Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Prosanctus Inferi - Pandemonic Ululations of Vesperic Palpitation (2010)

You could try reciting this album's title three times in rapid succession, but in the event that you don't actually hate yourselves, perhaps it is best to marvel at the construction of such words and turn your attention to what is far more important, the scathing and morbid dementia of Prosanctus Inferi's first full-length studio LP. This is the work of one J. Kohn, no newcomer to the scene of US debauchery, having performed in both Father Befouled and Black Funeral, two bands of not so merry men that you'd not want to encounter outside the blood bank on some random night alone. Here Kohn performs both the guitars and vocals in a style perfectly aligned to the Hell's Headbangers roster it is seeing release through, a primal and sadistic mesh of black and death metal which seems to take a page from the classics by Morbid Angel (Altars of Madness era), Singapore maniacs Impiety and crude 90s death metal icons like Incantation and Demilich.

This influence is disgustingly wrought into a slew of incendiary compositions which feature blasted drums, shifting though coherent barbarian rhythms, and titillating, mysterious leads that often poke their way through like a maggot on a cigarette break from its latest carcass. Its all over in a flash, with a dozen tracks in 24 minutes, most hovering right at the 2-minute mark and cycling through their twists and turns before you can even catch up to what you're hearing. With titles like "Burning Vestal Apocrypha", "Flayed Ecclesian Sophistry", "Fumugating Portentious Sacriligium" and "Pontifical Undulations of Blasphemic Gesticulation", you can never be sure if Prosanctus Inferi is playing us all for laughs or damned, small-minded fools. One can be sure that there is a great deal of sacrilege involved here, from the titles alone, but Kohn has a tendency to take such ideals and thrust them far over your head, at the same level of vile, obscure discourse as the choice in Francis Bacon cover art.

Pandemonic Ululations of Vesperic Palpitation can become quite repetitious when taken in full, so this is one of those rare albums that I'd actually advise to consume in smaller doses. Perhaps 4-6 minutes of time, a 1-2-3 combo platter of blasphemous splatter that slowly edges your position in pearly gates' queue towards the rear, where it is being molested by Prosanctus Inferi's ugly, lashing members and tentacles as the album sucks and grinds. Some of the better numbers are tucked deep into the track-list, like the "Depraved Machinations" which resonate like a cockfight between early Morbid Angel and Repulsion, or "Sacreligious Desecration in Excelsis", a serpentine coil of taut hostility and hellish momentum dripping with the still fresh blood of early 90s wounds.

I would not recommend the album to anyone seeking something 'catchy', because clearly that is not the intent here so much as it is to simply kill the listener and gorge on his heart, while the dead eyes retain the shock and revulsion, never knowing quite what happened to it. The vocals are suitably loathsome, but often lost among the thrust of the myriad similar rhythms, which only cease their blasting toil for the occasional atmospheric breakdown like the toiling bell deep in "Echoes of Pestilential Synod", or the great dark ambient outro "....". The titles and art might be a lot more intelligent than the battered and bruised cruise mode that this album's riffing sinks into, but something among the vapid stupidity reeks of a violent sincerity calls to me like a cruel, mocking laughter from the grave, and I see no reason that Pandemonic Ululations could not at least serve to befuddle and frighten away members of the local clergy as they lurch desperately door to door to save our fleeing souls.

I truly hated this album. We should all hate it. In all the right ways. Translation: working as intended.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Torture Squad - Aequilibrium (2010)

Torture Squad is a band I've occasionally run into through my auditory excursions, usually with the same result. The band will drop an album every few years, develop buzz in a few circles, I'll check out their latest output and find myself quite underwhelmed. This was less the case with the past few efforts, Pandemonium and Hellbound, which showed slightly more promise than I had expected from exposure to the band's late 90s output, and by now the Brazilians are seasoned veterans with 20 years behind (a dozen productive). I can only assume that expectations must be running high for this effort, but I'm not sure if they've been met.

Through Aequilibrium, the band's sixth career full-length, they stick to what they know best: pure riff centrism focused around slower and mid-paced tempos, a gloss of melody and two vocal styles. One that sounds like an abomination of Kreator's Mille Petrozza, Rotting Christ's Takis Solis, and another that represents a horde of nondescript, faceless growlers covering the guttural spectrum. Their material walks the line between the thrash and death genres, with the actual riffing more in the former camp, and the vocals often hinging on the latter, though they throw things in reverse every now and then with a more brutal guitar line or angrier thrash vox. Very often, they'll use both the vocal tones simultaneously, which may contribute some depth to the simplicity of the songwriting, but I don't feel that its much of a benefit.

Musically, I can't say I expected all that much. I've never found the band to quite match the hype that surrounds it, and I fear this is yet another case. They're extremely tight and competent, and I laud their tendency to write simpler rhythms rooted in both the 80s originators and 90s death/thrash obscurities like Protector, Merciless or Assorted Heap, though I'd argue that Torture Squad generate more velocity (if not quality). Strangely enough, the band does not seem to carry much of the Brazilian influence one might expect. The dark tones of early Sepultura, Mutilator, Chakal and Vulcano are rather absent, and Aequilibrium is a compact modernization of the genre which truly relies on its guitars to carry it forward. That's not to say the rhythm section is absent, because there are some great bass and drum fills here and the vital energy runs through all players.

With so much riding on the riffs, it then becomes critical that they be raging and memorable enough to snag the ear on each drive-by, and this is where the album falters. Few thrash acts out there will offer the diversity, the 'complete package' of Torture Squad, and its obvious that the band spent time and effort to compose each of the 8 new originals (I'm not counting the "Last Tunes Blues", a worthless outro before the bonus track). There are capable leads running throughout, often placed into jammy sequences in the middle of tracks like "174" and "Storms", but the actual thrash riffs, as dynamic and polished as they present themselves, are almost unanimously forgettable, whether the primal fundamentals of "Storms" and "Black Sun", or the more death-oriented fare like the sequence initiating "Azazel".

All of Aequilibrium's compositions weave their way through a number of thrifty tempos and the band never seems to run out of ideas, unlike the lions share of modern or 'revival' thrash bands who beat the same drum until violently ejected from the hall, but they just never stick, and though I felt like this might change the more I listened through, I arrived at the same conclusion on the 3rd and 4th listens as the first. The album is too tame to produce the 'feral' energies that I derive the most enjoyment from in this genre, nor is it progressive enough to enthrall through sheer fluid proficiency. The lyrics range from acceptable and cliche-ridden ("Generation Dead" or "Azazel") to just plain weak, as found in the awkward "Raise Your Horns", a silly self-referential track loaded with cliches of growing up a thrasher, failing where a "Thrash 'Till Death" by Destruction was more blunt and successful.

Certainly these Brazilians have a number of positive qualities to them, which makes it all the more frustrating that this effort just doesn't seem to take off. At best, its an inoffensive piece of average thrash metal with a death influence largely delivered in one of the vocal formats. Modern, written and mixed to adequate standards, but lacking both the wild abandon and superb songwriting characteristics that festoon the genre's legends (which usually excel in one or both of these departments). The addition of a new studio take on "The Unholy Spell" from the 2001 album of the same title is welcome here, but I'm positive I'd rather be listening to the past two efforts than this, as they featured a more enduring medium of bone crunching entertainment.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


Cephalic Carnage - Misled by Certainty (2010)

Here it is, the new album from the perpetually baked Colorado grinders and from the first spin I can tell that this is their best one yet - depending on if you liked the direction taken in 2007's tech death/grind Xenosapien. Spoiler: I did.

"The Incorrigible Flame" starts the album off a bit slow, while a good song it's not nearly as catchy as the rest of the album. It's not until the second track "Warbots A.M." that I feel that the album really starts. Combining blistering speed, catchy tech riffs, and a killer beat, this song gets the blood pumping and the head whipping. "Abraxas of Filth" follows and it showcases Nick Schendzielos' sexy bass playing (so far second only to Erlend Caspersen's performance on the Hideous Deformity debut) that is so often lost behind the drums and guitars. "Pure Horses" is presumably an excuse to use a horse sample (approved). "Cordyceps Humanis" meanders a bit at the beginning (for a doom song) but picks up after the sample discussing cordyceps fungus. Same with "Dimensional Modulation Transmography" which picks up at the one minute mark and never lets down. "Ohrwurm" is possibly the best song on the album, again displaying the great bass work and technical chops of the band while never straying into their older habits of mashing riffs together. "When I Arrive" on the other hand is my favourite track on the album, great song about Jesus coming back and a ending chorus that much like "Dying Will Be the Death of Me" is catchy despite itself. "A King and a Thief" is a great experimental crusher with a twisted solo. "Power and Force" unfortunately flys by at a blistering speed with no catchy hook to grab the senses until the very end - disappointing when stacked up against the rest of the album. Finally comes the closer "Repangaea" which busts out the sax again (someone has been listening to the new Ihsahn) and a slow broiling groove highly reminiscent of something off Mastodon's Crack the Skye.

Lenzig Leal's vocals are as insane as ever, never letting up and never becoming boring (Inherit Disease I'm looking at you); John Merryman's kick is on fire; Steve Golberg and Zac Joe bring not only the weed-influenced riffs but also the solos (notably the 'Michael Keene' solo in"The Incorrigible Flame"); and as I mentioned earlier, Nick Schendzielos brings the bass with a fury and luckily he has the production to back it up.

To sum it up, Misled by Certainty sees the band and producer Dave Otero (the same producer of Martriden's latest) take the classic Cephalic Carnage formula and create an extremely catchy, complex, and crushing tech death metal album while also making their most mature and accessible album to date. So grab your nearest drug-of-choice and enjoy the carnage.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (When I arrive and I am recrucified...)


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Monday, August 30, 2010

Sahg - III (2010)

The Scandinavian territories have ever excelled in the art of doom delivery, with a number of the genre's best post-Sabbath acts arriving from Sweden: Candlemass, Count Raven, and the recent and exciting Hellfueled or Grand Magus among them. Neighbors Norway have not been quite so productive in this field, but Sahg seeks to end this with their third and most potent offering, a stout and tempered ritual that recalls traces of both Dio and Ozzy era Sabbath, Deep Purple as much as it honors the more contemporary work of a Trouble, Gates of Slumber, St. Vitus or Spiritual Beggars with a superb elixir of classic doom/heavy metal virtues that will quite possibly rock your goddamn knees down into the worship position.

Sahg are a doom metal band, but they are not often slow, and they exhibit none of the purely passive, boring elements that many often mistake for heaviness in certain other bands. The hard rock/NWOBHM stylings that thrive below Olav Iversen's cutting vocals provide a consistent stream of head banging fun, and though the riffing patterns will often verge on the familiar, they are so well produced, glazed in organs and honeyed menace glisten as they drown you into bludgeoning sonic mass. If you find yourself even remotely interested in the sounds of a Grand Magus, World Below, Spiritual Beggars or the more accessible Hellfueled, this is at least mandatory to hear, if not own.

A cautionary acoustic piece "In Through the Eye" heralds the crashing low end chords of "Baptism of Fire", soon elevated through Iversen's vocals to a scorched majesty. A number of tracks move at this rock hard, clobbering pace like "Burden", "Denier", "Mortify" and the great "Hollow Mountain", but the band can also slow the proceedings for a highly effective, atmospheric number such as "Mother's Revenge", the moody "Shadow Monument" or the desolate, sinister underpinnings of the finale, "Spiritual Void". Through all of the record's 42 minutes, the leads and vocals are well written, the dynamic shifts careful like a coiled snake, ready and willing to strike. Also of note would be the bass performance of Tom Cato Visnes (you know and either love/hate him as 'King' from Ov Hell, Gorgoroth, and I) which maintains a far greater presence than his other projects, as its given ample space to resonant.

III is every bit as traditional as it is modern, and surpasses the first two efforts with ease. The songwriting has come forward a few steps, and the vocal presence of Iversen has truly settled into the thick fiber of the grooves. This is not the depressing category of doom that will inspire much in the way of sadness; its the furious branch that will inspire only passion as it comes crashing down the boughs of the World Tree from which this band's lineage so closely flows. It's as apologetic as a muscle car, flames adorning a deep cheery finish, cruising down a highway while the bell-bottomed sweethearts stare on in fascination, a vortex where the 70s and 'oughts compress and collide and only the rock survives.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Nightfall - Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants (2010)

Nightfall may have always come in a distant third behind Rotting Christ and Septic Flesh when it comes to international interests, but I've nonetheless considered them a crucial component in the 'trinity' of Greek extreme metal bands to have evolved through a number of styles both old and new in their term. Spanning the architecture of melodic black death/doom in their early years (Parade into Centuries, Macabre Sunset, Athenian Echoes), to a quirky yet intriguing fascination with Gothic rock/metal in more contemporary times (Lesbian Show, Diva Futura, Lyssa: Rural Gods and Astonishing Punishments), the band have never ceased to impress me with their open minds and head first dive into various concepts and sounds.

Now, whether or not the band have succeeded with each new experiment is debatable, but I've found a number of their albums like I Am Jesus to become forgettable at best. Its a great pleasure that the band have returned from a four year split, aligned themselves with the high visibility of Metal Blade Records, and produced a concept album that delves deeply into their own past, modernizing their initial hybrid of black, death and doom aesthetics without completely abandoning the heightened sense of melody and rock influence that their more recent efforts have endeavored. The cover art here is wonderful if simple, and the subject matter intriguing, so all components are in place for a wondrous comeback...if only the music can deliver.

Sadly, the luster of this new work begins to dull when it comes to the effectiveness of the music itself. Considering the massive effort the band put into the production, which monolithic walls of guitars, synthesizer and Efthimis Karadimas' harsh, charismatic barking, one might have hoped for an orgasm of memorable riffing that would finally, at long last, deliver this deserving band out among the masses who have yet to appreciate their fairly rich back catalog. To be fair, this is not hard on the ears, each piece a symphonic condensation of every motif Nightfall holds true. Tracks like "Astronomica: Satwrnian Moon" and the resonant "Asebeia" carry more than their share of splendors, but even these are not exciting enough or enduring to really call back the ear. "Astron Black" is a competent melodic black metal piece with the expected driving, glorious guitars, but the patterns feel familiar and not exactly compelling.

In the end, the band's mesh of components resembles the Italian band Stormlord's recent ouput Mare Nostrum, only Astron Black and the Thirty Tyrants is just not as effective when it comes to the track by track staying power. With each arching wave of potency that the guitars here seem to promise, an adequate climax just never seems to arrive. The musicianship is taut and balanced in the mix, especially the drums and the exchange of synthesizer and guitar, but I never felt as knocked over as I should have been. The most interesting tracks are probably "Proxima Centawri/Dead Bodies", due to its mix of subtle, melodic death and glorious orchestral indulgence, and the measured heaving of "The Criterion", but even these and the raging lead-in video song "Ambassador of Mass" did not pummel or impress me into the level of submission I expected.

Ultimately, this is one of those albums which shall be dubbed 'just good enough' not to wallow below the line in the sand that is frustrated mediocrity. For glorious, huge panoramic displays of orchestrated studio wizardry that blend the bombast of a Dimmu Borgir with the more recent Septic Flesh efforts, I'm not sure you have many options outside of this, but if you're seeking more than just an enormous, substantial wall of rapidly fading wonders, your journey will not end here.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Imperium Dekadenz - ...und Die Welt Ward Kalt Unde Leer (2006)

One of the brighter German bulbs to flare up in the new century thus far, Imperium Dekadenz are a black metal band who focus on that rarest of experiences: the experience. As such, each of their works can be said to accommodate and harvest a wealth of potential and dynamics that one does not often encounter when exploring their particular niche. Slow, drawn out, chord-driven compositions are graced with spacious, resonant majesty, and the band makes good use of acoustic piano and guitar interludes and segues within the thick of their glorious excursions to emptiness and regret. The cover fonts might delude one into an amateurish opinion of the band on their debut ...und Die Welt Ward Kalt Unde Leer ("And the World Became Cold and Empty"), which was released through local label Perverted Taste, but make no mistake about it, the Germans were already outgunning many in their class with the somber sensibilities that permeate their powerful expression.

The "Einklang" intro balances ambiance with grim, distorted, leering narrative before the arches of percussion and the bloodied longing of "Glanz der Klinge (The Blade's Resplendence)". This is not an intricate composition, merely a driving hymn of pain with a crude forward melody served with a condiment of cold, tortured vocals. "Halls of Lust" is a far more prolonged distraction, the most epic of the album at 8 and a half minutes, with a repetitive, almost Viking whore sense for sailing simplicity that very well rears a late 80s Bathory influence (Hammerheart and Blood Fire Death in particular). "Of All Ends" collapses into truly punishing territory due to its vacuous, repetitive climate, industrial warfare segue and ensuing increase of pace, while "Fields of Silence" batters a slowly dominant, unforgettable sequence of chords straight into your psyche, leeching out the warmth and sunshine from your emotions.

Other points of interest here are the interludes "For Those Who Sleep Eternally" and "Meine Reise Durch Die Zeit (My Journey Through Time)", lighter fare that gives the exhausted traveler a brief respite through the band's oppressive, depressing journeys. The title track outro is equally desperate, with swelling orchestral synthesizers surrounded by the themes of storm walls rising and rushing through the mountains and across the open air. "Schwarze Wilder (Black Forests)" is perhaps my favorite single metallic track on the record, with a frigid but regal tone to its wending melodies, a simple yet effective power to the chords of the verse. Another of the tracks longer pieces, "Gefrorene Wunden (Frozen Wounds)" is also stunning and consistent, locking in the debut at over 45 minutes of escape that you can sit through on some windy shore with your headphones, or perhaps the onset plague of winter or warfare.

Imperium Dekadenz do not deal in complexity, whether through the individual riffing or the layout of the songs. Most are content with just 2-3 major riffs, perhaps a surge in pacing that occasionally borders on and succumbs to blasted speed, but through all the repetition and attitude the band simply have the capacity to soar over you like a blanket of encroaching night. The vocal presence is magnificent and the production offers ample traction to the guitars without losing the percussion or bass. ...und Die Welt Ward Kalt Unde Leer would be shortly surpassed by the band's sophomore effort Dämmerung der Szenarien, still their crowning achievement to this point, but it stands as an impressive debut for those who like their black metal to express itself clearly, and coldly, with but a hint of beauty.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (driven by a malignant obsession)


Godless - Ecce Homo: Post Lux Tenebras, Pulsio XIII Ultima Ratio (2010)

Gods damn the Latin language and all its derivatives! What else could be responsible for the wall of text title that graces this Chilean band's debut album except pretentious overspending in that department? Well, Godless may in fact be smarter than I, or at least more patient to pore over the ancient texts of linguistics in the creation of their long awaited debut Ecce Homo, but they were kind enough to include the English lyrics within the booklet itself, and they're well written enough to cast lucid dispersions across the vast face of yawning morbidity that their music conjures direct from whatever abstract hell they spawned forth from.

Yes, this is a dark trip, one that engages both the fondness for well composed, old school death metal and serious lyrical extractions that betray the more basal hordes of torture porn addicts that have ultimately inherited this genre's market. To describe Godless in bulk is not easy, but think of an unholy accumulation of the aesthetics that formed Morbid Angel, Gorguts, Incantation, and Obituary from the primordial matter of nothingness to count them among the very forces that will herald us all back to that state when the cosmic shit hits the fan in the end and subsequent rebirth of all matter. Churning, filthy grooves wrap their tentacles around the listener like the needy appendages of an Elder God, while the band swarms through a dynamic range of hostile intentions that fabricate emotions from death/doom to death/grind at their polar extremities, with the true strength lying somewhere in between.

I cannot promise that the band are venomous enough riff writers to compose individual standouts, but taken in the full 46 minute dosage, Ecce Homo is one destructive fucking ritual that should truly capitalize on the current wave of retro, morbid old school death in which the repressed, cavernous emotions eclipse the wreath of technicality that adorns the sculpted script of modernity in brutal death. However, the band incorporates just enough progression that I feel they have something to offer nearly anyone who listens through this and can grin and bear it. Tracks like "Infrapanopticon Sublimatio" and "Nihil Coronat Opus" are brilliant executions of grimy bombast that seem to tear through time and space, pulling the listener through the endless chasms of bleeding flesh in between, as if through the guts of a living being to which you are no more than a micro-parasite waiting to be quelled.

Whether you seek abysmal grooves, guttural and passionate vocal exclamations or the thrusting and jabbing desolation of artsy death metal out on the fringe of viability, Godless have your number. I wouldn't label this record 'accessible', and it may take a few complete sit-throughs to appreciate in fullness, but ultimately the reward is worth the patience. I am reminded slightly of the excellent Merciless Hammer of Lucifer by US act Drawn & Quartered, which shared some of the same dense, disturbing influences and had a similar process of slowly acquainting and acquitting you from a most ghastly palette of surreality, but fans of everything from Portal to Incantation will find much to celebrate within this record's bowels.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Unholy Lust - Taste the Sin Through the Fire (2010)

Often a band stumbles across a winning metal formula without even setting out on that coal-cobbled path to begin with, and California's Unholy Lust provide a worthwhile example. Initially the band dabbled with aggressive punk music before their tastes started to take a dive towards the fiery spheres of Hell, and after a pair of self-released live recordings the band have wound up on the Blood Harvest imprint with their debut Taste the Sin Through the Fire, an incredibly voracious and fun blend of blackened thrash dynamics which culls influences directly from the source of such mayhem, fashioned here into a simple but fanatical concoction that will surely inebriate the willing, horn throwing hordes.

Musically the band channels carnal black metal prototypes Bathory and Hellhammer into a furious, fast paced raw speed/thrash environment courtesy of Possessed, Venom or the first two Slayer albums. Very often when listening through this studio debut I was brought to fond memories of the ghastly "Black Magic", "Die By the Sword", or "Kill Again" from the dawning years of those latter masters, but Unholy Lust also have a penchant for providing atmosphere to round out the more blasphemy-ridden slugfests. For example, the intro is one of the best I've heard lately, a potent orchestral swelling that feels so rich it feels almost as if it were lifted or rather paraphrased from a famous film or symphony piece. Either way, its a wonderful set-up for the diabolic metal to follow, and not the only distraction here: the "Interlude" late on the record is full of chill winds, chill acoustic guitars and female ritual narration.

Of course, the gist of this experience lies in the savage, forward charge of its near dozen abyssal blitzkriegs, beginning with the ferocious "Satanus Church". The band clearly has made some pact with a malicious, infernal spirit to trade in any thought of innovation or unpredictability for a hilarious level of skill at grinding your expectations to a sharp edge and then thrusting them through you at many miles per hour, and their success is owed largely to the massive, horrid production values they are able to flesh out of this vibrant black mass. The guitars are quite hostile and loudly mixed, the bass thick and grinding along to the drumming, and the lyric slather of Alvaro Sancen, 'The Sandman' is demented and formidable. The band also know how to dish out screaming, useless leads by the gallon, as if they were fake blood being spattered across the creative stage, and they almost always deliver the cheap thrills of speed/thrash past.

Everywhere you turn on this album, you're bound for grisly fun if you just check any ambitious expectations at the gate to the fiery party. The punk attitude and influence remain intact, but this music is sheer metallic vitriol. Along with "Satanus Church", there are fun, faster pieces like "Stench of Death", "She's a Dead Hunter", "Torso" and the grinding furor of "Horrified Visions", but the band are capable of delivering in the occasional slower pacing found in segments of "Warriors of Death" or "Back from the Dead". Another standout track is "The Angel Dust" which kicks all manner of heavenly ass through and through, and further cements the band's obvious Venom influence.

Nothing truly unique, of course, but that is really the only limitation that Unholy Lust faces on their new found path of conquest and witchery. The riffs, titles and lyrics all run the gamut from faintly to dreadfully familiar, but if you're a fan of the occult aggression of old school speed and thrash metal circa the mid 90s, with a dash of later influence from the Swedish black/thrash scene (Bewitched, Maze of Torment, etc) and a vague similarity to Nunslaughter, and you don't mind an occasional 'suck it bitch' canted before a particularly razor-like rhythmic beating, then welcome your new spiked leather overlords.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]


Friday, August 27, 2010

Inherit Disease - Procreating an Apocalypse (2006)

What is it about guttural frog-like vocals and pig squeal guitars that constantly draw our attention back to the landscape of stagnant, festering bodies of both men and titans that congests the endless, overdeveloped landscape of the modern death metal genre? Surely these conventions have become ripe to burst with the mold of their transgressions, eschewing nothing more than boredom to the ear that has been on the 'catcher' end of the relationship since the brutality of a Suffocation or Cannibal Corpse at the dawn of the 90s. Well, the California act Inherit Disease could not quite answer this question with their 2006 debut Procreating an Apocalypse, preferring rather to simply go with the flow and develop their metered carnage ever slowly across its 32 minute creation of carnage.

I didn't care much for this album when I first heard it years ago, and to be honest, my feelings today have not adapted strongly towards the favorable, having now been exposed to their recent sophomore opus Visceral Transcendence which ruptures this release with enhanced rhythmic compensation, brighter splatter and far better vocals, but Procreating an Apocalypse at least serves as a standard, inoffensive exercise in the patterns developed by acts like Suffocation, Deeds of Flesh, Severe Torture, Disgorge, and the like. Extremely fast based, percussive riffing dominates the big picture, but the band are constantly inserting dynamic breaks without descending into fuckwit slam stupidity, so they've got that much in their favor. The production for this debut was quite level, the hammering of the riffs and drums well matched to the alpha male toad guttural spew being hurled across its taut surface.

This is one of those pseudo-intelligent bands who are interested in expanding their vocabulary, to the benefit of us all (being spared the redundant layman rape and gore of many genre peers), this we have songs titled "Dementia Cephalus", "Catathymic Rage", "Dissimulate Invalidity" and my favorite "Imprisoned and Afflicted by Aberration". I admit there were a small handful of words I felt compelled to look up, and I actually appreciate that. Musically, the band is nearly as sharp as their lyrical strategy, with a number of twists and turns that celebrate the tradition of bludgeoning, forceful death momentum akin to fellow Californians Severed Savior or Sepsism. The band likes to flesh out its rhythmic sense through "Myiasis", punching bass and scattered, splattered sequences of controlled mute mutations that are ever arching and descending through the band's futurist, nihilistic bent.

It's all very level, and the performances are all around adequate. It fits like a glove to the Unique Leader roster. The vocals do tend towards the monotonous, but this is expected within the genre, as not everyone can channel a Lord Worm the first time out. As a series of punishing platitudes, there is much potential within the Inherit Disease camp that seems to not yet be implemented to efficiency, or truly exploited beyond the level of competent exhibition here. Quickly I became tired with the record, not for its lack of effort but for its lack of real menace. When lucky, a dark and gripping riff might manifest once in a particular track, like the closing moment of "Procreating an Apocalypse" itself, but the rest falters in comparison, the stringent kicking about of ideas that lock in step like a child who follows his Lego kit blueprints to perfection, but has not yet discovered his inherent love for the process of tinkering them into the final product. In context to their recent, praiseworthy addition to the pantheon of rupturing tech death, I can appreciate Procreating an Apocalypse slightly more than my initial exposure, but its not essential unless you truly seek out any and all examples of this archetypal Californian slaughter-surge.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (my core perturbed, ungodly time bomb)


Innerfear - Innerfear (1992)

Arizona was no stranger to the thrash manifestation of the late 80s, and produced a number of strong acts in that genre like Atrophy and Sacred Reich. A few years after the music's relevance began to wane in the face of new, alternative movements, another would-be speed/thrash hero arrived in the form of Innerfear. Performing a dynamic if ultimately forgettable blend of rapid mute streams, tangible melodies and gruff, street splatter vocals reminiscent of Sacred Reich, Hallows Eve, Forced Entry and others, they managed to produce this sole full-length, independent release before disappearing from the public eye that failed to even blink in their direction.

Innerfear is a competent enough album when broken down to its individual components. The riffs are heavy and transition fluently from faster, frenetic energies into a moshing metroplex, with no excess ballast on either end. Tracks like "Innerfear" and "The Luring/Hatred Society" are angry enough to stomp your feet around like an elephant with a beehive up its butt, shoving an elbow into some innocent waif at the edge of the pit and causing a breakout in delinquent retribution. The solos shred but are rarely memorable, and the actual construction of the riffs, while not offensive or headache-inducing, is quite reminiscent of the Sacred Reich debut Ignorance, only not as catchy or crushing. Technicality is not often threaded through the procession of meatcarving guitar riffs here, but a track like "Soured Ground" shows a propensity for melodic depth that vastly outweighs the gravity of the band's simpler fare. "Prosperous Land" shows the band's softer, emotional side, clean guitars ceding for a raging slugfest.

Innerfear (the band and album) were forgotten for a pretty good reason: they don't do anything to individualize themselves among the rampant hordes of potential thrash pundits that broke across the underground consciousness several years prior to this album. Had it dropped in 1987 or 1988, there would have been a greater stir over its contents, but when you consider the level of perfection that had been developed in the style through numerous European and North/South American contemporaries years before the seeds of this record were germinated in the studio womb, there is simply nothing special to say for it, and it sinks slowly into the depths of the tidal pool of obscurity against the shifting, raging ocean of thrash's development into more extreme ventures.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Malevolent Creation - Invidious Dominion (2010)

As far as the initial wave of Florida death metal is concerned, veteran Malevolent Creation has always been one of its less celebrated acts, a band with over 20 years of history, double digit studio output and a fair share of touring beneath their collective belts. They've had many of the same opportunities as peers Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel and Obituary, but don't seem to share that same level of infamy or visibility. Most of those outfits have had very inconsistent careers, and Malevolent Creation is no exception to this, with several forgettable albums dominating the late 90s and early 21st century, but they've also wrought some decent efforts upon us that provided at the very least an impetus to bang heads until cramps developed.

For Invidious Dominion, their 11th full-length offering, the band is once again fronted by Brett Hoffman (he's been on and off with them since their inception), and this is a plus, because his vicious, almost thrash-like vocal tone is one of the few characteristics that have always allowed the band to stand apart from the crowd, like a more intense death metal alternative to the breakneck aggression of early Dark Angel. My preference for Malevolent Creation has always run back to the first two albums, The Ten Commandments and Retribution, and this latest record seems to follow straight in their footprints, focused on tightly wound intensity and an incessant barrage of death/thrash riffs that rarely afford the listener a chance to breathe. This is not an atmospheric album, its very straightforward in its punishing intentions, but despite itself, the rampant guitar onslaught somehow manifests this street-level brutality which bristles with spikes, knives, chains and bats that constantly apply themselves to the listener, like an attempt to set a Guinness world record for the longest death metal mugging in history.

Granted, 35 minutes is not all that long, and the tracks all fly past in around 3.5 minutes, but when you're on the receiving end, it seems like an eternity for a band to play music this hate charged and violent. At best, they dish out tracks with fairly memorable levels of carnage and superb song titles like "Target Rich Environment", "Lead Spitter" and "Compulsive Face Breaker", and the entire middle segment of the record starts to kick elevated levels of ass as it pummels through all of these in succession. Additionally, "Corruptor" and the closing title track seem to have much dismay to offer, with furious hyper thrashing rhythms, bleeding speed and a strict disregard for subtlety.

Of all these tracks, I cannot say that there are many individual riffs which stand out or beg for repeat plays immediately, but as far as joining the constituent parts together into a whole of punishment, glazed with well constructed leads and a crude but effective lyrical belligerence, Malevolent Creation prove yet again to be enjoyable artisans of this craft. It's essentially The Ten Commandments on a crack binge, cutting and battering everything in its path until it finds that final fix. It stabbed me quite a few times, but the wounds were sadly not deep or fatal this time around, and though its wonderful to hear this band plugging away with such fierce determination and frivolous intensity, this is not quite the masterpiece I hope to one day hear from such a seasoned firing squad.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (feeling blows raining hard)


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Profanatica - Disgusting Blasphemies Against God (2010)

Along with the more experimental Havohej, Profanatica has long been one of the primary vehicles for American cult musician Paul Ledney. Though the project was assembled 20 years ago, there was a near decade of silence on this front. Only in recent years has Ledney got around to releasing this aural sacrilege in proper album format, first with the Profanatitas de Domonatia debut in 2007, and now with its not so subtly titled successor Disgusting Blasphemies Against God. However, the style remains quite the same, with a slightly more thundering bass in the mix, but a similar scatological black humor to its ten raging acts of theological incineration.

I'll point out that you might not want to listen to this sophomore at full blast unless you are planning an end of days party, because its violent and raucous, noisy and loud to the degree that you will develop a raging headache within a handful of tracks if you're not prepared for the onslaught about to manifest through your speakers or headset. John Gelso's bass tone is enormous to the point of nearly digesting the entire mix, and the guitars used simply to complement this central juggernaut with bleeding lines that descend from Virgin sounds. The writing is extremely basic, and far from unique in the note selection, but these are not virtues in the sadistic abscess of Paul Ledney's imagination. Instead, he promises naught but punishment, black metal that could have been written in the dawn of humanity with primitive instruments and dinosaur bones for drum machines, great lizard skins thawed and stretched into strings for the guitars, the vocals dripping fresh kill for the tribe.

Best of all would be the pacing here. It starts off fairly fast with the unapologetic "Black Cum", and proceeds to slow to a crawl with "Pious Piece of Shit", down-pitched vocals planted directly in your cranium with a hell-spiked boot-sole. As evil as this one might seem, the album grows even darker, as if in sequence, through "Christ's Precious Blood Poisoned", which emits bass tone so goddamn similar in texture to molasses that you get stuck in it, struggling to break free before the blasted, mechanical outbreak that decapitates you where you stand. Profanatica continues to beat this drum of almost moronic, neanderthal aggression through such poetically penned public service announcements as "Smashing Religious Fucking Statues", "Fuck the Blood of the Lamb", "No Trumpet Shall Sound" and "Angel With Cock", each a primitive but poignant piece of excrement slowly roasted over the inevitable open fires of hellish ovens to which this pair of Satan's seedlings are surely bound. Of special note is the haunting "Covered in Black Shit", with a massive grinding guitar tone and disgusting vocal wrath.

You do not listen to an album such as this for its nuance or any semblance of melody, you listen to it because its one of the most evil emissions of modern man, thrusting our base instincts back a minimum of 20-30 centuries in time. Like most of Ledney's music, black metal is only the starting point. Sure, you can hear hints of primitive black, death, grind and doom forefathers in the delivery, but its elevated to such a barbaric level that it becomes a pretty unique platter of Cro-Magnon, Christ-stabbing splatter, so dour and filthy that you feel soiled just for being in the same room with the goddamn disc... There are occasions where the tracks will become somewhat redundant or repetitive, and the riffs are enormously simple though strong in atmosphere, but these are small complaints when leveled against the utter crucifixion that is Profanatica's second sacrifice to the lords of the pit.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]


Satanic Warmaster - Nachzehrer (2010)

It's been five years since the Satanic Tyrant Werwolf last tore our faces off with a Satanic Warmaster full-length, that being the Carelian Satanist Madness: harsh, scrappy, and ultimately quite memorable. However, the man has kept himself occupied with another project, the heavy metal Armour, and a slew of EPs, splits and compilations from this project have likewise surfaced in the interim, including raw mixes of this very effort that were part of the mouthful acronym W.A.T.W.T.C.O.T.B.W.O.A.A. compilation released earlier this year. So now that the inimical Nazgul is back home in his primary creative outlet, were the results worth waiting for?

Your mileage will vary based on just how willing you are to take another pestilent voyage through the past, as Satanic Warmaster continues to churn out nothing but the purist brand of dense, hostile black metal, low on production values but high on despotic mayhem. Of course, Mayhem is a true point of reference here, with some Darkthrone and Hellhammer for good measure, and Nazgul seems the perfect one man tribute to these fundamental bands, performing all instruments himself. The lyrics still fancy the classical folklore and occult horror, with songs here like "Satan's Werewolf", "Bestial Darkness" and "Vampires", and the man's vocals are still as sadistic as all fuck.

The most striking characteristic of Nachzerer is the very compact, dark production. The rhythm guitars and bass seem to hover over the listener like a damp canopy of lycanthrope hides while the drums storm just below the surface, breaking through during fills and rides upon the crash. The momentum of a "Warmaster Returns" or "Satan's Werewolf" is difficult to deny, but I feel that the material truly sinks its teeth into my neck when he slows down to the morbid fare that is "Rotting Raven's Blood" or the flowing, submerged melodic power of "One Shining Star." The outro "Utug-Hul" is also quite nice, a ritual/medieval ambient piece with Nazgul's narrative blasphemy. In fact, this closing piece is potent enough that I'd love to hear him do an entire album in this mold, if he can ever find the time. Another track worth mentioning is the despotic "Bestial Darkness", which opens with crushing chords and organs before speeding off into dire vitriol.

Those who will appreciate Nachzehrer probably already know who they are: the legions of grim clad purists who don't give a flying fuck for innovation in black metal, and Satanic Warmaster once again delivers on that front. The riffs here are not perfect, but the overall hostility of the album's atmosphere travels miles on all four bloodied paws to compensate, and the lyrics are fairly engaging despite the redundant subject matter. Don't be fooled, there is enough dynamic balance on this record to provide a number of listens. The Satanic Tyrant is no fool, and he's no one-trick pony. He's written a decent fourth effort here, and while it by no means dethrones a Carelian Satanist Madness or Opferblut, it will still hunt you through the cursed midnight woods and nip at your ankles through the chills and fog.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
(the trail that leads away from humility)


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hexx - Morbid Reality (1991)

After acquiring guitarist/vocalist Clint Bower and deciding to abandon the more traditional, power metal roots of their sound from No Escape and Under the Spell, Hexx produced a pair of EPs from 1988-1990 that highlighted the band's transition into pure thrash metal which inevitably also drew forth an influence from prototypical death metal acts of the day. Where once they had flown with eagles across a phenomenal 80s landscape, they now had become just another face in the crowd of increasingly angry thrash bands trying to push a boundary. Neither Quest for Sanity nor Watery Graves found much appeal for me, since the first was full of mediocre tracks and the latter was just a couple updated tracks from the first two records, played in a heavier style, with one new piece (which also appears on this album).

Hexx got a break when Century Media, then a young label with much potential, picked the band up to produce their first full-length in the thrash field, the uneven Morbid Reality. This is a ferocious effort, knocking the piss out of the two ill-fated EP releases, and show the band finally living up to its new direction. That's not to say its a great or even very good album, because its quite forgettable, but the level of musicality and aggression are well balanced and Bower's sick vocals truly carve out a piece of your humanity as they spit and sneer across the album's eight tracks. Needless to say, this is the fastest material Hexx had ever produced, and the guitars and bass were simply off the hook, whether its Bill Peterson's manic low end presence or the nigh on constant ability of Dan Watson to shred in the midst of the swerving blitzkrieg of rhythm riffs.

Gone for good were the higher pitched vocals and elegant traditional metal influences. Morbid Reality is more of a Sadus, Holy Terror, Hellwitch, Rigor Mortis, Dark Angel or late 80s Nasty Savage than it is melodic or formulaic. Cruel sounding, competent, and more compelling than anything the band had come up with since 1986, it's 40 minutes of concentrated mayhem which feels like you've been hit by a locomotive going 10x the recommended speed. Tracks like "Birds of Prey" or "Persecution Experience" are bewildering in their ceaseless bludgeoning, with snarled and growled vocals that are well within the early death metal category. But far more interesting is the nuclear charged "Fire Mushrooms", with its use of clean, effected vocals, or the title track, which opens with low piano tones and then explodes into some of the fastest ass Bay Area thrash that could possibly have existed by 1991.

As mentioned, "Watery Graves" is present here from the prior EP, but it plugs into its surroundings rather effortlessly. The album actually closes with a "Spider Jam" that features several themes from Spider-Man shows that the band have decided to expand on. Its a nice jam and often feels like Voivod during their Dimension Hatross/Nothingface releases, though its primarily an exercise in jamming and dowsed in fluent leads. Strangely enough, it fits well enough within the album's frenetic blueprint of insanity.

If you're one to truly pine over a Swallowed in Black or Illusions, Terror and Submission or Darkness Descends, then there may be something in Morbid Reality to satisfy your rabid thrashing death impulses. It was certainly among the faster thrash/speed or thrash/death to come out of the west coast during the dawn of the 90s, but sadly the songs do not really deliver so much once you're head stops spinning around on its rested spine. Granted, this is an improvement over what they were churning out in the years post-Under the Spell, and there is some measure of promise that might have one day been fulfilled had the band continued here, but despite the energetic effort and higher visibility of their new label, this one was all too quick to fade into the background, and I can't conceive much cause to complain about that.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Hexx - No Escape (1984)

I'm a sucker for albums bearing strange and colorful, fantasy cover art from the 80s and Hexx's 1984 debut No Escape is no exception, an ugly palette of stone plateau pathways and a sculpted stone mountainside face clutching a moon as a crystal ball? Sign me up, I'll take two copies. In all seriousness, this California act were a magical, morphing entity who transitioned through several styles as they would attempt to maintain their career against the phasing face of the metal realm, first a classic melodic metal band, then assuming a more powerful stance, and then going outright thrash metal, to end up in a sphere of thrash/death akin to a Sadus or Dark Angel.

Even if I hadn't mentioned any of that, you would be able to guess precisely what No Escape was going to sound like due to the cover art and the fact it was released through Shrapnel Records, who in addition to being an early metallic shred capital, was responsible for a number of worthwhile hard rock, heavy/power metal and thrash efforts in the mid to late 80s. Bands like Vicious Rumors, Hawaii, Cacophony and Apocrypha are a few examples, but the label also supported Hexx for their first two albums, which remain their career best. This debut was not quite so memorable or powerful as the following Under the Spell, a truly excellent and unsung American classic, but there are plenty of kicks delivered here for the connoisseur of high pitched vocals, borderline hard rock riffs and wailing leads.

This is the sole album with original frontman Dennis Manzo, and he's got a voice very similar to that of Lizzy Borden: shrill and haunting, yet delivered with immeasurable grace and power. In particular, if you're fond of the early works Give 'Em the Axe, Love You to Pieces and Menace to Society, you're going to go ballistic over Manzo's performance here, because its as sharp and piercing as a crystal sword cutting you straight down the middle. In the end, I prefer his successor Dan Bryant's huskier tones on the following Under the Spell, but certainly Dennis gives it his all and is part of the equation that allows this debut to stand the test of time, even when surpassed by its next youngest sibling. Original guitarist Dan Watson and bassist Bill Peterson, present for the the band's entire studio career, are rock solid: Watson laying out big chords and melodic fills spring coiled with finesse, Peterson loud and proud even though he does hang back a little to suit the guitar rhythms. Original drummer Dave Schmidt is an adequate hard rock style drummer with some power to his hits.

The title track "No Escape" is probably the most memorable of this album's tracks, with Manzo's hooky wailing and some pretty busy guitar lines that weave in and out of a mid paced romp and then a climactic chorus riff which completely stands out here. I also love the creepy riff used in the intro and closing, and the solo is pure speed/shred terror ala Exciter. Other tight tracks here include the shuffling NWOBHM boogie of "Live for the Night", where Manzo sounds most similar to Borden thanks to his incessant shrieking; "Look to the Sky", which sounds like some hybrid of early Running Wild and Omen; and of course "Terror", a moody and frightful song which uses eerie guitars to build a steady atmosphere before some bleeding, savage melodic speed metal ensues. If you're just yearning to burn, then "The Other Side" and "Invader" should suit you just fine. There's also a molten power ballad gone rocker called "Fear No Evil" which is quite boss.

Granted, most of these tracks are not so catch as they could be, but the fact that this is an album from the early year of 1984 which is not so many miles behind a Powerslave or Ride the Lightning in sheer metallic entertainment value is a testament to the worthy job these four extracted from their first major studio journey together. This is not the first Hexx album I'd reach towards when requiring a fix, and there's nothing as brilliantly delivered as a "Hell Riders", but in all this should not be missed by fans of the 80s Shrapnel or Metal Blade rosters, in particular Lizzy Borden, Omen, Liege Lord, Riot and so forth.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Draconis - The Cult of the Dragon (2010)

It's been 11 years since we last heard from California's obscure band Draconis, who had a brief productive spurt in the late 90s that resulted in the debut album Overlords of the Greying Dawn and The Highest of All Dark Powers EP, but judging by the sounds coming out of the speakers here, this time has been put to excellent use. The Cult of the Dragon is an anomaly, a US black/death metal record that sets a pretty high bar for itself, infusing melodic death and thrash metal rhythms wherever applicable to create a mesmerizing vortex of hostility, produced with deep, rich guitar tones and dynamic poles that are constantly engaging the listener's interest. Why the hell has this band been hiding out for so long?

Most importantly, Draconis is a band that understands the value of the riff, and this record is simply loaded with them. Not a track goes by without some ear catching volley of notes, and they've somehow managed to make these styles come fresh in the transition, which is no easy task. Granted, The Cult of the Dragon is not completely unique, and you're likely to draw faint comparisons to an entire host of Swedish melodic death or black/death acts. I caught a trace or two of the excellent and overlooked Mork Gryning, at least their later material, or perhaps the precision, chunky guitar work of Amon Amarth, though the vocals are delivered with a rasped aesthetic, which along with some of the shimmering, discordant chord-banks, is perhaps the most 'black metal' this album really gets.

A succession of extremely promising tracks aligns this album with the attention span, beginning with the warfare-torn intro of "Exalted Infernal Legions", ceding to a pummeling gallop of thrashing aggression and morose, descending streams of notes that conjure sadness and fallen glory. "The Cult of the Dragon/Authors of All Pain" opens with a hypnotic pattern of melodic notes, then one of the best melodic, choppy death metal sequences I've heard in a verse rhythm all year, before the competent bridge riffing and a mug-swilling bounce of a lead sequence that should sate your Scandinavian glory whoring. "Beckoninings from a Distant Void" features an evil riff right up front, then once again erupts into majestic, flowing guitars that alternate from blacker climes to villainous death. You're already in rapture when the clobbering intro riff to "Bloodlust" rolls right into some Hate Eternal-like octave chord slides, and the thankfully brief seconds of breakdown serve only to further the mangling, war machine momentum. Some of the thrash/death guitar tones in here even remind me of the heyday of the mighty Pestilence...

If you're thinking the band might set you up for disappointment by delivering a combo of their best material up front, think again, because the remainder of The Cult of the Dragon is just as coherent and well written. "Screams of Endless Torment" has some fun, frolicking bass and down pitched, corny narrative that do little to distract from the amazing, bouncy melodic death metal guitars, and "Curse of Salvation" is pretty much everything you enjoyed about a Dissection or Sacramentum with an intense, galloping thrash attitude. "Unveiling the Hidden Knowledge" is a fine instrumental, though the song would not have suffered from a vocal presence, and though "Within the Shadows of Eternal Misery" is probably my least favorite individual track on this record, its still got at least the one charging, mid paced swagger before the minute mark. "The Cult of the Dragon/Lords of the Dark Destiny" closes off the album much as it started, with a surge of catchy black/death, hammering percussion and more riffs than you can shake your sacrificial dagger at.

The Cult of the Dragon is indeed impressive, even if it does languor in the shadow of perfection. At least eight of the tracks will have you raging if you an appreciate the mix of styles, and as I've been lacking a proper fix of quality melodic death metal, it also sated that desire. Clearly this band took their time writing and mixing the record so it would deliver on all fronts, and almost all the 42 minutes of playtime deliver. Hopefully this will garner some real interest for the band, as their debut did very little to cause any stir and is largely forgotten. Armed with a fine Dan Seagrave cover image, decent lyrics and a host of quality songs, this is a three-piece worth your attention and time if you still place any value on the potential of melodic black/death done right.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (wrought with unrest and demonic intent)


Hellhound - Tokyo Flying V Massacre (2006)

As they prepared for their first studio full-length effort, Japanese retro metal worship cult Hellhound had a few challenges to overcome. Could they climb above the rank and file of generic tribute band biting off riffs and tweaking them to the legal definition of unique, and could Crossfire tighten up his own act like a sphincter to increase the level of compulsion the listener would feel at listening to him for a complete album of 'original' music? If the ensuing debut Tokyo Flying V Massacre is any indicator, the band had improved quite a lot in just a few years. Though the end result is hardly that much more memorable, it delivers a number of decent tracks among some that should have been scrapped permanently.

I was somewhat confused by the first track, "Metal Attack", which is essentially a chunk of the song "Heavy Metal Generation" from the Welcome to Metal Zone EP in 2004. It sounds a lot like Metallica's versions of "Blitzkrieg" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls", and not very interesting, though the production of this version is better than its original form. The confusion is that "Heavy Metal Generation" itself is also included as the finale of the album, which seems strange and a waste of space, unless the band had plotted this as some sort of 'reprisal' effect. The lyrics to both tracks are different, granted, but this was a redundancy best avoided. The track "Metal Zone" is also included upon the Tokyo Flying V Massacre, and as that was not very good in its original incarnation, it was also unnecessary, especially when the new originals are so much better.

Speaking of which, the namesake "Hellhound" is pure, raging old fun inspired by the British and German greats at the dawn of the 80s. Crossfire has somehow married his voice a little better to the music. Its the same meaty shrieking as the previous EP, but a little lower in the mix, which merges in with the thick, simple chords and driving rhythm section. When the backing vocals cut into the chorus, it works very well against his grating air raid siren domination. "Samurai Warrior" is a powerful if predictable speed metal anthem celebrating the near mythic historical figures from the band's homeland, and "Rock Like Hell" is basically AC/DC taken to Accept levels, with ballsy backing vocals. "Metal Assassin 666" spins off into darker, power/thrash territory, crunchy mutes building up to some of Crossfire's more insane screaming that reminds of Peavy Wagner on the early Rage records. We all know where the name "Take You Like a Hurricane" came from, but the song is pretty standard, mid paced metal with big grooves and siren-like shrieks. Two more 'metal' title songs round out the bunch (for a total of 6/10 of the album): "Heavy Metal Patrol" and "Metal Warrior", the latter of which is some charming and fuzzy speed metal.

If you can ignore the 'trist' of previously used material on this album, the remainder is actually quite a good time. All of the instrumentation has come together in unison with the vocalist, and I love the chunky tones and backing vocals. The band's leads fulfill the potential of the debut EP, and a few of the songs like "Metal Warrior", "Samurai Warrior" and "Take You Like a Hurricane" and "Metal Assassin 666" will stand out beyond just a few listens. Tokyo Flying V Massacre also has one of the best possible titles an album of this sort could ever possess, and the title alone makes you want to get excited. Unfortunately, the album is not wholly consistent enough to be considered 'good', but its a nice set-up for the following Metal Fire From Hell, which expands upon even this sound to produce something worthwhile if you're digging for Japanese hilarity.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (we're gonna show you tonight)


Hellhound - Welcome to Metal Zone EP (2004)

Hellhound are another of those Japanese acts who take the roots of thrash and traditional heavy metal from the late 70s and early through mid 80s, mash them together and simply serve as concrete, humorous reinforcement to their proliferation and survival. They are hardly the first of their kind, as the great bands Abigail, Barbatos and Metalucifer had already been established by 2002 and cruising along into cult status for a sizable number of diehards; but still, Hellhound are pretty good at this, if you can shut down your expectations and desire nothing more than a headbanging good time that reverts you back to 1984 before you heard Master of Puppets or Reign in Blood and everything suddenly got more serious.

The Welcome to Metal Zone EP was their first honest to goodness recording, and though it previews some of the charm of their full-lengths Tokyo Flying V Massacre and Metal Fire from Hell, it could not be counted as among their strongest material. The band basically starts with a sound similar to Accept and Judas Priest and just runs with it. In fact, most of the songs here sound like some combination of "Fast as a Shark" and Ram It Down era Priest, veering ever so slightly into speed/thrash terrain, but not enough to make a difference. Vocalist Crossfire has one of those Brian Johnson/Udo Dirkschneider voices, but far more annoying, almost as if being performed as a caricature. Fortunately, unlike many other bands that pull this maneuver, you do get used to him. Another nice touch are the leads, which generally stand out from the very average riffing content that surround them. They're hardly original or mind bending solos, but one gets the impression that with better packaging they might be a force to be reckoned with.

The EP features five tracks, only two of which have the word 'metal' in the actual title, a practice this band will expand upon in the future. "Metal Zone" moves at a fast clip, like Accept with a seasoning of early Rage, gang shouts in the chorus and a pick and play, utterly simple set of riffs. "Flight of the Demon" is essentially a ripoff of "Balls to the Wall" with slightly paraphrased guitar lines, rather blatant about it. "Deathrider" is insanely Judas Priest, with simple NWOBHM chord patterns that flirt with speed metal, and Crossfire switching to a cleaner, lower register to offset his screaming. "Stormtrooper" is decent heavy/speed metal with some bluesy, burning guitars, and "Heavy Metal Generation" is another too familiar track, mixing in elements of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Blitzkrieg" among others.

Without good vocals or good ideas musically, Welcome to Metal Zone quickly expires from the realm of curiosity. If it's meant to serve as a tribute or exclamation that these Japanese gentlemen enjoy classic metal of taste, well then it certainly delivers on that. The problem then lies in just what Hellhound are going to DO with these tastes, and this debut EP simply doesn't have an answer. Songs were written or stolen, laid out in some studio and then the band had something to gig on. Down the line, this band does manage to tighten their ideas and improve in the songwriting department, but in 2004 they were just not worth hearing yet, and they were surprisingly void of too much excess Engrish, expressing themselves clearly through most of the lyrics. Boo!

Verdict: Fail [4.75/10]
(you're just a tribute for the ruler of the night)


Monday, August 23, 2010

Tenebrae in Perpetuum & Krohm - Split (2010)

The most satisfying split releases are those that manage to provide new material from a pair of artists whose styles complement each other well, so Italians Tenebrae in Perpetuum and Washington State's Krohm already have this in common, as both produce huge and resonant walls of slowly moving black metal that rely centrally on the emotions of despair and obscure majesty to mesmerize the audience into a state of loss; loss not for having listened to the audio work, but loss in that the music will summon dire feelings of regret or self punishment for one's perceived failures in life. Debemur Morti is perhaps the perfect label for such sorrow laden convictions, and the both of the artists level out with about 21 minutes of material that is difficult to escape once you have let yourself in the front door.

Tenebrae in Perpetuum are one of my favorite bands on the Italian scene, and I was a major fan of the cavernous, diabolic tones found on their latest opus L'Eterno Maligno Silenzio, which came during a year in which numerous such releases were making their scars upon my spirit. Here, the band offer a trio of Roman numerated tracks that are all around 6-7 minutes in length, with titanic, rasping vocals over stringy, resonant guitars that breed only ghostlike qualities as they writhe across a bottomless ravine of abyssal rhythms. They seem to become more engrossing as they proceed: "I" fires on all confrontational cylinders, a mirror of their recent full length efforts; "II" uses clean, sparse guitars to great effect as the vocals erupt like wells of blood newly prospected from a human host, and then the battering assault begins in earnest. "III" provides a continued storm, and whilst I can't award it for being unique, its dips in and out of clean, creepy tones make for unseasoned but breathtaking transitions.

The US band Krohm is tonally warmer, more complete than their Italian counterparts here. Whereas Tenebrae leaves some element of their sound strictly to the imagination, with a thin if throbbing bass mechanic, Numinas creates a fuller body with the more prominent use of synths, and thick rocking surges that remind of earlier Katatonia meets Agalloch, and a more individual streak to each of his three pieces: the desperate, dreary majesty of "The Black Bridge", the hissing asylum dementia of "Toccato Dalla Desecrazione", and the almost mighty metal transformation of "Sentinel Monolith", which is the single most breathtaking track on this entire split. Despite the slight tonal variations, Numinas is a good match for the Italians, because both provoke a semblance of melancholic riffing which they excel at despite any familiarity it bears with other artists of the depressive black metal scene.

This is a quality split, but it's not for the impatient. The songs are not extremely long, all hovering about the 7 minute mark, but they still take some time to work their witching ways and castrate the remaining hope and soul of the listener. This said, I would not really recommend it to anyone who was not already familiar and morbidly delirious over the bands' prior output, or dense and depressive black metal in the vein of Shining. Krohm comes out slightly head due to the slightly stronger character of his pieces, but the Italians are not far behind, and should quite please fans of Antico Misticismo or L'Eterno Maligno Silenzio.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]