Tuesday, October 15, 2019
That's not to take away from what the band accomplished here, a 56 minute rager of a record which played to me like a natural successor to their classic Dusk and Her Embrace, albeit with a better integration of the symphonic and haunted castle components and a broader selection of riffs which built upon everything the group had really accomplished in the years between. Most importantly, I think the production here was a step above so many of their works...generally I might have an issue with one or two instruments or vocal 'personalities' taking a back seat to the rest, but I cannot think of a better example than this of when they all were balanced so well together. The grunts, growls and gremlin snarls of Dani Filth, the professional if still somewhat goofy female operatic parts, the panoply of shimmering synths and organs, and rapid fire drumming of Marthus Skaroupka, and of course the riff selection, which continues to walk the line between thrash, death, black metal and even some more aggressive heavy metal parts. That Cradle has all this weaponry at its disposal and can seamlessly plug it all into the whole of their aesthetic remains impressive.
For me, the favorite aspect to this band has always been Dani's florid lyrical treatments, this idea that he was like a Wordsworth of occultism, dark mythology and salacious Gothic smut, and as usual, even on the band's weaker records, the stuff he's written here is a pleasure to pore over line for line. Lots of verses here in tunes like "Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess" invoke Martin Walkyier's vile meter and inflection, but of course Filth partitions this out into the various little personas created by his gutturals and higher pitched, effeminate rasping. He reacts well to just about every riffing change-up through the album's duration, which is saying a lot because the guitar duo packs in a lot of value for each track...individually, they might not seem complex, but there's just such an exhibition of riffs flying by on any region of this recording that it's hard not to be floored by the sheer effort it must take at remembering them all. Bass doesn't always stand out here as much, unless it's given the chance during a break, but you can always hear it hovering along and keeping the few fractional spaces between the guitars busy and the ears trained. Skaroupka's drumming is just ridiculous, and that he's also performing the keys and arranging the orchestration goes to show how overall valuable he's been as he's evolved through the band over the prior decade.
Hammer of the Witches is a pleasure to experience on the whole, though if we were to really break it all down, it's a refinement of riffing progressions, and a set of balancing scales between aggression and eloquence that won't be new to anyone familiar with their output. I myself found few of the sequences here to be truly memorable among old favorites from records like Midian, but even having said that it's an effort that I continue to sit through on occasion and listen to entirely rather than just cherry-picking individual tunes. The creepy orchestration and operatic interludes are very well done if you want something to conjure up that Transylvanian landscape you no doubt associate with the British veterans, and the prowess of the instrumentation and cohesion of the compositions is undeniable when you sit back and realize the scale of what they write, and how much is going on in so many of these songs. Love them or hate them, this album doesn't sound like they've lost an ounce of energy since they dropped their debut over 20 years before it...in fact it sounds like they've only ramped up their lascivious frenzy.
Verdict: Win [8/10] (pressed to confess from the pain)
Saturday, October 12, 2019
Sure, VHS fits pretty snugly into that largely West Coast US scene of schlock horror acolytes that includes the likes of Exhumed and Ghoul, with a healthy heaping of other acts like Cropsy Maniac, Macabre and Impetigo. They don't take things all that seriously, but they obviously love what they do, and without much sense of irony, even the cheesy films and stories to which they pay homage. The cartoon cover art only adds to the charm that these are a bunch of guys who might be hanging out in a garage or basement in your neighborhood, 80s posters on the walls, B-movie slashers on the TV, lighting up a joint or a cigarette, pounding some brews. Enjoying every moment of it. As you should be if you were hanging with them. Somehow, they manage to translate that feeling into a competent, entertaining mix of thrash, death, punk and grind aesthetics captured in a bright, loud, meaty production through which every neck-straining riff is felt straight to the face. I would say that the central style most relied upon is thrash, which comprises a lot of the energy here, from the more uptempo material to the breakdowns, but they certainly go off on whatever tangent they feel without the album ever feeling strained or like its trying too hard to please everyone.
The more gruesome elements are in the vocals, a set of low gutturals and rabid snarls which hearken back to the tradition of good ol' Carcass, which is no surprise when you saw the other bands I had compared this to above. All of these are performed quite well, although you could say they were fairly standard for their styles, not especially gruesome...maybe the sustain on the lower growls when they are sustained for more than a second, but otherwise just functional, fun vocals, and they go well with the bigger grooves on the album like in "Marine Monstrosity". When it comes to the more hard hitting, structured death metal riffs that alternate with the thrashier parts, you definitely pick up vibes of mid-paced stuff like Obituary, Bolt Thrower and earlier 90s Cannibal Corpse. Melodies and leads are no strangers to the Canadians, who spice up several of the tracks so you're getting a little more than a one-track beating, they clearly put a lot of effort into making the 14 tracks on this album varied enough that they all actually mattered, without one feeling too repetitive of another.
Toss in a tight rhythm section, some guest vocals from Matt Harvey (Exhumed) and Trevor Strnad (Black Dahlia Murder), lyrics about your not-so-guilty favorite films like Lake Placid ("An Old Lady and Her Crocodile"), or Creepshow 2 (or least I think that's what "Oozing, Bubbling Black Mass" is about), and you've got yourself a pretty good time. The focus isn't entirely on nautical horror flicks but certainly with the cover art and a number of the tunes that is a prevalent theme (they've even got a "Zombie vs. Shark" song). Have you heard a lot of this stuff before? Certainly with bands like Ghoul, Blood Freak, Frightmare, XXX Maniac, among others, but it doesn't really get old when you're having fun with it, and We're Gonna Need Some Bigger Riffs surpasses Screaming Mad Gore with exactly what it advertises.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
I'm not saying I entirely love the album, but when I'm in need for a grisly, high-body-count reel of death metal, speed metal, crossover and punk, graced with Reifert and company's unmistakable vocal ugliness, this one scratches my nethers. You could think of it as a halfway point between Autopsy and Seattle splatter-gods The Accüsed. Velocity meets carnage on a freeway of cult exploitation, but I don't want to mislead you into thinking this is monotonous. There are some faster, simpler cuts here like "Another Private Hell", or mid-paced like "Four Grey Walls", which are essentially pure punk adrenaline made different only through the vocal presence, but quite a lot of them have brief, slower sequences, sometimes just an atmospheric clench on a few dissonant chords, or some of the obvious death/doom that creeps back into the sound with a cut like "When Witches Burn", one of my favorites in their whole catalog. I love the guitar tone this time, not too abrasive but keeps its corpulence whether fast or slow, and sounds great with the rocking leads that often burst from the rhythms like a cannibal baby from its womb.
The drums and bass sound equally cool here, but all of this stuff is simply in support of the undead elephant in the room, those abusive vocals, just as loose and unhinged as Chris' mainstay, and thus more genuine feeling than most monotonous guttural orators which don't sound nearly as sick as they'd like. And even better, they sit equally as uncomfortable across whatever genre component Abscess is using at the time...the more accessible punk parts, the speed/death licks or the doomier sequences. Just enough effects on them at points to make them feel as if they're raving and barking at you from the sepulcher, or chasing you down a tight alleyway at night behind the butcher's shop. To some it might seem a bit garbled, but the energy there completely matches the waxing and waning of the musical muscle, or the oft-shoddy transitions between sub-styles. The instrumental title track is cool, as are the lyrics, simple and gory as they are. To be honest, there aren't a lot of truly catchy riffs, maybe a half dozen on the disc. But when those do appear, like the intro lick to "Hellhole", they do kick some serious posterior, and it's an album so compact I find no problem listening through the entire 35 minutes, as it congeals together so well like clotted blood.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Home Sweet Hell... was their third and final full-length and it hits like a truck with a fat, imposing Sunlight Studio tone slathered in some sustained, raw-throated, angry fucking vocals which give the other vocalists in this one-limited field a run for their money. They're not all that different than how L-G Petrov or Matti Kärki hammered them out, but perhaps a little more snarled and outraged, and you can often hear some backups shouted alongside them which creates a mild variation on what you're used to. The guitar riffs are straight from the book of the first three Entombed records, or Indecent & Obscene, with an often heavy emphasis on the death & roll riffs, mixed in with some simplistic, chunky chugging parts that carry a lot of heft due to the straight to the face production of the record. The drum kit in particular gives it a lot of rock & roll feel, not to mention the implementation of wah wahs, lots of grooves, and chord patterns that are painfully simplistic. Dellamorte truly relies on the sheer volume and potency of what they play to impress the listener, they are about as far from subtle as you can get, and even if there were nuances you might not hear them because of how the album is mixed.
This is an effort that I've always wanted to like more than I do. The vocals are savage, the power is undeniable, but it ends up with a barely passing grade from me simply because there are too few riffs worth a damn here, most just being coughed up from the playbook of pre-existing Swedish death metal bands, or rather, duller versions of those played more intensely. On occasion it really rocks the fuck out, as in "Into the Fire", and if you're a fan of all things blazing and d-beat then I can't imagine tracks like "The Tombs of My Fear" would turn you off. I mean this album pummels the fuck out of you...the tone, the pounding bass-lines which hover just below the rhythm guitars, the grooves and the momentum that they shift between, but I just think the album needed a little more attention to the riffs...if there were another dozen or even half-dozen killer guitar parts on this one I'd get so much more mileage out of it, but at the very least it's a sobering blunt instrument to the eardrums when I'm in the mood for the densest, simplest and most pissed-off sound that this sub-style can mete out.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Thursday, October 3, 2019
More accurately, there are parts here, like the track "The Dog and the Master", which sound almost identical to what fellow Norwegians The Kovenant were up to, so mileage is going to vary, and those who want nothing of these musicians beyond their black metal roots should probably stick a fork in Morgul beyond just Lost in Shadows Grey and Parody of the Mass. Despite the obvious cheesy or cringeworthy elements, I still enjoy this one a bit because the production is fantastic. Orchestrated or ambient components are these resonant tapestries against which the heavier frontal rhythms and snarled, goofy vocals balance perfectly, and just when you think some of the guitars might be too dull, or things are getting predictable, Ripper will throw some great new beat at you, or orchestral sweep, or one of the handful great choruses here. It's only rarely pure black metal, except the electrified blast beat in "Dead for a While", but the overall atmosphere throughout will certainly give a shiver or two to fans that don't mind when releases in this medium sound like they belong in a cheap, second-rate haunted house or carousel ride.
Programming is really great, as are the synths, organs, and guest violins. The guitars sound very good in the mix, but again with a lot of industrial metal or Neue Deutsche Härte they are extremely banal and only rarely involve any semblance of creative, instead settling for a percussive effect to keep this vaguely within the 'metal' realm at all. Over this, Ripper splatters all manner of grumbles, growls, goofy narratives, dramatic cleaner ravings ala Vortex or Garm, and some really warped vocal effects that create a psychotic phantasmagoria which lasts through pretty much all the original tunes here; he's also a little experimental in the use of the violins, crowd sounds, etc. The cover of "She" by the mighty KISS, however, is rather ill-advised, and although it's tacked on at the end of the album, it kind of botches up the cohesion of whatever came before it. I remember that dragging it all down for me when I first heard it, and even more so now. Not like it's an awful cover in of itself, but just has so little to do with the rest of the material.
I dig Sketch of Supposed Murder, and it makes a nice combo with The Horror Grandeur around this time of year when the Halloween decoration are up and you can feel all that anticipation brought on by both the holiday and the autumnal season in general, but can fully appreciate that it's not going to satisfy everyone. Think of it like The Sham Mirrors' weird older sibling decked out in mascara, Gothic hosiery, sipping absinthe while he's watching a marathon of noir mystery murders. If that sounds like a party you want to attend, then I think this is also an album you'd like to attend. But stop it after the 8th track.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Sunday, September 29, 2019
I enjoy that the record is book-ended with a pair of swollen, dark synth parts that set up the vintage horror aesthetic, but I'm not sure the rest of the material here really matches it other than the themes running across the lyrics. Instead, this is a very crisp, spry blend of tremolo-picked death metal lines, faster 80s thrashing progressions and even a good chunk of crossover/hardcore when the band wants to barrel roll into something more straightforward. The rhythm guitar tones are quite natural feeling, not as heavily saturated as, say, Exhumed, and this lends itself to a lot of slick, speedy little guitar licks which were quite consistently catchy throughout the six originals here. Even better, there are a lot of interesting little lead guitar blitzes that give the whole experience a bit more depth than I had expected, and these two are dispersed throughout the origins and helped hold my interest even in the few sections where I wasn't on board with the rhythm passages. Hooks for days, not that you haven't heard their like before, but performed with some engaging energy.
The bass throbs along the low end, occasionally walking off on its own groove, but I also wanted to compliment the drumming here, which is quite solid, with some cool little shuffling beats used to perk up sections of tuns like the titular finale. The vocals are a satisfactory guttural for the most part, well fit to all the sub-styles being blended into the record, and actually helping mold them into one whole, and there are also a lot of snarl/growl dual vocal parts which is par for the course with just about any band in this niche. The cover of Slayer's "Metal Storm/Face the Slayer" is quite well done, and fits in fluidly with the original tunes, revealing its obvious influence on the thrash side of this Pennsylvanian newcomer. All told, the album is a compact 35 minutes, I was never lulled into any sort of boredom. A few of the more hardcore styled riffs didn't do a lot for me, but these were easily compensated by all the quirkier little melodies and speed/thrash licks. So if you're looking for a band in the vein of Exhumed, Ghoul, Frightmare, or Ex Dementia, but with a slightly less blood & guts production style, this is well worth a listen.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Friday, September 27, 2019
Like its predecessors, Splatterthrash serves up a lot of influences, but it's mainly a mesh of crossover thrash and the more melodic death/thrash direction groups like Carcass were taking as they evolved a little further away from the grind roots. Certainly you can still hear a grinding pulse behind even this material, but a lot of the tunes go directly for mid-paced mosh-pit service ala "Mutant Mutilator" and "Merde!", which definitely have an Exodus thing going if those Bay Area legends had used a dueling guttural/snarl vocal styles which is also a throwback to Carcass. In other tracks you hear more of a punk or d-beat momentum made crisper by the more palm muted picking styles. In either case, it's the riffs that really steal the show on this album, they're endless catchy, especially the heavy usage of melodies throughout the tracks that almost give the album a more serious tone than you feel it should have, thanks to the atmosphere they automatically spark in the horror-nerd's brain. The way the album opens with "Into the Catacombs" is extremely memorable, with the creeping little guitars picked behind the acoustics and eerie harmonies.
But the other influence I haven't brought up yet is their continued commitment to surf rock elements, occasionally implemented as little bits of cleaner guitars over heavier tunes, or in an outright surf rock extravaganza like "Psychoplasm", which crafts morbid Dick Dale-like guitar lines and then adds all manner of rockabilly or spooky Western style chords in with samples of evil laughter. A lesser band might choke up the flow of their albums with such a stunt, but this isn't the first time Ghoul has pulled it off successfully and it's yet another reason they always stand out. I'd say the lion's share of the material on this album does stick pretty close to the thrashing, though, with riffs that give you the similar feel of a "Toxic Waltz" or S.O.D. tune but wound up with slightly more complex little melodic threads that are meant to spook up the tunes a little so they stay more in line with the band's perpetual Halloween theme. They also make a judicious use of gang shouts which should help keep all your pizza thrashing buds in step (as if they already don't love this band).
The production here is all boxy, organic guitars for the rhythm tracks, with the leads and melodies processed just enough to give them an otherworldly atmosphere. The clean or reverbed surf guitars fit in smoothly, while some of the samples and effects are hit or miss, for example the mechanical vocal filter in "Rise, Killbot, Rise!!!" doesn't sound so great against the music. Bass is good and chunky like a bunch of half-chewed apples bobbing in the party punch, and the drums sound nice and snappy on the high end to help balance off against those thicker guitars. All in all I wouldn't say it's the best mix on a Ghoul record, but its more than functional, and if this band scratches your itch you'll be having too much fun with Splatterthrash to really give a damn. The lyrics are also night and day, for instance the title track is your typical self-flagellating band anthem whereas "As Your Casket Closes" is more elaborate with its imagery. Some of the band's novelty might have worn off here, and I still have a slight preference towards We Came for the Dead!!! and Maniaxe, but this album makes for a fine conclusion to the aesthetic pseudo-trilogy that marked the band's earlier years.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
But this album does. Granted, this thing is dumber than a rock. The chord progressions all seem like the emergent British grindcore gods of the late 80s being strung out and slowed to a moderate hustle, or crawling along with the first few notes that come to mind. There's a little more to riffs like the one that opens "I Work for the Streetcleaner", which seems like it could have wound up on the Death or Obituary back-lot, but in general there are painful few here that stand out among others. What gives the record its charm are the frilly, weird leads that almost sound like insects approaching your ears when they appear, because you're just not expecting them. Or the blunt growls and garbled grind snarls of Stevo Dobbins. The bass guitar is thick, and buzzes you like the swill at the bottom of the communal coffee pot when nobody bothered to bring in any new filters for a new batch. The drums clang and thump along like an array of pots and pans in the background, not to say that they don't catch and anchor all the right grooves, which make up well over 50% of the album, these sodden, loping, knuckle-dragging bludgeons that well-represent the gaudy undead crew on the cover.
The samples are pretty good, if you're okay with bands using them so often, and they certainly set the tone that this band loves its cult horror, murder and exploitation, which is in my estimation their most influential aspect. You'll recognize direct film references like "Wizard of Gore" and "Trap Them and Kill Them", all of which would go on later to inspire (and even name) many other bands, so these Midwesterners had their shit together when it came to their taste in the obscene. I like when they go even more over the top with the atmosphere in something like "Cannibale Ballet", where the drums set the stage for some warped, freaky vocals that seem more like some emulation of a soundtrack rather than a metal tune. Frankly I'd listen to an entire album of Impetigo engaging in such absurdity because it suits them well. The lyrics are solid, simplistic but effectively written with some ghoulish imagery, and there are also a lot of grooves on the album that still sound perfectly moshable by today's standards.
Like Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, this is so primal that it just doesn't age, there is some gruesome impulse at the core of all of us which can appreciate how straightforward this is, and certainly if you haven't heard the band but enjoy records like Severed Survival, Cause of Death, To the Gory End or The Dying Truth then this is a decent, if not exceptional gibbet of gore slathered in that old Wild Rages Records cheese. If your battered VHS and DVD collection looks similar to the local butcher block, then its a given. I don't always break out Impetigo's records as much as their peers from that seminal period of death metal, but when I do, I prefer Horror of the Zombies.
Verdict: Win [7/10] (making love to the cadaverous whore)
Monday, September 23, 2019
Essentially, Violent Occultist is hardcore/punk given a rubdown of raw black metal production, and splatter-sounding punk vocals that at times definitely approach a rasped inflection. Into this they will integrate some more melodic or tremolo picked metallic sequences that help the tunes straddle the line between the genres. For me, riff selection is absolutely critical to punk rock because so little of it sounds more than lazy plagiarism of predictable patterns, and I think Cape of Bats definitely pass that test as they go for progressions that feel a little more like ticked off, antique hardcore (Minor Threat, etc). These chord choices do a great deal to help the band careen off them with the more metallic pluckings, half-wrought sloppy leaps, and evil melodies that ramp up tunes like "Death Kami" to the next level. They're not perfect, I mean I've heard a lot of these riffs in the past, but just unique enough to make it all feel fresh as a sum package. Bass is not a factor, just tinny sounding drums, hissing garage black metal guitar tone and vocals that sound shat straight out of hell.
The songs run a range of very brief to somewhat dense for the style, and there's plenty of variety among the thirteen. Creepy synths, a few watery, spooky goth rock guitar lines and other nuances help break up the material so it just doesn't feel like you're being hammered repeated by the same tricks, and I found myself actually favoring the tracks here that were around three minutes or higher, like "Weeping Daughters of Jerusalem" and "Ultimate Evil", which were genuinely creepy and stick with you about as strongly as most of the Devil Master material. The lyrical subjects here are also really cool, drawing on diverse occult themes from all over the world, almost coming off too brainy and philosophical for the music itself, but then again I really enjoy that contrast. Diego Bureau's cover artwork really seals the deal; colorful, grotesque, and frightening. This is a rather cool surprise and well worth checking out if you're into their other project, or really any sort of black/speed or black/punk hybrid as long as you're cool that they play it really...fucking...raw, not enough to bleed out your eardrums but you may develop a headache at the appropriate volume.
Verdict: Win [8/10]