Sunday, March 9, 2014
Hyper-ballistic death metal with clear roots in Morbid Angel, Krisiun, Deicide and other blast-worthy adepts from the Americas. The riffs and beats and fired off with precision but not a lot of punctuation, peppered with fairly average tremolo progressions that don't really do much to stoke the imagination, but at least sound really great due to the cleaner production. While there is an evident level of variation in what they write, I do promise that anyone who gets exhausted with more than a few moments of blast beats is likely going to fucking hate this disc. It's absolutely manic with the things, not without exception, but it doesn't do much to dissuade the outsiders' notion that a lot of this stuff sounds repetitive and lacks the nuance and memorability that many seek in music (even the extreme kind). Into this they toss a lot of pinpoint, punchy clinical death/thrash components that divide the velocity without edging away at its momentum, and then there are the more subliminal details like following the bassist, who bops and bungles along down in the undercurrent of the mix, sounding fantastic but often getting smothered by the almost mechanical aptitude of the guitarists, which is probably frightening to see live due to its exaction.
Vocals are a pretty common guttural format, but they'll bounce a few back and forth at each other to maintain some atmosphere and malevolence, with a slightly morbid sustain to the longer growls. Most impressive is probably that, despite not having a trace of what we might normally consider 'atmosphere' through the production, For I Am Genocide really lives up to that otherworldly, cataclysmic cover image in that it moves like such an unfeeling, nihilistic leviathan towards its ultimate destination. You are in the presence of greater powers here, which do not commune with any sense of humanity, so the soullessness of Mass Infection's annihilation is all too fitting. Something like Conquers of Armageddon crossbred with Gateways to Annihilation, played to the imagery of fiery comets raining from the sky and destroying an entire civilization. Granted, it's very straightforward and not at all a contender for the best death metal of the year (or even recent months), but I maintain some admiration for how it blazes a trail right over your corpse and onto the next unwary bastard. In the relentless pursuit of apocalypse.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Granted, Ars Magicka might not prove anything special in the long run, because a number of the riffs here are truly cut and pasted from a number of their influences, ranging from the nearby Brazilian death/thrash scene of the 80s (old Sepultura, Mutilation, Sarcófago) to the seminal Teutonic tyranny of Kreator and Sodom, the raucous filth of early Bathory and all that old 'blast first think later' black metal out of the Scandinavian scene in the mid 90s. Repulsive, thick and distorted bass-lines moor a fairly standard slew of chords and tremolo picked guitar lines, but they manage to come off somewhat sinister nonetheless, and the tinny blasting skills of this drummer are constantly on fire. The icing on the cake, however, is the grotesque blackened vocal rasp of the front man which resonates off the roiling, hellish riff progressions. He'll go for a haughtier bark, with just a few flecks of blood coughed up, and then inject some more snarling black metal passages to offer just a mild degree of variation; but it all sounds pissed off, even though it's mixed at such a level that the actual syllables can get lost against the rapidity of the drums and guitars.
There's enough 'thunder' to capture the war metal crowd, and to be truthful they veer a little more towards the pure black metal aesthetic, occasionally rolling out a mid-paced Bathory part or a slower chord series reminiscent of Slayer. Higher pitched tremolo melodies burst out to transcend any lapse into monotony, and there are some total charge parts in tunes like "Tribulation" which should thrill fans of absolutely mindless grinding black metal with no concern for subtlety or innovation whatsoever. Thankfully they don't play the punk card and go into a very boring riff component. The limitations are just that not one of these songs is going to really stick out in your memory for a long time coming...it's mood music, front and center, all been done before but I just don't get too tired hearing it when a group like Ceremonial comes along, breathes a little fire into it and manages to convince me that sometimes I should stick a sock in my quest for originality and just have a good bloody time. Ars Magicka is black/thrash hot sauce, you won't wanna apply it to every meal but there are certain forms of cuisine that just cannot thrive without it.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Friday, March 7, 2014
At any rate, Californians Carnifex were really starting to metamorphose from such a cocoon. It's been a long time coming, and goddamn did this group suck to begin with, but steadily they have ascended into something resembling a band which releases albums that I don't instantly want to remove from my CD player, peaking with 2011's Until I Feel Nothing, an album that many diehard followers of their old stuff disliked, which would seem to yield a default recommendation. So naturally, that disc's successor was the first that I actually found myself anticipating...okay, not really, but Die Without Hope might damn well have proven the first Carnifex album I could define as 'good' with a straight face. Once I saw the cover art, I was even more curious...could they have integrated a little old school death metal into their sound? Sadly, this is actually a step backward from where they are headed, without exactly abandoning the direction of the last 2-3 full-lengths. It's testosterone-charged slammy deathcore with loads of soulless chugging, and the caveat that these guys at least put some effort into their leads, and intto generating a modicum of complexity with the use of more atmospheric or tremolo-picked guitars as an enforcement upon the standardized tropes that plague the album, the sub-genre, and inevitably result in my lack of interest after a number of spins through it. Die Without Hope is certainly no backpedaling to the mid-oughts, and I think these guys clearly continue to imbue the material with their melodeath and modern thrash inspirations, but it's all so painfully average.
What continues to really kill their sound the most is how generic the vocalist is, you could literally transplant a frontman from anywhere else in the medium, and apart from comparing and counting neck and sleeve tats, there would be no difference. Vapid Americore growling and snarling which traces its history all the way back to those earlier Deicide/Carcass as translated through countless grindcore, metalcore and melodic death metal acts hailing from England, Sweden, and Uncle Sam. There is no individuality, no legitimate sense of torment or torture...I really do not feel like I get to know this guy whatsoever, his trials and tribulations, and it really puts a dampener on things. It's not tough sounding, and it's not remotely sinister. BE SINISTER. Come to Satan, my darlings! But, no: overbearing, predictable and boring would be more accurate. There is no technical deficiency...he can bark on tempo and there is real wind coming out of his lungs, but you've just heard it so, so, so many times and its naught more than a superficial brutality in execution. Beyond that, Carnifex are entirely competent, with storming percussion that can easily handle all the standards: double-bass chokepoints, seamless blast beats and simpler, sparser beats to support the swarthy palm-muted grooves. The bass guitar really gets lost for me...I mean, I can hear it but I'd rather the guy perform some more unusual lines that stand out from the chugging rather than support it so closely. A little more depth, richness and complexity to these mosh parts would not be a hindrance.
But I can be thankful that, almost unanimously, the breakdowns are affixed with tinny little melodies or other busy distractions that feel much more fulfilling than had they not been present. They are clearly not afraid to contrast those harsher, caustic bludgeon-fests with some eloquence or grace, and while the melodic bits are vastly outnumbered, the leads are fairly professional and the overall experience of Die Without Hope really relishes in that modernist, 21st century extreme metal sensibility which I'm not at all shy around...I just want the songs to be good. These are largely interchangeable, you could throw half the grooves into the other songs and not notice any difference, so perhaps it suffers from a little too much consistency. Not always a detriment, but here it made the record tiring long before the 38 minutes ground to a halt. The mix of the album is a sure bet for followers of the style...titanic, punchy, and yet not negligent of all the minor details. In other words, the vest metal legions will fucking hate it, but if you're down for what you generally hear from bands like Job for a Cowboy, Whitechapel and this one, then it's to be expected. I mean, as old as I am, and as much as I love old metal, I'm not the typical 'get off my lawn' type. I am down with what the kids are trying; I simply have faith that many of them can do it better. Personally, I just got bored by the modular nature of this music. Carnifex has proficiency locked down, and they deliver some variation and texture to the degree that they seem to think about what they're doing before they record it, but I really wish the songs would just stick more...and please, reach within yourself, and try using a different vocal style for once, even if it's just a fraction removed from what is on this album. With some feeling.
Verdict: Indifference [5/10]
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Just because I don't hold it in the highest esteem of the Danes' career, don't mistake that for lacking some substance. In truth, the weirder riffing passages that shone through on Pestilence Empire are even more pronounced amidst the blasting surges. It may have (and remain) the most thoughtfully composed album they put out, and it often reminds me of a mix of Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the Sick and Covenant with a bit of Gorguts' later 90s absurdity circa Obscura. There's a lot going on at any one given time, and Smerte really varies up his own vocals with a mix of the guttural barks and a harsher, higher pitch that resonates more with what he does in Horned Almighty. Variation is paramount, with a pretty even range of full on blasted components, zipping and zooming atmospherics and slower, amorphous grooves which are loaded with deft and seamless double bass patterns. You absolutely get a lot of that sliding jerkiness (i.e. "Symbols of Inhumanity") found on left field death metal recordings where the constant transitions were well-meaning, it's not exactly random placement but you do feel like you'll be getting into one part and they're off to another before it fully develops. Still, Nihilistic Contentment seems like the most technically ambitious of their outings, even if the techniques just seem to be emphasized from particular tracks on its predecessor. It wasn't necessarily anything 'new', but they were clearly attempting to open that tear in space/time and make it such.
Actually liked that weird, jarring percussion/piano interlude "Swamp of Decadence" and wished it were longer, or that they would have promoted similar atmospheres elsewhere on the album, which would have certainly made this stand out more against the crowded genre in which it got lost. Production-wise, while my own preference might be for Pestilence Empire or their swan song Funeral Phantoms, this was the record that most death metal or brutal metalcore fans would most appreciate. The meat of the rhythm guitars is just dripping with fatty juices, and the more intricate guitars feel coiled, springy, and organic, very much in line with Obscura or From Wisdom to Hate. Bass is likewise voluptuous, while Galheim's drums here are just unbelievably tight and one of his overall better performances; bittersweet, because it was his last recording with Exmortem, but he certainly didn't let his bandmates down. Nihilistic Contentment is just this really tightly wrought showcase for the entire band, if they had gone further into atmospheres or written the tunes just a little more strangely, I'm sure it would be talked about alongside your Gorguts, Immolations, and Ulcerates, though the Danes wouldn't ultimately dwell on this specific sound. That said, definitely not a boring ride here; better than Dejected in Obscurity or Berzerker Legions and worth tracking down if you skipped it upon release. Six good albums, some a little better than others, not one a disappointment. Exmortem. May they go down in history with a little more respect than initially received.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (absurd posturing of the deformed)
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
As Dejected in Obscurity was to Labyrinths of Horror, so too is Pestilence Empire to its predecessor Berzerker Legions. Against a reliable backdrop of comparable, blasting excess, the songwriter is far more atmospheric, evil, roiling and surgical in its construction, and while that doesn't necessarily manifest into a highly original set of tunes, its certainly their most otherworldly and accomplished recording in terms of both technicality and raw punishment. Tunes like "Pestifer" are possessed of these out-of-left-field dissonant chord structures and sliding weirdness that seem to channel amorphous Lovecraftian horrors while persisting in a churning, nihilistic undertow thanks to the excellent fucking guitar tone. "Malus Invictus" basically takes the unrepentant speed of the prior album and injects some punchier, unexpected riffing twists and a double kick sequences you can feel deep below your chest cavity. The finale, "A Tyrants Hunger" has that sort of peppy and clinical technicality in its architecture that reminded me heavily of the first Decapitated or some of the faster Vader material of the 90s, with some choppy evil old Pestilence death/thrash harmonies.
This new bassist and drummer made it seem all too effortless, and even though the album might still rely a little too much on sheer blasting, Sigtyr had arrived at the perfect counterbalance, which was to make just about everything he played either interesting or malevolent enough to surrender any shortcomings. I'd also add that Smerte sounded louder here, his voice taking on a more cavernous aesthetic where it's clearly bouncing back and forth to contrast the more busied guitars. About the only real gripe I could offer against Pestilence Empire is that it still could really use some outbreaks of whipping, wild, incendiary leads in the Morbid Angel fashion where they would just leave the listener speechless. As it stands, Sigtyr puts so much work into the construction of the guitars that there were points where I just wanted the guy to take off into the stratosphere and I felt like I was still left on the launch pad. They need not even be too technical, just frenzied and messy and thrilling. Otherwise, Pestilence Empire is quite spotless in presentation, I like the dark and moody sound which isn't brickwalled or overproduced, and this remains in my opinion their very best album. If someone wanted to know where to start with the Danes, track down a copy of this and their 2008 swan song Funeral Phantoms and explore what should have been a better known band.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (leading the syndicate of death)
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
With Killerich, you know this thing is going to be a blasterpiece, and to that extent you won't be let down. A lot of faster paced material circa Morbid Angel/Hate Eternal with a fibrous level of distortion that tears out a gajillion tremolo picked riffs, some of which are assembled catchier than I might have dreaded. There is notably less variation than on Dejected in Obscurity, so I felt entirely dependent on the riffing patterns and vocals to carry the material, and thankfully it succeeds, with the caveat that it's not the sort of record I want to spin often or in its entirety. Honestly, I feel similar to a lot of the Panzerchrist offerings, in that the disc is meticulously constructed aggression which simply doesn't rise above its brutality, its genre standards, to walk with the giants of the genre. Just a lot of intense drumming and traditional death metal riffing with a ghastly vocal presence that sometimes gets lost in the barbarism if you're not paying close enough attention. I just find Smerte's attack far more effective over the black/punk or black/rock leanings of his currently active band, but if you listen in you can here he's got a great sustain to his growl and they seem to often throw a few filters on him which gives the album a somewhat futuristic/apocalyptic impression.
Berzerker Legions is quite unforgiving, and not always in a good way, so it suffers for the same reasons records by Diabolic, Krisiun or Malevolent Creation often fall into systemic dispassion...the real lack of a distinguished or resonant atmosphere. To this point, granted, the Danes had only put out two records that weren't exactly bastions of depth in songwriting, but this one further cemented them as third or fourth stringers on the European scene, and it just lacks the character of the better efforts. It could really use some great lead sequences or pulverizing breakdowns to help break up the speed. That said, it's a real neckbreaker and not at all a bad album to pick through if you really value intensity and couldn't care less about subtlety or song diversity. Beyond the intro it goes into nuclear overdrive, nothing nuanced or unique ever happening, just a load of repetition that makes use of Killerich's speed without ever teaching us why he's this fantastic, up and coming drummer beyond his ability to batter away for a half hour. And that's frankly just too much for this to match any of the other Exmortem full-lengths, and coupled with the forgettable cover image of bursting, incendiary bodies, its reasonable why this seems to have been entirely neglected.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (waiting for a new age)
Monday, March 3, 2014
This isn't quite so dense and opaque as Labyrinths of Horror, sacrificing a fraction of the morbidity for a more dynamic sense of pacing; but it strikes a lot of the same nerves with the guttural belching. I felt that the guitar tone here was a little less impressive, but at the same time thinner and cleaner and better suited to let the syrupy bass lines through in the mix. The wails and slides of the brief solos add an entire new level of vile contrast, and the drums are a lot scrappier and give the whole disc a more calamitous appeal (the last album Mike Nielsen would record with the band). Backing vocals have changed slightly to a more indistinct bark, which I didn't care for as much as those on the first album, since they gave it a bit of a grindcore spark that was really unnecessary, but these aren't exactly an obstacle or distraction; they play a somewhat insignificant role when competing with the growls or shifting riff patterns. Dejected in Obscurity also benefits from a wider level of variation than its predecessor, they fiddle more with the listener's mood and expectations while remaining consistent through the faster paced material which plays like a blend of older Morbid Angel and Poland's Vader.
Not an immortal record, exactly, just another 'good one' from the later 90s that you might not have heard, because it has no real gimmick or selling point beyond the fact that genre completists will enjoy its purity of purpose. You can tell here that these Danes were probably really into the more malevolent West Coast thrash mayhem in the 80s (Slayer, Dark Angel, Possessed) because they really lay on that sort of intensity and excitement thickly, which was so formative to Florida's budding death metal evolution, which definitely had a hand in Exmortem's stylistic choices. I would say this was one of their worst records, and it's still entertaining, which says a lot for just how damned consistent they were until their eventually disbanding in the following decade (and century). The cover's a little bland, and the production doesn't really stand out beyond a reasonable level of concussion and clarity, but those seeking some genuine 90s death metal thrills without needing to join the 'Cult of the Old New' should add this to their radar, along with just about everything Exmortem ever recorded.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (into the gory cave of darkness)
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Denmark never really had a unified 'scene' aesthetic, unlike the Scandinavian sects of Sweden and Finland, so this doesn't precisely sound like Panzerchrist or Corpus Mortale beyond the obvious similarities in growls, guitar tunings, and general unfriendliness of the genre. Labyrinths of Horror is possessed of this rich, ripping guitar tone which can run with most of the Swedes, but the total nihilism of the main vocals and mindless blasting that often breaks out here has more in common with the US scene, specifically Florida and New York, some ungodly union of Obituary and Incantation. There's also quite a bit of Dutch inspiration, particularly via Pestilence or Asphyx, largely in the backing vocals which take on the grotesque pallor of Martin van Drunen (with a little John Tardy for good measure). Really, though, this debut shows the Danes at their most 'innocent' and straightforward. Labyrinths is an entirely riff-driven, ugly death metal record with about as much subtlety as a trash bag of human body parts left stinking behind the slaughterhouse. Doesn't take a huge leap of logic to realize what happened there, and what will happen to you if you were to fuck with these guys...guttural, slimy, evil, and eschewing melody for pure, punishing viscera.
Not a lot of atmosphere, and the riffing progressions are not necessarily the most memorable nor the most malevolent in composition, so it's clear Exmortem did not have a debut on their hands which would rival icons of the first wave like Left Hand Path, Realm of Chaos, Altars of Madness, etc. Intelligent, viral lead outbreaks are also not really a part of this picture, it's all too 'working class'...this butcher isn't working the leanest cuts of meat for an upscale banquet, he's just hacking into whatever is unfortunate enough to happen along. But at the same time, there's a particular timelessness to the meaty rhythm guitar tone, the spankish drum production and the overly ominous, deep Craig Pillard-esque growl which still makes me pull the covers over my head and pray for the killer to pass me over and kill the person in the next house. Alright, I'm exaggerating...I'd just shoot the bastard, but it's difficult to imagine even a handful of bullets putting this grisly beast down. Labyrinths of Horror isn't unique, it's not innovative, it's not melodic, it's not the best album by Exmortem and it doesn't care. In fact, there's nothing 'labyrinthine' or complex anywhere, which is the worst you could say for it. Simply a mouldering heap of rot, flies buzzing all over it, rats pulling at scraps as you gaze on in horror of how a living, loving, laughing being could become just yesterday's meat. You know you want a bite.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (recommending amputation)
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Fat, sluggish bass-lines anchor a series of monolithic, sprawling chords that run an aesthetic range from depression to extinction, often transforming into more 'uptempo', roiling death metal tremolo patterns that feel like someone lost something in your intestines and is fishing through your guts to find it. Feedback erupts with no hesitation, and the vocals cycle between black hole gutturals and bile-swishing snarls, and the drums crash along with a grim certainty that belies speed and technicality, which is all that is truly required of them. They will implement some spoken word-like passages and effects which give Procession an entirely contemporary feeling, this is not the doom of antiquity but of 20th century industrial societies running amok, and it exudes that same sort of helpless feeling you might feel when paging through photographs from WWI or WWII, just like the blasted out buildings in the booklet intend. There are only four tracks ranging from 8-14 minutes in length, and not a whole lot of variation between them, but the production is just so raw and megalithic that it recounted the reaction I had to British bands like Bolt Thrower or Godflesh, only filtered through the glacial pacing of a Winter or Disembowelment.
Though most of the guitar patterns are pretty unoriginal and predictable in composure, The Nihilistic Front seems to exempt itself from the usual tired response because they just sound so goddamned heavy that it makes such vapid structure seem whole again...or fresh...or new. I cannot look at or listen through this album without feeling like I got exactly what they intended, exactly what I deserved, and I think that makes it an easy recommendation for death/doom purists who want soul-wrenching, unforgiving and utterly without hope. You won't hear any subtle brilliance, or spy any lights and the end of tunnels, rays of sunshine spotting the cloud-cover...just endless fucking soot pumping out of smokestacks, settling on your skin and making you choke your life out. Don't listen to before you've got a birthday or wedding to attend, or any sort of important life event to which you need to wear a smile and a warm embrace. Instead, listen to this afterward, when you finally realize that all hope and happiness is naught but a fleeting, hollow proxy for the realities of the universe...emptiness, all-consuming darkness and despair, and civilizations cranking on cyclically to their cancerous ends. Apologies in advance.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (eject us from this world)
Friday, February 28, 2014
Not the case for The Satanist, which has been for me the first instance in which Behemoth truly lives up to the surrounding hype; an album that is not only phenomenally well-written, but bolsters production standards that crush the fucking sun. Not a major stylistic deviation from their last few discs, but the plotting here at long last seems to translate into an actual slew of songs that I feel like listening to repeatedly, which is more than I could say for stuff like Evangelion, which possesses a proficient, punishing quality that seems to plateau at 'good', eluded by 'greatness' and only ever broken out when I want a reliable, indistinct bludgeoning. The Satanist is just such a more well-rounded experience...blast beats are weighted off against genuine moments of poignant atmosphere and restraint. Individual tunes are distinguishable from one another, and after hearing one I couldn't quite put my finger on what would happen in the next. The death and black metal genre tropes which have shaped Nergal's career are more evenly balanced, and the robust production aesthetics and the precision instrumentation have just never sounded better. While The Satanist is still not a perfect outing, and leaves some area for further expansion, it oozes conviction from every pore. We all know Darski had a rough spell health-wise, but that this is a testament to his survival gives it all the more impact. Coming back stronger and superior is after all a chief virtue of Satanic self-enlightenment, and so I'm not at all surprised he chose the absurd profundity of its overt title.
At any rate, much of the album is still a locomotive of seamless blasted structures which weave together the resonant tremolo picking and mildly dissonant chord choices, ominous octave chords sliding around the underbelly of hellish beats and Nergal's powerful if not entirely nasty sounding growls. If you were worried that the advance snippets of "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel" somehow lacked the intensity you'd come to expect, tracks like "In the Absence ov Light" or "Amen" make short work of the assumption like a hurricane whipping through a field of origami blossoms. The bass tone on the album deserves particular praise, it's just so fat and voluptuous and only ever loses some presence when the band is blasting full force, but there is just never a moment where the compositions feel 'empty' or lacking...layers of rhythm guitars or wailing and blustering lead passages always arrive, or tempo shifts where that fat, fat low end starts pummeling into your imagination like an infernal juggernaut. The ambient orchestration that both sets up "Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel" into those enormous riffs, and returns, even more horrifying in the bridge, was the perfect touch to balance out what are occasionally average chord choices. In fact, I wish this had occurred more often through The Satanist than it did, but thankfully the record is ridiculously effective regardless.
Lyrically, it's not a departure from anything else Behemoth has done in the last 15 years, but as with the mix on the bass, the vocals are just gruesome and over the top. You can feel the guy barking his guts out as he drives all the evil ego-tripping home. He sounds revitalized, recharged, and though I doubt the purpose of an album like this is 'fun', that is ultimately the effect of such a visceral, convincing performance. Their albums have always had that sense of entertaining intimidation. 'Look how fast we can play! Look how great we look! Look how comfortable we are in our wicked skins!' But then I'd put on one of the better efforts from Lost Soul, Calm Hatchery, Decapitated or almost anything from Vader and smirk at how much more I preferred their songwriting capabilities. Suddenly, Nergal and company belong amongst that crowd. Not that they weren't already a more smashing financial success, enjoying a level of popularity flush with Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, but I can no longer safely relegate them aside to the ranking of 'overrated', or dismiss them like a snob. This is a genuinely excellent album, both in appearance and sound, caving in my skull nine times straight and making everything before it seem like the warmup. There is still a distance to go before I can hail a Behemoth disc as a masterpiece for all the ages, but The Satanist at least flirts with that idea, and inspires belief beyond barren praise.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (in euphoria below)