Friday, November 29, 2013

Artillery - Legions (2013)

It's a pity I can't conjure up the same excitement for an Artillery record that I once could when I was younger. Yes, the 16-year-old autothrall would probably slap the older version in the face repeatedly while begging my repentance just to continue HAVING new works from this long-beloved band, and yet when I read things to the nature of the new vocalist being a close approximation of Fleming Ronsdorf's performance on the first four albums, I can't help but feel misled by Legions...or at least a little disappointed. Not because this guy's a hack, not by any means, but I'll come right out and say that this is the least interesting and exciting Artillery record, and the fluctuating pipes of Michael Bastholm Dahl have at least something to do with that; though the primary offender is the actual songwriting. Legions is more or less a mish mash of riffing aesthetics off B.A.C.K. and the legendary By Inheritance, and yet they lack that degree of intricate, passionate melody and intensity which produced one of my favorite metal efforts in all history...

The Stützer brothers were indisputably one of the best, if not THE best guitar duo in that later 80s thrash epoch, and here they still show they haven't lost all their chops with age. Frenetic and churning rhythms are bounced off one another at various levels of acceleration, and they still seem to be incorporating a lot of those mildly Eastern melodies you may have recalled from the titles I name-dropped above. So Legions cultivates that similar sense of exotic, far-off, glorious and airy power/thrash, only it's missing those riff progressions that remain with you forever, something even the first reunion record When Death Comes was able to accomplish. It's not the 80s anymore, so you're not getting that wonderfully raw guitar tone you'd have found on Fear of Tomorrow, instead the Danes have settled into a more modern approximation of their 90s outing B.A.C.K., with the caveat that Legion is on the whole more atmospheric, with a lot more depth of production. This is emphasized by the effects on the vocals, and the clearer distinction between the leads and rhythm sounds, but unfortunately where the band was strongest was in how those elements came together so brilliantly and forcefully on By Inheritance, a record with more joyous progressions than I can rightly count. Legions is sleek and modern enough for those seeking 'upgrades' to their heroes, much like you'd expect from Paradox, Destruction or Testament, but the songs themselves have less impact.

As for Dahl, he's not without some verbal tricks up his sleeve...err, down his throat, but he lacks both the raucous and rough presence of the great Fleming Ronsdorf or even the screaming excess of his direct predecessor Søren Adamsen, who has moved over to front the Greek band Crystal Tears. Range and melody are not in deficit, but he's got this wavering, silky and piercing style to him that seems like it would be a more adequate fit for a power/progressive metal band, part of which Artillery encapsulates, but not enough that he's a match for the momentous riffing passages once the past increases velocity. Worst of all, though, and I'm not sure how much he can be blamed for this: the chorus parts are really just not that memorable. He also has a slightly unusual enunciation which occasionally rubbed me the wrong way, but even in tunes like "Global Flatline" where he's given a lot of space to flex a more thorough and operatic series of harmonies which remind me a little of a more prog metal alternative to Swedes like Messiah Marcolin or Memory Garden, the melodies that are written over the clean guitars don't seem to achieve much other than to exhibit his range. Not to mention there are probably more delay/reverb effects on him than on the vocals of any prior full-length, especially when he does a more cutting mid-range, aggressive line.

I'd also lay some of the blame here squarely on the leads, which while technically as adept as ever just don't seem to have any memorable qualities about themselves beyond the fact that 'hey there's needs to be a solo here, bro!'. In the past I've enjoyed some of the Stützer solos as much as their genius riffing, but on this album they seem obligatory and directionless, as in "Dies Irae" where I really thought they'd go off and prove a highlight of the piece, yet the structural choices are all pretty timid. The bass lines have some fire lit under them but in many cases they seem to dissipate beneath the punch and proximity of the rhythm guitars, and the other newbie, drummer Josua Madsen does his damned best to keep himself busy; he's just not playing over the strongest material on his Artillery debut. A shame, because I get the sense this group is on a steady decline in the 21st century, whereas their 80s run was the opposite. Legions is still a dynamic, bright and demanding slab of power/thrash, and by no means a failure, but I can't think of a single tune here that can even rival the majority of When Death Comes, never mind the classics.

Worst of all, this just doesn't feel creative or inspired anymore, whereas I could remember a time when these guys exerted nothing but those qualities, from the sticky choruses and ironclad chops of their old albums to the sheer magnificence of By Inheritance, an outing that took the genre to lofty melodic heights it hadn't really achieved before. Even the cover artwork and color palette on this are bland. Song-wise, variation and propulsion are never in short supply here, and fans of recent works by Paradox, Iced Earth and Mekong Delta who aren't already Artillery fans might wanna give it a spin...but I was ultimately underwhelmed, and that is not a word I'd ever expect to use in conjunction with this band.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (get armed and get ready)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Deicide - In the Minds of Evil (2013)

As readily accessible as this record is (for the death metal genre, at any rate), it was not one that I initially found a lot of value in. I was drawn immediately to the lead work, which is by far the greatest thing here, but otherwise it took some warming up to what I otherwise found a fairly standard/stock selection of old school Deicide riffing. Loads of tremolo picked passages over the faster beats throughout, and then a selection of chugging progressions that weren't exactly compelling. Now, granted I am not now nor have I ever been the biggest fan of this group...I like a handful of their records, the first two and Stench of the Redemption being the ones I break out the most, but certainly they have their place in the genre's history, and I wasn't too disappointed with their previous disc To Hell With God, which was essentially a slightly modern brutalization of their traditional style. Upon hearing that recent (and excellent) podcast interview with Glen Benton at MetalSucks, I was pretty pumped up to hear the new material due to his claim that it was some of the best they'd ever written...

But don't most musicians say that about each new release? In the Minds of Evil is not exactly their best material, but neither does it trail very far behind. Certainly it eclipses many of their mediocre records with ease, but I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the fan base are sort of bored at this point, since Deicide does not seem capable of much nuance or progression from release to release, the greatest coming when they put out The Stench of Redemption with its blazing leads and heightened melodic sensibility (though even there, it was largely business as usual). That formula still exists here, particularly with the lead guitars, which I feel comfortable in claiming as the best they've implemented, or at least the most atmospheric, but it's the rest of the riffing that falls a little short, if mainly because I've heard it all before so many times, and there are just too many 'safe bets' in intervals and note choices that fail to generate the level excitement I wanted as the tunes surged into those immaculate solos. I had read somewhere that the lyrics to this were particularly weak, but having read through them I have to disagree...true, they're recapitulating a lot of the same points they've been hammering in since the eponymous debut in 1990, but composition-wise there's plenty enough effort. I mean, if you're looking for Milton-level authorship, you're in the wrong place to begin with.

One area where In the Minds of Evil never really drags behind is in its production, which is modern, beefy and extremely clean. Some diehards of the early 90s might be turned off that it's not that same sort of muffled and flawed Morrisound style they remember with such fondness, but I'm not complaining. Glen's vocals, which continue to focus on the decidedly guttural style rather than the dual imp/grunts on the 'classics', seem like they were very carefully produced, while the riffs have plenty of meat on them rivaled here only by Steve Asheim's effortless mastery of the rolling double bass beats and fits of blasting. Jason Suecof definitely reaffirms his love for getting that great kit sound, and keeping everything clear and in place. A few of the muted tremolo picked harmonies have a nice clinical edge to them that persists into the more effects-heavy solo sequences, but I would say there's a bit of sameness to a lot of the songwriting that doesn't create the most distinct or varied experience (something they've honestly never done). The bass even sounds audible, though he's not usually performing the most intriguing lines that could ever steal focus from the rhythm guitars (par for the course, since he's pulling double duty with the vox). Ultimately, as long as you're not averse to these older bands keeping with 'the times' in the studio, this sounds pretty massive in the speakers, and that's going to be the #1 appeal for a lot of younger fans checking this out. Deicide was never exactly a band chasing a grainy or lo-fi production, so this shouldn't surprise anyone.

In the Minds of Evil could rightly be compared to Legion or Once Upon a Cross, with a few hints of Blessed Are the Sick or The Bleeding, apart from that meatier contemporary studio appeal. It's neither an exemplary or innovative offering, but at least a satisfactory one within its own restraints. Benton and crew seem complacent to the fact that they're an old school death metal band, and they simply seek to hone that craft to perfection time and time again. Similar to the Vader formula, but where records like Welcome to the Morbid Reich, also endowed with killer leads, are ecstatic, passionate and unforgettable, In the Minds of Evil ventures across the finish line into acceptable territory and then collapses, unwilling to stay up all night to celebrate its success. Functional, workmanlike death metal with a lot of chops you've heard before, altered marginally and dressed up with screaming, eloquent excursions higher up the fretboard. Honestly I got more out of this than To Hell With God, but I'm still privately hoping that Deicide will one day release the utter masterpiece it should have required to deserve the status it has achieved. These guys were pretty tight in the beginning, and over the past 3-4 albums they've clearly returned to that level of proficiency and teamwork with the newer members...but there's still not an album in their catalog to effect me as profoundly as a Left Hand Path, Realm of Chaos or Consuming Impulse. That said, the effort placed in records like this one show me that COULD happen, so I can't cross hope off the list just yet.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (fear imposed by design)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Seremonia - Ihminen (2013)

There were quite a number of things conspiring against my enjoyment of Seremonia's sophomore Ihminen ('human' if my poor translation skill haven't failed me yet again). For one, the record is front-ended by a number of exceedingly familiar, bluesy Sabbath-like chord progressions that, regardless of whatever fuzzy spin you'll place o them, do little to inspire me in the 21st century after hearing similar for decades in both popular and underground sludge/stoner rock. Another is that this seemed to be the dozenth female-fronted psychedelic retro doom outfit I'd heard in recent months; not that there's anything right or wrong about this equation, and some are quite good, but my internal 'trend meter' was once again flashing its warning signs. That said, by the time the record ended, I had mutated into a drooling advocate for the way the Finns handle this sound.

Ihminen, in particular the latter half of the album which begins around "Painajaisten Maa", is a haunting and compelling experience which channels prototype 70s doom into a trippy landscape of eerie vocal harmonies, raw drumming and crude, atmospheric rhythm guitars that are occasionally joined with unexpected higher end sequences of more ambient guitars; as in the lengthy bridge of this particular tune. They can convincingly ape that spidery crawl of the original "Black Sabbath" in addition to splaying out groovier, desert rock style rhythms circa Kyuss or their ilk, and thus there's a pretty fair range of material across the 11 tracks. But what will immediately strike most listeners is just how numbingly beautiful the voice of Noora Federley is: soothing and seething simultaneously, with the backing male vox seamlessly integrated as a support device. The fact that all the lyrics are in the group's native Finnish tongue might prove a turn-off to some, but I found this one of the most remarkable's simply not the same enunciation one is accustomed to from other groups in this niche, and that makes it immediately more interesting and unique.

Noora has a unique ability to sound stern, cold and eloquent in equal measures, and it casts this net of sheer nostalgia which peels away the decades to this strange alternate universe where bell bottoms are being shaken to occult rituals and acid tabs grew on trees. Corduroy fields forever! You could almost think of this as a spiritual update to the old 1969 Coven record Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, only made over with a Blue Cheer/Black Sabbath treatment in the guitars and vocals that are obviously less soulful than what Jinx Dawson was doing. Dubbing this 'cemetery hippy metal' wouldn't be too far off the mark, but don't let any label dissuade you into not checking this out, because it's rather fantastic. I had hinted that a few of the guitar riffs were pretty basic and bland, and that's certainly the case in tunes like "Itsemurhaaja" which lack the capacity to evince surprise or wonder, but as a sum experience, I'd say there's plenty of exploration in the record's depths. Examples include "Vastaus Rukouskiisi" which is like a sepulchre go-go with added, whacked out guitar textures, or "Hallava Hevonen" with its tribal, antiquated Gothic doom and gloom.

Hell, the aforementioned "Painajasten Maa" is one of the scariest tunes I've heard all year with those strange, sawing intro sounds and the vocal patterns over the fuzzy bass tone and dingy guitars...lulling you into a charnel house coma until it suddenly erupts with color and psychedelia through a driving riff seasoned in a bedlam of spooky flutes. The drums and guitars are all splendidly understated and underpolished to create and relay a live-like studio interaction, and though they never tax themselves experimentally like other Finnish bands (Oranssi Pazuzu, Candy Cane, etc), there's just enough here to ultimately graft a layer of freshness onto what are some otherwise conservative riffing choices. I do wish this was distributed a bit more evenly over the record (especially among the first few cuts), but in the end there was absolutely enough bewitchment as you'll find on any Blood Ceremony or Jex Thoth outing, and even with the language barrier I was finding myself completely enthralled over the course of numerous listens. Few other records this year will provide you with as much impetus to light a doobie with the undead and soak in the withering of the world.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Suffocation - The Best of Suffocation (2008)

Interested in hearing the best of Suffocation? Then listen to Effigy of the Forgotten, Blood Oath, or Pinnacle of Bedlam. In fact, I feel fairly confident in recommending that you purchase any/all of those records. Or Pierced from Within, a record I've slowly warmed to over the years but is much beloved by the brutal death metal audience at large. If you instead want to have your ears gouged out and intelligence abused, then go ahead and entertain Roadrunner's Best of Suffocation compilation, a staggeringly cheap and transparent ploy to further reimburse themselves for an investment which creatively ceased to be 13 years before this thing was cut and pasted into existence. Now, I've ranted endlessly about this label and their compilation$ in the past, but sometimes one will sting a little more than the next, and this would be that one.

I've read passionate, lengthy polemics about how Master of Puppets or Heartwork or Blut Aus Nord or Opeth or whomever/whatever 'killed' metal music, but I'm going to let you in on a secret: these are all folly, or we wouldn't still be listening to, writing about, performing or giving a damn in general about any of this shit. But I will say, Roadrunner, once a champion of the form in the later 80s or early 90s, tried really damn hard to achieve this result with their transformation into nu-metal's vanguard institution. For fuck's sake, this was the label that released Abigail, Don't Break the Oath and The Final Separation. How do you go from that to Nickelback, Killswitch Engage and Slipknot? Sure, it's all about numbers...Malevolent Creation and Defiance just weren't sellin, dawgs! So roll out the great wiggafication of the genre, ensnaring those Limp Bizkit pundits who might want something a little harder, a little groovier. Death metal? What's that? Oh yeah, we still own some of those recordings, so let's mix and match tunes from them onto another disc, press a few thousand copies and pay for this year's holiday office party...

The result: 13 years after Suffocation stopped effectively giving a shit about their alma mater, the favor was not returned, and the Best Of was born...err, strategized. Let's do some quick math: Suffocation's first three full-lengths had 26 songs between them, and this collection features a dozen of them. So, basically almost 50% of the material was shuffled around and placed on this disc, a band picture was slapped on the cover and then it was off to the races. To be more specific, it's a 5/4/3 split between Effigy of the Forgotten, Breeding the Spawn and Pierced from Within, which might stun some folks who clearly think the sophomore was the best thing since sliced bread and...why isn't it more strongly represented against its inferior older siblings? I personally enjoy the debut material the most of this but, then, I OWN the things...just like every other Suffocation fan who might have been the target audience for this CD. Can you imagine who might have actually picked this up? Some crackhead poring over the Fear Factory selection at his local Sam Goody slash F.Y.E.? "Shit, I fucking need that, Roadrunner be da joint."

Now, we can debate all day whether a brutal death metal outfit, even one so celebrated as these New Yorkers really warrants a 'Best of' or 'Greatest hits', something that at best should be reserved only for bands with like 30-40 year careers and even then I'd rather have a rarities package...but at the end of the day, death metal is not 'pop' music. Fans are generally interested in the 'album' as a medium, for both its aural and visual aesthetics, its complete package, and the Best of Suffocation does not in its wildest dreams sate that need. By 2008, anyone interested in just checking out the band who had not previously heard them could look them up on Youtube or any audio sample available and then decide whether they were worth pursuing, and that all adds to this being even more fucking useless. If, say, Roadrunner dug around in their gold-plated vaults for rare sessions from the first three records, and then put this out in like 1997 with a 2-3 disc spread, booklet, band approval, photos, live material, then it wouldn't smell like so much snake-oil...

Yeah. Oil. Grease, for the palms...or like the kind that was likely streaked, in large amounts, through the hair of whatever person green lit The Best of Suffocation, another disappointing turn for the worse that makes the Coal Chamber debut seem like the Renaissance by comparison. Even if you have never heard this treasured death meal band in your life, should you come across a copy of this in the wild then I'd urge you to run over it with your car a few times, or if you're the 'green' type, send it in for recycling. Directly after that, go and download the first three Suffocation records so that you can either appreciate them in full, scoff at them or simply whine about the production on Breeding the Spawn. Rinse and repeat with The Best of Malevolent Creation. The Best of Obituary. The Best of Good Band X We Once Deemed to Promote Until We Decided to Lose Our Minds and Get Down Wit Jonathan Davis and the Sickness. 'But, man, dese songs are so good I wanna buy 'em twice on CD.' Yeah, well I want you to die twice, but that ain't happening.

Verdict: Epic Fail [0/10]

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Obliteration - Black Death Horizon (2013)

So, what exactly constitutes a great death metal album in the year 2013? In the 80s, the answer was pretty clearly defined as a record that was frightening, shocking, or breaking new ground through the guttural vocals and increased intensity of thrash techniques. In the 90s, technicality and progression took over, not to mention a bunch of bands attempting to lyrically out-sicken one another. In the 00s, it was studio polish, groove, cross-genre pollination and ultimately, the inevitable slowing down of the innovations that got us there. As for the 20teens, well thus far they've seen the cannibalization of all prior decades, whether in conjunction or in specific worship of a particular scene or trend. So I am forced to adjust my initial answer. A great album, in any epoch, is one that you fucking enjoy. While I'm not ruling out the fact that small nuances and innovations are still trickling into the genre, a great album in one that you fucking ENJOY, and don't let any message board Gestapo or cliquey checklists of 'cool' attempt to convince you otherwise. You don't want to be 'cool', friends, you want to be death metal. As your daemonic counsel, I must insist!

Black Death Horizon is an album that I really, really fucking ENJOY. It's an anomalous, oppressive 42 minutes of proto-death metal influences churned in a vat, stirred to a relish-like composition and then served to you on a rotten bun. It cultivates everything from a raw punk and thrash inspiration to dismal, doomy Autopsisms and Incantationality while marginally altering the strategy of the prior two Obliteration full-lengths, both of which I also...really ENJOYED. It's not quite so brutal and direct as the debut, nor so slimy and squamous as the sophomore Nekropsalms, but more like an atmospheric ritual being evoked on a hellish mountainside where the trees have all been burnt clean by volcanic activity. Caldera metal?!? I want full credit for that. Of course, Black Death Horizons, like almost any death metal record you're like to hear in 2013, is really just a combination of precursor components configured into a slightly new way. Broiling tremolo-picked patterns burst from stretches of moody, death/doom disdain that subsist off dank, uneasy harmonies, and d-beat rhythms weave an undead thuggishness...and happiness is nowhere near at hand, with any and all melodic sensibilities confined to discomfort. Even the leads roil about aimlessly and excitedly like plumes of molten spunk being fired off into the cervix of the ash-caked sky, and ultimately, the Norwegians pulls off what so many bands cannot: a death metal record that actually SOUNDS evil.

It's not excessively catchy beyond just a handful of riffing progressions (like the Arabesque tremolo guitars in "Sepulchral Rites"), but it's brutally functional and persistent due to a number of employed techniques. For one, the vocals here are howled and grating rather than disciples of the typical guttural blueprint. I'm not sure how many takes it took Sindre Solem beyond the first to finish off each tune, but they sound so genuine and tormented rather than clinical, brickwalled and forced. Just the right level of reverb, and a rawness of feeling which guarantees variety in almost any line or chorus. Another is the voluminous, distorted bass lines that provide a bulkiness against the more straightforward clarity of the rhythm guitar chords. This creates a base ugliness to the proceedings that recounts some of the murk of the sophomore, but complements rather than contrasts the airy hostility of Torp's axemanship. Also, props to this guy for his constant feeling about the fretboard, a parity explored through all the layers and textures of higher strings employed far more often than banal open chord chugging. Black Death Horizon is not an album of breakdowns, but a movement from one bleak ritual to the next which occasionally deigns to rock your goddamn socks off. It's such a natural flow to it that it sounds the natural throughput of twisted minds, not the meticulous mosh hymnal you'll find of most modern death metal. Thus, this fully falls into the 'retro' or 'nostalgia' camp without obeying the rules.

Also have to complement the drumming, which shifts between warlike, sparse cadence to a more black metal based combination of snares and kicks through the blast-work. The title of this record is no joke, I do actually feel like fans of older Mayhem, Marduk and Darkthrone will get just as much a kick out of this effort as those seeking another Altars of Madness, Onward to Golgotha or Mental Funeral. There's an unpredictable nature about how they've written this (much like the second album) that keeps it fresh and frightening throughout, and the bonus atmospherics like cleaner chanted vocals and ominous droning throat passages show an ethnic flexibility in musical influence that promises the unusual. Not that they're the first group to pull this off, but they do it with restraint...never seeming out of place or like some shallow stab at sounding 'different'. Black Death Horizon makes as much sense musically as a fiery cataclysm that ends civilization by blanketing the firmament with a blanket of soot. In listening, you can just hear all the humans choke through their final moments as they reach forth to touch any glimpse of a glittering star beyond the hazy death beyond their reach. The lucky ones will be disintegrated in magma, but not you, fair, you will suffocate until the very end, watching your neighbors and loved ones perish. That's the sound of one kickass death metal disc, venner.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rottrevore - Hung by the Eyesockets EP (2013)

While I've always enjoyed Rottrevore well enough, I can't say that I am or was ever immune to the opinion that they were a bit of an 'also ran' to that OTHER Pennsylvanian death metal juggernaut. You know the one, and if you don't then you're probably not reading this to begin with. Now don't get me wrong: Iniquitous was never quite so ominous, malignant and claustrophobic as an Onward to Golgotha...the album seemed so slightly more straightforward and I daresay 'brighter' than its better known peer, which I'm not shy in admitting used to scare the fuck out of me when I was younger. But on the level of technical merit, the two were comparable and both have retained a lot of their timeless, oppressive quality even after the span of two decades. So, when first listening to Hung by the Eyesockets, I was taken aback by how little had changed for Rottrevore in 20 years...

I guess it makes sense: there haven't really been any releases in the interim to make those evolutionary baby steps that mark a band's passage through the aeons. For example, if you were to listen through Vanquish in Vengeance and then compare it back to Mortal Throne of Nazarene, there would be some disparity in performance and theme which come naturally with such a lengthy progression (though Incantation has never entirely deviated from its Relapse Records roots). But apart from a few production tweaks, Hung by the Eyesockets sounds exactly like the three songs stepped out from the Iniquitous recording sessions, went out to a bar and got so drunk and hungover that they couldn't make it back the next morning. Now their night of debauchery is revealed! The tone of the guitars is indeed more rank and voluptuous, and in fact I'd say it sounded a fraction more 'Swedish' than the bulky Autopsy crunch of the debut album, but it largely recaptures the more hellish grinding and groovier moments of the ancient full-length like flies in amber.

I did feel like the drums on this thing were a level or so too loud in the mix, to the point that they can clutter up my appreciation of the guitars. Funnily enough, this is a trait I'd also attribute to Putrevore, the amazing Spanish/Swedish collaboration which seems in part like a tribute to this very band (or at least the Penn State inspired brand of death metal subterranea). In the end, though, I could make out most of the riffs, and while they were nothing extraordinary in terms of Rottrevore's past, they're convincing enough. The leads are quite clamorous and murky but then this isn't Eddie Van fucking Halen to begin with, so the dissonance and chaos implied seem to at least prove a fit to the rhythmic structure. Bass tone is a bit too smooth, I would have preferred something more dissonant to stand out against those repulsive guitars; the intensity of the playing here ensures that it is less noticeable than on Iniquitous, but the whole experience is just so low end and brutal that you won't notice the difference unless you're specifically listening for that. Most importantly, Chris Weber's nihilistic guttural sounds fantastic...I always thought he was the logical competitor to Craig Pillard, and comparing him to the vocals on the Disma debut...

These myriad reunions always generate some natural controversy, since it seems the bands only reform when the style of music they once helped pioneer has appreciated in audience (thanks, internet), and at a time when bands like Convulse and Purtenance are also pinching off new loaves of loathsome, ugly death metal on the Finnish side of the pond, why not Rottrevore? Has Abhorrence re...yes, yes they have. What about Demilich? Eh, Nespithe is perfect enough that I don't need another. Ultimately, wehen we're dealing with this very inaccessible side of the genre-spectrum, though, it's difficult to believe that the groups are in it for anything more than nostalgia. Autopsy might be able to afford a tour bus, but Rottrevore will not be moving up to the top floors of Trump Tower, or purchasing a Fiji island anytime soon. So, yeah, if you did enjoy Iniquitous and sought more of the same in the ensuing decades, I cannot imagine the squamous slaughter present throughut Hung by the Eyesockets will deeply offend you. It's certainly nothing amazing, but it IS pretty intense, and while it was originally only available as a digital release last year (called Blind Sided Attack), a proper MCD has been pressed by XTreem Records, allowing Dave Rotten (who by no coincidence is the vocalist for Putrevore, in addition to Avulsed) to keep his heroes in-house.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (running chainsaws with their teeth)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mortal Decay - The Blueprint for Blood Spatter (2013)

Not that they always had everything in common, but 90s hopefuls like Lividity, Fleshgrind, Gorgasm and Mortal Decay always felt like they were stunted by the popularity of Cannibal Corpse. They all had some decent if forgettable outings, and arguably were sicker and more vulgar than that shambling undead elephant in the morgue, but somehow never really achieved that next level of success...and if I' being honest, it might be because the subject matter and visual aesthetics of the bands were starting to feel redundant with one another. Jersey's Mortal Decay were indeed no slouches on their earlier releases, with a torture porn approach to semi-technical brutal death metal well before 'torture porn' was a common expression. Their albums never really stood out much for me, but in particular their Unique Leader releases were respectable, and they had the makings of a band that could pummel alongside acts like Dying Fetus, Skinless, Dehumanized or Misery Index with ease, having just as much musical value to offer.

Well, after quite a lengthy hiatus, eight years to be exact, the followup to Cadaver Art has at last arrived and presents us with another fairly standard variety of brutal death tropes drawn from both the late 80s/early 90s emissions of bands like Suffocation, Pestilence and Deicide as well as their own later 90s peers like those I named above, or None So Vile-era Cryptopsy. On the plus side, the level of exaction and musicianship here pretty much destroys their older offerings, with some phenomenal bass lines/fills and a drop of a dime precision punch between brutal chugging passages and flights of frenzied, clinical harmonies that do the cover artwork much justice. It doesn't hurt that they've wrangled a few members of Malignancy into the roster here, and ramped up their own individual skill levels, this is that same surgical sensibility that Masticate to Dominate and To Desecrate and Defile celebrated, leaving the listener stuck between both the bludgeon and the scalpel, both pretty equally effective as implements of aural destruction. I honestly do not have a lot of complaints about The Blueprint for Blood Spatter: If you've heard their prior output, it delivers...but just how much?

Danny Nelson's vocal performance here doesn't really deviate much from Malignancy or a wealth of other bands on that same level...grunts and snarls derived from Barnes, Benton, Fisher, Vincent and maybe a little bit of Will Rahmer, without much distinction of their own. The guitar playing is quite diverse, though, ranging from small shots of dissonant higher string chords to spiraling body bag melodies and then plenty of bursts of blasting fortitude, broken up by groove hooks that thankfully never feel too cheap, though a number of the palm muted progressions are bland and mildly uninspired. The drums are just about unstoppable, with a load of points where the bulk of the guitars will disappear and Anthony Ipri is left to import some creativity and almost perform drum solos to the listener's anticipation of their re-emergence ("Chloroform Induced Trance"), and the bass playing is just fucking awesome with tons of farting, murky, bubbly squelching pops and melodic fill runs that help fill in any creative void left by the two guitarists. The Blueprint as a whole is one of low-end propulsion and instinctual, chaotic celerity...well plotted, but jerky to the degree that you can't always predict exactly what will come next in any situation, so it's a fun record to explore.

That said, will it top mine or many other death metal buffs' year end lists for 2013? I can't say that will be the case personally, but not for any lack of trying. It's no Colored Sands, Kingdom of Conspiracy or Pinnacle of Bedlam, but clearly there were tunes here like "Jugular Gurgle" and "Chloroform Induced Trance" that I felt myself eagerly returning to; this just isn't a consistent quality across all the album. Mortal Decay sounds on point, to the extent that the eight year absence is easily forgiven and it sounds appropriately like Cadaver Art's more adventurous and unrestrained younger sibling, but there are places where the group lacks a little character to separate itself from a large swath of its peers. Still, I do feel like execution and planning of this Blueprint are adept enough that it wouldn't take many more trips to the drafting table to transform this band's capabilities into something truly extraordinary.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Monday, November 18, 2013

Disfigurement - Soul Rot EP (2013)

It's never a bad thing when I've listened through the first 3-5 minutes of a new death metal record and can't immediately lump it into one of the prevalent trends of either tech-brutality, cavern-core or Swedophilia. Atlanta's Disfigurement certainly cultivate some pretty popular old school influences from the 90s, but with their EP Soul Rot, they have the luxury of instantly seeming fresher than the majority of what's being churned out of the nostalgia factory 24/7. Nothing but pure death studied from the lexicon of artists like Morbid Angel and Vader, with faster and repulsive rhythms interspersed into roiling, atmospheric grooves and a raw but precise sense of atmosphere that generates an infernal level of energy and enthusiasm that be blunt...infectious.

Nothing out of left field, and nothing extraordinary if you've been around this music the past 20+ years, but I'm reminded of other acts like Horrendous who have managed to take those inspirations and make them feel new again, or rather to make me feel like the mullet-sporting newspaper delivery dork who used to memorize every damn tremolo picked progression on every damn death metal cassette he could acquire at the ripe age of 15. Extra, extra, bleed all about it! Add to that the present day production capabilities and Disfigurement simply shattered my expectations, and maintained a consistent level of competence and quality for the 23 minutes and 5 songs this EP endures. Shrill, atmospheric leads writhe their way through a lattice of intense, churning, molten guitars that flirt with that classic overseas tone of the 90s, but settle for something robust and visceral without reaching that oversaturated level crunch. Drums are loud, proud and never sound particularly falsified or processed like a lot of drummers playing at this level in more technical outfits.

The vocalist is also quite a 'catch', he's got those bellowing Benton/Tucker depth growls that shake and resonate but also a bit of Corpsegrinder gutturality (new word, I swear) and then some raspier passages to develop variation in the lines. Bass is pretty potent; although the lines don't distinguish themselves from the rhythm tracks, you're never unaware of its presence. But ultimately, where the band succeeds the most is in structuring these songs...always leaping full force into some intense new battery, regardless of what tempo they have settled upon...think Domination meets Litany meets Once Upon the Cross and then foster that tryst with a fair ratio of memorable riffing, sporadic fits of extraworldly leads/melodies and then of course the resonance that front man brings to the entire affair. I'm not promising that this is 100% memorable fare, or that the riffs escape derivation often enough to generate a sense of nuance and wonder, but Soul Rot is another reminder that the old school sweatshop of the past 5-10 years is not necessarily played out to its fullest, and that with a little talent and focus on song structure the best could be yet to come...

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Iron Dogs - Free and Wild (2013)

When all else fails, use the photo of a sword-wielding, blood spattered, naked barbarian amidst a field of impaled, severed heads as cover art. Iron Dogs have done this twice now...the last time, on Cold Bitch, the model had a pack of wolves at her heels! Brilliant. Were those wolves on retainer? Were they 'fake wolves' i.e. dogs? I may never know, but the catch is: NOTHING else fails, because even if these Canadians had a grandmother, fully clothed, knitting a blanket in a rocking chair, they would still kick ass. But wait, the grandmother could be a younger woman, naked...knitting her victim's skin into a robe...with blood running down her...there I go again with the ideas. At any rate, you may have seen some of the band's promo pics, where they appear much like a Metalucifer from the Great White North: denim, leather, spikes, sunglasses, patches, attitude, and vintage vinyl and cassette collections that would make a lot of today's 'we were too young to be there' crowd cringe in fact Jo Capitalcide is kinda like the Canadian version of Joel Grind.

Note that, while the group's sense of humor is obvious, there is absolutely nothing ironic about any of this. The Iron Dogs, whom I'm assuming took their name from the Exciter song (I'd be pretty upset otherwise), are lovers of classic speed, heavy and thrash metal, and if I'm not mistaken, Capitalcide even DJs the stuff. And that is what comes out of their instruments: a highly melodic and driven hybrid of cult NWOBHM and speed metal which draws on such a wide berth of obscure influences that it actually seems sort of original. I heard everything in here from Anvil and Manilla Road to, Diamond Head, Angel Witch, Samson, and the prominence of the melodic guitars even reminded me of the better Sound Barrier stuff. Combine this with the respectable but lower fidelity production standards, lyrics that are not at all cheesy but heavily inspired by pulp fantasy and horror fiction, and you've got yourself a genuinely awesome sophomore record. I was a bit late to Cold Bitch, only hearing it for the first time earlier this year, but I think Free and Wild is actually a little better, with a more resonant and atmospheric nature that doesn't at all seem like a bunch of guys just taking the piss. In fact, despite the throwback songwriting sensibility, this actually doesn't seem to dwell too heavily in the past...Free and Wild isn't just a good heavy metal record for some mythical year of 1983 in an alternative historical's a great one for 2013, in THIS timeline.

The one caveat might be that Jo's voice takes some adjusting to, if only because it's so 'blue collar' and honest that it might not sate an audience blood-lusting for the traditional screamer. Though his voice isn't quite the same, he reminds me more of a front man like Steve "Lips" Kudlow or Mark "The Shark" Shelton, or some of the lesser known NWOBHM dudes: rough around the edges but capable of using those flaws and limitations to their advantage. Capitalcide might sound like a guy you'd hear at the local karaoke bar (after a few beers), but he makes due, and in the end, he serves as a strength to the record, giving it some character it might not otherwise possess if it were helmed by some trained European professional. I mean I wouldn't trust Fabio Leone to have my back in an alleyway brawl, but this guy would do in a pinch. A lot of passionate, raw howling and wailing, even if he's not capable of Halford squeals. I also dug the use of reverb on a few of the harder tunes, at times it recounted the first Overkill LP Feel the Fire stylistically; and there are a good number of manly backing vocal parts that enforce the choruses and add that 'communal' excitement you felt when the genre was still pretty exciting and you wanted to sing along with the other 15 people in the crowd.

Curiously enough, though, while the band brands itself as 'speed metal', and I don't disagree, they take a mildly different approach than some of the new bands exploding out of Finland or the US, who seem to take the former half of that equation quite seriously. Not that Iron Dogs play slow, but their take on the niche is more in the classical sense where it was mid-paced rhythms with punkish chords. Only the Canadians layer on so much melodic picking, through the verses, choruses and bridges, that the tunes take on a decidedly epic heavy metal feel that fits like a hand in a glove with their lyrical themes. This is the component that truly places them in that late 70s/80s epoch sonically, delivered with a blissful, down to earth tone reminiscent of how Deceased handle all their own melodies on the later albums. Curiously, these melodies are actually cranked up loud enough that it often makes the vocals and rhythm guitars seem more like atmospheric embellishments, which works better than you'd think. Leads and backing bridge riffs are all sensible, nothing feels processed or impossible to pull off live, and the rhythm section here is fucking monstrous. The drums hit hard and definitely ramp up the heaviness and emotion, with thicker kicks than you might expect; while the bass-playing is some of the best I've heard on one of these retro outings: dense as syrup, constantly engaging and laying in fills against the melody that contribute to the songs' depth and atmosphere. The songs are concise and well developed, never once eclipsing the 5 minute mark, and the riff selection is as varied as you could hope...even the sparse synthesizers are tasteful, atmospheric and evince nostalgia.

Free and Wild just sounds great, period, and if you disagree there's a redhead waiting to take your head, and a stick in a stone pass waiting to display it. Not that Canada hasn't done me a solid many times in the past (Voivod, Razor, Anvil, Celine Dion, Exciter, etc), but both Cold Bitch and Free and Wild are so entertaining that I'm almost willing to forgive my northern neighbors for 3 Inches of Blood, who sound to me about as hokey as Iron Dogs sound legitimate. In a year where old timers like Satan and Attacker have been kicking ass, taking numbers, and showing us all how it's done, it's so nice to know that there's a newer group ready and willing to take up the torch. Free and Wild isn't completely perfect, a handful of the chord progressions a little on the generic side, but it IS roughly 30 minutes of 'cult' heavy metal at its best. Well aware of its own triviality and history. Not in any rush to break any speed limit. Just to settle for some memorable licks and lyrics and let you figure out the rest. Which, if you're not a poseur, you will. Stat.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Stormwrath - Swords of Armageddon (2011)

Posthumous album reviews for newer bands have always been a little strange for me, if only because I feel like I just missed some party that I was invited to...perhaps the card got lost at the post office, or a jealous neighbor swiped it and then impersonated me for free liquor, but I feel this sudden sense of tragedy. Of course, it might be for the best in this particular case, because I get the feeling any party with Valencia's violent Stormwrath would have involved lots of bottles being broken over my head and spikes impaling my flesh from all the moshing and bear hugging. Swords of Armageddon, adorned in beautiful cover art that will instantly appeal to fans of groups like Skeletonwitch, Toxic Holocaust and Lich King, is the group's only album, in fact their only release that I know of, and while it's a candle of incendiary 80s-styled thrash that burns out a little too quickly in terms of ideas, these guys were clearly no hacks...I mean they have a drummer named 'Hellstabber'. You don't get to DO that without a majority consensus of approval from some daemonic house of representatives.

To be more specific, what Stormwrath were going for here was a more 'blackened' or 'deathened' take on some of the more extreme thrash acts of the 80s. In particular, there is a massive Slayer influence in how they construct their faster picking, not to mention the moodier, slower songs like "Black Legions" in which the drumming and rhythms and cleaner backup vocals seem to have a little South of Heaven inspiration. But I don't think you could exclude some Sodom and Kreator influence which is felt in the harsher vocals that sound like a median between the styles of Mille Petrozza and Tom Angelripper, and also the warlike sort of riffing sensibility that this album constantly evokes. To their great credit, Stormwrath seems to involve a measure of versatility you don't always hear on a lot of these post-Teutonic retro-thrash outings, and that's probably because most of the guys involved with this have also played (or are still playing) in other acts as ranged as Graveyard, Altar of Sin and Extreme Noise Terror. I won't laud Swords of Armageddon unendingly, because it's nowhere near as charming and memorable as its spiritual forebears in the 80s, but this album never feels like a cheap ploy to cash in on a prevailing trend. It's rather genuine...

...just not entirely compelling. Namely, most of the faster riffs here just seem paraphrased from a grab bag of thrash to predate them, and there are treacherously few that stand out. The guitar tone is robust and fat, and often to the detriment of the harsh vocals that seem somewhat monotonous as they bark out their lines...but without a number of striking note progressions that gave US and German thrash such distinction when they arrived, the music here can only connect with me on a visceral level. The leads and transitions are all pretty well integrated, but these too don't really evoke memorable moments that beg of me to replay the record. At best you'll get a few of those creepy Slayer harmonies like the one near the end of "Militant Messiah", and enough of a balance being struck between the fits of speed and the chuggier groove passages. Surely you can headbang along to Swords of Armageddon, but if you're trying to summon up a chorus phrase in your head while driving (like "Nuclear Winter", "Pleasure to Kill" or "Mad Butcher") it's probably not going to happen...Stormwrath means well, but you can probably figure out why they themselves decided not to stick around too long: it's been done, and so much better.

But on the other hand, that means the record sort of serves its purpose. It's pounding and angry, especially the drum mix which sits right alongside those pudgy guitars, and the entire low end sounds good on your speakers. The lyrics are pretty good, in fact they lit a fire under my ass almost more than the music itself did, and there's no built-in advertising 'we are soooo thrash' bullshit. Stormwrath wanted to pay tribute to the music that inspired them in their several other projects, and that is precisely what this does. It's competent and moderately well executed, just not too inspiring in of itself. I'd compare it to a group like Germany's Cruel Force, where the authenticity of the experience trumps the songwriting. Not as acidic or volatile as Antichrist's Forbidden World, which is perhaps the best example of this throwback action I've heard in a great long time, because the riffing and vocals are so excellent and infectious. But Swords of Armageddon is decent, it's not a bunch of poseurs pulling your chain, and the seriousness of its construction goes a long way towards a hearty respectfulness, even if this is a party we can all survive missing out on.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10] (cursing the infidels with fire)

Morpheus - In the Arms of... EP (1991)

I'm sure I'm not the only person that used the internet to his advantage in the early 'oughts to comb over every obscure Swedish death metal demo and recording that was previously unavailable to him in physical form during the actual 90s...even with the occasional tape trade I was just not able to experience all the stuff in that busy, emergent scene when it was in motion. That said, Morpheus' sole, 1993 full-length Sons of Hypnos was never really high on my radar due to its pretty basic songwriting and dryer production aesthetics...oh, it wasn't all that bad, but a little too 'by the numbers' when there were infinitely better bands coming out of this very same scene. Still, the collectors have likely had some bidding wars over that title in recent times, and the great Temple of Darkness out of Spain has seen fit to reissue the group's original In the Arms of... EP (1991), with the added bonus of the 1990 Obscurity demo, when they were one of several groups known as Exhumed.

Here's the catch: this has all been remixed and remastered, and even as someone with a lukewarm reaction to their later album, I have to admit it sounds quite right. I'm not sure if it was just my copy of Sons of Hypnos that sounded so depth-less and barren, but even some of the same songs here ("Among Others", "The Third Reich 3797 A.C.") sound meatier and more disgustingly loveable. Many would be interested to know that these earlier recordings were recorded at the legendary Sunlight Studio by Thomas Skogsberg, with a ruddier and churning tone. The guitars aren't quite as prominent as they are in, say, Entombed, but they're definitely built upon that same Nihilistic/Dismember aesthetic which draws equally from Floridian death metal tremolo picking, Bolt Thrower-like grooves and a dirty, thrashing underbelly. The riffs are not unanimously inspiring or unique, even for such an early time in the medium, but balanced well enough in a tune like "No Man's Land" that they feel atmospheric and intense, especially in the bridge when they pull off this breakdown that features a nicely winding harmony and some backing synth. I had never heard this tune, nor the more blasting and ugly "Thoughts of Distrust", and I'd have to say they are definitely some of my favorites from In the Arms of..., with ghastly, throaty guttural vocals and a nice snap to the drums.

That said, the more simplistic Obscurity demo is actually the real value here, because you're experiencing some of the most primal death metal available from the Swedish scene in newly refined stereo glory. The guitars here are far more fuzzy and meaty, and the echo effect on the vocals creates this constant feeling that the guy is trapped in some sepulcher in a graveyard and his growls are resonated back and forth across the walls and ceilings. There are again some atmospheric synths in the background, never a bad thing for me with early death metal, and the robust chug of the guitar is completely overbearing to the point that the bass lines just seem like an afterthought...but fuck, I'd take this over about 80% of the retro nostalgia acts peddling the 'authentic' Swedish death metal of yesteryear, and Exhumed was quite plainly a barbaric band of bruisers whose music sounded about as pure as you're going to get, even if to some extent you might think it sounds like some abrasive younger brother to a record like Indecent & Obscene or Clandestine. The drums on this demo sound even better to me than the later EP, and it just reminds me of a time when death metal was so young, energized and important as a statement against thrash and trad metal.

Now, disclosure: I got sent a copy of this to review, but this is well worth coughing up a few bucks for, if for no other reason than to finally have a copy of that demo on CD, with In the Arms of... as a nice bonus. As primitive and perhaps unoriginal as the three songs may be (especially today), they are entirely captivating and quite substantial at around 5-7 minutes each, and you have to wonder why this didn't earn a little more respect. Unfortunately, lyrics are only provided for the In the Arms of... EP, but otherwise it's a nice little package with the original art included for historical reasons. All told, I was quite happy with this little trip down memo...mortuary lane, and look forward to any other rarity demo/reissues this label gets its hands on, if they are treated with this much respect. Obviously, since there is so wide an audience for this Swedish sound (if the promos from new bands I constantly receive are any indicator) that there are enough people to support getting all the original stuff available once more, so let's not rest until the job is done. This is another step along that path.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (incautious thoughts of destruction)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Foscor - Groans to the Guilty (2009)

Of the tens of thousands of metal records I've listened to over the past 30-odd years, I'm willing to bet that by this point, black metal has claimed the largest individual slice of the genre-pie. That's to say, I've heard more black metal than any other style, largely due to its proliferation through the 90s and its very opportunist, individualistic nature...that is to say, in additional to the traditional band structure, you have single persons or smaller groups that are capable of churning out dozens of albums by themselves. As a result, the endless repetition of aesthetic tropes has forced upon me a jadedness that is difficult to pierce...I am fully capable of appreciating a straight up old school black metal recording if it's absolutely sinister or chilling and well done, but it's the potential for nuance and novelty that still beckons to me most, something that Spaniards Foscor ('Darkness') flirt with on their third full-length Groans to the Guilty.

By and large, this is a fairly conservative approach to black metal with roiling, tremolo picked guitars and voracious rasped vocals, blasting and double kick beats aplenty, and not much separating it from numerous other entrants into the medium. Where it differs in in the structure of the riffing, or more specifically the choices of chord-floods which are often a little warmer in nature, to the point you might better equate them with a more 'gaze' or post-rock atmosphere, only they're set straight into a rhythmic foundation that draws from Mayhem, Darkthrone, and likewise a lot of the dissonant note selections (minor chords) that drive the music are pretty much straight from the Scandinavian school. But these guys clearly are interested in going a little further, fucking with the frets on their guitars and implementing enough variation and unexpected nastiness on the ears that it keeps Groans fairly interesting throughout. Granted, there are still a number of the riff patterns that seem underdeveloped or just predictable, but Foscor switch them up frequently enough that I never felt as if I was faced with just another bland, endlessly repetitive black metal record which could put me to sleep if I wasn't in the mood...this might not be an 'excellent' album, but it is captivating.

The vocals definitely have that South European/Mediterranean slant to the snarl common in bands from Spain, Italy and Portugal, which is highly enunciated and carries with it a natural, deeper bark that I'm guessing; but Fiar also manages a tortured, slightly higher range in his delivery that once again rewards the listener with some variation. I really enjoyed that slightly spoken word-like passage at the intro to the title track (and album); he confers a lot of passion and creepiness in there that worked well with the more exotic, Middle Eastern feel of the guitar melody there, something I actually wished had popped up more often on the remainder of the disc. I also liked the other mild sense of 'experimentation' here like the instrumental "La Incertesa Del Plaer" which is built of cleaner guitars, a light and shuffling drum beat and some simplistic, noisier drones before ceding into ambiance. It's good for a band to pace itself properly and offer some respite from a constant barrage, especially when you plan on meting out nearly 50 minutes of intensity, so Foscor earn some credit for not resorting to a monotonous barrage of samey sounding songs, though I would not stop them from extending themselves even further into the dynamic and unexpected.

A few more interesting techniques here were how they mixed the drums just ever so slightly lower than you might hear on a lot of comparable records. Still quite audible, but clearly meant as a more lulling component that doesn't steal away the weight from the guitars or vocals. The bass-lines are thick and hypnotic though they tend to follow along with the arc of the rhythm guitar and could use some more interesting digressions, fills or grooves to celebrate the tone. There was a bit more equilibrium in the mix of the previous record, The Smile of the Sad Ones, but ultimately Groans to the Guilty has a bolder flavor, a rich depth to it that isn't unlike tasting a fine coffee for the first time. It's as raucous as black metal intends, but also sublime. There is a real sense of craft and artistry here, with some great packaging, eerie and unusual, image-heavy lyric themes that are split relatively equally between English and Catalan. The comparisons to Shining and Satyricon on the sticker are not off the mark, and while the album is not at a level which will resonate with me forever, Foscor proves, more than ever before, that they are worth taking seriously and looking further into.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (dust and bones compose the mutter)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

All Shall Perish - This Is Where It Ends (2011)

Disclosure: I still dislike the All That Perish logo, but this fatter version of it is aesthetically more pleasing than its predecessors, which seemed like they were about to dissolve right off the album covers. So, yeah, the font choice is still pretty dated, a 90s, tattooed tough guy relic (which might be more acceptable if these guys were an NYHC band), but for once it doesn't look like an ugly scratch distracting from the artwork. Also, if you'll pay attention to the title coloring, the fiery 'Ends' seems like it just might be hinting at This is Where it Ends as a swan song for the band; not that they made such a claim, and we now know it not to be true, unless they decide to call it quits now that Hermida has moved on to Suicide Silence, but I can't help but feel a little gypped. This is Where it ENDs. Sad times? Good riddance? Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out? That will really all depend on the music...

And yeah, this is probably the best All Shall Perish record, by baby steps if not a country mile. Or at least, the one I'd point out if someone asked me where to begin with their catalog. Not that I'd recommend this band over others in their niche, but at least they've maintained an upward momentum throughout the four records that hints at further greatness. For the most part, This Is Where It Ends plays out like a hybrid of faster-paced brutal death metal and At the Gates-styled melodic stuff, with the band integrating more dissonance and interesting embellishments to their chug-off breaks, and a better hand at integrating a more fulfilling, psychotic atmosphere into the tunes occasionally via whispers, spoken word, etc. Granted, there are times when this plays out like a pretty straight AtG-melodeath extravaganza with little of its own personality, such as the opening to "There Is Nothing Left", or the verse of "The Past Will Haunt Us Both", which are a lot like The Black Dahlia Murder's pugilistic spin on Slaughter of the Soul, but elsewhere you've got really bouncy, djent-like brutality, or Necrophagist-style lead technicality and it ultimately creates a fair balance over the 12 tracks.

I pretty much lost any interest in Hernan Hermida here, because he really just sounds like another standard Tomas Lindberg with some deeper growls that he can shift back and forth into. There is obvious anger like you'll find on any deathcore outing, but his retching doesn't seem remotely distinctive, nor as vicious as his peers like Trevor Strnad or the late Mitch Lucker, who he is now replacing (good luck with that). The songwriting here is also so busy that I often lose Mike Tiner's bass lines in the mix, apart from the few softer moments where he can stumble through. It's just that the tunes rely on such a hectic pile of precision riffs that my ears had a hard time following anything other than the guitars of Beniko Orum (who was on his last leg with the band) and newcomer Francesco Arturato, which take center stage. The new drummer Adam Pierce is also good, but like most modern brickwork players, his hard strikes and technical prowess just don't seem to distance him from any of a widening pool of peers who play at the same level. There's really just not a lot of personality anywhere on This Is Where It Ends...the record functions more as a technical behemoth where the riffs and tempo shifts take charge.

Fortunately, they really do take charge, and a few tunes like closer "In This Life of Pain", with its traumatic transition from piano to intensity. actually stand to memory awhile after the dust clears and you've moved on to something else. What I appreciated was that the constant strands of melody over the album keep the material fractionally more compelling than if they went with the bare, punchy rhythms...nothing bewilderingly complicated, but lots of distractions, and an overall incline in maturity. The drawback is that this is just not much of a creative boost over Awaken the Dreamers, and it would be difficult to pick this band out of a lineup of others who attempt to fuse those same hardcore/metalcore backgrounds into their Suffocation, Morbid Angel and At the Gates influences. The great attention to melodic and harmony detail here does ultimately negate any ability for the music to become frightening, tortured or genuine. This Is Where It Ends is ultimately a clinical, meticulous study in modern 'extreme' metal that lacks the timelessness of hooks that defines what might make a 'classic' record in this field. From a technical standpoint, it doesn't disappoint, but I want a little more tangible, memorable emotion, and sadly they've yet to produce something that I'd choose to quantify/rate as a 'good' album. This is another close call, but that's the best I can say, and there is not a major gulf in quality between this and the two albums preceding it.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (this place is set for ruination)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pestilence - Obsideo (2013)

Much like Resurrection Macabre was an amalgam of the first three Pestilence records in the 80s and 90s, Obsideo seems a combination of its two direct predecessors with a lot of the Spheres fusion jazz poking through in the lead guitar choices and backing ambiance. While not as steadfastly groovy and modernist as Doctrine, it certainly forwards that aesthetic by ironically tempering it with components from the bands' past, specifically the 90s when they were so forward thinking that they dropped off just about everyone's radar. Don't get me wrong: this album still has loads of simplistic, churning groove/death rhythms which stir the conscience much like they'll stir a mosh pits' collective limbs, but there is a slightly more adventurous shadow being cast by the past here, and it's the reason I've been so back and forth on Obsideo since I started listening to this. At times I've found it quite brilliant, and at others I struggle to give a's unlikely to sway the divisiveness Pestilence has faced since its regrouping strongly in one direction or the other.

Very clearly, all the cries of 'sellout' and 'cash in' and other nonsensical accusations that have surrounded the group since their 21st century rebirth have by now (or should now be) subsided, because the music they've been putting out is hardly accessible to either the mainstream metal audience or even the trending death metal crowds of the present era. It's not easily pigeonholed into brutal death, or old school death, or really anything other than to say that it's fucking Pestilence. Patricks Mameli and Uterwijk are not touring compulsively across the world on major packages, they're not being carted around in limousines while they log in remotely to their offshore banking accounts, and they're not releasing lazy industrial metal albums because they suddenly don't give a fuck. Obsideo might not be their best material, in fact very far fucking from it, but it's not like they're just constantly recycling Consuming Impulse, one of the greatest albums ever, to appease the highly critical vest-metal fashionistas that seem to hate anything which doesn't proscribe to a particular set of popular nostalgic standards, which is odd since the majority of said critics weren't even able to walk yet when Roadrunner dropped Testimony of the Ancients.

Oh, there IS recycling here, the majority of the rhythm guitar patterns paraphrased from prior albums, but not in a matter that speaks of trying to turn a quick buck. I simply think Pestilence has run itself against a wall in attempting to constantly reinvent its pummeling post-modern aesthetics, and that has translated into the sheer redundancy in chord choices which are nothing new to anyone following the band since 1991. I had half expected Obsideo to be highly experimental, to push their sonic envelope much like Testimony's 'refinement' of the 80s records, but instead it clings too tightly to its predecessors, and lacks the songwriting punch of Resurrection Macabre, which was exceptionally energized and memorable other than the strange choice to repeat the choruses at the beginnings of the tunes. I still spin that album a lot, especially for that one-two combo leading it off, whereas the more recent Doctrine earns only an occasional curiosity spin. After about a half dozen treks through Obsideo, I feel I very well might consign it to that same tries pretty hard, and it's ultimately worth hearing, impossible not to headbang to if you've got a personal connection to Mameli's riffing style, but it does come up short on those transitive, unforgettable moments that defined their earlier incarnations...

Bear in mind that there are new dudes entering the fold here, most notably David Haley of the Australian tech killers Psycroptic, Ruins, Blood Duster and The Amenta, who naturally proved attractive due to his high level of skill and attention to details. He does a fantastic job here, his fills and tempo mastery helping to really enhance what are evidently a very simple set of chugging, oft discordant rhythm guitar riffs, complex only in that they avoid a number of the genre tropes and set up the sporadic, jazzy leads which Pestilence has been shoveling upon us since Testimony and Spheres. I'm not familiar with the new bassist Georg Maier, but he's definitely got an agile style here which brings to mind Tony Choy, only with the benefits of the more muscular modern definition in the low end mix. The rhythm section certainly feels mechanical in nature, loud and in a few cases brickwalled, but I think with a record as once-futuristic as this that industrial precision is not at all unwelcome in its execution. Put bluntly, Obsideo sounds absolutely fantastic if you're not afraid of death metal records sounding like they were recorded in 2013 and not 1993. I mean I love that stuff too, to this day, but Pestilence is not a band that I really need to dwell too much on studio reversion (though they are clearly doing this in the riff construction).

Much has been said of Mameli's vocals and how they compare to his esteemed predecessor, one of the greatest death metal growlers of all time (who continues to forge on in that capacity with Hail of Bullets, Asphyx and Grand Supreme Blood Court). That said, even if he's no Van Drunen, Patrick is simply gruesome on this album, his guttural the one 'wild' contrast to the absolute control the musicians have over their instruments. Occasional higher-pitched snarls are used to double up on his standard pitch, but really it's that low end, ugly sustain to his voice that complements the box-like palm-muted grooves and airy, winding solos. He seems to improve across the album, with tunes like "Super Conscious" and "Saturation" having the most impact. Believe me, as much as I prefer the first two albums musically, the shift in front men was never really a problem unless you just hated half of Mameli's foot-in-mouth rants over the decades. To be fair, it's no surprise at all that he alienated a chunk of his audience with his standoffish comments, but he's hardly a hack on the microphone, and I say that not based solely on the studio performance, but also in having seen him live a few times.

As for the riff-set, you've got a lot of those transmigratory, time signature warping palm mutes colliding all over the place with Haley's devastating capabilities. Like I hinted above, the bottom line on this disc is not exactly difficult or technical in terms of the number of notes being strewn over the beats, but more concerned with repeatedly jerking you around, boxing in your eardrums and planting a boot in your gut. Leads are more alien and playful, naturally, like a lot of the 80s fusion guitarists that inspired the original members, but that does not always make them particularly inspiring or interesting, since we've been down this road before. I believe there is enough chugging force to the down-tuned guitars that fans of niches like djent and nu metal seeking something more unusual might feel this record, but that's not to say it belongs to either of those categories, it just doesn't have any apprehension at using whatever modern techniques or tools are available to it. All told, whether or not the grooves 'lay into you' will determine whether you love or hate this: say, for instance, the advance track "Necro Morph" and its semi-familiar Pestilential rhythmic step...did you feel that? Did you neck just shake? Yes? Pursue further. No? Forget this exists.

My neck shook, my temples throbbed, my fists clenched, and I felt fully immersed in the experience WHILE having it, but 20-30 minutes later I just didn't seem to care, much the same as I responded to Doctrine. It's a good album, but from a band that for 21 years gave me nothing but great albums (even a couple that I'd still consider flawless, timeless examples of distinct death metal), it doesn't feel completely adequate. Certainly not a letdown, because after Doctrine I did not have high expectations, but I felt like they'd go for something more bizarre this time out (like a Spheres) and it still seems they are tinkering with the same rhythmic toys. A band like Pestilence might be better served moving continuously forward...regardless of what or who they leave behind. Back to space, boys! We'll catch up. Resurrection Macabre already paid their early years ample tribute, and that and Doctrine are really too recent to demand their own...which Obsideo ends up being, though it's as taut and professional as you might hope for.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (the test of time, already lost)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

All Shall Perish - Awaken the Dreamers (2008)

Awaken the Dreamers is an earnest attempt to smother the chugging fundamentals of its medium into something so heavily glazed with ideas that it would impossible for me to dislike it; even if I face the nagging realization that, stripped bare of its melodies or 'toppings', I'd be left with one boring pizza pie of slogging palm-muted grooves that add absolutely nothing of value to the deathcore spectrum. That goddamn awful logo unfortunately remains on the cover, almost like a reminder of the ghetto brickwork 90s mosh mentality All Shall Perish seems to consciously or unconsciously champion despite its more musical leanings, but otherwise I'd have to say I enjoyed the artwork more than their other efforts, with its (literally) six-gunning Statue of Liberty and the symmetric clouds of jet fighters that flank it. If only the middle of the picture was vomited upon by this generic relic of a logo, we'd be in business at last...

Musically, though, All Shall Perish and I are just about to seal the deal, our right hands skin on skin without yet giving a firm shake. The effort put into this record is laudable, despite its faults, which almost all center on the continued overuse of warlike Earth Crisis chugging rhythms that structurally go nowhere interesting. It wouldn't be difficult for musicians of this caliber to find a solution...for instance, kicking the bland chords or adding some dissonance second and third notes to the palm mutes, you'd instantly get something deeper than the deathcore (and previously metalcore) breakdown status quo. Fortunately, the guitarists compensate with a bewildering amount of higher string exercises that range from modern Swedish melodeath sequences, or tapping patterns that often remind me of 8-bit video game classics if they were being arpeggiated by crack whore shredders, or just flashy scale-work that just seems to fit over the banal foundation well enough that you, as the listener, can consign the rhythm guitars to another piece of the percussion kit. Which I think was the Californians' intent, to continue pushing themselves without alienating the fistfighting anthems that spurred on its original audience.

There are slick, jazzy breaks, and segues where All Shall Perish seem to flirt with metal inspirations of a more progressive nature, but to be honest these often feel like they're just abrupt transitions in which they're attempting to throw a surprise left hook at you when they really need a more impactful uppercut. Don't get me wrong: it's a joy that they see fit to expand themselves without losing that violent core, but occasionally these metalcore/deathcore groups seem as if they've just put together their tracks piecemeal, and even on this solid album you could probably switch off a lot of the riffs and breaks between different songs and come up with a similar result. It's more modular than built of strong individual songs, and so there aren't a lot that I found enjoying in full...I simply could pick out a lot of smaller passages within them that were pretty cool, and yes many of those were melodies or leads. The bass playing continues to count here, with loads of groovy fills in tunes like the title cut that keep the music multi-faceted without detracting from the busyness of the guitars. Matt Kukyendall's last studio performance with the band is likewise fit: flawless footwork, no shortage of fills and a clean capacity to match the jazzier tempo shifts that populate the experience.

As for Hermida's performance, it's pretty much on par with the sophomore album, only he brings in some cleaner emotional vocals that remain fortunately subdued rather than reaching for that radio accessibility so many of these bands shot themselves in the arse for. I was quite shocked to hear Cam Pipes of 3 Inches of Blood add some screaming harmonies to "Black Gold Reign". I am nowhere near a fan of that band, who I find to be corny, ironic and not the least bit funny...but even I have to admit that in this context, it creates a more compelling texture against the expected chugging of the rhythm guitar, and I almost wished that they would have used him more throughout. That said, Hermida himself continues to show some promise as he continues to evolve towards that status of 'distinct deathcore frontman' (which sadly it seems he will be cultivating further in another band). The lyrics are admittedly the bland, personal stuff you'd expect out of 90% of 90s hardcore, nu-metal and so forth, eliciting zero curiosity and painfully little standout imagery that you couldn't find on even the least interesting Converge record, but the delivery is at least genuine.

I really enjoyed the 'experimentation' like the lush ambient/acoustic guitar pieces "Misery's Introduction", "The Ones We Left Behind", or "Memories of a Glass Sanctuary" (with vocals!), which flow surprisingly well into their more brutal neighbors, but I don't think in the end I came away from Awaken the Dreamers with the impression that it was a truly memorable outing...just a damn polished one that plainly exhibits a mutual musical advancement among the membership and a willingness to embrace external ideas without shafting those that have stuck with them since the beginning. Aesthetically I prefer the more clinical/brutal death metal exhibition that Job for a Cowboy utilized on some of their full-lengths, as a poster child for positive growth in this field, but as much as anyone might want to write off All Shall Perish as another 'me too' band that was signed to a large label based on the emergent deathcore trend, records like The Price of Existence and Awaken the Dreams proved that these gentlemen were absolutely not duds. Relegated at large to the 'second string' of the niche, perhaps, but I'd attribute that more to them lacking the emo-hipster-youth attuned art direction and rock star attractiveness that several of their peers flaunted to reap the admiration of the girls and bois in the audience. Musically, these Californians are on point, and even better than some of the shitty, overhyped acts in their medium.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (a true man will take a stand)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Psychopathic Terror - 230204 (2008)

You may or may not know Petri Ilvespakka as a past member of cult Finnish death outfit Depravity, one of the few in that scene NOT to have reformed (yet) in the 21st century. He played bass on their demo material as well as the Silence of the Centuries EP, which has seen a resurgence in popularity along with the internet-borne tide of death metal nostalgia. You might instead be aware of the guy through his by the book black metal vehicle Diaboli, which has produced six full-lengths over the last two decades of existence. Psychopathic Terror is yet another of the guy's projects, used to explore various other forms of extreme metal, running concurrently with the black metal stuff and, like that, a situation where he performs most of the instruments. He's joined here on 230204 (the sophomore album) by longtime Korpiklaani drummer Matti Johansso, who must have relished the opportunity to engage in some no-frills old school stuff; and also, for a few tracks, a lead guitarist, Tony Tieaho, who normally plays in the band Crystalic.

This was the same configuration as the 2006 debut Fucker, a record I haven't heard, but it seems to work out rather well here, each of the guests contributing just enough to mold some character into what might otherwise be a pretty basic excursion into primal Scandinavian death metal of the earlier 90s, with a murderous/horror-themed lyrical slant that also delves into current 'events' when it takes on issues like those of the closer "Pedophile Priest" (later albums are more directly political). I guess the easy reference is Entombed, Unleashed or Dismember, with a truly simple selection of riffs that aren't whatsoever unique, split between dense chugging grooves and a few tremolo picked sequences, all predicated on the notion that the listener is going to tap into the same nostalgic void that Petri himself is occupying. The guitar tone and chord progressions certainly cultivate memories of slower grind, and in fact the more measured grooves here might recall a bit of Bolt Thrower, with Petri's gruff barks taking on Karl Willetts' sense of bleakness, but there is absolutely also a death & roll heart which beats loudly through a number of the D-beat rhythms (as in "Living Death"). Thing is, the composition is not quite so exciting as a Clandestine, Wolverine Blues or Indecent & Obscene. The riffing choices, perhaps a little too baseline to really absorb me, don't ever seek to surprise or invent.

Fortunately, the pummeling production values help to compensate by allowing the guitar tone to churn into your ears as if someone were opening your head with a wine corkscrew, and as primal as these rhythmic configurations are on the surface, they're just solid enough to begin to involve you in the album. Whats more, the leads here, where they appear, are quite excellently written to the point where they add another layer of depth to the entirety of the experience. The downside is that they make me wish they were more frequent here, that Petri himself would implement a lot more melodic chords into the framework of the meaty rhythm patterns. The tone of the guitar naturally smothers Matti's drums to an extent, and I would say Ilvespakka's vocals themselves also fall victim since, while they create a solid, audible throwback to Willetts or L-G Petrov, they just can't compete with those fat, gushing chords. I'd definitely compliment the man on his choice of bass tone, which as you can tell from the intro to "The Art of Killing" is 100% muddied and disgusting, and is certainly felt everywhere, not playing second fiddle quite like Matti's drums which seem complacent to shuffle along below the density of the strings (though he's a great player).

Of course, there are hundreds of bands currently occupying this Swedish throwback death metal niche at the present time, some quite good at it, others largely forgettable. 230204 is far from the head of the class, and from what I've read Psychopathic Terror itself has evolved a little from this sound on the later two albums (which I've also not heard), but it's fairly decent despite its unwillingness to take chances and distinguish itself from the herd. Just going off the leads alone, it seems like the eight tracks here could have used even more dressing and complexity to truly stand out, since the core verse riffs and breakdowns all feel like we've been down their particular roads in the past many times (through the 90s and beyond). But ultimately, fans of low-velocity Euro grind ala slower Rotten Sound, d-beat hardcore acts like Disfear or Trap Them, or comparable death metal acts like Bombs of Hades and Mr. Death who do the 'dirtier' spin on the aesthetics of the Swedish elite of '90-92 will achieve some comforting concussions while banging their heads along to this, and it definitely works as advertised.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (brains all over the floor)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

All Shall Perish - The Price of Existence (2006)

I've noticed an interesting trend in how I, a person with only a cursory or moderate interest in deathcore as a valid musical outlet, differ with the 'core' audience of the style in personal perceptions of what makes one of these records good or bad. A lot of dudes are looking for something as brutal and fistfight-worthy as possible, with little regards to the musicality involved, the ambitious or innovative grounds being staked out by the artist as to how they can distinguish themselves from a whole horde of other brutal death or metalcore outfits. They don't want anything to get in the way of that sheer physicality...I mean at the extreme end, I've known fellas who go to gigs to fight, not to give a shit about the music, although strangely enough some of these guys seem to simultaneously respect and air guitar to soulless technical noodling...basically two ends of the spectrum in complexity, colliding. Is this what metal has boiled down to today for the audience first reared on hardcore, metalcore and nu metal?

Whereas, I'm sort of the opposite...I want to hear how this urban/suburban blight might transform itself from the same breakdown shit I've heard repeated over and over since the former half of the 90s, into something more memorable and compelling in riffing choices. Truth be told, I'm all about the songwriting, which dates back to my own experiences delving into metal since a very young age in the late 70s...not that 'songwriting' precludes a heavily mosh/breakdown-based palm-mute panorama by any means, but how those sequences are often balanced against other to create something I want to listen to repeatedly (or not, but in that case they would have to be some truly infectious slugfests). I bring this up because, as they've progressed through the years, All Shall Perish seem to be of the same mindset, ramping up the melodic death metal influences in their songs as they've grown their audience and musical proficiency. The Price of Existence is almost instantly a more musical entity than its predecessor Hate.Malice.Revenge, thanks to the faster melodic picking and attention to spurious leads, but clearly the beatdown rhythms have not themselves 'perished', since they comprise much of the support to the flightier, fickle guitar work.

I'm not saying it's that much better than the debut, because for all the increased effort the majority of this music is far too quickly forgotten, but here at least as a record I can sit and listen through and actually perceive a handful of ideas that don't bore me straight from the starting gate. This is of course the record where they picked up Hernan Hermida on vocals, and while he's nothing extraordinary in this field he has a pretty seasoned palette of painful growls and sneers that at least surpass his predecessor in quality, as he seems to so effortlessly dive into the faster syllabic passages or belch forth a sustained Tomas Lindberg style snarl. And yeah, At the Gates is still a pretty good comparison, only add in the surplus of fisticuff chugging progressions and dour hardcore chord components circa Hatebreed/Earth Crisis, as well as a slightly more surgical approach to the guitars that involves rapid arpeggiated runs or clinical picking that recalls the operating table thrash that tech death borrowed from European gods of the 80s (sung and unsung) like Pestilence, Carcass and Deathrow. In fact, I wouldn't go so far as to say I enjoyed much of the album, but it's got particular pieces that really appeal to my ears, and it simply clobbers that first effort.

Special mention to the bassist, Mike Tiner, who makes himself known here with some swerving and busy grooves and lines that lend a greater depth to the choppier, clinical guitar elements in tunes like "Prisoner of War". The leads, too, while not so scathingly memorable that you'll think of them outside the experience, have a more emotional and melodic range to them ("Better Living Through Catastrophe") which really reinforces that All Shall Perish was not interesting in sticking around Beatcore Browdownland for all eternity, but in achieving that very important balance. Which, honestly, they do here. The Price of Existence falls short of success for me only in the fact that as well-sharpened the band's utensils have become, this specific meal is just not the tastiest you're likely to find. For instance, some of the Job for a Cowboy albums where they went all brutal death are packed with more interesting, catchy riff patterns, and even bands like Carnifex and Whitechapel have been making dramatic improvements to their material, at least in my estimation (like I said, there's a pretty stubborn core audience to this niche which seems adverse to any sort of variation or logical progression).

Yeah, if you're into deathcore for both the breakdowns and musicianship, The Price of Existence is really not a bad place to start. The lyrics are mildly more coherent, and the cover art better, though their logo remained fucking awful. Fortunately, they didn't shitty this up with a bunch of clean radio choruses or any of that Killswitch Engage garbage (approved by soccer moms everywhere), and the fact that this was their first for Nuclear Blast sort of comes with the implication that the production is better. I had no problem with the studio sound for Hate.Malice.Revenge, but this is superior in terms of vocal levels and drums. The addition of the second lead guitarist (Chris Storey) was a wise one, and in fact both guitarists were new was a 60% lineup change with only the rhythm section remaining off the debut. They made some good choices and transformed from the sort of band I could hear just about anywhere I could find a 'core or 'metal' gig, to a potential contender in a West Coast arena that also contained bands like As I Lay Dying and Suicide Silence. There's certainly a sense of 'me too' about this, another bandwagon outfit attempting to capitalize on the success of East Coast commercial metalcore (and The Black Dahlia Murder) by gutting some of its sissy ingredients and incorporating more death metal and gut churning mosh moments...yet that is the worst thing to be said for it (okay, outside of the logo).

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (before the days of gluttons)