Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Blood Mortized - Blood Mortized (2009)

The haunted castle. The morbid fortress. The palace of exquisite tortures. So often do their images grace the albums of metal records to sound anything like they even belong in a courtyard or gatehouse of such a place. And yet, whenever I see an image like the fantastic cover of Blood Mortized's eponymous 2009 debut, I cross my fingers behind my back and hope I'm about to get that majestic, monolithic, vampiric evil sound I so project onto them through sheer imagination alone. These Swedes do not really sound native to such a vision, but to their credit, they could at least squat in the boneyard out front, or maybe around to the side. No more or no less worthy than any other Swedish death metal band adopting that aural blueprint of forebears Dismember and Entombed, they choose a fairly safe sound and just roll with middling if not entirely ineffective results.

Yes, you've already guessed what the guitar tone on this disc sounds like, so I can only add that it's a little more dense and roiling than several of their other peers that have popped up in the last half of a decade. Blood Mortized exist on a precarious balance between the more melancholic, driving melodic brand of Swedeath pioneered by groups like Desultory ("Devil's Vengeance") and a more churning spin on the Entombed death & roll style adopted during the transitions to Clandestine and Wolverine Blues. They possess an almost suffocating level of atmosphere once those fat, meaty rhythms are blistering along on some painfully simple rhythm pattern and all manner of leads, bluesy and/or evil leads ring out and provide most of my favorite moments on the entire record, like during the bridge of "Wishing Hell". Vocals come in two flavors, one being a slightly higher pitched snarl, and the other being the L-G Petrov guttural grunts with a Klas Morberg's bark, and they're fairly well done if merely redundant to so many we've already heard to death. There's also a very big, bossy, bassy feel to the record that helps compensate slightly for the fact that half the riff progressions are completely uninspired and boring...

So this is yet another of those many cases where the production serves to give a heavier sound to a slew of banal material that nobody would pay attention to otherwise. Yet ultimately, there's enough packed in there, enough distractions that this is far from one of the worse of the retro Swedeath records I've heard, and at its best I'd even claim it was spot on. Individual songs aren't memorable to the extent that I'd seek them out individually, but if I was down for an endless loop of bands in this style and had just finished Mr. Death, Revel in Flesh, Entrails and others, this would fit the bill. Indiscriminate fanatics for the sound could do a lot worse, and when the band hits a lumbering level of groove as in "Funeral Ride" where the harmonies and melodies are ringing out over some of the nastier chord choices, it becomes sweltering, satisfying stuff. At over an hour, there is also quite a lot of it, and half the dozen cuts are worthwhile or very near that. Just wish it sounded as evil and inviting as it looked.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Friday, October 2, 2015

Powerwolf - Blessed & Possessed (2015)

The past three Powerwolf albums have felt a lot like I was in the film Groundhog Day, reliving the same experience over and over with only minimal tweaks based on my own actions. Stylistically they've been on auto-pilot since around the sophomore Lupus Dei, but that was an excellent record with almost unanimously catchy tracks that showed the Germans at the limit of what they are able to accomplish and offer us. But since 2011 (and arguably 2009), the songwriting seems to largely have run out of ideas or nuances that could take their bombastic brand of lupine power metal to unheard heights, and even the cover art feels almost exactly the same with each new effort...fuck, swap up the color palette or something? I mean, resting on your laurels is one thing, hibernating on them is another entirely, and even though Powerwolf is consistent with regards to its production and musical proficiency, the returns seem to be diminishing, the receipts adding up to nowhere, and it's impossible to anticipate their releases with much joy when I feel like I could just switch up a few riffs from the last one and experience all the deviance and variation I should expect. It works for Motörhead, maybe a few other bands, but once in awhile you've got to go a little further over the top or you'll start scraping the bottom.

Granted, things aren't that dire in this Wolf camp, and Blessed & Possessed proves a serviceable affair with all the proper QC competence boxes checked off: Attila's soaring, sustained Ozzymass vocals hold up just as much as before, but the melodies and note progressions he belts forth often feel redundant to those he's already brought us. The song structures alternate between the slower, stand stomping meters and faster Euro-power rhythms, always dowsed in organ tone synthesizers as thick as any lycanthrope's hide, yet even where the tunes become the most pompous and you can just picture whatever audience actually likes this band donning their Dracula 2666 LARP costumes and shaking mugs of red-dyed light beer, almost like a Korpiklaani gig with more furries and fake blud. The leads are adequate, often the best parts of the entire album, and the Germans make sure to incorporate as many variations upon "Carmina Burana" as possible to break up the thundering beats and nigh endless choruses that the album feels like it the point that even though verses and escalations are present, it still feels like there is little delineation betwixt the two. As a result, Blessed & Possessed too rarely gives itself room to breathe, it's so suffocated with self-plagiarism, vocal/percussion sequences that seem lifted directly from earlier tunes. Some tunes like "Dead Until Dark" and "Christ & Combat" still pluck at the silly strings that spawned my earlier admiration for just how absurd they were, but remain stagnant by the most glorious means.

You cannot, however, accuse the Germans of not giving you enough bang for your buck, if you are wise enough to pick up the Napalm Records 2CD version, which is comprised of ten cover tracks done up in all the requisite glory. These are all pretty obvious, like a pair of Judas Priest tunes off Painkiller ("Touch of Evil" and "Nightcrawler", of course), and some Ozzy and Sabbath, but they reach a little further with songs by Running Wild ("Conquistadores"), Chroming Rose ("Power and Glory") and it's quite nice to see them address that heritage. I actually prefer their version of "Edge of Thorns" to the Savatage original if only because I can't stand Stevens' voice and I like the emotional little trill Attila spits out here. A bigger shock is transforming Amon Amarth's "Gods of War Arise" into pure Powerwolf, it works as well as one might have hoped and solidifies the fact that, if little else, these gentlemen are professionals. They don't fuck around with lazy covers, even when making 'safe' choices, each are given a little of that personal spin...I'm not lying when I tell you that I dug the covers disc even more than a lot of the new material, and I think if you acquire this version it does increase the overall value of the package. Ultimately, Blessed & Possessed is by no means a 'bad album', assuming you just want more of the same, but I for one hope that Powerwolf conjures up a few more compelling ideas for its next moonlight symphony. I fear my interest was already waning with the last.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (cursed by our desire)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Black Magician - The Pursuivant EP (2013)

Black Sabbath. Electric Wizard. Black Magician. It stands to reason that there is aesthetic lineage taking place in the UK which seeks to refresh and perhaps embolden the roots of doom metal. My own attraction to bands like this is that I'm seeking out spooky and psychedelic swaths of atmosphere induced by evil riff progressions, deceptively simple bluesy grooves which teeter my imagination upon the precipice of darkness, horror and despair, only to yank it back into reality with workmanlike force. I sought after Black Magician for that very same reason, but while their 2012 debut Nature is the Devil's Church had its moments, others were tepid and/or dry; I simply didn't find it as evocative as other bands conjuring up antiquity like Seremonia, Blood Ceremony, Occultation, select Cathedral records, or the masters I mentioned in opening. Not to write them off, because I think these guys have their fingers on the pulse, they simply have to sink their collective fangs into that vein and sup on it.

The Pursuivant EP seeks to do just that with some stoic, majestic riffing interwoven with Gothic organ melodies. The best way I could describe the title track is as if Candlemass adopted a lot more of a 60s or 70s atmosphere with raunchier distortion, and they were joined by Lee Dorrian on vocals. Liam Yates adopts that same, vile sounding, no-fucks-given inflection which he'll spin off into some sustained gutturals, and comes across a lot like a 'poor man's Dorrian', with the exception that he keeps it really dingy and doomed and doesn't take a lot of the same charismatic riffs that his predecessor does within that limited range. It's interesting in how it really grounds the more grandiose concoction of the keys and rhythm if to state that no matter how beautiful its sepulchers and monuments, the graveyard is still an ugly fucking place, and the ghastly caretaker is covered in the soil and remnants of the departed. The drums jam along with what is really a contrast in motions, from the lurching obelisks at its onset to the thickened grooves in the late bridge, and there is an undercurrent of that same prog rock you'll usually find as a cooperative inspiration for so many of this genre's practitioners in the 21st century.

The other tracks here deviate mildly, with the lush balladry of "Grene Knyght" led by its lush acoustic guitars and folksy yet stark, haunting harmony vocals...this is EASILY the best cut I've ever heard from Black Magician, and I would love it if in the future they could blend pieces of this quality with surges of heavier, atmospheric power chords. The vocals are just so much more interesting than the haughty growling. This tune is the one thing here I really felt like listening to over and over again for its dreamy departure to ancient English glades and spells and encroaching darkness. Things take another turn entirely for the closing "Black Henbane", which is more like an aggro doom, jammy nightmare rock & roll track festooned with banners of grating psychedelic organs, and simplistic leads which give off a trippy chase through a Hammer Films haunted house vibe, if it were enacted by surf bums. Kind of a strange, righteous closure for this 14 minute EP, but then it's nigh on impossible in such a limited space to really pace out material beyond its mere presentation. And that's really the major flaw of this format: The Pursuivant seems like a smattering, a mere sampling of ideas, several of which would have kicked royal ass in a full-length format where there is more space to flow from one pole to the next. It succeeds at that, but ends before your psyche has had the chance to truly get invested.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (abandoned by the dwindling flock)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gorerotted - Only Tools and Corpses (2003)

You know you're probably in trouble when the bookend samples for the first cut on an album are of the Crypt Keeper from HBO's Tales from the Crypt, that's about as obvious a choice you can get from the horror field apart from a Freddy Krueger quote or biting off the theme from Halloween. Also obvious is that England's Gorerotted were a bunch of young hopefuls barking up the tree of Cannibal Corpse, in particular the transitory period between Chris Barnes and Corpsegrinder...records like The Bleeding. I seem to remember a cloud of buzz surrounding their sophomore effort when it was released in 2003 through Metal Blade Records, but after going back to listen again, I was mistaken. It was merely flies.

That's not to say Only Tools and Corpses is a heaping helping of dogshit, but at best it was a fairly middling affair which probably just played upon some folks' nostalgia for the previous decade. I can't exaggerate how some of the death/thrashing verses in tunes like "Hacked in the Back, Dumped in a Sack" sound EXACTLY like stuff Cannibal Corpse was doing around the same time is this, though they often seem more reliant on bland tremolo picked progressions. Sure, they can lay out a thuggish groove from time to time which isn't going to disappoint one who's just there to throw his bulk about a pit, but so much of the material is centered upon the typical alternating 4x chug/burst mechanic that it continues to beat that script to death long after it was already passe. Vary rarely a sequence of notes will surprise you from nowhere, or they'll cut out to some syrupy bass playing which is reminiscent of Alex Webster's aesthetic, but by and large you feel like hearing one song here qualifies that you've heard them all. Not always going to be a problem for devotees of the genre, but the individual riffs and constructions just don't have the personality of their forebears, and it reeks of 'also ran'.

One area of distinction between this band and that other I keep mentioning would be in the vocals, which sort of trade off between four styles. You've got the standard, gruff beatdown-guttural which sounds a little bit like a David Vincent meets Infestdead, and then a rapacious stock snarls of the Deicide double-up variety. But then they'll also implement some of the deeper, gurgling inflection attributed to the more toilet bowl variety of brutal death metal, as well as some hooligan barks that sound like really pissed off punk or hardcore molded to the context of death metal. None of these are impressive or interesting, but there at least exists that level of versatility distributed at just the right amounts over the riffs. Lyrics exude a fine odor of Limey violence and misogyny: "Fuck Your Arse With Broken Glass" or "Zombie Graveyard Rape Bonanza", and they're fun if you're into that, but again, this was arriving at a time in which it was all old hat...not only did you have mainstream shockers like Corpse, but Gorgasm, Lividity, Mortal Decay, and on and on, many of which were just more vicious and memorable.

All told, Only Tools and Corpses is not a miserable effort, it's just too easily lost in the crowd. The cover art is by an artist who did a splatter comic called Tales from Uranus and has a fun style, and the mix of instruments here is functional and punishing. It just lacks for delivering the riffs that make me want to keep it around and listen through it consistently, and the few points at which I've gone back to it have me slaked for Bloodthirst or some other masterpiece of the medium.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (I find live people and I play with them)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Necrophagia - Harvest Ritual Volume I (2005)

I've always wanted to like Necrophagia a lot more than I actually do.

That's not to say that Killjoy hasn't in his own way contributed to the extreme metal culture as a large, he's certainly one of the earlier musicians to cater so much to his cult horror fetish through both his lyrical choices and the samples and intro/interlude bits he collects. He also has one of the more gruesome pure death metal gutturals (and accompanying snarls) you'll hear from those US veterans still kicking about, not as distinct as Speckmann or Tardy or the late Chuck Schuldiner, but still pretty potent. I thought a few of his earlier records were pretty good (Season of the Dead and Holocausto de la Morte, at least), and I also find that I get whipped into a frenzy every time I read about the next disc he's releasing through this band. The cover art is usually campy and fun, the ideas behind it cater to my own nostalgia for both horror classics and their B movie shadows, and when presented with a title like Harvest Ritual Volume I I am insta-triggered due to my love for the autumn season and the once-pagan holiday I so enjoy for both its atmosphere and the activities surrounding it. I truly wanted this to be the Necrophagia recording that finally won me over, but was left hanging...

Similar to bands like Master, or Massacre, or Death, Necrophagia's evolution towards the death metal genre arrived via thrash roots, but unlike those others I just named, the metallic components of Harvest Ritual Volume I remain very heavily balanced in that camp. Extremely simple brute chugging patterns that don't sound like they took a lot of thought or time to craft, with some occasionally breaks into the more morbid tremolo picking we commonly associate as a hallmark of the OSDM style (as in "Dead Skin Slave" or "Return to Texas"). The rhythm tone here has quite a lot of meat and punch to it, but it seems very pit-centric, without interesting note progressions and a few lower bends and fills just to help flesh out the band's aesthetic to a more current brutal flavor. You're really only getting maybe one half-inspired, memorable riff per dozen they fire off, and sadly I find this a common trait for a lot of the records Frediablo has played on. That's not to say it sucks, or it doesn't fit the mesh of mechanics Killjoy is working within here, but at best they only serve as dependable when other things are happening in the tunes, like the 'spooky' synthesizer lines closing out "Unearthed" or the cleaner, eerier guitars dowsed in effects that set up the organs and creepy loops in "Cadavera X".

Another issue I took here was with the vocals. While I appreciate Killjoy's over the top, loudly barking quality, and the lyrics he's spitting are evocative if simple, they often seem far too structured and uninspired in how the syllables are set to the riffs, like clockwork as he's raving between the two inflections. A looser, more raucous approach really seems to work better with this style and would add some desperately needed chaos to the music, for a genuine ugliness. A lot of these tunes just seem too tidy in composition, like he's holding back rather than letting the werewolf out. The drums are simple but powerful, largely just rock laden grooves that hold down the moderate pacing of the songs, but I wouldn't ask for more, since this to me just hasn't been a band about speed, extremity or technique. On the other hand, Mirai's keys are perfectly adequate throughout the entire experience, creating a midway point between progressive influences like Goblin and a more generic but endearing haunted house quality that I just happen to enjoy. But when he's coming up with all this insanity for Sigh, it works because there are also some tremendous guitar riffs woven in and out of the blackened thrash spectacle. Here, he seems like a pylon of pumpkins supporting the stage for a lumbering, monotonous Frankenstein freakshow.

Hell, my favorite track here is "Akumu", pure synth with a lightly pumping bass sound, which feels like what might have occurred if Pink Floyd had scored Halloween instead of Carpenter himself. But then you launch into the following "Stitch Her Further", and the banal chugging of the verses which is lazy at best, or "Excommunicated" which sounds like the same song that had already appeared on the record three times until Mirai's wavering, acidic synth lines burn through the graveyard haze. Harvest Ritual Volume I is an album that wants to be so fun, and comes really damn close, it just needed more time for that thrashing/death foundation to gestate, or perhaps even a different tone with more open, dissonant chords thrust in there to make it more immediately compelling. As it stands, while this isn't the Necrophagia record I like the least, it was nonetheless a letdown. The pumpkins, pentagrams, nooses and crucifixion which grace its cover deserved a little better.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10] (mummified womb of Satan)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thokk - Of Rape and Vampirism (1997)

A justifiably bygone relic of another age, around the point the second wave black metal bubble was ripe to burst, Of Rape and Vampirism nevertheless stands as an interesting example of how indecision and experimentation can impinge upon the experience of an album. Valério Costa, probably better known as Lord Kaiaphas, who drummed and screamed on a few of the earlier Ancient discs and Grand Belial's Key demos, formed this project about the same time as he was embarking on those others. Here he is matched with 'Thegn Damieus the Marauder', some of you have likely listened to as 'Holocausto', guitarist of the politically incorrect, melodic US death metal mainstays Arghoslent. The cover image does well to give an impression of bloodsucking horror and extremity, perhaps in the vein of Ancient, Cradle of Filth, Abyssos, Hecate Enthroned, Siebenburgen, or one of many other such acts which haunted the gibbous moonlit landscapes and castle battlements of the mid-to-late 90s, in many cases to see their respective shelf lives come to a close once the black metal genre segregated into its now surviving tributaries.

The music, on the other hand, does not live up to any conceptual promise of any dark Transylvanian princes exploits, nor the eroticism and mystique surrounding the the theme. Five of the eight tracks are written in a typical black metal mold for the time, and for the other three the duo decides to go absolutely batshit crazy and attempt a more free form excursion into noise. Both 'halves' are plagued with individual flaws, but there is also an overlap: their mutual aimlessness and inefficiency. The 'First Evocation' suffers from slightly over-loud drumming, in particular the blasting and fills, which overpower the airy, fuzzy drifts of rhythm guitar that represent the one saving grace of the music, similar in structure to early Satyricon, Covenant or the first Old Man's Child record. Granted, they seem to have generated in any random order and placed within the context of the larger 'songs', but the melodic tremolo picking is tense and fluid, and there are even a few licks of nastier blackened speed/thrash metal which are always a joy when accompanied by better overall songwriting. Vocals are a stock rasp that occasionally errs on the side of uber-goofball due to some failed attempt at creating a manic, narrative quality. The low cleans are likewise laughable, but where it really falls apart is in how some of the screams are awkwardly coupled with lyrical lines like 'I want your fucking cunt/I need your live-giving blood!' on the title cut.

With the exception of the reappearance Kaiaphas' decrepit hag rasps, the 'Second Evocation' is a sequence of three noise tracks consisting of percolating, rugose, distorted loops which are capped off with frenzied, warped synthesizer noises, implemented to create an unnerving sense of tenseness and alien escapism; an ugly mirror for the gruesome buildups in cult horror flicks that would generally involve a chase or a stabbing or worse. This is clearly the creepier, more pathological material likely to evoke a shiver or sweat from the listener, and yet the experience is marred once the vocals arrive, which sound like a couple of drunk teenagers making a derision of the voices typically found in the genre. I can't tell if Kaiaphas was falling over himself with self-mockery behind the microphone, or if I'm actually meant to take this as seriously as the metal-driven material. While I have no aversion to minimalistic noise or drone or any form of nightmarish soundscaping, this seems all too sporadic and random, a failed parody of something like Abruptum rather than a genuine breaking of new soil like Fenriz did with his dark ambient Neptune Towers project. It's really just...kind of dumb.

In the end, Of Rape and Vampirism might have proven a workmanlike black metal EP had it cut off around the 20-24 minute mark, but extending it beyond that into the absurd more or less soils the material leading up to that point, which was by no means exemplary in of itself. Although there were a few passable and even enjoyable guitar passages, he had much better material to play on with any r Arghoslent effort chosen at random. The vocals are indistinct at best, silly and self- deprecating for the rest of the time. While hints of electronic experimentation are used as book ends for some of the earlier cuts, I doubt many first-time listeners expected it to go Full Audio Retard in its waning tracks, and there just seemed to be a massive disconnect between the two poles. With more integration of the loops and black metal rhythms, the record might have proven a more provocative, evocative anomaly, but here the contrast seem like a means to fill dead air; and there are far better thrills and chills to fill any frightful night. This stuff couldn't seduce a black mascara-drenched farm animal, much less a proper Goth.

Verdict: Fail [4/10] (ivory neck and lecherous thighs)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cloud Rat - Qliphoth (2015)

You know how sometimes you get a new record from a band that you’ve never heard of before, and it takes you a few songs or a few listens to really feel captivated by what is going on musically? Qliphoth is not that album. You will know after the first few songs whether you are all in or not, and I sure as hell hope you are because this is a great album.

Qliphoth opens with a tranquil vocal line, but it does not take long for the true form of Cloud Rat to manifest and unleash their incredibly catchy variety of grindcore. I honestly feel a little out of my depth even talking about Cloud Rat in terms of genre, as I mostly gravitate towards the more well known bands from the genre - earlier efforts from bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, and Bolt Thrower to name a few. And, well, there has been a hell of a lot of progress in the genre since the 80's.

Cloud Rat is loud, aggressive, and fast, but they punctuate the more turbulent riffing with moments of calm, giving you a chance to come up for air. Like clockwork, a string of loud, fast, loud, fast will be interrupted by a calm instrumental or an opening riff that gives you a time to brace yourself before the inevitable avalanche of noise that is about to drop.

In fact, my favorite portion of the album is the five song sequence that begins with “Raccoon” and ends with “Udder Dust.” “Raccoon” begins with a slow three note riff that builds to include additional instruments and eventually vocals. It is a nice resting place, after the onslaught of the previous three songs, and the songs that come after “Raccoon” are among the most intense on the album. Cloud Rat is at their peak on “Rusting Belt,” which channels all of the bands aggression into the first minute only to resolve in the spoken words “arson is a form of self-expression in a place where you can’t express yourself.” Vocalist Madison Marshall puts in a hell of a performance on this album, but this spoken line, the only one of the album, was the one that stuck with me after I listened to it for the first time. I have since looked at the lyric sheet that came with the record, but this one line feels like the thesis statement for the entire album. It is poignant and powerful, and if it doesn’t make you want to set fire to the suburbs then you’re not listening to it loud enough.

While I don’t think I can call this the best album of 2015 so far, it is probably my favorite. Unlike some of the more technically impressive efforts I’ve heard, there is something about Qliphoth that I keep coming back to. The record feels like bottled lightning in that they managed to channel all of their sound into aural catharsis, and I find myself wanting to flip the record and play it all over again when it’s done.

Verdict: Win [8.0/10]

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Not that I've been terribly active lately to begin with, but for the first time since kicking off the blog in 2008, I'm actually taking a couple months off to refresh and recharge! Not only that, but to finish up some fiction and game design, and spend more time outside with my son. I shall return in the autumn for a very active month of horror metal, and will still be listening through the reams of promos and new CDs in the meantime, to mark them for my year's end lists (here and on Rate Your Music). Thanks, as always, for reading, and enjoy a few other voices in my absence. - auto

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Loathing Requiem - Acolytes Eternal (2015)

I was first exposed to Malcolm Pugh's A Loathing Requiem through a video review of his 2010 debut Psalms of Misanthropy on YouTube, though I've also heard encountered his work in a few other bands like Inferi and Diskreet. This project essentially takes a lot of Pugh's finesse as a musician, focuses it and intensifies it into a whirlwind of acrobatic chops that will probably have the tech death/Summer Slam audience prying their collective jaws from the pavement. What's more amazing, is that aside form a few guest spots, this is all Pugh...every instrument, just about every minute choice and detail found throughout the record, and it's frankly difficult to decide which instrument he's better at...

The bass lines are often just as busy as anything going on with the dominant, punchy and rapid-fire rhythm guitars. Beats are fast and precise, though they're pretty much par for the course when it comes to this niche within death meal. The vocals probably lose out here, since they're a fairly standard, monotonous grunt which lacks for dynamics beyond the expected, brutal punctuation. But when it comes to string-work, low end or high, Pugh is as practiced as nearly anyone you're going to find in that dense Californian tech death scene or, really, almost anyone in the world. Before I get ahead of myself, that's not to say Acolytes Eternal is comprised of the most memorable songs you're going to be humming to yourself in the shower; in fact, the note progressions whirr by with such a clinical celerity that they often seem to blend into one another. But, then again, that's the style he's working in, and anyone whose grown fond of records from acts like Necrophagist, Arsis, Fallujah or Decrepit Birth will find some familiarity in how Pugh puts all of this material together.

To his credit, there is a strict standard here for melody which accompanies the frenzied 'exercise' feel of the manic fret-work. Rhythmically, the guitars might seem too busy for their own good, but when it comes to leads or harmonies he reins them in so they drift memorably above that pacemaker shattering punch of the lower end. Where the material might have come across as proficient yet soulless, these elements, as in "The Mortal's Harvest" offer another dimension that keeps the mind engaged regardless of how many comparable tech death acts it has experienced. Tempos flit about like bats on fire. Ambient interludes and other tactics help to keep the more exhausting aspects of the music balanced off, and there is very clearly an overbrain at work, cautiously tweaking the entire experience so it feels complete rather than just showing off at every availability.

Is is enough? I would say 'yes', A Loathing Requiem has enough merit and musicality to warrant a listen even if you find yourself jaded with a lot of modern tech death for its focus on production and ability above songwriting. Let's face it, the purpose of discs like this is not to compose a bunch of anthems people are singing in arenas 30 years in the future (though wouldn't that be something?). It's not the age of Priest or Maiden, or even Death and Morbid Angel. This is an individual testing the limits of human endurance and attention-span, without going far too into the over-cluttered territory in which bands like Brain Drill have staked their claims. I didn't find the tunes here as compelling or visionary as Fallujah's The Flesh Prevails from last year, but keep in mind this is just one guy, and a frighteningly talented one. If Pugh's songwriting capacity and control catches up to his proficiency, we'll be in for something unparalleled. For now, Acolytes Eternal is a solid proof of potential...just don't blink or you might miss something.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hail - Lawgiver EP (2015)

As opposed to the Bestial Storms of the Abyssal Pit demo, the Lawgiver EP represents the first official new material released from Finland's Hail in over a decade, and as such will be held to a higher standard by those enthusiasts who follow this particular scene. Two substantial tracks with a brighter, clearer production than on either of the other recordings I've heard from them, and here the one-man act pursues a more organic mesh of black and death metal qualities which are superior at holding the listener's attention than the demo I recently reviewed. Though the cover artwork might not look nearly as strange as that other release, the music really does live up to it, with the less-than-cheerful disposition of the grim axeman. That said, I felt like stylistically this was a smooth evolution from Inheritance of Evilness, with the same sense for loosely focused riffing patterns that snaked around simple ideas and used production and maniacal vocal presence to thunder them home. Don't go expecting anything truly innovative or out of the ordinary, but Hail are far from a clone of other, better known acts from Dirtmaster's homeland.

The guitars have an excellent, grainy level of saturation to them which helps flesh out the tremolo picked guitar patterns in "Lawgiver & The Ghost Sword", but a lot of the time he's playing more open chords that lend the music a more melancholic, heavy/doom atmosphere. Note choices are quite simplistic, but even though they're not constantly ear-catching, they really work within the raw, raucous parameters Dirtmaster has set up. The drums still maintain that demo feel, tinny to the point that even the kick feels a little thin, but they're little more than timekeepers for the rhythm guitars that vainly attempt to penetrate that black, clouded cover to the entire din. The vocals here are nowhere near as crazy sounding as the old demo, and instead focused on a dirtier, gruffer syncopated growl, which functions appropriately within the nihilistic approach to composition. There are a few points where the transitions seem slightly sloppy, which resonates a mildly improvisational aftertaste, but at the very least they always seem to develop into some subtle but epic heavy metal riffing patterns...

Like what he does with the harmonics and chords at the end of "Lawgiver...", where the riffs really adapt an early Varathron-ish Hellenic black/heavy metal aesthetic worthy of a Robert E. Howard short story, before escalating into a pretty evil sounding death metal riff which is frankly the most creepy sequence of notes I've ever heard from Hail. This brand of fell majesty continues well into the second track, "De Revolutionibus Orbium Colestium 666", which occasionally sounds samey to the first, but is broken up by some little dissonant wisps of notes and a more doom-like sparsity by the middle of the track (around the 5 minute mark). The vocals get really vile and mocking at that point, and I just love what he's doing with the atmospheric guitars, using the vocals as grisly percussion. When given ample time to work their horrors on the listener, Dirtmaster seems to just excel at these passages, and while there is some room for improvement and to make the tunes catchier in general, Lawgiver is a genuine, dark glimpse into a musical future that hopefully won't take 12 years to manifest.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]