive devastation. It's great to hear some of these other Edge of Sanity (besides Dan, of course) come through with a great new project. Rotten Death is a great debut album, and a lot of fun if you're a fan of the style.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(their carnage screams perfection)


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor (2009)

Patrick's path has been a novel one. Rising as a garaged-out violinist, he grew brilliantly in his youthful style of folktronica, embellishing a strikingly personal approach with ukulele, piano, and whatever else he could wrestle up to create a sound that stood out brilliantly from his indie contemporaries. His most recent album, The Magic Position, was a stark contrast from previous efforts, a bright about-face into cheerier realms that left the question of his style on further efforts very much up in the air.

The Bachelor starts off catchily enough. "Hard Times" immediately sinks its relentless violin hook into your brain where it will remain like an embedded earworm for days. This is a much more aggressive side of Patrick: sharply controlled, rocking, and wholly results-oriented. An easy single for the album, "Hard Times" shows a new Patrick - not the molested orphan of Lycanthropy, not the morose beauty of Wind in the Wires, not even the light-hearted dancehall haunt of Magic Position. No, The Bachelor sees Patrick assume the rockstar mantle, full of confidence and straight-forward strength. Guitars and choral backing feature a much more prominent role, engulfing Patrick's presence in an overwhelming sense of concerted effort. "Oblivion" follows up with another take-no-prisoners charge, beat-driven and ominous through the pressing violin strains that tie it all together. The album continues much so, songs vying between grandiose arrangements and electronic pounces.

And therein lies my issue with The Bachelor. While I prefer my wolf sentimental and brooding, I'm quite willing to embrace this stronger side of him. Yet, while it is enjoyable, the music no longer feels about him; it is no longer personally compelling. The urgent, choppy violins, the numerous guests, the choral arrangements, the awkward instruments strewn willy-nilly - they all say "don't look at me, this isn't about me, I gave up myself before, now I am here only to entertain you." The beats are euqally infectuous and disingenuous - the return to his dubstep roots that Patrick touted beforehand is particularly underwhelming in its reality. The instrumentation is too disparate and lost in a sense of novelty and production to stick to my bones. It's all so busy, so radio-friendly, almost frantic. It's too polished. The appeal of Patrick's music has always been the intimacy, the passion that he evokes as just a boy and his ukulele, the boy who plays all his instruments and does everything for himself. The easiest way I can show this to those who are unfamiliar with his work is to point out two videos, one from Wind in the Wires, and one from The Bachelor. Notice the difference, eh? The natural mixture of folk instruments and electronic pulses has lost its complementing feel as more and more was crammed in between it, and Patrick's hand in it all is withdrawn and blurred.

This impersonal nature, combined with strange New Age/World-esque choices (the Native American flute on "Damaris", anyone?) and generally formulaic song structures mean that much of the album goes by without leaving much of a mark. It's a fun time for sure, and there are even some thoughtful songs near the end that recall a bit of old Patrick, but that's it; I'm entertained, not impressed. Ah well. Here's to next time?

Verdict: Win [7/10] (love the cover art, though)


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Carnalist - Genocide and the Supremacy of Aggression EP (2009)

This is the 2nd EP offering from Sweden's Carnalist, a band exploring the more technical, brutal side of death metal, but still retaining a degree of the Swedish sense of tone and melody. The five tracks here display some technical ability, and usually contain one or more decent riffs, but the material left little lasting impression.

"Genocide and the Supremacy of Aggression" creates spurts of razor honed thrashing riffs, but spends half its time noodling through far too many of them, without really settling in to kick your ass. Numerous brutal grooves dominate the vocal lines. "Thus Spoke the Butcher's Knife" is a rampant, chaotic piece not unlike a lot of discordant death/metalcore tech stuff out of Canada. "Malicious Compulsion" features carnal grooves of blistering thrash/death that explode into some big chords. Again, the track does feel a little loose because the band is constantly trying to throw something new at you, with very little to stick. "Surgical Deviance" enters the fray with subtly distorted acoustics, creating a powerful wall of chords that transform into a slamfest. Combined with the faster riffs near the latter half of the song, I found it perhaps the strongest here. "New Form of Life" is fast and wild with a nice breakdown or two.

The tone on the EP is very well adjusted to a mid tone you don't hear so often. I did feel the drums were a little thin and the bass somewhat weak, the crunch of the guitars and the vocals of Hampus Olsson take the center stage. Carnalist is not a band band, with a thicker sound to the drums (he's obviously very good, just not always audible) they could produce some punishing work.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Edain - Through Thought and Time (2009)

Edain is a band whose approach to composition is quite refreshing. Amidst a storm of bands who label themselves 'progressive death metal', they stand out for their rather laid back, rustic approach to the genre, as opposed to a bewildering exercise in technical excess. There is a huge influence of 80s/NWOBHM classic metal in the sound, and the overall image I formed was some hybrid of Slough Feg (classic, almost folklike vibe to some of the riffing) and Opeth (in particular the slower acoustic sections).

At 35 minutes, Through Thought and Time is just enough material to get your interest peaked, and then it disappears. "The Downward Spiral" opens with a river-like flow of melodic, plucky acoustics and some subtle bass for atmosphere. It's quite immersive, and when the electrics pick up they weave a mystical feel of riffing not unlike early Opeth. Martin Bròovják has a classic voice which slightly recalls both Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost) and Big Boss (Root). "Fragments of Frail Design" decks out the chords and an organic, progressive thrash feel before succumbing again to the band's dreary folk-like acoustics. "Aphrodisiac" is a moody and seductive cornucopia of interesting riffs. "Eden Lies Obscured" is not a cover of the Sanctuary song, but a 10 minute opus of good riffs and some of the better vocals. "Earn Your Pain" has some nice leads and energy.

Through Thought and Time bleeds a down to earth garage/basement feel through its production. These gentlemen plug in, and they play. No big budget tricks. The drums sound great in this jam-like environment. The rhythm guitars are boxy, the acoustics shine and the leads are intense. Here is a band easily recommeded to anyone seeking prog-death crossover if it were created in the old days. There is just an authentic, archaic vibe to the mix. Aside from this, some obvious similarities to Opeth in how they balance many acoustic sections with the more technical death/heavy metal.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Sarkom - To Ruin Something That Was Never Meant to Be EP (2009)

Sarkom's last full-length Bestial Supremacy was a worthwhile offering of pure, vile black metal with some nasty riffing. This new 7" EP, To Ruin Something That Was Never Meant to Be, features two new tracks.

The title piece is a subdued, doomish crawler, a bleak tapestry punctured with somber vocals, a creeping march of mutes heralding the onset of its black spewing chorus. The song also features a brief horn solo, which works quite nicely. "Black Bondage Suicide", the b-side track, is more of what you'd expect from hearing the last album. Seductive, grim blasting black metal with a lot of vocal noise and the samples of screaming women. It's a fairly straightforward track, offering little in the way of memorable or truly heavy riffing, but shows the band isn't about to slow down.

This is under 10 minutes of material, so I can't recommend it unless you're already a die hard for the band. If you're new to Sarkom, start with Bestial Supremacy, it has some better songs. But this EP is listenable, at least for its interesting title track.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


Lustre - Night Spirit (2009)

Lustre is one of several projects from the Swedish musician Nachtzeit, who has played in Hypothermia. After releasing the Serenity EP last year, he has arrived with the project's first full-length. Nacthzeit performs all the instruments on this album, which consists of two 20-minute long tracks.

Night Spirit might have a limited appeal, as the material is extremely slow and repetetive. "Part 1" begins with the same riff it will maintain through almost 20 minutes of playtime...a doomish, simple wall of keyboard and guitar fuzz. Throughout the track, the grim vocals appear and disappear, and additional keyboards arrive to perform a few catchy, developing phrases which simmer in a subtle glory. Give in to the track's sparse charms, and you may feel a soaring sensation for as long as your attention can be held. There are some points which certain guitars cut out and the vocals sneer, or subtle variations at best, but ultimately the track grew wearisome.

"Part 2" is not unlike "Part 1", but the subtle context of the driving, glorious guitars was faster to sink in. In this track, there is a nice sequence where keyboards take over and then slowly progress forward, like a funeral for a mountain. Though I can't call it truly memorable, I found it more enjoyable than the first. The purpose here, is of course, not to 'enjoy' the music but to let its sad, droning endlessness consume your heart for 20 minutes. To that extent, it achieves a moderate level of success.

Night Spirit is decently raw but by no means inaccessible. The chords are simple and powerful, resounding alongside their synthesized companions. The keyboard melodies are graceful enough if you're able to become hypnotized by the composition. Of lyrics, there are few, and predictable. Fans of epic, minimalist ambient black metal (or perhaps funeral doom) might draw some inspiration from an album like this. Think Summoning, only stretched out in length. I didn't find the two tracks here impressive, but there are places where the album delivers an effective backdrop for the hidden sadness of the subconscious.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (the sense of beauty from me was taken)


Cripper - Devil Reveals (2009)

Cripper's debut album Freak Inside was a welcome surprise, female fronted German thrash metal with a crisp and bludgeoning aesthetic, channeled right from the street and perfect for your fist fighting needs. Devil Reveals picks up where the debut left off, though the tracks feel denser and the guitars slightly more complex.

Britta Görtz can create some memorable hooks just through the blunt brutality of her vocals, in particular when the band creates a melodic weave of guitars behind them. This is obvious in the first vocal track "I", which has numerous great tech thrash riffings which could remind one of the masters Destruction, Tankard or perhaps a few of the mid-career offerings from Germany's best known female fronted thrash outfit Holy Moses. While I expected the lyrics to be horrible (a sad fact for much thrash metal, especially the modern variety), I am once again surprised by the rather snide but intelligent output here:

From a decent crowded journey
Into a private desert land
Up-to-the-minute reviewed autonomy
Proof of independent anonymity
When the highest point of individuality
Culminates in loneliness
We reject our identity
And declare all reflections to be wrong

You could do a lot worse than this. No reveling in retro garbage to make fun of the very form of music they are performing. As for the tunes, they consistently rock. Although most lack super memorable hooks, it's enjoyable throughout its playtime. "Life is Deadly" often manifests a winding feel to the guitars not unlike Artillery. "Caged With a Gun" is dense and brutal thrash with some old school metal rocking out and catchy chorus. "In the Pit" reminded me slightly of Testament (not just the title, but a few of the riffs), and it certainly has the big hammering breakdowns to honor its namesake. The title track is another great song with its pumping bass guitars and flowing mid-paced thrash.

My hate is my comfort
My hate is my shell,
my justification
to send you to hell

Devil Reveals has a superb, clean production to it, with the guitars loud and Britta's vocals sitting central and brutal. She's proven again that she can throw down with the tough guys, you will find no fairy sissy tripe on this record . The album is a clear step up from Freak Inside, and one of the better pure German thrash efforts I've heard lately, even if it does have a song called "FAQU".

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (This seeking is concealing)


Code for Silence - D.Ecaying M.Atter - O.Rganic N.Emesis (2009)

Finland's Code for Silence exercise a pretty average sound for the day: melodic death with additional atmospheric levels provided through a keyboard player. The band seems to be heavily influenced by electronica, you will often hear techno drum fills opening songs or transcending the bridges within them; unlike some artists, who shy off this, Code for Silence seems to embrace it. Although this is an instant write-off for many metal snobs, this particular snob holds no ill opinion if it's done right, and here it works where it does happen.

D.Ecaying M.Atter - O.Rganic N.Emesis
is a great sounding debut album, and during a few moments, it actually seems to shine. However, the album failed to seal the deal with me because of its pastiche of dull mosh grooves and insistent use of some pretty bad vocal trade offs. The band uses two vocalists, one delivering straightforward grunts and the other the melodic, clean Finnish vocals that Amorphis and a few other bands pioneered a decade ago. There are also your snarling trade offs which feel a lot like bad metalcore/melodeath crossover bands. "Deathmatch" is a perfect example of how these elements can ruin an otherwise good track. The riffs are rocking along, the keyboards providing great depth and an 'epic' quality, and the main vocal lines are fine, even the cleans are catchy, but there are some extremely dumb moshpit grooves and toughish vocal interjections which threw me off.

I'd almost compare Code of Silence to a Linkin Park of melodic death metal...only not nearly as bad. Most of the songs on this debut album have at least 1-2 really good parts, but these are always ruined. Take "The Day"'s big bouncy riffs where almost rap-like riffs come in to accent the brutal main vocals. Completely unecessary. "Worst Case Scenario" has some almost slowed grind segments and some killer, functional riffs, and Soilwork-like clean chorus, but a few lame Pantera-like vocal lines. The less the band descends into this, the better they get. "New Form of Therapy" rocks out with a thrashing/death explosion not unlike At the Gates or Darkane, with the lamer vocals kept largely to the background, almost inaudible save for the big keyboard bridge. "Havoc" has some very catchy lines with almost gothic/melodeath vocals, an exciting track.

The D.Ecaying M.Atter - O.Rganic N.Emesis title may have looked clever on paper, but it's kind of dumb. From a technical standpoint, the band excels in the mix. Guitars and synths are tweaked in the mix, the more guttural vocals sound great and the cleans cut in like crystal. I certainly didn't hate it. Without some of the cheaper universal pit chugs and Phil Anselmo tough grunts, the album would have risen above the banal impression I got from it.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Znöwhite - Act of God (1988)

Judged solely by its interesting cover art, you wouldn't expect Act of God to be one of the most refined and brutal thrash metal releases of the 80s. Nor one of the very best. To up the ante, Znöwhite is also quite possibly the best female fronted thrash band to ever have existed, at least on this album. All Hail to Thee was a decent if average effort, more like a straight up Midwest street thrash style, but Act of God transformed the Chicago quartet into something so much more.

Of immediate note is the sheer force of sound being delivered with this album. The guitars are chunky and vicious, you can almost hear the rust flaking off them. This is the perfect apocalyptic thrash record, gunning in some doomed bucket of steel across a landscape of nuked cities. Nicole Lee's vocals are simply intense, like blades raining from the burning sky, yet still melodic enough to provide catchy chorus parts. "To the Last Breath" opens the album, a thrashing juggernaut of punctual chords and octave slides which feels a lot like killing someone by smashing their head repeatedly with a blunt object. The leads are frenzied and spurious, the atmosphere created is like no other thrash album of its day (Realm would be close, but their style was focused more on technical flair and hyper melody than the brutal, humble edge of Act of God). "Baptised by Fire" creates a chugging flow of build-ups that converge into a thrusting speed metal riff which cruises beneath Lee's siren-like vocals. The anti-Nazi anthem "Pure Blood" teases us with a slower, somber riff but yet again picks up into the triplet-hammering WWIII thrash that dominates the record. "War Machine" is one of my favorites of the album, the guitars develop a subtle groove to them with punchy, invigorating riffs. And the bridge is performed with subtle melodies, soon consumed by the gang shouts of the chorus.

I am the war machine that stares you in the face
Eyes to the sky and you know the end is near
I am the war machine; I can burn the sun from the sky
Take away tomorrow; bring truth to all your fears

"Thunderdome", the mandatory Mad Max tribute which no post-apocalyptic thrash album should be without, opens with a silly sample before jackhammering your face in with its incredibly brutal grooves and flighty breaks of speed. Simply incredible. Two men enter, one man leave! "Rest in Peace" starts with a slow flow and then the drums break for another of those battering rams of thrusting force. "Diseased Bigotry" is hands down my favorite off the album, because it surpasses perfection. If you could bottle all the aggression of thrash/speed metal, apocalyptic warfare and utmost hatred, THIS is what it would sound like. A fucking orgasmic cycle of some of the best riffs ever created into absolute punishment. The vocals are vicious, and for fuck's sake, this track is as good as anything off Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood... It's a hard one to follow, but "Soldier's Creed" is a bombastic mid-paced thrasher which begs for fist pumping and horn throwing. The album ends with the near 10-minute "Something Wicked (This Way Comes)". Because you see, being Mad Max fans was not cool enough, Znöwhite were also into Ray Bradbury (kind of like this blog you are reading)?!

Molesting famine takes to the land
Molten tear drops from a heart of stone
Wretched injection forged from deception
Souls of wrought iron scorched to the bone

To dub Act of God underrated is not nearly enough. Thus, I demand this band be payed reparations for the criminal neglect of their magnum opus. With the exception of Lee, the remainder of Znöwhite called it quits not long after this album, first replacing her with Debbie Gunn (Sentinel Beast), and moving on to form Cyclone Temple, who were sadly not this good. This may be a good thing in the end, as they had achieved their masterpiece early and thus did not tarnish its good name with their later, mediocre output. If only some other bands had followed suit...

Happy Fourth of July, you old beast.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10]
(let them not see the casualties)


Thursday, July 2, 2009

YOB - The Illusion of Motion (2004)

YOB is essentially the evolution of 'stoner' rock, traditional doom taken to the next level. Characterized by heavy as fuck jamming riffs, lengthy compositions and sci-fi filtered vocals which I like to imagine are the product of some 70s professor stoked on psychotropics that was somehow transfered to a space station at the edge of some nebula or cosmic anomaly, now transported back to our own time to warn us of our impending end. Among a sea of shitty stoner bands that continue to recycle the same 5 chords into the same dozen riffs so that they can toke with their friends, live 'green', and pretend they are their parents in 1969, YOB truly stands out for taking it somewhere unique.

The Illusion of Motion is no illusion, this record will move you. It consists of four tracks at a combined 50 minutes, and it's their third longplayer. "Ball of Molten Lead" starts with the whisper of winds and the emergence of feedback, evolving into a crushing of drone/doom riffs not unlike Neurosis. There is a certain depth to the heavier riffs, unlike many bands of this genre you simply don't get bored. They will rarely go for long without incorporating some new melody or twist, a progression. Mike Scheidt's nasal vortex of vocals also helps elevate the track beyond catalepsy. "Exorcism of the Host" is longer, and slower, and the vocals transform into something more primal and painful. To be honest this track was a little dull at first, the doom riffing seemed like just another mediocre sludge, but when it starts jamming by the midpoint it gets better. "Doom #2" is the shortest track on the album, at just over six minutes, but it's quite good. Brick laden grooves with a hybrid of the grunt and nasal stoner vocals, the chords crash and it's difficult to imagine a crowd standing still to this. For some strange reason it reminded me of a track or two from the Deftones White Pony, except with the different vocals. The title track closes the festivities with 26 minutes of tortured, creeping doom, kicking up the jam at the end with some nice drumming and feedback. I was pleasantly surprised that none of this grew tiring, the song is very carefully paced and its more repetetive segments are interesting enough to draw you in.

Inside the anger grows
From words made up of dust
The false lept from the breath of centuries
Tearing our lives apart
Worlds below sleep in ignorance
With dissention from the skies
Mass daily chanting gleam of madness
In their eyes

The mix of the record is crushing and huge, yet astoundingly clear. This is easily the match of most material from bands like Isis or the myriad of other sludge/drone/doom bands (a scene which has grown oversaturated and too often stagnant). The Illusion of Motion isn't their best effort, I enjoy Catharsis and The Unreal Never Lived slightly more, but it's a good one, I just didn't care for much of "Exorcism of the Host". At any rate, YOB is one of the finer American bands to rock the doom.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (all around is the sutra, all phenomena empty)


Xasthur - Telepathic With the Deceased (2004)

While I took to Leviathan almost immediately, it took a little longer for Xasthur's work to grow on me. I mention the two together because, for myself, they represent the top of the crop as far as US black metal. Both serious minded artists with interesting vision and follow-through. It's no joke that they've found such widespread cult audiences. Neither is afraid to incorporate outside influence into their songwriting, whether that be, ambient, noise or rock, yet they both retain the core of what makes raw black metal so poignant.

Telepathic With the Deceased is the third full-length for Malefic, and bears the seal of excellence. He works well beyond the scope of his limitations: while many albums with such an obvious drum machine fall flat on their asses, he weaves such hypnotic, sobering grimness on this record that you are quick to listen past this shortcoming. The album provides nearly an hour of introspective sorrow. This is the sound of isolation, of regret, and desperation.

The haunting choral synth piece "Entrance Into Nothingness" resounds with searing ambient keys and a steady chugging noise, for nearly four minutes this repetetive nightmare is drilled straight into your subconscious as by some ectoplasmic osmosis. "Slaughtered Useless Beings in a Nihilistic Dream" breaks out the drum machine...battery, which is thankfully smothered in vicious, distant vocals, grim churning guitars and playful, almost psychedelic bassline. While highly repetetive, there's a beautiful breakdown after the 2:50 mark with truly mesmerizing guitars. "Abysmal Depths are Flooded" paints a downtrodden portrait through the jangly acoustics over the driving distortion, almost a Sonic Youth of black metal until the track opens up into its glorious black/doom core. "May Your Void Become as Deep as My Hate" again uses cleaner guitar tone over the streaming black miasma, though effected so as to reach up through the grates of whatever sub-dungeon Malefic has spawned from. The title track follows, an entrancing introduction of throbbing ambient synths and grating pianos that flows into nearly 10 minutes of epic horror. I really enjoyed the bass during the verses.

Come and see how easy, expendable it is for human life to be forgotten,
Haters of life are telepathic with the deceased.
Fragments of failure, some said it was art, for it only bears a meaning when all life is torn apart.
For all we are, are messengers of death and sacrificial hope, for we are a communion of the cataclysmic,
Inverting all oceans that shall drown into an eternal twilight (waves so high, once eclipsing the sun)
A funeral for those damned, is a funeral for the light.

"A Walk Beyond Utter Blackness" creates another troubled atmosphere, the fuzz of its droning rhythms casting an utmost sorrow, the blues of black metal, a perfect wristcutting opportunity. "Cursed Revelations" uses an almost goofy synth line behind its tortured snarls and slower broiling guitars to great effect; one of the reasons I enjoy Malefic's work is that he incorporates an almost abstract pop aesthetic into his songwriting. On paper that might sound strange...but listen and you can hear how it excels. "Drown Into Eternal Twilight" is one of the choice moments among so many fine songs...it creates an unforgettable wall of keening guitars, mystique-weaving acoustics and whispered sadness during its three minute stay. "Murdered Echoes of the Mind" is 10 minutes of stunning, glorious sorrow, again with the very basic synth lined creating a resounding, repetitious atmosphere. Near the conclusion the track breaks into a sadistic embolism of grimness. "Exit" closes the album with another synth/ambient piece, filtered pipe organs disappear like a funeral procession a half mile away.

Faith lies in a God never to be seen, as I'm slashing your throat, will you believe in me?

I should point out that this is a highly immersive voyage, well worth taking and no drugs required (though I can't imagine they'd hurt the experience). I've read a lot of criticism of Xasthur which is so much nonsense. His work is a window into what is far more than another overhyped bedroom black metaller, each of his albums is quite carefully plotted and tweaked to maximize its dread effect. Telepathic With the Deceased has only grown on me in time. It has lost nothing to repeated listens and it's more effective than a great deal of the black metal (or even doom metal) I hear. In a cultural landscape where metal musicians simply aren't reared or conditioned to produce such material, it is both refreshing and superbly crafted. Shy of perfection, perhaps, but nihilistic, supernatural, and truly dead.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (I will not be kind in the torture you desire)


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cannibal Corpse - Gore Obsessed (2002)

Cannibal Corpse is probably the most successful death metal band of all time, and certainly one of the best. These veteran propagators of good old-fashioned American violence have been spilling blood for more than 20 years, and unlike many popular metal bands these days, deserve every coagulating gallon of their success.

2002's Gore Obsessed is their fourth album featuring Corpsegrinder, my preferred frontman for the band. The record opens with a killer track in "Savage Butchery" and never lets down. "Hatchet to the Head", "When Death Replaces Life", every track is a broken neck waiting to happen, perfect for drowning out whatever music the vato in the car next to you is blasting. The album doesn't blaze any new ground, but why reinvent the chainsaw?

The high point of the album is absolutely the third track, "Pit of Zombies". A brutal depiction of one man's agonizing transformation into finger food for ghouls, it also has my favorite moment on the album: If you aren't possessed by bloodlust at the song's climax into the sick, sick, sick solo at 3:15, you are not my friend.

Although it doesn't reinvent the wheel, Gore Obsessed is another glorious autopsy report in Cannibal Corpse's legacy of brutality.

Oh, and get the version with the cover of Metallica's "No Remorse". You'll thank me if you survive.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (My doom is here!)