Saturday, May 28, 2016
Combat Cathedral falls between its two predecessors in quality, with enough competence in both the performance and structure to recommend it to anyone who just wants a slab of angry thrash with a production level that places it in the 'now', and songwriting that is very 'then'. I'm thinking of stuff like what Warbringer releases, or the modern Onslaught records after their reunion. Unmemorable for the long haul, but exciting enough in the moment that you just want to shut your brain off and bang your head. Stylistically it resonates a lot of what the last disc had to offer, with pissed off, hoarse thrash vocals that occasional delve into some brutal, lower gutturals or even one track in which it's spun off into a narrative voice. The riffs are constantly busy, interspersed with wailing and wild lead guitars, but in both the rhythm and lead department the material sounds a hell of a lot like that which Destruction and Sodom have been churning out endlessly. A couple vapid Pantera grooves and chugs rear their unsophisticated heads throughout the play length, but they're vastly outnumbered by the speedier passages that, if nothing else, provide Combat Cathedral with some genuine momentum, and break off nicely into the Exodus-like head jerking mid-paced mosh riffs, which match up well with the current events evinced through the lyrics.
There are even some more uplifting, power/thrash sequences reminiscent of the first couple albums by Denmark's Artillery, and I'd add that this all adds up to just enough variation to where I was listening through this without ever really getting bored or exhausted by the redundancies. BUT, that is not to say this is by any means unique, and to an extent, never quite eclipses the feel of an 'also-ran' sort of album which exists simply to prove the persistence of its creators. The new vocalist Ingo is sufficiently angry, and these guys are still shelling out droves of riffing projectiles, but they simply don't always hit their target, and there just aren't songs here that you'd be likely to pick out of a lineup even a few weeks after hearing them the first time. I don't want to take too much away from these Germans, though, because by no means is this a bad try like The Club. It breezes into the qualifying rounds of what it takes to make an excellent thrash record with ease, the sheer instrumentation and drive; but after that is left behind in the group stages, possibly to return in four years, possibly not, but either way, just sort of content to get to the level it did. Assassin hangs in there, reliable if not remarkable.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
Friday, May 27, 2016
So, if this Oldies & Goodies compilation had just been a 3-disc, remastered set of those efforts, then it might have been something I could invest in. Granted, I have no problems with the originals, and would likely always prefer them, but some people did complain about the audio (especially on the third album), and hearing that cleaned up wouldn't have been a complete crime. Instead, this is just the typical chronological perspective, with about 4-6 tunes culled from all of the first decade of seven LPs they produced through that label, and so you're not getting a lot of value, because you can simply go out, purchase those records in full (originals or represses), and ignore this shit. About the only real attraction might be having some of the Alien EP, but even that doesn't seem to be represented in full, and I seem to remember the tracks were available on a different CD pressing. Add to that the fact that records like The Tankard, which were the nadir for the band, are here instead of just offering more tracks from the others that were actually far better. In a nutshell, this is a typical label retrospective, possibly done with the permission of the band or to fill out a contract, but not really done for the fans.
Trust me: skip it. Go out and buy the first three albums. Hell, buy the three after that, and then any album you want from the 'latter half' of their career (R.I.B., A Girl Called Cerveza, and The Beauty and the Beer are certainly worth it). There is just not much to even talk about with this one, it's two discs of retread material in chronological order, and they couldn't even come up with a new fucking cover...it's just a collage of the originals. Hell, even if I wasn't fond of the re-recording comp they put out in (Best Case Scenario: 25 Years in Beers) at least that was some expenditure of effort, and worth buying a dozen times before this one. You have the internet, or actual money, you can can experience the full albums, you can pay for them, don't settle for this nickle & dime nonsense, not from one of the greatest bands that ever pissed in the Rhine. At least, I hope they pissed in the Rhine. I would be disappointed if they hadn't, so fuck it, I'll just imagine that they did regardless. Or maybe in the Danube instead, which I could accept as a substitute. Hmm. Someone confirm this for me, or I will never sleep again.
Verdict: Epic Drunken Fail [0/10]
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Not so for Under Attack: this is pure, 21st millennium, muscular thrash metal which more or less comes across as an unerring sequence of remodeled, rearranged, riffs from their 80s era, only with the 'boon' of modern production which actually works against it, rendering it nigh indistinguishable from 4-5 of their other reunion era recordings. Voluminous, punchy rhythm guitars playing strings of notes and chords that don't possess a lot of nuance individually, but grant the listener enough variation that he or she isn't going to be too concerned as long as the neck can be strained, which with cuts like these is never really in question. The lead guitars here are actually pretty good, though, possessed of a style which seems to outlast their brevity, and most importantly, this just oozes Schmier's charismatic, strained snarls and roars to the extent that he might have recorded them all as prepwork for a "Nailed to the Cross" or "Thrash 'Til Death" and just saved them for now. He sounds like he's been taking some sort of miracle enhancement pill for his throat, and his bass lines are still fat and omnipresent even where they're not turning away from Mike's untiring, masterful ground work.
This is now Vaaver's third full-length within the ranks and he's hammering away with enough force that his presence instantly brings the Destruction beat system into line with other modern, extreme acts who might play faster and more technically, but not 'harder'. All of this adds up to what is just a consummately professional, pure, nasty Teutonic thrash blowout, at best semi-catchy in pieces like "Generation Nevermore" or "Pathogenic", at worst never really lagging behind much of the other material they've spewed out these last couple decades. The cleaner guitars add just a sliver of variety to the proceedings, tasteful and never overstaying their use, and whilst the bonus material, a cookie cutter cover of Venom's "Black Metal" and a re-recording of the original "Thrash Attack" from Infernal Overkill, are pretty safe choices, they don't allow the sum energy of the disco to falter. In the end, while this is unquestionably going to feel redundant to a lot of listeners, it's a well executed album which I'm going to get a handful of spins out of, but won't last me forever since there just aren't any tunes present that I could consider bonafide future classics for the Germans.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (we don't dare to learn)
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Drudging and ritualistic, Hoth could hardly be dubbed riffing masters when most of the rhythms involve a scant few chords repeated ad nauseam to the point that any change whatsoever comes as a sigh of relief in cuts like "Impious Congregation" or "Hellish Revelation". Any enjoyment here is derived solely from the raw, bludgeoning buzz off the guitars, and the thinly toned synthesizer lines, usually done in somnolent or organ-based pads, which accompany them. Fairly predictable in most songs, but there is nonetheless a timeless sort of charisma which dusts off the cobwebbed atavism at the core of your brain. Loose, wailing leads and bare bones beats round out the experience, as well as the growled vocal lines which certainly distinguished it from a lot of other black metal, which had been pioneered and evolved through the higher pitched snarling intonations. Hoth was also not above a few risks, like the acoustic/keyboard piece "Celebration of Isis", or the inverse ambient bookends.
Somewhere in here, I want to say there's a Hellhammer/Celtic Frost foundation to which the sole member JA's most dingy perception of horror/occult was to be applied. You can definitely hear this in the chord progression of "Pagan Melodies", as well as the overall murk of the production. Black Goddess is like some rare offshoot species of that style, which might have burgeoned forth into the musical gene-streams even if the northern, popular form of black metal had never taken off. Add to that the alluring cover art, and I'm really shocked this doesn't get picked up more, or discussed. That's not to say I have any ringing endorsement for the record. It's compelling as a window to obscurity, but not musically or atmospherically on the level of something I'd want to continually revisit. Still, if you find yourself wandering the grimy underground of antiquity, and don't mind the raw, simplistic, ambition-free riffing, dull if eerie keyboard lines and bare minimum DIY beats, Rites of the Black Goddess might induce a haze of corpse candles, dust and nostalgic rot into your lungs. And J.A. is still doing this, having put out a 'sequel' to the album just last year.
Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]
Monday, May 16, 2016
Enlighten emit some dry black metal which shifts between sparser, atmospheric moments, fueled entirely by the guitars, and then the charging intensity that their chosen genre is best known for. But where they apply some melodies, there is just enough of an unexpected dissonance and flavor to the patterns that I wasn't exactly sure where they were all headed, nor was I disappointed with where they ended up. The bass lines are great, rampaging alongside the moderate blasting when necessary with a solid, distorted undertow, but also meting out some faint, lighter-than-air grooves which complement the rhythm guitar structures during less intense points in the songs. Drums are functional, raw and crashing, though I wouldn't call them a strength of the material, and the vocals shift between gruesome growls and snarls, with a little bit of maudlin Gothic mumbling at the close of the second tune "Shroud", which I also felt had the lion's share of the better guitar riffs. My favorite among these would be the almost vomited post-T.G. Warrior lines, so I do wish there were more of them, they simply sound more genuinely disgusting.
Rhythmically and structurally, a lot of the riffing doesn't distance itself much from other bands in the genre, but as I have hinted, there is simply a sincerity evoked through its slight degree of unique choices in what notes will construct a chord or sequence. The EP is given this bright sheen to it, balanced out by the ballast of the tortured vocals and sheer existence of aggressive tempos. Not sure that it has the capacity to overwhelm the senses like a number of the bands who really excel in this odd space between the orthodox and alien aspects of black metal, but it's at the very least a hint that there is some thinking going behind the songwriting, and that Enlighten is not entirely content with just setting up a comfort zone and staying inside its borders, even if the 11 minutes of material here are in truth pretty consistent in style and effect. Wasn't an entirely memorable experience, but it does make me remember the name as a band to watch in the future, since I'd like to hear how their more eclectic choices would span out over a full-length effort.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Thursday, May 12, 2016
There are four tracks here, but unfortunately only two which are bearable. Opener "Misanthrope" is quite good, a burgeoning, bloody black/thrasher in the vein of old Bathory, Hellhammer, early Mayhem, Impaled Nazarene, and most notably Nifelheim. Driven, simplistic, hellish momentum established through a gruesome, more guttural vocal timbre and a set of riffs that are infernally catchy no matter how many times you feel you've heard them before. The third tune, "Thou Are the Dragon" is a bit more of a blast piece using tremolo picked riffs redolent of antique black/death metal, but I loved the trappings, such as the fat and voluminous bass of the into. Sadly, these two particular songs only comprise about four minutes of material, which in of itself is fine, and suits their impish nature, but for the fact that the EP is finished off with an eight minute, dragged out bore of a tune in "Seed of Greed". This piece alternates between two very simple riffing structures, monotonous chords and an attempt at a creeper, circular guitar line which falls flat after about two minutes, and has no business going on for as long as it does.
There simply aren't enough ideas there, and to top that off, it's void of any drum beats save for some very tinny, distant cadence which I frankly think I might have been hallucinating. The whole idea was to create this blasphemous, hypnotic escapism but it's simply too dry. The other track here is just a growled vocal mantra with a couple of voices that doesn't exactly add much to the proceedings, and so I'm left with a feeling that what I just experienced had plenty of untapped possibilities. Had all the cuts been worthy of "Misanthrope", I would be singing it's praises to the golden dawn, but as it stands, it just feels like an entertaining teaser with a bunch of other, inferior material tacked on. At their peak, Blakk Old Blood certainly lives up to their name, and has reserves of potential best channeled into 2-3 minute blackened speed/punk, but don't get too comfortable with structural variation to the degree that it becomes detrimental to the experience.
Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]
Friday, May 6, 2016
And, for what it's worth, they make a fairly strong showing of the style, which has long been defined by its mid-paced, cavalry charge riffs with tinnier chugging patterns splayed out into more uplifting melodies than the dissonant and dextrous Scandinavian strain that took off with Immortal and Emperor. In other passages, primarily in the second track here ("Walpurgis, the Flight of Spectral Witches"), the guitars feel like pure driving heavy metal highlighted by the arcane but cheesy synth lines, bluesy leads and then little popping, perky melodies highly redolent of Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, albeit with the production of the two previous Rotting Christ records, even some cutoff points where the guitars take over before the charge begins anew. Bass lines are pretty pedestrian, in that they don't often disengage from the root notes to explore the atmosphere of broaden out the songs as a whole, but at least you can hear them audibly plugging away, and the drums play with the similar shuffling rock beats to their influences, rather than trying to extremify it all with endless walls of double bass and blasting.
Vocals have a murky snarl to them, which is surely reminiscent of Tolis, if not exactly the same, but they don't ever shine quite so much as the guitars, which are going to be the make or break aspect of this 7" for almost anyone interested in hearing it. The tunes run a little on the long side, 16 minutes for just the pair of them, and they might have proven more effective with a bit of editing down; but at the same time, it's not like they just stuffed them with boring content. Personally, while I appreciated Ithaqua's attention to detail in both composing the songs and mirroring that early to mid-90s style of production, I just don't know that they're quite as majestic as the material they pay homage to, and so I'm more likely to run into August Derleth's Great Old One in a tabletop session of Arkham Horror or Eldritch Horror than I am to bring this one back out, when instead I could just pop on some vintage Rotting Christ and still get more from that. But don't view that as a rousing rebuttal on my part. N.C.M. and Echetleos certainly know their business here, and get about it quickly for anyone who direly misses the sound and wants it trapped on vinyl yet again.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
Thursday, May 5, 2016
I don't want to say it's 'confusing', necessarily, but these gentlemen consistently shepherd a busy flow of ideas which tended to stick with me more often than not. The grooves on tracks like "Tarot" and "Disillusions" get slightly more involved than your garden variety banal jumpdafucup style, and they fuck with time signatures just enough, using them more like fills than status quos, to give your mind that impression of the alien. The drums are just great, loads of jazzy snare and toms giving the bottom end of the recording a little more imagination, but beyond that I really liked how they twisted up the vocals, so you've got growls and snarls contrasted against sustained howls, doped roars ala Neurosis, and even some chants, both overt and background, that conjure up a really unique atmosphere. They'll even go for a straight, deep vocal once the metallic elements break down as in the bridge of "Disillusions", or a more manic conversational tone circa an asylum, and really you just have no idea what's coming next.
Even when the band is chugging along with a simplistic riff, they're layering on brighter or dissonant guitars above it and you constantly feel like you're on the edge of them just freaking out, which does happen enough that you get an emotional, angry payoff. I also found the more that I repeatedly went through the EP, the more it grew on me, and if they can record a longer record with the same level of general quirkiness but paint the tempos and vocals with even broader strokes, I think Barús is a name we might have to get used to. Well worth checking out if you're a fan of dissonant, odd death metal but not afraid of having enough straight groove in there that your much cooler friends will disown you and break your Meshuggah records before storming out of your life. By the way, those aren't your friends and never were. Good disc!
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
To that extent, I have to say that Mystical Future is slightly a disappointment, since it's more or less a drawn out, bare style of melodic black metal which concentrates on generally lengthy compositions and has that meandering aesthetic to it which isn't really news. There's certainly a spaciousness to the proceedings which my mind might attribute to a territorial stereotype, but had you told me this band was from the Cascadian scene or even Sweden I wouldn't have noticed much of a difference. Now, this all being said, that is perhaps the ONLY area in which I felt Wildernessking was indistinct, for in truth this is a pretty well done record, solitary and dreamy and seamlessly shifts from its wide open pastures of simplistic, harsher chords and vocals to cleaner, dry air guitar tones, best experienced in the middle piece "To Transcend" which is an exercise in lulling tranquility, despite the rasps that oft ring out against the background which only enhance its mood.
Such a tune is an exception, of course, because the majority of the material is either lurching or surging gloriously along at a determined clip, with dirty-bright guitar chords that easily place this in the wheelhouse of popular 'blackgaze' groups like Drudkh, Alcest, Austere or Wolves in the Throne Room, but in certain sequences are clinging directly to the conventions of old. They accent a lot of the mid-paced riffing with higher, melodic chords that blow the atmosphere wide open, and the vocalist has a nice, grueling, sustained black metal snarl that works really well, imbuing the lighter feel of the chords with something more torturous. The drums hammer along with a steady clap and crash, and the bass line keeps up with some occasional grooves that offer a leaden balance against the more windy maneuvers of the other instruments. Despite a few of the cuts being pretty long at 9ish and 13 minutes, I never felt like abandoning this journey throughout, and that's a testament to there being just enough happening here that it engages you. Simple, sure, and in places the chords are wrought in a predictable fashion, but it never really loses its sense of elegant savagery. I don't envision myself breaking this out much unless I'm in a very specific mood for this enveloping, patient burn, but it's certainly a well made, consistent sophomore from a promising act.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Sunday, May 1, 2016
To be clear, once the swell of the dark ambient intro subsides, this is not a group that focuses in too heavily on atmospherics, instead opting for a more potent, clean studio mix in which the guitars are punchy and effective and vocals placed at a volume that emphasizes their ghastly, barking abandon. Riffing here is highly reminiscent of Mike Sifringer, only it's not as flecked with industrial steel as All Hell Breaks Loose or The Antichrist, but more of a polished Sentence of Death or Mad Butcher. The drums are forceful and enhance the charging momentum of "Pyre of Penitence", while the bass has just enough of a distorted coil and groove to it that you can really pick out where it deviates from the rhythm guitar line. They'll spurt out some picked tremolo riffing sequences to spin just enough of a Slayer-like proto-death metal undercurrent that complements straight up old 80s Teutonic thrashing, and throw up a few melodic bits you wouldn't otherwise expect (in the opening of the title cut), but there are other passages in which it's nearly indistinguishable from that classic thrash sphere.
Fortunately, the Belgians are not lazily spewing forth black/punk riffs that are all too predictable from the get-go, and there seems to have been a modicum of effort and enthusiasm here in the writing. The attention to the more accessible recording places this more firmly into the camp of bands like Erazor and Raise Hell than dingier, atmospheric groups like Power from Hell and Diavolos, but that's not a bad thing, as Maleficence just let the riffs do their talking for them, and that dialogue is established with a vivid and determined force. Not incredibly memorable to the point that you'll be hearing it in your head 25 years later, or perhaps even 24 hours later, but the tunes are entertaining enough throughout their existence, and a full-length of this quality, with the same commitment to varied, intense, impactful writing, would likely stir up some appreciation.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10]