Friday, February 5, 2016
The most notable trait of this disc, however, is its rich and textured guitar playing across several levels, which actually conjures a balance of both aesthetics I mentioned earlier. The instability and frenzied component is delivered with the constant rhythmic transformation, between the more traditional tremolo picked passages, dissonant and neurotic chord progressions, and willingness to explore a substantial swath of moods and tempos. But there is that sense of lost majesty and glory too, that 'legendary' element, which is serviced by Alp's commitment to writing chord patterns and tremolo lines that don't constantly conform to a thousand you've heard before. There are always subtleties, ebbs and swells happening across all the tracks that keep the ears affixed, especially when you add over these his multi-tiered snarling and rasping toned which give the impression of some primordial corpse painted shamans watching the world take shape. Enough direct lineage here to the Scandinavian masters of the past, but he's just not copying their notes verbatim, so Pangaea has a sense of freshness to it which has held up through a number of repeated plays.
Melodies and leads are fragile, atmospheric and constantly elevating the riffing subtext, while the beats place an appropriate emphasis on thundering bass that might shake the walls of creation if you could loudspeaker the whole planet; but also cognizant of interesting grooves at points where the aggression cedes to a more jazzy, progressive post-black panorama. Alp is also not immune to the lure of further experimentation, with some dark and throbbing synthesizer driving "The Human Transition", a fascinating opener to what is by far my favorite tune on the album, "Reciprocity of Despair", an onslaught of excellent guitar lines and turbulent, tectonic structures which carries all the best hallmarks of melodic black metal and Morbid Angel-like Cyclopean rhythmic tumult in roughly equal measure. The metal tracks are substantial, ranging from about 8 minutes on up, but there are only four of them, so I never felt like I was becoming exhausted or having my patience beaten out of me. Pangaea is perhaps not universally consistent, and some might not appreciate the vignette pieces as much as the wealthier full-bore compositions, but for just one musicians this proved a formidable introduction, and I look and listen forward (or backwards) to more.
Verdict: Win [8/10] (the animals do grow and change)
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Now, I happened to skew heavily towards a positive reaction to that, so this might have proven a win/win either way, but I came away with mixed feelings. Half the tracks here are great, the others just alright. It's about 50% inspired by Sons of Northern Darkness and that effort's simpler, more mighty songwriting structures; another 25% giving passing nods to the more extreme, older school wheelhouse the band used to dwell within, and that final quarter definitely captures the more shining, airy, windy heavy metal feel with the higher pitched chords, flashy leads and immersion. As you can imagine, this produces a pretty wide swath of dynamics, and indeed the tunes can range from blasted arctic gales to measured sojourns across the ice-fields. Abbath sticks largely to his snarled voice, which works well in conjunction with the chords and atmosphere but doesn't resonate with me nearly as much as that gritty Quorthon-like clean from Between Two Worlds. The drums are performed by Creature (aka Kevin of Benighted) with thunderous aplomb, at any pace necessary, with strong use of the toms and double bass rumblings suitable for the perceived Norse warfare inherent in all the band's ambiguous lyrics, and King's bass lines are at worst subdued beneath the rhythm guitar; at best grooving along with classic, infectious heavy metal pacing on tunes like "Root of the Mountain".
The rhythm guitars strongly resemble a hybrid of Sons of Northern Darkness and Between Two Worlds, with some higher range, less predictable choices of notation. Not a ton of tremolo picking used here, the emphasis is very often on solid chords and cleaner accompanying lines to give it that vast, folksy feel I so enjoyed on the I debut. There are a few riffs I would not expect, such as the opener of the album, which feels like a mesh of Chaos A.D. era Sepultura thrashing groove with some Voivod dissonance, but after a few minutes it all seems to fall in line and Abbath is trampling over well-trodden ground, making safer songwriting decisions that genuinely pan out into solid if rarely remarkable material. Leads are spurious and sensible, never too wanky or misplaced, and often functioning the greatest when they resolve to very simple melodic lines. Lyrics evoke the belligerent 'catch-all' wintry mythological violence and glory the band is lauded for, but not without entertaining imagery that any fan of their mid to late 90s material will wax nostalgic over.
The mix is really well balanced, permitting the ballast of the rhythm guitars to shine without obscuring any other component, drums delivering a Sleipnir canter. Gallop. Trot. Charge. Abbath's ugly but often monotonous snarl seated well above the fray with appropriate reverb sending some of his lines to bounce off the roiling storm clouds that the listener will conjure up internally. At least three tunes I thought were excellent..."Root of the Mountain", "Winterbane" (which sounds like it could have been a Northern Darkness outtake) and the intense "Fenrir Hunts", which was my fave mirror to the older Immortal on the record. But there were certainly a lot of give or take riffing sequences throughout the remainder of the material that I hesitate to call this truly great. I think it's more loyal to his alma mater's theater of sound than the Demonaz solo album March of the Norse, to be honest, but I liked the pacing and aesthetic of that more. Abbath is an effective entry into the band's overall canon, but I feel like these guys might be squandering their creative impulses on too many samey projects to the point it could get confusing for the uninitiated. There's a lot of crossover of ideas, so I wish they'd just rein it in to Immortal and I, legal issues be damned.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (swoop and pluck the Hero's eyes)
Friday, January 22, 2016
That's not to say it's exceptional in any way, but if we're seeking a record that could have come out in 1996 as a successor to When the Sky Turns Black, this scratches the itch slightly better than the album that actually DID come out, In Mourning, which wasn't bad, but definitely dulled down a little of the appeal. This new Brutality is more or less a measured balance of slower, double bass drumming death metal roil patterns, a little lumbering death/doom, and some spry melodic death integration in a few of the faster tremolo picked guitar harmonies which offers a welcome relief against this ever becoming dull. Leads are well structured and catchy, revealing both classical and bluesy orientations that work well against the brutal rhythm riffing, especially in cuts like "Fatal Cure"; and it's good they do, because without this element I feel this might become a painstakingly average affair since there is simply little creativity in revisiting the blueprints so long left behind and not tweaking or twisting them in any new combination. The broad gutturals and snarls of Reigel and Acres are not the most distinct in death metal, and almost all the important atmosphere created throughout the original tunes would be nowhere without all those harmonies and controlled shredding passages. They truly elevate the experience, the product of some good decision making.
Drums and bass are brick tight here, but the latter doesn't develop much of a presence against the churning of the other guitars. As for the cover of Bathory's "Shores in Flames", I feel as if it might have been better left off the album or put on a tribute or something, because the style here is so different than what Brutality write for themselves that it stands out like a dragon ship in a white water rafting contest. I appreciate that these guys have a broad taste in metal and enjoy Quorthon, but the real issue is that they never 'own' the cover. It never becomes flush and fluid with the other songs, and while its produced cleanly it feels too much like the original, just meatier. It simply breaks up the flow of the other songs, and I probably would have enjoyed it a little more if it was replaced or just left off the core of the album entirely. It's not 'bad' by any means, but to interrupt these 3-4 minute bruisers with an 11+ Viking heavy metal epic seems like the one choice here that doesn't live up to the rest, which are all pretty sound...this is a Brutality record by and large which lives up to the band's name and legacy, and even though it's not likely to supersede any nostalgic twinge I might have for Screams of Anguish or When the Sky Turns Black, it's proof positive that a), they are back, and b) they've still got it.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Some might actually find the demos of "Holy Libations", "Motherhood of God" and "Winds" a little better than their final album counterparts, because they sound a fraction more visceral and raw. I might be on board with that, only beyond that fact there is not a terrible amount of difference with how they ended up. The emotionally resonant, drifting heavy/death moments of the tunes come off the same, though, and they lack the element of surprise when I first experienced them in their polished studio format. I couldn't care less for including the title track like on any cash cow maxi single, so a lot of my interest was directly focused on its remixes. The 'Steingrim' remix is more or less a remaster with different instrumental volumes, but it sounds a little clunky and in no way would I prefer it to the original. Far more of a risk is the Author & Punisher version of the tune, which does actually dissect it down into its components and bake them in a minimalistic trance of hip hop and industrial lite sound forms, keeping the growls intact but making everything else rather hypnotic, to the point that it's the best part of this EP and its only truly redeeming feature, just for the tones the musician is able to produce.
That said, industrial/electronic remixes of metal tunes are old hat, and this isn't exactly more unique or compelling than a lot of what you've heard from bands who used that as their primary style, or more severe experimenters like Ulver, etc. So while I enjoyed this deconstruction a few times as background noise, it wasn't really worth the price of admission for the physical EP. Ultimately, while I didn't hate all the content here, I think I would have much preferred 3-4 new or unreleased tracks over the choices the Swedes made. Maybe tack on the Author & Punisher mix and the Offspring cover as bonus tracks on that, but the fact is it's 2016 and releases like this have very little currency except as prehistoric means to claim a few dollars from the painstakingly loyal audience members. Considering the amount of buzz Tribulation were able to generate with their latest album, and the positive critical reaction to the prior two, it appears they've hit a level where frivolous product like this is possible. Not entirely garbage, and worth listening to once or twice if you care about the band, which I do, having thoroughly enjoyed each of their records for its own reasons. However, I'm far more excited for what their next complete creation/direction will prove, and this was barely even substantial enough as an appetizer. I'd tell the waitress it needed much more seasoning. Bland.
Verdict: Indifference [5/10]
Friday, January 15, 2016
It's not for lack of trying, because once the rather lame intro to Termination Redux subsides, they throttle you with scores of riff progressions over the four tracks and 15 minutes that channel everything from death and goregrind to the hook-drenched death-thrashing punch of the mid-era Carcass style that informed a lot of their older albums, as if it were siphoned through the high impact capacity of Napalm Death and the roiling grooves of Morbid Angel. Ceaselessly energetic drumming, brick shitting rhythm guitar tone that bursts directly into your face, and some kind of scientifically calculated ratio of blasts to double bass storms to breakdowns that were certainly plotted as blueprints to entertain both their purist brutal death following and the -core guys that are likely to see them on all manner of tours with their favorite bands. Plenty of intricacy in some of the rhythm guitars, but a topping of growls and rasps that feel 100% risk-less and towing the party line for most modern bands of this niche. The bass lines sound rich, fat and fantastic, whenever the drums and guitars aren't too busy to obscure them, and best used in the little atmospheric, spoken break in "Bound in Acrimony" which is among the more immersive moments on this short-player.
Where Termination Redux really doesn't do much for me is in its faster, blasted deathgrind sequences in which the chords selected, as forceful as they are performed, feel like any other banal band putting together the first 3-4 chords that come to mind and sound passable. The same could be said for the breakdown riffs. The notes here just don't stick to my brain, and I found that some of those more involved, mid-paced patterns were just so much more interesting that I wish they were prevalent over more of the run-time. The mix here is loud and engaging, but also super-clean, and thus nothing you haven't heard a hundred or so times already. The Belgians certainly don't lack for any testosterone, nor do they show any signs of slowing down after their 20+ years, and I think an audience that was heavily into the last two full-lengths (Global Flatline and The Necrotic Manifesto) will chew this right up, but I found only an ephemeral entertainment at best, here and gone in a flash of whirling limbs, a creature of structure and production, empty violence and exhibitional proficiency but not one of any sterner auditory dynamic or substance. You might stab someone in a shower to this today, but you won't be singing it in the shower tomorrow.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
To be a little more specific, these guys play with a sound not entirely unlike a Rigor Mortis or a Demolition Hammer or a Blood Feast, with obvious nods to the prototypes of death metal that were also kicking around at that time...a few riffs here or there involve tremolo picked patterns redolent of Death's Scream Bloody Gore, for example, and there is an overall aesthetic vibe not unlike Nunslaughter (in fact one of the guys was in that band for a brief time). Ugly serial killer thrash with a bold, loud guitar tone that is refreshingly down to hear but loses none of its subtlety when the tunes sprout sloppy leads like blossoms of blood from a dress shirt. The vocals are frightening, gore-drenched, almost as if King Fowley of Deceased had taken a few wounds to his stomach and lungs and was bleeding from them as he growled and pronounced out each line. Bass lines didn't really factor in the experience much for me, but the drums, like the rhythm guitars, just sound brazen and authentically punishing.
To be clear: neither of these tracks are new, both hailing from late 80s demo material and then re-recorded for the band's newfound existence. I checked out the original versions online, and while "Carving Techniques" sounds pretty close, "Legion of Gore" itself is an upgrade. I have to say I'd be content even if they just released an album or compilation with more of that material produced at this level, because it's just good enough to feel like it deserves to be heard everywhere by every reprobate or cellar dwelling underground hesher who has been missing out on it all these years. Time will tell if they've got newer material in them or if this is just a midlife crisis gone right, but even if it amounts to little more than this little vinyl gem, I think some purists will genuinely enjoy hearing it.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Monday, January 11, 2016
Essentially the band plays with a similar level of forcefulness as Cannibal Corpse, Severe Torture or older Deicide. Lots of choppy stop/start blasts from recordings of the original drummer, making the disc sound like a fireworks factory is exploding, but often at the expense of the beats feeling as if they were purely mechanistic. The vocals are elongated gutturals accented with smaller, syncopated snarls, giving the record a truly nihilistic feel but not spitting out nearly as many syllables as you might hear over similar material by Corpsegrinder, etc. The bass tone here is a little difficult to discern, it hovers parallel to the punctuation of the rhythm guitar but it doesn't add a lot of swerve or atmosphere to the lower end of the mix. That said, for me Murwgebeukt is really all about the might of these guitars, which shift between evil sounding tremolo picked patterns to faster chugging and clinical mutes which definitely feel like a mesh of the first Pestilence record and some of Cannibal Corpse's excellent 90s material like Bloodthirst.
With 16 tracks, it might seem as if the album would be too swollen for its own good, but thankfully a number of these are just grimy guitar instrumentals or shorter bits that bridge the proper cuts, which are largely consistent even if a lot of the rhythm guitar patterns and beats feel redundant. But there is just something about how they've written the riffs that makes so many of them attractive. I'm highly attuned to the classic death metal from this country and I feel like they do an effective job of taking elder statesmen Sinister and Pestilence and transforming those influences into something more visceral, intense and contemporary. There's nothing extremely memorable or unique to be had throughout the disc, and even the cover art looks like a hundred others, but it's simply an incessant beating through which a lot more of the guitars stick than don't, and if you're after high speed brutal death without the constant wanking and technicality you've come to expect from newer acts, then this warrants a recommendation. Time will tell if they follow this up directly, or we don't hear from Brutus again until 2029, but there is no question they deliver.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Thursday, January 7, 2016
But you know what? I've enjoyed the shit out of this record.
I am not immune to nostalgia, and where Cauldron's latest effort exceeds any that they've previously released is in its time warp capabilities, to transport a knowing audience to a time that they either lived through or dreamed about. The Canadians' previous efforts were hardly 'bad', but this is frankly my favorite Jason Decay material since his time with his previous band Goat Horn, and I can easily picture myself breaking this out throughout the year, especially when the Autumn arrives and I'm looking for some hazy heavy metal material to go along with my Trick or Treat soundtrack or other such mainstays in my collection. The sound here is contrived from a mix of NWOBHM influences ala Angel Witch, Saxon or ancient Maiden, west coast US hard rock/metal fringers like Ratt or W.A.S.P., and a modicum of German efficiency via Accept; but the atmosphere takes on a much more gray, melancholic tinge to it than an outright 18-wheeler rusty cock ring attitude. Guitars are meaty and melodic in equal measure, laid back and/or driving, with cleaner strings occasionally plucked across a verse or chorus to add a shade of lushness and mood. The chorus parts in tunes like "No Return in Ruin" and "Burning at Both Ends" will imprint more deeply into your earwax if you were born in the 60s or 70s.
There are a few deviations where the guitars surge into some speedier metal elements, and the leads are wrought with a controlled wailing. The drums are workmanlike with a splashy snare courtesy of its retro intentions, and the bass lines functional but extremely simple. Decay's vocals definitely have their limitations, and the guy is clearly not shriek-enabled as you'd here in peers Wolf and Enforcer, but he makes due with simpler, hooky vocal lines in his pitch, and they are wise to add in some harmonized backups that once again evoke that sense of age and wonder. It also helps that the lyrics are somewhat serious, this is clearly not 'party metal', though some listeners are likely to draw such a comparison. The production is large and airy, fitting for a highway trek with the windows down, and there is not a stinker among the bunch, not even the 'power ballad' build and climax of "Delusive Serenade". Cauldron's shift over to a new label (The End) has proven fruitful, and if you can set your expectations to the proper mind space, forgetting what came after that irreplaceable 1982-1986 era in classic metal, I hope you'll get a kick out of it as much as I did. Quite a surprise stirring and brewing in this one.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
The first track is just a straight up burst, with no introduction, and serves as a meet and greet for the bands grimy, roiling rhythm guitar tone which functions best when the band are laying out the pure tremolo picked OSDM licks. When they arrive at the Bolt Thrower-like mid paced rhythms with the rolling double bass it can get a little choppier, but appreciably rough. The leads, though, just soar over this dingy corpse-scape, often glorious like their British predecessors in their middle years, and you end up with a real solid balance of purposeful, traditional songcraft, infernal machinery with just enough melody on the menu to distract you away from becoming exhausted by a din of what are admittedly pretty average chord progressions. If the band picks up the pace just slightly, you do catch a whiff of ancient Death circa the first two records, but it doesn't sound like a soulless emulation so much as genuinely capturing that evil feel in a trance and interspersing it with the more blunt impact, slower death/doom rhythms and the fat, blustering bass lines which add a lot of retro flavor.
Vocals also give off a little bit of a Karl Willetts vibe, a raunchy nihilistic guttural, but they feel dryer since the overall vibe of the music isn't so much belligerent, atmospheric and warlike circa Realm of Chaos. However, I really liked it when the vocals were being paired off against lead guitars in the tune "Dying Alone", creates this vaulted tomb ceiling effect that feels magnificent and I almost wish they'd capture more often throughout the tunes. But that said, the four tracks here are all very solid in their own right, there is enough going on in the backdrop melodically to keep your ears diverted from any substandard rhythm note patterns, and they manage a great balance of slow to fast tempos to keep even this short player well-rounded, rotting death metal that old school gurus will chew up directly, without needing to spit out too much of the bone and fat. The crypt has cracked open once again and the stench that ensues is more than appropriate.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]
Friday, January 1, 2016
If their name didn't give it away, Morgue Supplier lean more towards the 'death metal' side of that equation, upon a bedrock of Napalm Death-like blasting and chord grooves, only filtered through a more atonal, unusual note progressions, which at times reminds me of both the classic Voivod and perhaps even a little industrial filth redolent of an alt-universe hyperventilated Godflesh. There are all manner of individual riffs here which show roots in anything from tremolo picked OSDM to impious death/thrash to the whipping, dissonant frenzy of noisier American metalcore bands ala Converge or Dillinger Escape Plan, or the brickwork intensity of modern Cryptopsy; but they'll also lay into a death/doom groove or a more atmsopheric segue when it's best to let the audience take a chance to breathe. You get the feeling that absolutely nothing is off the table, provided that it's sick and feeds into this record's self-fulfilling paeans to murder, addiction and social disintegration; and to that extent the album is 14 tracks and 41 minutes of unforgiving hostility that will at the very least put you in stitches, if not a stretcher...which is kind of what the name implies. Polymaths of punishment, tirades of tempo shifting torture that never forgets the importance of having actual guitar riffs to reinforce the abuse.
Vocally Paul Gillis employs a number of attack schematics, from the sustained, grotesque guttural of a Martin van Drunen to the raspier snarls so often associated with this style. But what puts this over the top is the use of more robotic filters on several of the lines that just make it feel all the more angry and inhuman, dystopian and overwhelming. A bad battery acid trip. Mechanical malcontents. Rather than just rattling off syncopated, monotonous lyrical lines like sabers, there is an intense feeling of discomfort and personal pain captured in the ugliness of the expression. Teamed with the fat, pungent bass lines and a rich, bludgeoning guitar tone that measures off both the fury of the chords and the street light shine of the higher pitched, natural dissonance of the strings, there is just so much pressure being applied at almost any point on the album that you feel strangulated, but right when you're about to lose consciousness they'll switch to something a little simpler and let the senses of vertigo and suffocation subside. Anchored by some muscular drumming which coordinates simpler grooves effortlessly into extreme blasting and bass-rolling overdrive, this band sounds insanely driven, and sort of how Napalm Death's latest Apex Predator - Easy Meat kicked off 2015 with its death grinding excellence, Morgue Supplier has set an early benchmark for aggression in the new year. I'd warn you to wear a helmet, but all it would really do is keep the contents of your head contained once they explode.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]