Friday, August 29, 2014
Organs, acoustic guitars and ethnic ambient sequences all tie into the album's conceptual matter, which I believe relates to Aztec mythology and the God of the Dead. And that's yet another reason this sophomore record is so compelling...which that subject has been broached before by a number of black or death metal bands, who would think it might hail from Germany and in this freaking style (though I believe Lopez might originally be Mexican)? That said, the metal components here are far more uniform. Corpulent bass lines ala the mid to late period Type O Negative, melancholic rhythm guitar chords somewhere between My Dying Bride and the even more funereal sect of the doom metal culture, with loads of organs and other keys which play into that aesthetic even further. But they'll deviate...like the sludgy distorted deep end that sets up "Fire Wings" or the dark ritual ambient piece "Heaven's Blind" with its creepy, repetitious mantra and horrific sound effects. Drums are typically sparse tribal percussion but pick up into solid rock beats once the guitars start slowly pounding out their dismay, and the production on the whole disc is just so loud and involving that you can't help but be swept up into this strange nightmare of opaque, slothlike aggression and anachronistic instrumentation.
To make it even more bizarre, they cover Tanita Tikaram's "Twist in My Sobriety", a tune that was a little more popular in the late 80s in Germany than here in the States. They do a good job of taking the track and personalizing it, like it was being filtered through a funeral procession, with the slow and suffering guitars and organs obfuscating the original's pop qualities, and Lopez crooning in that oh-so-deep voice circa Peter Steele, Fernando Ribeiro or Johan Edlund at their most bleak. It does hemorrhage some of the memorability of the original, but it's an eclectic choice all the same. And that's really the most distinct feature of The Coming of Mictlan. It's influences are hardly hidden among its turgid lamentations, and there are moments where I definitely drifted off to memories of some of the other acts I've listed through the review, but the way they assemble all of this into the one vision is just not something one hears every day. I do wish the guitars were a little catchier, or at the least more evil sounding, since these chord progressions often seem a little bland when beholden to the ambition of the band's concepts and how they mesh together these disparate styles into one. But the production and the unusual aesthetics win out in the end, making this worthy of attention for those seeking some Gothic doom out on the fringe.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
It picks up with a tune that would have felt right at home on the prior album, "The Way I Wanna Go", which I had heard before this released and thus gave me every reason to acquire it. It does take on a little more of a Gothic rock direction with the echoing clean guitars and woeful, cleaner vocals that Jarva would use a lot more in The Black League later, but once it picks up and they start nailing us with those simple, melodic chord progressions he swerves back towards that enormous, imperfect and unforgettable roar. Lots of great riffs in this one, especially the little melodies with the wah wah that reflect the earlier guitar passage, and that glorious bridge where the synthesizers are splayed out behind the core band. "Obsession" is another highlight, way more chuggy rock & roll with a nice, crashing lead/bridge, and "Dreamlands" has an amazing synth intro, but the tune most people are going to make a b-line towards here is the cover of Billy Joel's "White Wedding", which with Taneli singing sounds just as hilarious as you'd expect...I mean they play it pretty close to the belt but it's awesome, I almost want this to be my default version of the song.
Jarva is just that lovable, like a massive teddy bear from a land of cold and suicides, and his weird charm sold me on this band just as much as the fantastic riffing on North from Here and Amok. That said, the EP does feel a little uneven in places, with some of the riffs and baselines feeling a little too polished for his growls. The rhythm guitar occasionally seems too loud or too soft, but it might also be that here the Finns were experimenting more with different guitar tones in conjunction to give it a driving pop feel in places, and a more trad metal aesthetic elsewhere. The final track, "Love & Death" itself, is an amalgamation of what's gone on before it on the EP, but for some reason it doesn't stand out to my memory as much as the rest of the content. At any rate, I've never owned the version that came with The Trooper single attached, but most people these days will luck out and get this for free alongside the Amok reissue, which this material mostly pales in comparison too, but was a worthy enough successor to the extent that I was quite excited to hear what the next full length with Jarva would have sounded like...aaaand got Down and The Black League debut instead, which were hardly rock-bottom but just not as good. Love & Death: Goth-tempered, enjoyable heavy metal.
Verdict: Win [8/10] (like she was at the End)
Monday, August 25, 2014
Well, the revolving Dolving door has swung again, and exited the band after that travesty, and so the Swedes have brought back the tireless and yet remarkably bland barker Marco Aro into the fold, to produce what for all purposes should have been the most explosive return to form one could hope for. Modern, punchy melodic death-thrash with plenty of chugathon grooves for everyone who misses the Dimebag Darrell style of riff sculpting, punctuated with eloquent enough, tasteful leads that if not inspired at least seem fluid. For those whose lives consist of endless bad tattoos, wallet chains, faux tough guy pretenses and all that other drivel that hijacked metal's subculture in the late 90s, a record like Exit Wounds must seem a godsend. Genuinely angry, riff progressions that are energetic and refined enough to impress the fuck out of anyone with a treasured Skinlab or Machine Head CD in his/her collection, and really, really wanting to be that muscle clad reinterpretation of Slayer that I sort of hinted at above...in fact, there are particular rhythm guitar components to this disc (I won't need to point them out, trust me) which really just seem like paraphrased Hanneman/King passages, not to the extent of outright plagiarism but they have never and are not now hiding this overt influence.
The bass sounds fantastic, that I have to admit, with Jonas getting to build far more of a presence than he's ever really had in his mainstay At the Gates, and the rhythm guitars clear and destructive and in some places even exciting; and of course Adrian Erlandsson can do no wrong, his finesse being such old hat at this point that the problem with any album on which he participates is almost guaranteed never to be his fault, but some of these exhausted sounding groove/palm mute riffs here couldn't have been saved by Adrian and a half dozen other world class percussionists. Probably the biggest issue with me is that I just can't stand Aro's vocals...he's pissed off sounding, but the inflection he lets loose is just so indistinct, a burlier bigger brother to Anders Sydow (ex-Darkane) only lacking that off the hinges, sneering vitriol that I so enjoyed on that guy's performances. Hailing from Facedown, I never had many expectations for Aro in this band...he's a hard worker, he looks the part (wallet chain, etc), you can't question his commitment to what must be the most exciting project he's ever partaken of, but even Dolving had a more wild and charismatic approach to the material which is just so essential in the company of giants like Tomas Lindberg. Essentially, Aro strikes me as the Rob Dukes of melodic death metal...totally on board but expendable when you can get the more interesting singer back.
I emphasize: he's not terrible here by any means, but sort of like ...Made Me Do It or One Kill Wonder, I can only imagine how much more effective the songs would have been for me if they just had someone with a more vicious personality. The lyrics on these songs are also painfully average, a long string of cliched lines you can find anywhere in 'heavy music' involving personal struggles and relationships so forth...just read through a tune like "Psychonaut" (way to defile a fantastic video game, jerks!) and you'll understand what I mean. There's one song where shouts something like 'I Don't Want You Inside Me' or similar and I almost fell over laughing. This is high school level angst wrapped up in a package of superior musicianship, but not to the extent that I can really give it a pass. At times it is indeed explosive, the production is top notch boom box fight club-approved for tribal & kanji tattoo carvings, but at the end of the day it's just no Slaughter of the Soul, no Rusted Angel, and sort of dwells with the in betweeners like most of Terror 2000's body of work or their own prior output. Is it an improvement over Unseen? Why, absolutely, but so might losing your sense of sound altogether.
Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]
Friday, August 22, 2014
It's occasionally difficult for me to point out exactly what it is I hear in Kvalvaag's solo debut that I don't experience in so many of his peers, but I think it's his gritty choice in rhythm guitar tone, which feels like rusted belts being fed through dying engines. The structure of his riffs is nothing distinct or unusual when you look at the stereotypical Scandinavian black metal influences which inform it (Darkthrone, Mayhem, Gorgoroth, Burzum, etc.), but he occasionally inflects this monumental, glorious or rock-out rhythm which more than compensates for any bog-standard licks that might surround it. The vocals are traditional rasps, but pretty despicable when you have this turned at the appropriate (high) volume, with just enough airiness in there to follow through on that diabolic, frightening black/white color image which makes the album look as effective as it sounds. Bass lines are mired in darkness, but pumped at an appropriate volume; void of interesting choices, but that they groove the root patterns so effectively contributes highly to the propulsion of the faster material, and the 'swerve' of the slower chord patterns.
I believe the drums here are provided by Ishtar of Dödsfall, who might at times be considered a comparable act in this recent roots revival of the style in Norway proper (along with Furze, Djevel, and a handful of others), and they clash and hiss as is appropriate while never really letting their thunder abate during some charge section. Many of my favorite moments through these 40, though, are those aforementioned lo fi, unclean organ lines, which are extremely catchy if not original in construction, or the more symphonic embellishments the keys create when the other instruments are smashing along like a mad axeman through the silent, moonlit forestscape from which this evil emerges. A great album to experience as I near the precipice of the New England autumn, for its surely one I'm going to break back out as the temperature plummets and I feel far more at home. Perfect it isn't, and prone to convention, yet at the same time: evocative, memorable, unfriendly, and fucking savage.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
It's not just the music, either. From the surface in...the bland cover artwork which looks like it's going to be a groove metal or metalcore disc, the non-logo logo which would have been better left in the trash for the cheap cost of hiring an artist (I seem to remember seeing one somewhere, it was better than this). Dictated have a sound heavily derived from the British scene, in particular Bolt Thrower, both in the slower grooves, warlike melodies and basically just how these folks structure their chord progressions. More War Master and The IVth Crusade than Realm of Chaos, but unable to conjure that epic, grim hostility of their forebears. You could also say there was a little Benediction here...not the old stuff, but the charmless mid-period where the band sort of fell behind the rest of the veterans in effectiveness. Otherwise, there might be a little bit of a bland Asphyx/Sinister imprint on the riffing and composition, but it all just feels do dry and lacking in atmosphere. Essentially Dictated feel like another 'catch up' band, striving just to attain a sound that was already passe many years ago, rather than forging into new terrain, which death metal could really use right about now, since so many of the new generation of bands are just straight derivatives of this scene or that, this guitar tone or that particular band.
Take a group like Coldworker, and then drain away all the excitement and grinding explosiveness, leaving behind their more mediocre riff selections, and I feel like you'd end up with The Deceived. Sonja Schuringa and Jessica Otten (also in Temple, who I dig more than this), are perfectly adequate guitarists, shifting between tremolo picked madness, churning chords and the corrosive melodies I mentioned above, but I just don't feel like a lot of personality exudes from their choices of riff. All patterns are wholly paraphrased from the thousands that predate them, and the album lacks the punch of wild, memorable leads or inescapable atmospheric phrasing. Henri Sattler and Michiel van der Plicht of God Dethroned take on the role of rhythm section here, and are mechanically flawless, but that doesn't really enhance the rest of the record to a noticeable degree. The vocals are a pretty stock array of broad growls and punctual barks which fall somewhere between Barney of Napalm Death and Angela ex-Arch Enemy, but once again they come across as merely functional, without any sense of sadism, torment, or character that all the best death metal frontpersons convey; nor are they specifically gargled or amusing on a humorous level.
I don't want to hate on this record too much, because it's worst crime is really just the fact that if we were drafting some sort of 'fantasy league' of death metal albums this year, The Deceived would be one of the last picks on the bench, if chosen at all. Not terrible by any means; it's just really unimaginative...inoffensive and indistinguishable from so much else, which might be enough for some listeners, but if you've got decades invested as a fan of the medium, its rather expendable, and when one takes into account how bloated the scene is to begin with, it just doesn't have that staying power...in fact, it doesn't really have much starting power. I haven't heard the self-released debut, so I can't compare this to that, but with luck they'll transform the apparent fluidity and professionalism of this effort (its strengths) into something more interesting and unique in the future. For now, I have to pass on recommending this.
Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]
Monday, August 18, 2014
And that is the hilarious liberty taken by Matteo Bazzanella as he Cycles between cookie monster guttural grunts and slightly higher-pitched, silly vocal patterns that remind me of something more rapped out or Korn-like. Now you might think I'm slinging that as some sort of insult, but I'm really not, it actually takes the album up a notch in terms of entertainment value, where otherwise it would just be another pretty typical brutal death metal grist for the mill. That's not to say there aren't other areas in which this sounds pretty solid, like the thick and fibrous rhythm guitar tone that gives the nearly endless palm muted phrases and trills a little extra crunch and impact, but I don't feel like there are many riff patterns here that really stand out from one another. They're often just a few notes apart in structure and the pacing, like a lot of slam-focused material is really just a range of 'mid-paced groove' to 'slower, sick pit groove' and only occasionally will they pick up the speed, and not even that much. Standard techniques like guitar squeals at the end of a muted phrase are pretty common here and serve to round off the material with a fraction of additional charisma, but Cycles is largely a very focused, workmanlike record, like a caveman hunter bashing in the skull of the same protein source day after day...it become menial labor after awhile despite the aggression of the act.
Sounds fresh and in your face, with a functional rhythm section: drum beats pop right out while the bass is deep, punctual and taut with the root notes, but the surprises here come too seldom...like "Paralysed and Broken" which seems almost to be injected with some Southern groove metal riffs circa Down and a weird, zippy guitar at the end of that progression; or "Lurking in Slime" which features some faster paced death meal tremolo lines in between the weirdness. Problem is that left field moments like these instantly make most of the other material seem rather inhibited and non compelling by comparison, and wonder what would happen if the duo just let completely loose to achieve something absolutely batshit gonzo. As it stands, Cycles of Evisceration is certainly not a bad debut if you're into the style...the cover art is fantastic, and the music certainly makes you want to ball up your fists and club someone or something repeatedly, but having heard this stuff performed so much more effectively with stronger riffs by a number of other bands (Katalepsy, for instance), I can't say it really stuck with me for long. If you just want pulverizing palm muted grooves, though, with a disgusting vocalist that will elicit a few giggles, then give it a try.
Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]
Friday, August 15, 2014
Not that the disc 'rights itself' as it progresses, because there is actually a good deal of variation between tunes, some seeking out a more atmospheric pace, others a more thrash-based slew of riffs, and yet others mirroring the aesthetics of the first track. Yet there are a handful of tracks ("Through the Aeons" for example) which embody some of that 'fun' grind & roll ethic more akin to what I thought I'd be getting myself into, while "Towering Structures of the Damned" has a few fits of those calamitous old school grind-blast parts we grew up with. If we're ultimately going to try to 'pin down' this, one of Rogga's most diverse records to date, it's probably a junction between the heavier old melodic death metal (not 'melodeath', per se) and some really rootsy death/thrash, as you'll hear in the first moment of "Turrets of a Forgotten Castle". The songs aren't nearly so cosmic in nature as a lot of the Lovecraftian/horror titles might suggest, so I don't know how they measure up to that tremendous Robert Toderico artwork, but Rogga certainly focuses in on a few central ideas here and entertains with them. Riffs were a mixed bag of the derived and inspired, but cuts like "The Gateway", "Lifesucker" and "In Orbit" had me pining for the years when 'melodic' wasn't considered such a dirty word in traditional death metal, and records like Abducted and Bitterness were in regular rotation.
Production feels a little pieced together, without a terribly consistent tone throughout, so you do get the impression that Those Who Bring the Torture has undergone a reverse-metamorphosis back to the point where it's a place that Johansson is stockpiling and testing a number of ideas instead of having it all mapped out in advance, which is symptomatic of a number of his projects. That said, Piling Up (which may not be a coincidental title) is largely professional in that you can hear all the chords, the melodic tremolo picked patterns are delivered with as much impact as necessary, the bass takes on an uglier distorted subtext which contrasts well against some of the 'prettier' elements, and the beats are fluid solids which shift between simpler grooves and double bass brickwork. Rogga belches out both his usual gutturals and higher pitched snarls, a combination of which was most likely drafted forward from the older records and seems to be a standard for death/grind. Ultimately, like Putrevore is sort of a play on that old Incantation/Rottrevore style, this album most reminded me of Hypocrisy and their own fluctuations between the pioneering death metal and the more song driven, melodic direction of their mid-90s material. Perhaps not what fans of the earlier Those Who Bring the Torture output would have wanted, but certainly not bad at all.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
You know the drill: variation in tempo and riff construction, fluctuated between fits of flashy speed and low end palm-muted grooves, a few of which seem frankly inane when paired up against so much else that The Zenith Passage has on offer. These guys work best when they're exploring the neo-jazzy melodies or clinical harmonic picking patterns that trace their lineage to bands like Cynic and Pestilence, and in particular they have a knack for incorporating these simpler, melodic tinges of guitar over the writhing and pummeling substrate. The guitar production is quite thin and clean, so some will consider it impotent for that reason, but if you're used to the style of bands like Obscura or the sophomore effort by The Faceless, you'll be right at home, and honestly it's a reliable means by which to ensure that the listener is going to experience all the notes on parade. The music is complex without becoming labyrinthine in execution, though there is an inequal distribution in terms of what riffs might be remembered and which obviously won't. In fact, a few of the arpeggios and 'tech' riffs in general seem quite commonplace amongst their peers, but these guys are very much capable of writing something good, they just have to shake out the temptation to launch into some dull deathcore groove or spazz out to remind us of their dexterity.
But I don't want to give the wrong impression...this is no Brain Drill, who try to cram so much into their brutech mating rituals that they work against themselves. The choices here are generally sound, enough that I enjoyed listening through the EP a number of times. The drums are off the hook, the bassist makes his present known with a few amazing fills, and the two guitarists play with such a mind numbing precision that I found myself quite absorbed in them. On the other hand, the vocals feel pretty average for this style, a bunch of taut Mullen-grunts that are occasionally layered within some deeper gutturals or snarls. Snappy enough with the syllables to fit the music like a glove, but I just feel bands of this nature would be so much better served by vocals with a more distinct pitch to them. Too few try it, they all take the safe route on which they employ the styles used by their influences in the 90s (Mullen, Lord Worm, Benton, Barnes/Corpsegrinder), and thus some of the potential personality is lost....
Otherwise, Cosmic Dissonance is very solid stuff, with only a handful of throwaway riffs and an almost limitless sea of possibilities into which they could swim from here, especially if they hold on to the astronomical lyrical themes. Love those cleaner, ambient guitar moments, and I hope they won't be afraid to delve further into that territory come full-length time, regardless of what the core meathead mosh audience desires of them. With some further refinement, they could have something on the level of the latest Fallujah disc, which was excellent, but either way this EP comes recommended to fans of albums like Cosmogenesis, Focus, Planetary Duality as well as some of their Californian peers like Arkaik, Decrepit Birth, Vale of Pnath and The Kennedy Veil.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (gravity strains, bending light)
Monday, August 11, 2014
I'm not saying it's a great record, and a lot of the material here is taken from the demo recordings of tunes that wound up on the 2009 comp, but when ingested as a whole, this is passable and ugly death metal which seems a little rare in that it doesn't just generically and genetically ape the aesthetic of one single band. Maybe a short list of 6-8 (some of which I listed above), but there is a real focus here on structure and riffing over impersonation, it's just that the results Yogth Sothoth achieve are not much different than their predecessors. Clinical picking sequences mirror old Pestilence or Death and are woven into tightly wrought, pummeling sequences circa Effigy of the Forgotten, but there is no shying away from enough variation that no two tracks on the disc sound quite the same. I really enjoyed how they used the percussion to great dramatic effect, often dropping out and back into some riffing cycles to give them a greater breath of impact, the old school way of setting up a neanderthal groove to let the crowd know it's about to happen and that they need to adjust their spines. There is not a lot of melody or memorability in the guitars on the whole, but they're flexible and concussive and you won't stop banging your head along even if that comes with an empty hope that they're going to break out into some truly brilliant riff execution...
The bass guitar gets lost a lot for me here, I can hear it hovering and swerving along but I would have loved it to pump out more from the speakers and attempt some more distinct notation to fill in the aesthetic cravings that some of the guitar riffs leave wide open. The vocals of Klisgor play out like a more muffled, guttural integration of van Drunen's grotesqueness with Frank Mullen's sense of punctuality embedded into the syllabic choices, and they also throw in some higher snarls to create that Glen Benton demonic duality. I don't love the guitar tone or really the production of this at all, but it's honest and clear enough for something lo-fi, and doesn't detract from that punchy, percussive intent captured by the rhythm guitars. As superficial a complaint as it might seem, I don't think the material really captures that dread horror aesthetic of Lovecraft to its fullest, relying almost entirely on brutality and rarely on atmosphere (apart from the "Prayer of Doom" intro), but then again not many bands who use the Mythos as lyrical inspiration really do. Yogth Sothoth WANTS me to feel the horror cosmic of its namesake, and most of the lyrics are amazing and frankly the best part of this record, but I just don't feel like the Elder Gods would champion themselves with such straightforward death metal...they'd seek out something more brain-meltingly dissonant and alien. Other bands have since incorporated a lot more of that into their material, but that doesn't stop Abominations from being a passable record (superior to the compilation)...just not a great one.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (the portal has been opened)
Friday, August 8, 2014
There are a few dissimilarities in track choice here, with a pair of tunes being translated instead from Exodus than Passage ("Tribes of Cain" and "Winter Solstice" replacing "Liquid Soul Dimension" and "Chosen Race"), and the entire shebang being performed with keyboards/synthesizers alone. That is correct: no drums, no vocals, no guitars, no bass lines, just Xytras performing the material as if it had always been intended as a neo-classical soundscape, a lost Castlevania soundtrack, something that works pretty well when you think of a pine-studded mountainside after darkness, just as well as the cosmic and philosophical overtures provided by the lyrics on Passage itself. At times Xy layers in a lot more of an orchestrated feel, generally in sync where that was created on the metal renditions, and others it focuses more on just the haunted castle pianos. Generally it's impossible for this to feel as moving and dramatic as the harder versions, but surprisingly in a tune like "Moonskin" ("Mondhaut") which was so piano driven in the first place, it tends to come across even more sweeping due to the selected pads giving it that bolder, operatic atmosphere. Xytras' playing is busy enough to serve as proxy to the missing guitars, but he actually doesn't embellish the material very much with added lines, something I actually regret as a missed opportunity...
The music does lose some of its darker edge, naturally due to the absence of the rest of the band, the loss of impact from those electronic drums, but a few cuts like "My Saviour" ("Mein Retter") do capture much of that same magic. Is it a little pretentious that the titles are all in German? I suspect that was part of the intent, since this is probably more serviceable to that Euro Goth/Goth metal scene that several of their post-Passage recordings catered towards, but it might have also been that Xy wanted to differentiate this even more from the album that more people were going to know. On the other hand, it's rather telling that this was pretty much the end of this experiment, and that when the band would branch out into ambient/electronic pastures in the future (Era One/Lesson in Magick #1) it would focus on original material initially written specifically for that. But on hearing this, you can definitely hear how Xytras formed the basis of composition for the heavier tunes, and if you love the songs as much as I do then at least part of you would be curious to hear how they turn out in another genre. Hell, I love this Samael album so much that I wouldn't mind hearing it in fucking MIDI...so, to summarize: not as good as that 'real' Passage, but if you enjoy lashing out at things as Simon Belmont, or sipping wine with your Lindt chocolates, it's at least amusing.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]