Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Arckanum - Kostogher (1997)

With Kostogher, Shamaatae decided to trade some of the fine tuned production values of his debut Fran Marder to create a primitive, caustic and aggressive atmosphere. The differences between the two albums are more of aesthetics than actual stylistic deviation, with a razor edged sheen to the guitars that hangs just below the constant, thundering double bass work, and vocals that feel more spastic and I daresay 'bratty', even if they use the same level of echo. From what I've read, this album was intentionally under-mixed, but having heard so many poorer sounds coming from the genre, it still remains level with the 90s works of bands like Marduk or Lord Belial.

What I don't actually appreciate so much upon the sophomore are the guitar riffs, which seem admittedly basic and predictable for the day. Fast and versatile enough to endure the rigors of boredom, but almost entirely incapable of hurling a surprise in the listener's direction. Very standard stuff, common to the Scandinavian third wave. There's more of a mournful melodic integration than the debut, especially in tunes like "Oþer Trulhøyghda" where a simple, sad line is cast over the rhythmic subtext, but neither are these moments any more memorable. The most compelling aspect of the album is in the contrast between the straight on raging black metal sequences and then the folksy, ambient departures like the intro, or "Gamall Uvermark"; or the surge of melancholic violin strings in several of the bridges. Overall, though, I think that it is perhaps "Bedrøvelse", the most melodic track on the album, which is the catchiest, though it does suffer from a sore thumb complex against the more meandering, aggressive environs.

Shamaatae's Burzum-like howlings are infused with more guest cleans this time around, as in the opener "Skoghens Minnen Vækks", but once again they don't add much other than the illusion of versatility. The riffs below the mesh are still methodical and bland, and they remain so for nearly the full hour of the record. The duration itself (almost an hour) also serves to work against it. In the end, Kostogher was a marginal letdown after the debut, but it's still a decent effort if you can forgive its lack of much subtlety for savagery. The debut was not only superior due to its Abyss Studio production, but the songs themselves seemed a better measure of the lyrical, Swedish mysticism and meditation that the creator is indulged with. There is just not that much interesting going on here, and the riffing patterns aren't evil or engaging enough on their own to fuel the fires of its velocity alone.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Arckanum - Fran Marder (1995)

Fran Marder is the first substantial stop on the evolutionary journey of one of Sweden's finest and most consistent black metal outfits, Arckanum. Cutting an imposing (or amusing) figure with his robes, masks, and archaic weaponry (axes, staves, etc.), Shamaatae was able to instantly ingrain himself upon the memories of those who cast eyes upon him (much like Rob Darken's armored woodland posing through the history of Graveland). But Arckanum also deserves some credit as a Swedish answer to Burzum: one man capable of multiple instruments, a single vision joined only by those he hand picks for guest roles, but excelling beyond the crude 'bedroom black' metal aesthetic to something hinging on professional.

This is due largely to the production, which was shared with Peter Tägtgren at his Abyss studios. No stranger to the black metal genre, Fran Marder does share some attributes with Peter's own house band The Abyss in the dry but consistent mix of the guitars, but what Shamaatae has on offer is a far more curious and cultural display of consistency. He's one of the earlier black metal acts to pen his lyrics in the best approximation of the Old Swedish tongue. He's unafraid to draw forth outside or unexpected influences (female vocals, ambient/ritual sequences). He has less of a focus on central melodic themes than his peers at the time (Dissection, Sacramentum, etc), but one can still find the guitar patterns gorgeous and addictive in parts. Fran Marder is not quite the best album in his catalog, nor does it totally distinguish itself from the other formative works of the scene and period, but its selections served as a solid and effective control group from which Shamaatae could further expand his horizons.

Like much of 90s black metal, the guitars relied heavily on the repetition of somber, frost born notation that lulls the listener into a bleak despondency, and much of Fran Marder is performed at a fast but not impossibly fast pace laden with competent blast work. A number of the tracks like "Þe Alder Hærskande Væsende Natur" and "Kununger Af Þæn Diupeste Natu" play this pretty close to the hilt, with little memorable riffing involved in the experience, only the echoed rasp Shamaatae uses for the majority of the album. But there are others such as "Svinna" or the title track which are able to conjure a more lush, calculated wall of sound that envelops the ear. The slower, driving fare like "Gava Fran Trulen" or "Trulmælder" reveals a semblance to the band's precursors Bathory, Darkthrone and Hellhammer, and in general engaging, while "Baerghet" comes off the most original, long stretches of dual guitar melodies that are only joined by percussion near the close of the track, and both rasped and female vocals.

The ambient sequences, especially those used to bookend the album ("Pans Lughn", "Ener Stilla Sior Af Droten Min") are immersive and well done, but a few of the stranger ideas (like the down tuned narration of the intro or Tägtgren's dorky higher pitched guest vocals in "Trulmælder") leave something to be desired. In all, though, Fran Marder was a very promising effort, with a commendable production (both the original and the re-issue) ethic and a rigid, folksy mystique being channeled through its cold winds and ambient resonance. It would be well over a decade before Shamaatae would write an album of a legendary disposition, but the journey itself has not been without its merits, and Fran Marder, for its few flaws, was well worth the time of the avid Scandinavian black metal audience.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gortuary - Manic Thoughts of Perverse Mutilation (2008)

It's got to be increasingly difficult to stand out in the brutal death metal field. There are just so many bands performing at an identical level of technicality and extremity, equal parts slam and acceleration and painfully little experimentation or novelty left in the genre. This space is where an act like Gortuary both falters and excels, because they cover most of the bases extremely well. A fresh and visceral production gives a wealth of crunch to the guitars. They vary up the tempos as often as they're able without stretching into new territory. There are actual riffs of note in between stretches of predictable punishment. The cover art and logo are appealing, if you've a fetish for entrails and anatomy.

They're not quite so manic or frenetic as other 21st century Californian tech death acts (The Faceless, Decrepit Birth) or so precise and brutal as something like Severed Savior, but they offer enough variation that one doesn't become immediate exhausted with their blunt and seismic delivery. The vocals are steeped in the guttural monotony one expects from the genre, with very little deviation, somewhere between a Will Rahmer, Chris Barnes and Corpsegrinder; but let's be honest, this will hardly detract from the enjoyment of a gore drenched, gut soaked audience that is often pretty content with more of the same. The riffs very often indulge in the mindless mute-squealing patterns so widespread across the genre, or other guitar tweaks, but there are occasional flights of clinical eloquence, like in the wild bridges of "Pool of Excrement" or "Splatter Fecal Matter" that show the band does have chops beneath the more muddled walls of slam that dominate the compositions

Like many of their peers, Gortuary are competent at building excitement through horror or porn movie samples, like the 8MM sample used in "Mutilation by Double Penetration" or the more surprising Forrest Gump sample in "Hereditary Retardation". These help towards a taut and disgusting feeling of 'completeness', but ultimately my lack of interest in the album came through the dearth of compelling guitars. Just about every member of the band is competent, from the steam hammer drumming to the versatility of the churning aggression of the guitars, but there are just too few moments of distinction, too few tracks that demand a replay. I'm hearing this in reverse order to their sophomore, Awakening Pestilent Beings, and I admit that I actually prefer this over that later work. Certainly this is not bad (neither album is). There's an obvious audience for the style, and if you dream of amputation and devouring human innards, you could do far worse. But despite the crushing consistency the band mete out, it's just not something I'd go out of my way for.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Monday, June 27, 2011

Execration - Odes of the Occult (2011)

With so many bands clinging to the batch appeal of a certain death metal substrata, it's refreshing to have one come along that picks and chooses between them. Norway's Execration does not fit so snugly into the categories of 90s atmospheric death, melodic death, Swedish admiration or modern, technical death, but instead mixes and matches them into something moderately distinct. A decidedly old school streak does run through Odes of the Occult, conjuring nods to Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, (early) Pestilence and Atrocity, but there is also a yearning for progression threaded through a number of the tracks here which journeys well past the constraints of the mere nostalgia so many bands in this sphere employ.

I admit that I have only a vague recollection of the band's 2008 full-length debut, Syndicate of Lethargy, but their 2007 EP Language of the Dead was superb, and this sophomore follows up with a lot of similar characteristics: a thick and punishing guitar tone, a balance of deep guttural and more emotionally charged, gritty vocals, and dynamic drumming well suited to the variation within the songwriting. Punchers like "Entheogen" and "High Priest" are packed with tight and leaden grooves, between which streams of oblique melodies are strung as the band ranges from faster to slower tempos. Then there are the more ambitious pieces, like the 10 and a half minute epic "A Crutch for Consolation" which devolves into sparser, atmospheric doom/death segments, or the pair of "Intermezzo" instrumentals which provide some of the most immersive, moody moments on the entire album. If you're just looking to be run over, of course, Execration can do that too through the flighty belligerence of "Obsession", but don't expect a straight run: even this song engages a more expansive range of dynamics.

Almost all of the Norse death metal acts have seemed like outsiders, never quite fitting into the secure categories that the wealth of the genre adheres to. At best, you had a case like Molested; at worst, possibly Disgusting, but they always had some unique trait which stood apart from their Swedish neighbors. Execration joins these ranks, offering a less swampy and bizarre alternative to their great peers Obliteration, while nearly as fascinating. Odes of the Occult is not necessarily a classic in the making, because its broad swaths of variation unfortunately do not always manifest through the most memorable riffing, but their approach is appreciable, and if they can eventually pen the tunes to fully flesh out their vision, they could become one of the more potent death metal enterprises to emerge thus far in the 21st century.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Atra - In Reverence of Decay (2011)

Few things could seem so desolate as a skeletal matron delivering a skull through her birth canal, and just such an image represents the cover of Atra's second full-length effort, In Reverence of Decay. The Australian one-man (Blackheart) outfit had a cold and murderous work on his hand with last year's Death Coven, and its successor more or less returns to the same chagrin precipice of traditional black metal aesthetics wrought through depressing, subdued melodies and the ineffable shadows of oblivion. There was a particular, wintry layer to the debut that I found lacking in this material, as if Blackheart had exchanged that frigid season for the festering decay of an abandoned sepulcher, but the style of composition itself is not a huge departure.

Throaty, spectral vocals are cut above a broth of salient, heavily processed distortion while the drums maintain a substrate of hammering simplicity. Often Blackheart will measure off a more driving, quick picked guitar across a crashing, thrashing undercurrent, but on the whole the patterns are one-track in their oppression. For most of the track list, the writing is admittedly rather predictable, a mix of mid to faster paced tradition with segues of ghastly significance at a more somber plod ("Upon the Throne of Shadows and Doom", the latter half of "Majestic Evil"). But often some subtle, defined twist of melody will manifest to reward the listener for braving the album's murky depths ("Phantasms of Silence and Dying", "The Souls of the Arcane Dance"). Blackheart has also included a pair of frightening ambient bookends that round out the album rather well, the tormented swell of intro "Of Mysteries Ancient" and the closing, acidic radiance of "Vox Vermes".

All told, In Reverence of Decay is not quite the measure of Death Coven. That album had some choice moments in which I felt like giving up my steaming blood to the snows, while this one more or less broods for about 36 minutes and throws you the occasional chill. Effective enough to turn any smile into a frown, but not quite ready to stand slit-wrist to slit-wrist with the more ominous offerings in the genre. As well written as a lot of the underground material out there, but never quite distinguishing itself. Those who enjoy the comparable sounds of Striborg, Moon and Drowning the Light or dank/depressive black metal would do well to at least check this out, but I can't imagine myself reaching for this over the Atra debut.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sepultura - Kairos (2011)

Though a 'true' reunion with Max Cavalera has been in demand for many years, Sepultura is one of the few internationally renowned metal bands to have not repealed its new front man. You've got to admire such resolve, because the pressure must have been huge this past decade, with thrash coming back in full swing and lots of fans, old and new shelling out hard currency for new albums with classic lineups, reunion tours, etc. That being said, I've yet to hear a single Derrick Greene fronted Sepultura record which I could place upon the same plateau of quality achieved early on with albums like Chaos A.D., Beneath the Remains, and Schizophrenia.

Sure, they've tried, and individual tracks from albums like Nation and Against have had their moments, but it just doesn't seem to be working out for me. I just can't get into the guy's vocals. Technically, he's got a broader range of styles, yet I've felt as if the band were always missing something without Max's gruff if misguided presence. Kairos, the band's 12th album, is an appeal to the past, the band returning almost wholly to the simplistic thrash riffing that placed them on the map in the footfalls of Slayer, Possessed and other primal giants of the form. It's not so much a mirror into the band's 80s catalog as it is a second attempt at a Chaos A.D., and the decision to include various external influences (primarily industrial) into the social political, tribal and 'feel good' lyrics only reinforces its retread grounds.

Alas, the Brazilian superstars have once again come up short, and Kairos is yet another quizzical full-length that begs the question: how does Sepultura sustain itself off about 15 years of middling and underwhelming composition? Are the classics still such huge hits on tour? Is the fan base in total denial? Did they invest in a successful stock portfolio in the mid 90s? To think, there is practically an entire generation now of fans who have grown up with Green. I guess the band must be doing something right, even if the quality of their output seems so borderline wrong...

Kairos does attempt to be that Sepultura record everyone's been waiting for since 1993 (or in the case of many Chaos A.D. haters, 1991). A few of the early birds ("Spectrum", "Kairos") have relatively hypnotic, basal mute thrash rhythms which build expectations rather high, and then defecate all over them, as they go basically nowhere. Green cycles between his emotionally charged, Phil Anselmo snarls, somber narrative tones, and the straight up caustic style which is his best, and the band just phones in a handful of primitive beats and rhythms which never build up enough fire to resurrect the momentum of yesteryear. There are some creative leads tossed about the track list, and a handful of curious riffs that rekindle the band's 1989-93 personality (like the ringing guitar line in "Born Strong"), but there never seems to be more than one, or possible two little rhythms worth a damn anywhere.

Like Chaos A.D., there are the expectant moments of versatility and experimentation, manifest here through some minor ambient segues ("2011", "5722"), and industrial pieces: the first a cover of Ministry's "Just One Fix", plays rather close to the original version, with some South of Heaven-style leads thrown in at the end. The second, a Sepultura original called "Structure Violence" which blends the tribal, groove and industrial elements into what is at least the most interesting overall song on the entire album. But the remainder of the album is nothing more than the law of averages being spun repeatedly. "Mask" might have a decent riff tucked into its bridge, but in getting there one must survive its tedious grooves. "Dialog" opens with a latent melody to its muted, driving chords, but fails to flower into anything worthwhile. Then you have pieces like "Seethe", the same pedestrian hardcore/groove metal the band have been releasing to no avail for the decade before this.

By this point it must seem like I've a serious hate on for this album, but that's not at all the case. Kairos is not bad. In fact, it's mildly more appealing than the band's hot selling, tribal nu-metal effort Roots, and there are a half dozen riffs I could single out which would have been quite ace in a more potent environment (Max Cavalera vocals optional). The production does the album a measure of justice, being crisp and poignant, and Jean Dolabella attempts to keep the simplicity of the song structures adaptive and interesting with his drumming. But the music and lyrics are in general pretty undeveloped (like "Mask", which almost reads like a cheesy, preemptive backlash against the internet generation who have hounded the band for a decade), and at the most its a pale shadow of something like Chaos A.D., which was for its time felt so original due to the tremendous grooving force, and cultural and local political influence. Kairos is just kind of 'all right', and once again, that's just not enough.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]
(bridge the gap between the gaps)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Skyliner - The Alchemist EP (2011)

The Alchemist is the third independent release from the Florida act Skyliner, and it manages to draw upon the memorable strengths of its s/t predecessor demo while addressing several of the production issues that were present on that release. There are two new tracks here, and they wisely focus on the band's heavier side, redolent of "Symphony in Black" and "Vendetta" from the Skyliner demo, but overall even more solid and hook-heavy. In fact, while there might still be some faint concerns or decisions spotting the 13+ minutes of material, this is ultimately something the band should be able to shop around and acquire some attention, assuming there are still labels interested in actual songwriting, which is cleary Skyliner's forte.

Not to detract from the individual members' abilities, of course, because here they also seem to excel. Jake Becker's vocals stand out in particular, a mix of cleanly tones akin to Falconer's Matthias Blad or Rage's Peavey Wagner, often surging into the latter's gravelly aggression when it suits the momentum, often going even further into a near growl, or a high pitched scream (in the bridge to "The Alchemist"). I can't say I cared much for the female backing vocal in "Undying Wings". Not that it's bad, just a little tacked on. However, Ashley Flynn's synthesizers are a much snugger fit to "The Alchemist", where they help maintain a mildly progressive atmosphere to what it is otherwise a straight speed/power metal tune. They just sound so much better than the last release. The rhythm section is also quite tight, with Ben Brenner's rock solid drumming and a curving, delirious bass presence courtesy of David Lee Redding. This guy has the ability to 'go off' without grating against the rest of the instruments, and it provides a lot of ear candy beneath the solid speed rhythms and Becker's incredibly effective leads.

So effective, indeed, that one of my other complaints from the last demo (lack of strong rhythm guitars during solos, etc) is rendered inert. For example, in "The Alchemist", the bass and drums are so tight in lockstep that there is no other choice than to just let the lead soar your spirit, and that takes some class...and the bridge/lead in "Undying Wings" is even catchier than that! Where so many guitarists dabble in needless self-indulgence and wanking exhibitions of technical ability, Becker has very carefully conscripted his notation to provide maximum emotional resonance. And that, my friends, in a nutshell, is why Skyliner is well worth checking out. Painfully few US bands engage themselves in such an admittedly European slant on melodic power, and if you're a fan of the 90s (and beyond) material from a Rage, Scanner, Running Wild or Angel Dust, The Alchemist is worth a shot. The production, while polished and functional, could still use a little work, and its obviously short, but the songwriting and lyrics are spot on. I'd love to hear how they tackle a full-length.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (we're speeding in the night)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Autothrall's Top Florida Death Albums

Autothrall's Top 30 Florida Death Albums (Ever)

01. Death - Leprosy (1988)
02. Cannibal Corpse - Bloodthirst (1999)
03. Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness (1989)
04. Obituary - Cause of Death (1990)
05. Death - Scream Bloody Gore (1987)
06. Nocturnus - The Key (1990)
07. Cannibal Corpse - Evisceration Plague (2009)
08. Morbid Angel - Domination (1995)
09. Cynic - Focus (1993)
10. Obituary - Slowly We Rot (1989)
11. Cannibal Corpse - KILL (2006)
12. Death - Spiritual Healing (1990)
13. Cannibal Corpse - Torture (2012)
14. Never to Arise - Hacked to Perfection (2012)
15. Cannibal Corpse - Gore Obsessed (2002)
16. Cannibal Corpse - Gallery of Suicide (1998)
17. Morbid Angel - Gateways to Annihilation (2000)
18. Brutality - When the Sky Turns Black (1994)
19. Atheist - Unquestionable Presence (1991)
20. Deicide - The Stench of Redemption (2006)
21. Brutality - Screams of Anguish (1993)
22. Atheist - Jupiter (2010)
23. Hate Eternal - Conquering the Throne (1999)
24. Six Feet Under - Undead (2012)
25. Cannibal Corpse - The Bleeding (1994)
26. Monstrosity - Imperial Doom (1992)
27. Death - Symbolic (1995)
28. Monstrosity - Spiritual Apocalypse (2007)
29. Hellwitch -Omnipotent Convocation (2009)
30. Malevolent Creation - The Ten Commandments (1991)

In Flames - Sounds of a Playground Fading (2011)

In a maneuver that surprises no one, the first post-Strömblad album from In Flames continues to polarize the band's fan base and tread ever closer to the pop rock orientations that have been hinted at for almost a decade (beginning around Reroute to Remain). The modus operandi of the previous album returns: big hooks, emotional vocals that alternate between happiness and despair, traditional/power metal inspired solos, and plenty of modern metal grooves to sate the festival audiences whose moshing aspirations include anything with a guitar mute. If anything, it pushes well past A Sense of Purpose into the terrain of pure, mainstream heavy rock, with the faint traces of the band's 90s melodic riffing structures the one thing anchoring it to any semblance of the band's backlog.

Now, I happened to enjoy A Sense of Purpose, much to my shock. There were about 7-8 songs there that mustered memorable guitar patterns, overly whining but effective vocals, and a nice variation in grooves and tempos, and the rest of the record did not fall far behind. I'm honestly not opposed to In Flames doing whatever the hell they want with themselves, as long as the music entertains, and even if it wasn't perfect, that album seemed to strike a good balance of their modern elements and the songwriting skill of the prior decade. Sounds of a Playground Fading builds upon similar aesthetics, only heavily favoring the slower to mid-paced fare and cleaning up on the processing of the production. There's much more clarity to the rhythm guitar and a lot of positive punch to the heavier sections, yet the lion's share of the new tracks seem to lack that same level of explosive energy that had my ears buzzing with the most bliss I had for the band since Whoracle. Some even feel like neutered, cardboard cutouts of previous tunes.

For example, the 2nd riff in "Puzzle", my favorite song on this album, is strikingly similar to a number of patterns used in "Disconnected", "The Mirror's Truth", and so forth, but at least it compensates with a passionate momentum and some uplifting atmosphere. The title track has a lot of the rhythmic bounce that dominated Reroute to Remain, with pleasant but predictable fills that don't inspire much hope for the rest of the fare. There are mild electronic influences (as in the intro to "Where the Dead Ships Dwell") and acoustic intros ("All For Me", "Fear is the Weakness"), but these are all par for the course after the previous set of albums, and they aren't writing anything so sugary here that this diversification brings strength to the song structures.

Then there are a few songs that feel plain weak. "Jester's Door" is this self-referential, spoken word piece which had me gagging up my lunch. I'm not sure if it's a metaphor for Jesper's time with the band, or refers to the constant criticism leveled at the band for their ever morphing sound strategy, but its cheesy and should have been left on the cutting room floor. "A New Dawn" feels like an attempt to channel back to the times of Clayman or Whoracle, but the dual melody is simply too familiar, the grooves entirely lackluster. "The Attic" and "Liberation" see the band more directly in pop/modern rock terrain, the former a moody piece with atmospheric guitars and mostly whispered vocals, the latter radio rock with echoing guitar lines redolent of Amorphis on Tuonela...

Yeah, sure, great. So you can write mediocre rock songs that abandon the metal of your youths. Are these anything more than emo exercises for Anders? You can write them. That doesn't mean you HAVE TO, and such pieces serve only to the detriment of this record, unless In Flames are trying to land a spot on the soundtrack to the latest season of The Hills. Again, I'm not in opposition to such branching out, but the Swedes will always be the best at their heavier material, and Sounds of a Playground Fading ultimately needs a lot more of it to choke by. There are some decent cuts here ("The Puzzle" and "Ropes") that adapt and refine the tactics of the last album, but where I found myself unexpectedly in step with that effort's blaze of glory, I just kept drawing blanks this time. Sounds of a Playground Fading is hardly their worst, and I got more out of it than, say, Soundtrack to Your Escape, but its not about to win them many new friends.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Killing Addiction - Fall of the Archetypes (2010)

Killing Addiction was not a band many would have expected hearing from again, an obscurity from the South who never quite made their mark despite the ominous promise they produced in their Necrosphere EP (1991) and Omega Factor LP (1993). Nevertheless, the band found a second wind eight years after releasing the Dark Tomorrow EP, which too slipped under the radars of just about everyone, and decided to yet again broach their brutality upon the US death metal audience with updated production standards and the same compositional mold as Omega Factor. Fall of the Archetypes does not necessarily feel like a 'complete' album, since its just six new tracks joined by the Dark Tomorrow material, buts its enough to note that the band had not shaken from its foundations.

Alas, this not the spiritual update to the spacey and chilling Necrosphere material that I would have wished for, but a pretty straight death metal effort with brick rhythms and taut, punishing drums which is rarely able to distinguish itself from what is now a massive scene of similar acts. Don't get me wrong: Killing Addiction is not exactly generic gore death. They still like to weave in interesting lyrical subjects, but about half the new material sears along while the rest is moored in bland chugging that leaves little to the imagination. Such is the case for "Leviathan", a handful of average riffs bled into a nice, clinically death/thrashing bridge, or "Less Than Human", which sounded like a brutal update to Pestilence's Consuming Impulse without the amazing riffage. Whenever they appear to shine, the excitement is quickly dragged under by some filler guitar patterns.

Pat Bailey's vocals once had a resonant, crushing depth to them that was one of the more guttural voices out there (beyond Incantation), but here they just seem average, like a mid way between Karl Willetts and Martin van Drunen. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but along with the dearth of standout tracks, it adds up to an experience that might have been long in the making, but won't be long in the memory. That said, if you were a fan of Omega Factor, then there's little reason not to check it out, and for collection purposes, its nice that the band tacked on the second, rare EP. I've certainly heard a lot worse than this, but where once I felt the stirrings of imagination and cosmic oblivion (gimped by admittedly awful production), the unsung Florida quarter has yet to really capitalize...

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Malevolent Creation - Australian Onslaught (2010)

It seems like a third Malevolent Creation live album in the space of a decade would be about the last thing anyone could want, and yet it exists in Australian Onslaught. Having already hit the North (Live at the Whiskey a Go Go) and South American (Conquering South America) audiences, the Florida fivesome now turns its broken and battered husk to the Down Under, a lively crowd who had never before gotten the chance to see the band on their home turf. And a show they shall have, with over 67 minutes of recorded material here and the best production of the three such albums released through the Arctic Music Group. But does anyone care?

Apparently, somebody must. Like the Whiskey a Go Go album, this features the vocals of the original frontman Brett Hoffman, and he spends quite a bit of time between tracks chatting up the audience. Often, this is your typical f-bomb dropping 'n shit, because after all, all BRUTAL fucking death metal bands are fucking too fucking insane not to, right? Fuck yeah. But there are also some moments of honest humor, like Hoffman mentioning that gray hairs have grown on his head and balls in the time it took to get over to Sydney. The track list has quite a number of redundancies from the Whiskey live: "Blood Brothers", "Living in Fear", "Coronation of Our Domain", "Manic Demise", "Eve of the Apocalypse", and "The Fine Art of Murder" all rear their trampled heads again, while a few surprises manifest like the "Memorial Arrangements" intro from The Ten Commandments. There are also a handful of tracks taken from the band's latest effort (Doomsday X) by the time of this recording: "Deliver my Enemy" and "Cauterized", the latter being one of the most exciting on the disc with its thrashing rhythms.

Like its predecessors, you're getting an adequate if not excessively exciting set list from one of the hardest working (if not standout) acts in the field. And this time, it sounds better, in that the ferocity of the guitars, the vocals and drums all measure up with one another. But that shouldn't imply that Australian Onslaught warrants a purchase, because its fresher tone is dragged under by the very redundancy of its existence, and the selection of songs that, despite their competent execution, feel a little rundown by 2010. A new studio album (Invidious Dominion) had come out several months prior to the live, and its more worth your time, but if you absolutely must own a Malevolent Creation live album, this is certainly no worse than the others. Perhaps if they decide to issue a European, Asian or African live there will be a bit more to it.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Six Feet Under - Graveyard Classics III (2010)

Where Graveyard Classics 2 faltered heavily in its attempt to recreate the AC/DC Back in Black album in a death & roll context, its follower returns to the formula of the first unnecessary Six Feet Under covers album: an even distribution of agony as the band numbs and butchers its way through ten metal, rock and punk classics, with a heavy emphasis on the first category. I'm not sure how Chris Barnes got another green light for this, and it certainly doesn't need to exist. However, to be fair, there is a distinct increase in enthusiasm above the first two Graveyard Classics, perhaps due to the fact that several of the choices just work better with the brute vocals, and elude the shocking impotence of their previous covers.

I'm speaking primarily of Slayer's "At Dawn They Sleep" and Metallica's "The Frayed Ends of Sanity", both of which show more effort in their tribute than I think Steve Swanson has manifest through any of the Six Feet Under original albums. The guitars actually sound decent, even inspired, and though Barnes' bludgeoning gutturals are nearly as pathetic as always, they fit better into the mesh of dark, thrashing riffs than they do above the punk or rock tracks like the Ramones' "Psychotherapy" or Van Halen's "On Fire". Hell, maybe they should next put out an album of death metal tunes that their peers wrote. Nevermind, forget I suggested it. Sadly, while the band choose some prize material in the classic metal category, like Anvil's "Metal on Metal" or Exciter's "Pounding Metal", the guitars sound once again lifeless, and the vocals corny and pedestrian at best. Swanson does a decent job with Mercyful Fate's "A Dangerous Meeting", but Barnes proves that he's no proxy for the King, even in an ironic sense.

Ultimately, this third volume is a lot easier to digest than either of its precursors, thanks to the better production and superior choice in material. The Metallica and Slayer tunes would have made for decent free downloads on their website. But as a whole, it's unlikely to appeal to anyone outside of the Six Feet Under fanbase (assuming there is one), and by no means are any of the renditions memorable. The question is, will this ever end? Can we expect a Graveyard Classics IV? A XIV? If that unfortunately turns out to be true, then I can only hope Barnes and company will stick to the heavier material, which sounds at least competent in their resin-stained hands.

Verdict: Fail [4/10]

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cynic - Re-Traced EP (2010)

I might be in the minority of Cynic listeners who actually found Traced in Air to be a superior effort than the band's intricate debut experimentation (Focus), but the difference in quality was only a pinpoint margin. There were myriad complaints of the band's newer direction, which was admittedly far less metallic than their 1993, and not nearly as explosive, but I think anyone expecting the Floridian fusionauts to write a repeat performance after 16 years might damn well border on delusional. Yes, they were going to change, massively. Just look at anything the members were involved in throughout the gulf, and wonder how Traced in Air managed even the slightest traces of familiarity after such a disjointed history.

For the ensuing Re-Traced EP, Cynic have gone even further into the introspective terrain they plotted out with the 2009 full-length. Do not expect much in the way of new material, though, for four of its five tracks are mere re-interpretations from that album, and wimpier versions at that. Seriously, Cynic have gotten so tranquil here, so arguably 'emo' here that one wonders why they don't just change the band name and have a go at mainstream radio. I'm all for exploration and experimentation, mind ye, but this is just a taming of the shrew, a softening of the core. Next to this, Traced By Air is positively storming. They've even taken the minimalism and watering down to the song titles, so "Space" is an electro lite retread of "The Space for This", "Integral" an acoustic/organ translation of "Integral Birth", "Evolutionary" an indie rock doppelganger for "Evolutionary Sleeper", and so forth.

Sadly, these alternate takes, while flexing the band's 'sensitive side', are nowhere near as compelling as their full-length counterparts. The clean vocals sound too wimpy in this context, wimpier even than any of Anathema's diversions from their roots. The one newer track, "Wheels Within Wheels" is superior due to its novelty and denser use of bass and overall instrumentation, but it too seems like a Pitchfork indie pick of the week. I've no aversion to Cynic writing a softer track, but these are all too forgettable. Hopefully, this is just for kicks and the band won't be pursuing such impaired avenues in the future. I can't imagine who would want to listen to this, it makes Death Cab for Cutie sound brutal.

Verdict: Fail [4/10]

Autopsy - The Tomb Within EP (2010)

The Tomb Within might not necessarily live up to the hype this elusive legend has garnered since its career void and the ensuing reunion announcements, but it certainly plants the muddied, time worn boots of Chris Reifert and his joyous band of ghouls directly back into the sodden sepulchral wastes of better years. In a scene of progressively exquisite (oft to the point of inanity) technical arrays of extremity, it was all too obvious that a particular segment of the gore drenched populace would seek to reach back towards the tendrils of morbidity that imbued archaic death metal with such a memorable character.

must seem a flagship for this frustrated faction, a band adorned with both the lewd passion and perversions of the old guard and the visceral fiber and versatility to persevere. This was not always the case though, and to some extent the riffs contained on this five track EP would bring back painful flashbacks to some of the less interesting Autopsy records, like the dreadful Shitfun and the mediocre Fiend for Blood EP. I don't care how much of a sacred cow the name brings with it, though, plodding and uninteresting riffs are not virtues for this or any other band, and those releases were wrought of such tedium: The Tomb Within, slightly less so. As a fan of the band's first two LPs and their classic Retribution for the Dead EP, I fortunately found enough satisfaction here that it increased my expectations for this new phase of existence, but not nearly the raving level of admiration I've seen spewed upon its meager, passable rationing.

"The Tomb Within" winds up in scathing feedback before delivering a burgeoning barnstormer of thick, punkish grinding that highlights the band's current level of production, which is honestly not all that different than cranking Mental Funeral a few decades back. I was just not into the riffs during the faster segment, they seemed a little too average, but the lumbering doom of its latter half does somewhat compensate. Most importantly, it reveals Reifert in a fine form, his gravelly tone grating against the sledgehammer, sludgy undertow like some necromantic pariah returned to his old haunting grounds to animate dust and limbs. "My Corpse Shall Rise" is sort of the opposite, opening with an archaic, appreciable death/doom sequence and then tearing into a flustered, flesh-ripping mass for the bridge and lead.

I did enjoy the flailing of "Seven Skulls", and the hardcore grunge and resonant vocals of "Human Genocide", but less so the somewhat tedious finale "Mutant Village". Considering the enormous hype that surrounded Autopsy's return to rights, I admit I expected far more, but this is at least a safe maneuver which plays up to the fans' expectations. There are more intriguing riffing structures on the following full-length, Macabre Eternal, which I've also had a mixed reaction to, but The Tomb Within seems like more of a straight shot to the fundamentals. I wasn't too fond of half the riffs and leads, but at least they got the atmosphere right, and that counts for a lot more than some might give due credit. Cool cover, decent way to kill 20 minutes, but they can and hopefully will have better to offer down the line.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (immortality a fallacy)

Autopsy - Awakened by Gore (2010)

The inherent value of the Awakened by Gore collection will rest almost entirely on whether one has already acquired the 2000 comp Ridden With Disease that came out via Necroharmonic Productions. Granted, this Nuclear War Now! release is one for the vinyl purists, being released with some spiffy, appropriate artwork on two LPs, with special editions available that include all manner of goodies. It's also more extensive than its predecessor, with 13 tracks opposed to the 9 there, but I can't say that the audio extras offer much of an incentive, just crude rehearsal tracks that in no way supplant their ultimate, ideal studio incarnations.

If you haven't guessed, this is a re-pressing of the Californian band's original demos from 1987-88, before they had gone to Peaceville for the classic Severed Survival. As I mentioned on my writeup for Ridden With Disease, the demos offer a crude and fun interpretation of several album classics and a few that never really made it to one of their bigger albums. Expect a distinct but downtrodden demo production, but Autopsy manage to pull it off with their grimy, proto-death compositions and atmosphere, both traits having now gone on to influence countless shadow acts who cite Chris Reifer's creature as legendary. Alas, the raunchier rehearsal material like "Disembowel" or "Embalmed" are really only needed if you're the sort of person that would purchase Michael Jackson memorabilia or some super model's used lingerie on eBay. Necessary only to the obsessive.

If you do NOT own Ridden With Disease, and you love your vinyl double LPs or other such releases that provide you with a taste of nostalgia, then this is the paramount release of the demos. Otherwise, Necroharmonic already took the initiative on this a decade earlier (with Hammerheart/Vinyl Collectors releasing an LP of that album). I'm ranking this slightly lower due to the whole egg before chicken novelty, but if you're a sucker for records, then consider this the chicken before the egg that grew into that chicken. Both will inevitably be rare enough that just finding one of the two should suffice.

Verdict: Win [6.5/10]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Atheist - Unquestionable Presence: Live at Wacken (2009)

Unquestionable Presence: Live at Wacken is not only a reasonable account of Atheist in the flesh, but a catalyst to consolidate the band's return to the field after about 15-16 years of general silence. That a band so loaded with interesting ideas was cut well short of its time after but three studio albums (all in close succession) was a travesty. But here was a hint at last that they would return and rearm themselves. Unfortunately, the package is saddled with a second disc that is nothing more than a compilation of previously released material. A veritable waste of space. Atheist was and is a highly specialized act with an appeal to a niche of the death and progressive metal audience that already owns this stuff, so just about anything would have been better. How about tossing the Beyond demo on as the second disc? Or a few unreleased, rare odds and ends? Nah, let's just give the people what they want to hear: what they've already heard, unless they've been living under a rock for two decades, but possibly even then...

Well, the live disc at least is admirable, with a nice resonance from an appreciable audience from the Wacken Open Air 2006 festival. It offers a clean tone in the guitars, and a thick, oozing undercurrent courtesy of Tony Choy, and a clear glimpse at Steve Flynn's jazzy transgressions. Kelly Shaefer doesn't sound as if he'd skipped a beat in the intermittent silence of the band's career, and might even have ramped up his mayhem (which I can confirm, now having listened through the new studio album Jupiter from 2010). The eight tracks are culled exclusively from the band's classic Piece of Time (1989) and Unquestionable Presence (1992) albums. Though I mildly prefer the latter in its studio incarnation, I must admit that the oldies are the best of the litter here: "Unholy War" and "Piece of Time" sound particularly vital and fresh, trailed by "On They Slay". The track listing does favor the Presence material, though, and of these: "Mother Man" and the title track sound the best, followed by "Your Life's Retribution", "An Incarnation's Dream", "And the Psychic Saw".

The compilation is delivered in chronological succession, and unlike the live set, all three albums are represented. Interestingly enough, all four of the Unquestionable Presence tunes from the set were included. "Piece of Time" and "Unholy War" are joined by "I Deny" and "Room With a View" from the debut album; "Mineral", "Water" and "Air" are the proxies for the divisive Dimensions. I won't deny that these are mostly positive selections from the catalog, and yet I can't help but feel ripped off, once more, by a label exploiting the resurgence of interest in one of their 90s-heavy artists (Roadrunner was guilty of a bunch of these). Granted, Relapse was not the band's original imprint, so the tracks had not appeared through them, but I assert that a better bonus disc might have vastly increased the value of this release for the fanbase. For the live disc alone, it might be worth hearing once or twice, though nothing deviates from or really exceeds the earlier studio fare. But this glass is only half full, and if a second disc was to be included, it should have been more worthwhile.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hate Eternal - Fury & Flames (2008)

Fury & Flames is about the time I fell out of interest in Erik Rutan's workings, because it's nothing more than a retread of the grounds he had covered with the first three albums, each of which offered a functional but diminishing foray into the growing constraints of his imagination. Most of the features here are identifiable trademarks of that post-Morbid Angel. It's fast and brutal as fuck, a clamor that unfortunately, like so many of the band's peers, is often to the album's detriment. The band does toil with some versatility, as upon I, Monarch, but outside of the zippy leads and the cool outro ("Coronach"), there's painfully little that clings to the ear. A race to the end zone that is simply not engaging enough not to change the channel.

Derek Roddy was replaced by a youngster with just as much energy (Jade Simonetto), and in fact the drums are quite loud in the mix, lancing a hyperactive and resonant thunder below the stream of Rutan's powerhouse, unmemorable guitars. No worries there, but despite the excess of energy, it's not a saving grace. Randy Piro had parted with the band, and Jared Anderson sadly passed away in 2006, so Rutan brought in Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse to handle the bass. His lines are certainly impressive from a technical standpoint, as they tend to be, and I often found the guitars so dull that I would turn to Webster to perk my interest, but its like trying to douse a bland meal of cold spaghetti with sauce well past its expiration date. The lyrics cook up that same pseudo occultism prevalent in the death metal genre, usually from the first person perspective and relevant to whatever faux rites of individualism the band is attempting to convey.

As for individual tracks, it's a bit difficult to distinguish much from the teeming, roiling mass of belligerence that populates much of the 40 minute playtime. The first 4-5 tracks tunnel past the listener at an insane pace, but outside of a few of the frenzied thrashing patterns in the midst of "When Gods May Destroy", there's nothing worth revisiting. "Proclamation of the Damned" and "The Funerary March" have some tense, tactile rhythms tucked into their battering, but they never travel anywhere interesting, and the entire album is laden in what must be the most monotonous vocal performance Rutan has yet committed to disc. It's the same shtick he'd been bellowing out since Conquering the Throne, only as time progresses, the percussive meter of the grunting has grown sour and old. The ability of the Hate Eternal musicians is never in question, because the three of them could rival anyone else in the field, but they seem to be writing the death metal equivalent of a train wreck: once it goes off the tracks, crushes a few passengers and gets cleaned up, its likely to be permanently retired.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (such horrors envelop us)

Resurrection - Mistaken for Dead (2008)

15 years is a long time to wait between albums, so it's to the credit of Florida's Resurrection that they managed to stage a comeback that not only kept loyal to their 1993 debut Embalmed Existence, but actually built upon that, with a more technical thrash/death riffing style that engages the listener even when those particular riffs are not the most memorable. That's not to say I appreciate this above its predecessor, because I honestly enjoyed the dark and derivative atmosphere found there, but its good enough to hold the attention, and superior to some of the output from scene veterans that spent all those intermittent years touring and releasing full-lengths. Add a crisp, modern mix, dynamic guitar range and Paul Degloyer's vicious snarling, and you've got a passable sophomore.

Those who found themselves turned off by the corny, narrative bits between the songs on the debut might find relief with Mistaken for Dead. No, they haven't forgotten them, but they adorn only about 4-5 of the songs, and are kept brief and manageable. Almost as if to evoke nostalgia but retain cognizance that it was a silly idea to begin with. Much of the excitement of the album is front-loaded in the first few songs, like the frenzied, melodic spikes woven into "Coward" or the brick house violence of "Buried Alive" (which reminded me of Malevolent Creation). A few of the tracks further in ("Perils of Burden", "The Deceiver") also hold up pretty well, but beyond that I felt not necessarily that the quality trailed off, but that the later tracks felt too similar to those on the first half of the album. Granted, this was never one of the more promising Florida death squads to begin with, but a little more consistency, atmosphere or versatility would not have hurt this at all.

Instead, it just feels like a workmanlike, socially conscious successor with a lot of thrashing and slamming sequences that often reminded me of Kreator in their late 80s period up through the mighty Coma of Souls, at least the means by which the melodies are incorporated into the palm mute sequences. The guitars are certainly more intricately crafted than the debut. The rhythm section is up to snuff, and Degloyer definitely makes his presence known with an angry rasp that comes off like a more ripping Chuck Schuldiner or less vomited John Tardy. Nothing too impressive or trail blazing, but across a gulf of 15 years, they could have devolved into something far less appealing. Also, this must be one of Dan Seagrave's worst cover arts. All in all, though, Mistaken for Dead is probably worth a listen if you recall Enbalmed Existence, or if you're into the urban aggression of the first few Malevolent Creation records.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Malevolent Creation - Live at the Whiskey A Go Go (2008)

Live at the Whiskey a Go Go is the second of three Malevolent Creation live albums released through the Arctic Music Group in the 21st century (to date, anyway). One might question how a band of such second string stature might warrant such attention, but I can assure you that this disc has one thing over its predecessor, 2004's Conquering South America: Brett Hoffman. Originally, this was intended as a DVD/audio effort, which would have been a notable plus in value, but somehow the video transfer got mucked up, so it was released solely as a live audio CD, with sound quality that is admittedly short of ideal, even if its a pleasure to hear their classic front man in action.

And he sounds great, slathering and growling over a selection of newer and older tracks. I was most excited to hear him in the material from The Ten Commandments and Retribution, and these are represented in the set with "Impaled Existence", "Multiple Stab Wounds", "Eve of Apocalypse", "Slaughter of Innocence", "Coronation of Our Domain" and "Monster", a pretty healthy array of the music that matters most. There are a handful of tracks from Eternal ("Blood Brothers", "Infernal Desire"), which he didn't appear on, and then the rest are culled from The Fine Art of Murder ("Mass Graves", "Manic Demise", "To Die is At Hand", "Scorn" and the title track). Perhaps a bit heavy handed there, but it does make sense: Hoffman was just back in the band, and they wanted to highlight material he was most familiar with. The audio itself was recorded in 1999, so that was the latest studio effort at the time, and a pretty good one, with some atmosphere and stylistic variation that is balanced well with the oldies.

Unfortunately, the sound itself is just not that special. The band's performance is tight here, and the vocals grisly, but the guitars and drums feel a little washed out. The stage banter is loud and violent, and the run-ins to a few songs ("To Die Is At Hand") are quite incredibly and packed with energy to get the crowd slamming and their minds exploding, but you lose a lot of the intricacy of the guitars in the puerile thrust of the mix. Overall, it's a slightly better experience than the last live album, with Kyle Symons singing, but it's not entirely satisfying, and I honestly preferred the mix of instruments on that one. I'm all for a great Malevolent Creation soundboard session with a clarity of brutality, the classic singer, and so forth, but neither of the offerings have fully delivered it, and thus I'd recommend them only to the diehards.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Blastmasters - Twisted Metal (2008)

It doesn't take more than the band name and album title to confirm that the Blastmasters don't take themselves all that seriously, but you might surprised when you actually spin the disc that its a volley of full forward, brutal death metal much in the vein of Deicide, Hate Eternal, Diabolic, and Morbid Angel. I should mention Diabolic twice because, well, Blastmasters basically is Diabolic, centered around long time drummer Aantar Coates and several others who have appeared on Diabolic studio material (Jesse Jolly and R.J. Reinagle). Naturally, the similarities extend beyond the roster itself into the music, which feels comparable to the more brute and mindless Diabolic slugfests like Vengeance Ascending or the Chaos in Hell... EP.

As the band's moniker infers, Coates lets himself completely off the hook here. Almost every second of riffing is supported by either his athletic double bass or ceaseless blasting. Beyond the obvious feat of impressing the listener with their sheer force, though, I can't say that it's a boon to the composition (much like the Diabolic albums I mentioned). There is plenty going on with the guitars, from the frilly leads in "Shellfire and Tombstones" or "Altricial Metal-Genesis" to the climactic, destructive rhythm patterns wrought throughout, but so much of the album is devoted to straight, predictable bursts of speed that it too quickly becomes exhausting. Thousands of notes race past the ear, none of them clicking or sticking. In fact, it's so monotonous that the few deviations stand out that much more than they would otherwise, like the slower, ominous intro to "Implemented Digital Control" or the clever, schizoid spikes of melody in "Putrid Future".

In other words, this is pretty much the same issue that renders about half the Diabolic back catalog null and void of real interest. The Blastmasters are all talented enough guys, but when you compare something like this to a better Hate Eternal album or some of Morbid Angel's classics (Covenant, Domination, Gateways to Annihilation), you can just feel how lacking it is. How little the band are capable of conjuring up effective atmosphere, cataclysmic or apocryphal sequences to match the lyrics (which are surprisingly not bad at all), or individual riffs that demand an instant revisit. Twisted Metal is fast, angry and full of hot air, and ultimately the Blastmasters would dissolve after just the one album, several of them returning to Diabolic, since there was really no point in having two bands that sound so much alike, with the same constituents. It's not bad, but neither could I recommend this unless you're interested in more of the same, febrile extremity with little structural quality of note.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
(sculptures of a living wasteland)

Massacre - The Second Coming [DEMO] (2008)

Though its demo status and sound quality might serve as a barrier to those seeking studio level output, The Second Coming is nonetheless the best of Massacre's body of work. Until Hell's Headbangers re-issued it in 2008, though, there was very little means by which to get your hands on it (the material was avoided for the Tyrants of Death compilation a few years prior). Originally offered to their then label Earache in 1990 for appraisal, this is a Massacre that might have been. A beefier, death/thrashing hybrid entity which delivered far more on the riffing skills than the incarnation most would come to know with the lacking From Beyond album or Inhuman Condition EP. Sadly, it earned a red light from the label, and Kam Lee and crew were sent back to the drawing board.

Now, just because I said this is the 'best' of Massacre, doesn't mean it's the bees knees, or worth going out of one's way to acquire. What you've got is a pretty standard thrash affair with more similarities to S.O.D. and early Sacred Reich than the Florida death metal of the members' peers. Lot of meaty mosh rhythms that permeate "The Second Coming" or "Mangled", pretty much built for tough guys. The riffs are bouncy and fun, and the bass is dialed up thick, perhaps too thick when Butch Gonzales starts slapping and popping like an asshole during "Devouring Hour". You do get the occasional death metal breaks in the rhythms, mostly in "Bleed to Death" or "Psychopain Trip", but without Lee's association with bands like Death in the scene, I doubt anyone would categorize this as death metal. As for Lee himself, he uses this angry tone redolent of Rowlf from the Muppets, if he were pissed off and packing projectiles and sharp objects, but he does have a unique character about him, and also lets out a few noteworthy screams (as in "Mangled") that kick ass.

In summation, The Second Coming is not really the Massacre that would go on to its (undeserved) cult status, and it's got a handful of issues. The bass too dorky in spots, the actual riffs not that standout, but the overall atmosphere is furious and sure to have old school 80s thrashers into Nuclear Assault and S.O.D. breaking out their hi tops for some shit kicking. I can sort of see where Earache were coming from in rejecting this: thrash was phasing out of style by this point, and they wanted more extremity (i.e. death metal). That said, I enjoy this a little more than From Beyond because at least its not just a third rate (if not terrible) bite off Death, Obituary and other death metal bands that had grown popular at the time. I was able to connect with this material a sliver more, and I wonder if they would have ultimately gotten a more favorable reaction in the thrash genre.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Obituary - The Best of... (2008)

No fans actually want it. The band did not approve of its release. It is not suited to serve as even cow manure. Gee, it must be another of Roadrunner's fabulous fuckwitted entries into their 'best of' series. Another useless reprint of tracks that the label had already drawn profit from when they were released on their constituent full-length studio albums. Another failed molestation of the underground, who already have the albums and could not care less. Similar to what they did a few years prior with Deicide and Malevolent Creation, the Roadrunner brand has devised yet another ineffective paperweight of the past while their unfortunate gluttony for trendsetters and money makers was about to continue into another decade.

For God's sake, they couldn't even fill up a damn disc with this material! The Best of Obituary is but 52 minutes long, with 13 tracks. Each of the first four albums (Slowly We Rot, Cause of Death, The End of Complete, and World Demise) is represented with three songs, while the two most recent Roadrunner albums (Back from the Dead and the pathetic Frozen in Time) each get a single entry. Would it have taxed them just to throw in another pair from those albums? Or were they doing us all a favor by not wasting that empty space with tracks that no one wanted to hear anyway? Whatever the case, there is absolutely no impetus to purchase this lazy ass cash grab. If you're still in the dark: buy Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death. Enjoy the shit out of them in their entirety. If you're feeling daring after that, maybe give a listen to World Demise or Back from the Dead.

The plan here was obvious: Copy over some previously released music. Throw up an old photograph for the cover. Don't even bother using the band's logo itself. They've moved on to Candlelight, so it's just one last ditch effort to squeeze some green out of the few devotees sucker enough to buy anything with the band's name on it. Honestly, unless you are a metal radio DJ with no Obituary albums available to play on the air, and can get this for the cost of zero dollars and zero cents, there is just no need to bother at all. A vicious byproduct of greed and ignorance, from a once mighty label grown too big for its britches. I hope someone somewhere at least got a new Porsche in their garage over this. I'm sure John Tardy and Trevor Peres didn't.

Verdict: Epic Fail [0/10]

Obituary - Left to Die EP (2008)

Left to Die is one of those quaint little EP releases that does very little to justify its own existence, but nevertheless, Xecutioner's Return must have stirred up enough excitement that Obituary were 'returning to their roots', so Candlelight gave it a green light. The best I was hoping for from this was that the band continued to pace themselves and actually write out their new material, rather than offer anything further along the dry and abominable axis of 2005's Frozen in Time. It would have been great if the band could settle into a positive evolution, unlike the grooving and hardcore that inspired them in the 90s, but such is just not going to be the case.

There are two new tracks here, "Forces Realign" and "Left to Die", which would be included at the end of their next full-length, the mediocre Darkest Day. This sort of gimps about half the value of the EP itself. But even had they been exclusives, neither is really any good They do at least follow the example of Xecutioner's Return in bring out the early 90s, with the same focus on the leads, but the rhythm riffs are pretty meek, with only one bordering on catchy (the verse of "Forces Realign"). These are joined by a re-recording of their classic "Slowly We Rot", which is a waste of space, adding absolutely nothing of note that could not be gleaned from the original other than marginally modern production and a tweaked but forgettable solo; and a cover of Celtic Frost's "Dethroned Emperor". This is not the first time Obituary have paid tribute to their major influence, "Circle of the Tyrants" (from Cause of Death) is a quite beloved cover, but this time out it's not so effective, lacking much of the original's charm.

Lastly, they've included a video for "Evil Ways", which is little more than a standard rock star exhibition, the band banging their heads in front of an American flag while skulls and other grisly images are occasionally superimposed on them. Not the worst I've seen, and the song itself is one of the better tracks of Xecutioner's Return, but again, it's not really a reason to pursue this. You can just watch the video on Youtube or something and get just as much value. In the end, Left to Die should be left out to pasture. It's got two album tracks from one of their weakest efforts (Darkest Day is even less appealing than The End Complete, if not as bad as Frozen in Time), a remake of a classic that needs no such treatment, and then an average cover. Save your dough.

Verdict: Fail [4/10]

Deicide - Till Death Do Us Part (2008)

Deicide's Till Death Do Us Part may just be the band's most divisive album, for it travels in two directions at once. The first, towards a previously unreached level of musicality in the instrumental book ends and lead sequences. The latter, straight down memory lane, because some of its more brutal elements are downright generic and predictable as nearly anything the band were writing during their lamentable 1997-2004 stretch. Thankfully, the massive production values from the previous album remain, so even its drab moments deliver at least a cursory thumping, but in all I can't say that it reached the level of The Stench of Redemption, though it doesn't quite deserve the heaps of negativity some listeners have thrust upon it.

I absolutely loved the intro and outro pieces, titled in opposition: "The Beginning of the End", and "The End of Beginning". But they were like listening to a whole other band performing melodic, progressive sludge or doom rock, or a less jangly, more accessible take on Gorguts' Obscura, Ralph Santolla's exotic leads slicing out over the fields of slowly driving discord and discontent. But one should not be fooled into think that the entire album will reek of such experimentation, because most of the tracks are simply back to the butcher business, from the hammering speed of "Severed Ties", "In the Eyes of God" and "Angel of Agony" to the slower, diabolic old school gait of "Not as Long as We Both Shall Live". That last one deserves a special mention, because despite the fairly pedestrian riffing that it opens with, the atmospheres developed in the bridge and through the leads are simply marvelous, returning to that risk and breadth of the intro and outro pieces. Then there are a few half-on, half-off tunes like "Horror in the Halls of Stone" and the title tracks that have a handful of inspiration riffs wedged in between their filler arcs.

The production is strong, especially the almost mechanical, maniacal precision of Asheim's bass pedals and the clarity of the guitar mutes. As for Benton himself, I found his vocals rhythmically less satisfying than The Stench of Redemption. He follows the beat and guitar line a bit too closely and uses less of the layering snarls that were his trademark, going more for the tone that he used for the Vital Remains records he fronted. Acceptably brutal, just not that inspiring. Jack Owen and Ralph Santolla continue to deliver as expected, and I enjoy the latter's leads more so than just about any executed during the Hoffmanns' stint in the band. In fact, I think the means by which the solos are incorporated into the writing here is nothing but a positive. The real detriment to Till Death Do Us Part is simply that the central death riffs do not live up to the promise of their more eloquent surroundings.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (unsure of what you need)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Death Strike - Fuckin' Death (1991)

If ever there were an album deserving of a re-issue, Fuckin' Death would be a prime contender, and so it is that Death Strike's long beloved, trashy visage once more circulates among the legions of young and old that starve for the authentic sounds of the 80s. While the original Nuclear Blast version of the album was released in '91, half of the contents were lifted from the band's 1985 demo of the same name. Death Strike is perhaps best known as being the launching ground for the prolific Paul Speckmann's long love affair within the extreme metal spectrum; not so celebrated as the better known Master, but far cruder, and arguably more important.

You see, Fuckin' Death came about during those early years when the thrash and crossover sounds were simply no longer violent enough, and bands sought to push the edge into the next category of grime and misanthropy: death metal. One might disagree that Death Strike truly qualified as a straight 'death metal' act, and in truth, the music itself bears more in common with the fast, raw, thrashing of the time, but the vocals hold it upon the precipice. In this way, the band was quite similar to Possessed, Venom or Bathory, an amalgamation of desolation and disgust which functions fully on its slovenly, violent schematics. The riffs are raw, churning, and don't sound like they took more than a few moments to conceive, while Speckmann's brute and masochistic vocals resonate across the mix, choked with carnivorous, serial killer charisma.

In short, it's not perfect, but it's bad ass. The riffs to "Mangled Dehumanization" and "Pay to Die" might mingle with the stark simplicity of a Discharge or Repulsion, but they're all in good fun, and remain fresh and inviting despite the crass, raw meat of the production. Leads are hardly structured, they simply wail out through the burgeoning, crashing momentum. The newer songs like "Pervert" and "The Final Conflict" (with its acoustic intro) seem as if the band were trying to expand themselves structurally, with a deeper production and slightly more restrained vocals, and I can't say I appreciate them as much as the original Fuckin' Death demo material. But they are in no way bad, and as a bonus, this new edition of the album includes four rehearsal cuts ("Live for Free", "Pay to Die", "The Truth" and "Master") which help round out the experience and should thrill longtime fans of the demo.

We're not talking strict immortality here, and there are pretty obvious reasons why these songs would not have made a similar impact to other US pioneers like Slayer, Possessed or Dark Angel, but Fuckin' Death is still a cult collectible. The lyrics are decent for the time, the viral uncircumsized guitar tone and crashing vocals make it the equal of most of the later Master records. Worth hearing for at least the original demo at its heart, and now that you've got a chance to acquire it on readily available vinyl or CD, it makes for an entertaining, shattered window into the past of one of metal's long unsung figures.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (again & again til daybreak)