Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Again, this is not super blasting black metal territory, they can pull that trick out of their collective hats if they need to, but this is more about the varied, slower riffing which draws a lot from thrash metal, but due to the exotic note and chord patterns, the raspy vocals, the choirs and synthesizers and the mighty drumming which feels like the advanced course to Celtic Frost or Therion's foundation. Considering the amount of musical satisfaction you get, they rein a lot of the tracks in around 5-6 minutes, with the exception of the finale, "Ouroboros Dweller (The Dweller of Barathrum)", that clocks in over 8. Within such a humble span they get a lot accomplished, each set of riffs feeling like it tells a complete, grandiose story, and it does, a saga of magic or mystery which transports your mind back several thousand years despite being conveyed to you with instruments that weren't used in this format until fairly late in the 20th century. While the great lyrics often delve into the 'evil' that the album title hints at, Varathron is musically pretty consonant and warm on this record, and I think it'd honestly make a great gateway for fans of epic heavy/doom metal looking to break into the black metal field but striving to avoid the cliches they might not like of lo-fi production and cold Nordic blasts (their loss!) It's just that universal of a sound, despite being part of such a tight regional style.
All the instruments sound clear and effective, and the band can seamlessly mix in acoustic passages to heavier riffs, while Stefan Necroabyssious' primitive grunts are far more effective than you'd think from his range, somehow managing to sound just as distinct and glorious as the brighter melodies of the instruments, only with that crude edge. I don't know that the riff level here is such that every pattern is insanely catchy by itself, but combined into the whole of Patriarchs of Evil, there are few notes here that I'd really want to change. It all serves the mystique of the band's occult explorations well enough that you can forgive an occasional dud, and I admit that this is one of those albums that has continued to grow on me since I first started listening. I'll rate this one even higher now than I would have one year ago, and I think it's very close to being on par with their last (and my favorite) full-length, missing only by a fraction which I'd attribute to just having a stronger connection to that mildly darker experience. But stylistically this is on point, and an essential Greek black metal disc for anyone into their past works or those of their better-known, ailing countrymen.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (storms and dead suns)
Monday, July 15, 2019
Heavily varied, constantly interesting, majestic Hellenic black metal, with many know is performed out in a slower fashion than their Scandinavian counterparts, though Varathron can bust out a blast at any second they desire and maintain the same quality. It's all about the mystique, the representation of ancient Gods, temples, and the occult, cultivating nostalgia for fallen times while simultaneously resurrecting it forward to future generations. Grand melodies play out against thundering currents of drumming while a humble rasp leads it all like a tour guide through a violent midnight bacchanal. You can always tell that this crew is putting constant effort into how to piece together their tracks, and I can't imagine any diehard for the classic sounds of Rotting Christ and Varathron not falling for "Sinister Recollection" and "Utter Blackness" upon first listen, they are so well composed and such a dependable manifestation of that scene's cult sound. As for the titular intro piece, it's just some strumming strings with a few rasps above them that let you know the feast is about to begin, and I don't know that it stands on its own quite as much without what is to follow.
Now, if the EP were just this new material I'd rank it accordingly alongside the previous album, but the remaining tracks are from a live gig in Larisa, Greece...and they also sound pretty damn good. The mix is quite clean, permitting you access to the intricacies of the picking, the bass and drums and vocal slather without anything wresting dominance away from the rest. The material is also very level sounding even where it's drawn from such a big spread of their career. "Unholy Funeral", off His Majesty at the Swamp, sounds just as impressively potent as "Kabbalistic Invocation of Solomon" off the last record, and everything fits in so well to the performance, from the choirs and dark ambient back-scapes to the metallic core of the band. The result is that this whole damn EP is worth hearing and owning. You won't find the studio tunes or live cuts elsewhere, everything is quality checked and if you've been into any of their stuff ever (sans the lukewarm Crowsreign) then they've got you well covered.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Friday, July 12, 2019
Admittedly, I find both of these renditions a little dull, lacking the crushing potency of the original incarnations. The mix is quite consistent, the riffs performed well, perhaps even more 'balanced' across the speakers, but as soon as I go back to the brighter, album version of "Crushed", it just emotionally and sonically violates this new version, sounding like the genuine Florida death metal that put the band on the map in that 'second string' of bands beneath the legends like Morbid Angel or Death. The older version does feel a lot more youthful, maybe even disjointed in a few of the transition areas, and the remake is smoother in that area, I'll grant it, but the overall mix just has nowhere near the same level of energy for me. This is doubly the case for "Artistic Butchery" which also seems like a more lifeless version, and I get that it's 'death metal' haw haw haw but really there is no point to hearing the new over the original. The one thing that does remain very consistent between the two eras is the vocals, which sound almost identical on a good number of their lines.
So while this is only intended as a limited edition collectible and nothing to take so seriously, I have to say it doesn't do much for me whatsoever. The one positive is that it made me listen through those first two records again, which are slightly underappreciated gems from the 90s era, but I wouldn't go out of my way to hear either of these again. They don't suck in terms of production, but lack the personality in 2018 that their forebears had in 1993-1994. Skip it and listen to those albums, or even their last record Sea of Ignorance, which is much more exciting with its newer material.
Verdict: Fail [4/10]
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
The core lineup here is down to just Lizzy and his brother Joey Scott Harges, with the former handling all the instruments other than a couple keyboard parts, and I think you can feel a little of the lack of intricacy or impressive guitar licks that defined career highs like Visual Lies and Master of Disguise, but what is performed here is at very least in line with what a modernized vision of the band might be. I'm occasionally reminded of the 90s Queensryche material, which devolved into a sort of progressive alt rock still carried by Tate's vocals, only Lizzy Borden keep things a little more metal and anthemic front and center, and just better. There are a lot of pretty obvious riff lines on the album, with predictable progressions to choruses, and the leads here are far too simplistic and don't do much to make an impact compared even to the chords surrounding them, but some of the stuff is still pretty sugary, catchy and dramatic. As for his voice, I'll once again make a comparison to Geoff Tate, since the two are quite similar in inflection, and also that Lizzy, like Geoff, isn't quite as screechy and wild as his youth, but remains very competent in rage, and there are certainly a lot of his self-harmonies here which could have appeared in the later 80s and nobody would be the wiser.
My Midnight Things clearly has a more 'rock operatic' approach to it that most resembles Master of Disguise, almost like a Part II to that record, with songs that aren't quite as impactful or resonant, and a tendency towards some redundancy as to how a lot of them progress. Despite that, I still felt myself getting drawn into a number of them, I only wish they had been trussed up with better lead guitars, and riffs that were a little more interesting individually, even if in a pop-like sense they do flow well as a whole. It seems like a lot more of the gaps between the simpler rhythmic components are just filled in with synthesizers, and while they're not unwelcome, they're not so compelling in most instances. Lyrically, it's about on par with Master of Disguise, hard rock lyrics with a larger than life feel to them which seems very personal to this character that is Harge's 'Lizzy Borden'. One thing I did truly hate on this one was the new version of "Waiting in the Wings", modern and poppy and more electronically infused than the original and it just does not work, even if he can still hit those notes in the chorus. Otherwise it's a passable record that suffers somewhat from lacking the full spread of weaponry that Lizzy Borden offered with a full roster in the 80s. Decent ideas for vocal hooks, solid drums, but the rest could really have been improved upon.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Monday, July 8, 2019
So yeah, hideous lo-fi death/doom drudging that sounds enormous despite those factors. I love the integration of the cheery keyboard lines which feel like they were taken off some incidental Xmas record, or some cheesy mid-90s black metal band like Ancient. The vocals are gruesome snarls that are heard well above the music itself, and the overall atmosphere is suitably fun and still heavy. I wouldn't call the riffs in this one their best, but they are dynamic and groovy enough in a succinct tune like this to keep you from growing bored. The second tune, "Christmas Evil (You Better Watch Out!)", was my preferred of the two, opening with a sample from the trailer of the 1980 film of the same name, but then going into this classier doom structure. Lyrically, yes, each of the tracks is based on the eponymous slasher films, which is really par for the Acid Witch course and one might even hope they do a lot more such 'theme' EPs since there's a lot of turf to cover in the horror genre.
There's not a lot of meat on the victims' bones here, but it's a two track EP for $2 on Bandcamp, so there's not much cause to complain, especially when they're well enough written that they could have appeared on Evil Sound Screamers. I think the love of these films shines through in just about everything Dave Slasher and friends put out, and since my own fondness for campy old horror flicks has only grown with age it's something I look forward to. I'd also take the opportunity here to plug his solo synth/score project, which is really well done.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Friday, July 5, 2019
This record moves. And it is angry. West Coast thrash metal evolved to incorporate a wide array of influences, between technical thrash and groove metal. Flashy, well-written solos sputter out from the gapless network of energetic rhythm patterns, while the bass and drums keep really damn busy forcing it all into the same concrete lattice of impenetrable power. I will say this album has a higher ratio of forgettable riffs than the two before it, but not for lack of trying, it's just that its particular configurations didn't quite worm their way into my earholes as much. I mean, when you get down to it, while a lot of the material here is very well arranged, it's just not so catchy and feels like a lot of material you've heard from decades of thrash bands, only paraphrased into more punchy cuts. Mark Osegueda's vocals here feel a little more pinched than the last couple discs, and there were also some lines where I thought he sounded so much like Erik A.K. from Flotsam & Jetsam that I had to look up that he hadn't taken over those duties for this album. Weirdly, I think I was more into the drums on this than the last two albums with Will Carroll, perhaps just a dash more potent personality.
They bring in a few guest soloists like Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom and Jason Suecof of Capharnaum (and recording engineer of many well known records), but I hardly noticed because the band's own guitarists could probably have done with them equal flair. I dug quite a few of the songs, but if I were to pick a few out of a lineup with the three albums before it, they'd have to be "The Pack" for its more interesting rhythms and well timed gang shouts, and "Revelation Song" because it very much took me by surprise with its huge heavy metal riffs and great, groovy rhythm bridges during the leads. Basically the tunes where they sort of break off from the dextrous clip most of this material is flying past at. But in the end, Humanicide is well in line with Relentless Retribution, The Dream Calls for Blood and The Evil Divide as the most consistent streak the band has ever had in its decades of existence. No, I'm not going to pull this off the rack over "Evil Priest" or "Voracious Souls", but any of these four albums would sound great through the car speakers when I just want a thrash album that cares about what the fuck it's doing. When this phoenix finally emerged from the creative ashes about a decade ago, it decided it would stay aloft.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Wednesday, July 3, 2019
The fact is that this lineup really gels here, and the rhythm guitars are fucking intense and like the album before it, just flooring you with the sheer number of riff patterns that are strewn about the 45 minutes. Probably a higher count than any other Death Angel disc, or most thrash records for that matter. The bass tone is nice and fat and given some air to breathe in a few tunes. The leads are quite good and superior to the previous album, and unlike a lot of peers that are spewing out modern thrash records after 30+ year careers, The Evil Divide seems capable of putting in some genuine emotion without getting to cheesy, as on the riffy, memorable "Lost" where Mark lets his cleaner, more sustained vocals and harmonies reign. On a lot of the material, he actually gets a little more grit to his voice than on The Dream Calls for Blood, although that album might have felt heavier in sum because of its more abrasive, crunchy guitar tone. I find the instrumentation just in general seems as if its more practiced and effortless, but also more inventive and melodically imbued to stick to the listener's brains long after the death's head moth has fluttered away. Speaking of that, it was a little strange that they dropped the horn-crowned wolves which they had been using on the two albums prior and then also on the follow-up to this.
Death Angel got a lot of good buzz off this one, and for an understandable reason. Re-evaluating my own feelings on it, and getting back into it, I feel like it's even better than its predecessor, although there was a time when I might have told you differently. Mature, intelligently written, about as far from the run of the mill pizza thrash that these guys and their Californian peers inspired throughout the early '00s as you can get. The Evil Divide is still a catchier album when I'm listening to it than when I'm not, but that said I do keep a couple of its hooks stored in the grey matter when I'm thinking about the band on the whole. Had this album come out in about 1992, even with a slightly less professional production, I think it would have been the stuff of legend and blown peoples' heads off, it certainly eviscerates The Art of Dying and Killing Season, to me the nadir of their career, those early 'comeback' albums that didn't wholly justify the return. At any rate, folks looking for detailed, dynamic thrash metal which isn't afraid to stretch its wings out will very likely appreciate this one.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Monday, July 1, 2019
Part of this is Mark Osequeda's angsty, nasally vocal style, somewhere between Joey Belladonna and Russ Anderson in strain and tone, he just injects this edge to the material which aids even the less inspiration riffs here. And riffs there are a plenty, some of them memorable and nasty, and others just seem like they're going through the motions to play with their pretty distortion, but like a modern Artillery, they keep throwing them after you and never really running out of ideas, and I think there are far more winners here on The Dream Calls for Blood than there are losers. It's also a creative record, they'll bust off into some hard rock grooves, or some floatier atmospheric section without warning, helping to round-out the majority of the meaty thrashings, Cavestany and Aguilar are legion when it comes to the rhythmic syncopation and if you're looking for some neckbreaking I think this album really delivers. Leads flurry on by with bluesy abandon, all flash and testosterone and entirely suited to the massacre going on, while the combination of Will Carroll's seamless beats and those rhythm guitars create an appreciably intense lower end to the record. Granted, I think the drums do lack a little nuance and personality, but they're not really what I focus on here.
The lyrics are all about rage, revenge and other thrash-worthy feelings, perfect for the adolescents attracted to this subgenre, but not written cheaply or stupidly. There's a cover of Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell" which is played pretty close to the vest, but due to the mix it fits right in with their own original material, and Osequeda is up to the task although some of the oohs and aah lines have a cheesy delivery (not that they didn't in the first place). So when I think of veteran thrash acts who have thrived with a new, blockbuster sort of production fitting to the loudness levels of the 21st century, Destruction's The Antichrist always comes to mind as the exemplar, and there are no tracks here which are nearly on that level of me wanting to constantly hit replay until I've worn my finger to the bone (or the CD to slag). But I think much of Death Angel's modern material certainly passes a quality check, using its tools well and not just a overproduced, overinflated bore like these enduring bands often put out with their bigger studio budgets. The Dream Calls for Blood is frankly one of Californians' best albums period, a very well balanced attack. It's no Ultra-Violence, an anomaly borne from the members' then-youthful creativity and raw aggression, but it'll do in a pinch.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Friday, June 28, 2019
Carnal Diafragma is fairly standard for the goregrind style, with effortless blasting, thick rhythm guitars spewing out riff patterns from the Carcass and Napalm Death playbooks of the later 80s and early 90s, and a mix of vomitous gutturals and gremlin snarls that are going for the gut laughs. They also pair these up with a couple churning, groovier slow sections where the riffs actually sound pretty solid, but you kind of get the drift in the first few tracks and there isn't much beyond that to surprise you. These guys aren't sample-heavy. There are a few, but usually they cut right to the chase and serve up a salacious menu of tunes that sort of stay on-theme with the album title, basically about disgusting delicacies. It's kind of a cute gimmick, but since I can't speak the language or even read the song titles without a translator, and there's nothing musically out of the ordinary to convey the vibe that you're in some grotesque bistro, the theme is only flesh-deep. Having said that, I don't think diehards for this style of grind would be too disappointed, because they capture as much excitement as possible into the tempo shifts, the cut-off riffs, the occasional breakdowns.
The production here is excellent, good and loud but not feeling like polished silverware. The utensils
Carnal Diafragma serves you with have been well washed in guts and goo, and the album will not lack for kicking your ass straight into the cauldron and then seasoning you up. The vocals blend together pretty well, again very voluminous but managing not to overshoot the guitars, and there is enough dynamic range within each of the 1-2 minute tracks that you'll never be bored, partly because they don't give you the time to, but mainly because with a 22-year history and numerous albums and splits already behind them, they know the ins and outs of this madness. I would even go so far as to say they can come up with a catchy riff about 1 out of 5 times, which is a good average in this style, but as many positives as I can lay upon Grind Restaurant Pana Septika, it's just not that addictive, a gruesome gourmet that you'll soon forget about once it vomits forth from your nethers.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
It's hard not to label this Napalm Death worship, because really they just have so much in common with those British Godfathers of grind that you could interchange a lot of their riffs and vocal patterns and not know the difference, especially from the period around Death by Manipulation, Harmony Corruption or Utopia Banished. Perhaps not a direct clone, because there are a few differences, like the meatier production used by Squash Bowels, and a guttural vocal that has a little more personality than Barney's muffled roars. They also do some slower groove parts that almost sound like nu metal (as in the parts of "D.I."), primarily because of how those riffs are paced with the lower tuning. But when they're belting out one of those downtrodden, brutal fast riffs they sound exceedingly close to the source of their genre, and to me that was one of the limitations. I can't pick out a single riff on this entire album that was remotely interesting or unique, they're all par for the course, no matter how much of a thick, crushing production they are given as they repeatedly pummel the fuck out of your ears.
Maybe the issue is that my expectations are too high for this style? I mean I hear a group like fellow Poles Antigama, who keep their riffs quite compelling and establish a unique mood for the genre, or even Nasum, who succeeded by tossing a healthy heaping of catchy d-beat Swedish death metal into their grind-matrix...and I'm on board. But here on Grindvirus there just isn't anything a lot by which I can distinguish them. Don't mistake me, the production here is quite good, the energy is obvious, and they have a lot of the veteran hallmarks, even some pretty cool cover artwork. This is even put out here through Willowtip Records. I'm sure folks over at the Euro festivals can mosh the shit out of this material, but all I get here is 28 minutes of battery that doesn't really endure even in the midst of experiencing it.
Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]