Friday, February 24, 2017

Vendetta - The 5th (2017)

Undoubtedly a promising second stringer during the Golden Age of German thrashing, Vendetta have sadly not had the best comeback streak among their countrymen, being heavily overshadowed in this last decade much as they were in the 80s, with bands like Kreator and Destruction still soaring fairly high over followings that have been cemented for decades to come, if they can keep on kicking out the same competent continuity. Their latest, creatively titled record The 5th does not do a hell of a lot to cultivate either the catchiness of Brain Damage nor the savage velocity of their debut, but that's not to say it's entirely rubbish, only that the band continues to let a little of that 90s groove/thrash influence inflect upon the dynamic riffing and mildly melodic intensity of their prime, and not to the betterment of the finished product.

There are certainly riffing phrases across the tracks here that recall some of the earlier material, and vocalist Mario Vogel once again tries to do his own spin on the original Vendetta style from decades before he joined the ranks, but in the case of the former, they're just not memorable or quirky at all, and the latter seems a little disheveled and sloppy, unable to really drive home a good chorus, not that the rest of the band have really provided him with much to go on there. The riffs in cuts like "Deadly Sin" exhibit a little of that uplifting thrust that you'd recognize from Brain Damage, Destruction or perhaps the power thrash of Danes Artillery, but too many of the progressions rely on rather boring payoffs that don't catch the ear. The production is rather solid, with a good bite to the rhythm tracks and a nice, over the top atmosphere created when the leads enter the fray, providing for some of the better moments on the albums. But then you layer in those vocals, and the lack of a real money shot riff anywhere in a 3-4 minute track and it's average at best, goofy at worst.

It's nice that the band still maintains a fraction of that adventurous spirit they held in their youth, and for instance the classical guitar interlude "The Search" is quite nice, and you can close your eyes and just imagine if they balance that out with vintage Vendetta or Deathrow-quality heavier material, but while this does in fact set up "The Prophecy", which owns 1-2 of the more agreeable riffs on the whole record (before devolving into some lamentable breaky groove thrash), it's buried too deep in the track list to leave much of an impression. There's also something up with the drum mix here, in particular the snares which popped and hissed out of the mix a little much to distract away from the nice, warm crunch of the guitar tone. The bass guitar also doesn't really stand out to me, curving along behind the other guitars but incapable of really standing forth unless it's hitting up the good old slap and pop sound (near the end of "The Prophecy").. All that said, this is a slight bump up from 2011's Feed the Extermination. You can hear some genuine character attempting to seep through the cracks, but it's just not enough, and combined with the relatively weak cover artwork I just think this is an album that's going to be easily overlooked with so much stiff competition. And rightly so.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Friday, February 17, 2017

Witchery - In His Infernal Majesty's Service (2016)

If Witchery had put out much of any value over since the 90s, I might have felt slightly embarrassed to have ignored the existence of this latest album for the last 3-4 months. However, my interest in the band has just waned that much that any and all expectations or excitement over having any sort of relapse back to Restless & Dead era greatness lie smothered in the tombstones that they emerged from on the cover of that masterful, timeless debut. Efforts like Symphony for the Devil or Witchkrieg were mildly entertaining, or at least a couple tracks on each, but they've just failed to hit it out of the park and have thus sunk into near obscurity. Nobody seems to talk about the Swedes these days, being far more interested in the other projects of the band's constituents, and it's hard to argue with that reaction, because while they continue to set up really cool, varied cover aesthetics for each new album that pique my interest, the music contained on these discs has been inconsistent at best. I am sad to say that In His Infernal Majesty's Service doesn't instill confidence that this is a rut they can ever crawl forth from...

Now, let me back that up a step, because we're far, far from a disaster. This is without question a passable album, better than the last two, and possesses a certain rawness of structure to it that occasionally manifest some nostalgia for their earlier albums. The new vocalist Angus Norder has a fairly standard but efficient guttural rasp which, like his earlier predecessor Toxine, tends to bleed into the rhythm guitar but gives the material that same nasty feel as yesteryear. In truth, there were a number of riffs on the album that felt straight from the 1998-1999 playbook, with the caveat that they really aren't all that catchy or distinct if you span back over the catalogs of bands like The Haunted, Raise Hell and this one to compare or contrast. I.H.I.M.S. vomits forth a balance of 80s German and US thrash, ranging from Sodom to S.O.D., tempered with some clear nods to punk and speed metal. The bass tone is nice and springy, the leads are just about right, never too flashy or overextended, and the drums are crashing everywhere and on fire through much of the track list...but when you just lack those central, impressive riffs to hone in on, the rest of the attempt seems rather fruitless.

Tracks like "Nosferatu" aren't shy about their influence, a pretty direct bite on late 80s Slayer, but even then they can't rise up and compete with the original in any way, shape or form, and they seem like pretty safe tributes to the nostalgia of their remaining audience. "The Burning of Salem" does a similar deed for Dark Angel's ruthless athleticism, and I definitely took away an impression that the Swedes were consciously meting out their influences like they were a checklist written in marker on their sleeves, once again distracting me away from a band that was once in its own right pretty goddamn good. So if you just shut your mind off for a dose of unmitigated death/thrash with no aspirations to anything but survival, I think the tunes here are functional enough not to scoff too hard at. However, the elements that made the band so damn fun and memorable in the first place seem a bit exhausted and watered down to the point that in my review run-throughs I kept wanting to skip about half the songs because the Jensen/Corpse riffing choices were so banal and uninspired. Again, I found it a little superior (if less energetic) than Witchkrieg, but only by a slim margin; it's hardly an offensive experience, but another moderate letdown from a group capable of so much more.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Friday, February 10, 2017

Deserted Fear - Dead Shores Rising (2017)

Deserted Fear have carved a pretty solid path for themselves on their first two records, and also managed to place their sound into a position which cross-pollinates with several death metal audiences, and should find a warm enough reception with all of them. Not so terribly old school that they're surviving off the aping of a singular band, and not entirely participating in the overabundant trends of early 90s Swedish Left Hand Path/Dismember death or cavernous death, their material is born of a more melodic, hook-laden core and then caked in the heavier aggression via rhythm tone and brute vocals. Certainly they sound like a peppier Bolt Thrower in places, but I think they also have a clear path to the ears of Amon Amarth's considerable fandom, or the Dutch blitz of Asphyx and Hail of Bullets, while cultivating a lot of the more melodic Swedish influence borne off the 90s melodeath explosion (At the Gates, Desultory, Hypocrisy, Dark Tranquillity, etc).

However, they're not flashy or fiddly, reliant heavily on the rhythmic backbone of the meatier guitars and the drums in lockstep. You know where a lot of their riffs are going as soon as you hear them, but they vary up the writing enough that the tunes still feel fresh and leave a moderate impact, provided you aren't averse to the warmer feel the note selections generate. This is hardly an evil sounding death metal record, despite what the skeletons on the cover might otherwise hint at, so it ends up as a more brutal and accessible strain of the style heavily loaded with ceaseless double bass patterns and a really thick and effective tone which operates largely at a mid-pace and then occasionally spurts into a more uplifting, faster tempo like the one that drives the verses of "Open Their Gates". Atmospheric and restrained leads are used to complement the battery beneath them rather than provide vehicles for their performers to show off, and this just adds to the highly structured feel of the Germans' writing, an orderly artillery unit that lays waste in cohesion rather than in spurious, chaotic skirmishes.

It's not without a few flaws. For instance, the bass on the album is fluid and functional, but generally used only as a support for the rhythm guitars, rarely sputtering out a line of interest. Manuel Glatter's vocals do feel somewhat samey after a couple tunes, even though he uses a more abusive and emotional, almost hardcore approach to his gutturals which render them less monotonous than a lot of the band's peers. There are a lot of points to the record where I was headbanging appreciatively in the midst of the experience, but couldn't remember a single lick minutes later, because a lot of the material flows a little too well into its neighbors as well as some of the other bands I mentioned earlier. I felt like, even though it wasn't a far cry from this, the sophomore Kingdom of Worms was a bit more interesting and risky, and even their debut was a bit more crushing, where as this is more safe, solid and dependable from the opener to its close. However, if you like long-time veteran bands like Grave or Unleashed who perform old school death metal with a fair amount of balance to it, not shying from melodies where suitable but also keeping one foot firmly planted in the graveyard dirt, then Dead Shores Rising is worth a listen.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, February 3, 2017

Warloghe - Lucifer Ascends EP (2017)

Warloghe has long garnered respect as an infrequent, raw, and wholly vile entity on the Finnish black metal circuit, with an unbent and uncaring attitude manifest through raw production and evil composition which could make some Horna records sound like you were sitting by a warm fireplace toasting marshmallows. Womb of Pestilence is probably the better known of their two full-lengths, and going on about 14 years of absence, the group has decided to issue a 7" with material recorded around that period in the earlier oughts, but not previously released. With this and the band's Dark Ages Return compilation last year, it's possible that a lot more interest is being kicked up through the dust of both the band and listeners, so some might look at this as a 'feeler' for what might lurk around the corner...

Lucifer Ascends is pure Warloghe, raw and caustic black metal which is produced with the guitars at a fuzzy distance from the foreground, the drums transformed into a clanging din, the bass lines an unbroken throb of notes that contribute a lot to the music's sense of fell majesty and melancholy. The tempos here shift between desperate, driving moderate blast-beats, prevalent in the titular A-side, to a slower and more glorious warrior march that dominates "In Hunger And Thirst", which I happen to find the stronger of the two tracks, specifically for how those melodic lines drive into these primal, cutting cords steeped in nostalgia for old Darkthrone, Burzum, Horna, and their ilk. Eorl's vocals are just this wretched, unhallowed rasp which is not news for its genre but seems so perfectly sick and slathered in suffering over these riffs, especially where it creates a contrast against a rhythm guitar line that seems more dignified than the vitriol being spewed onto it.

Nothing involved is a revelation of any sort, these songs are roughly comparable but not entirely equal to the content which actually made the cut for the Womb full-length. The audience here is simply going to be that coven of purists which doesn't want excessive distractions that it feels might detract from their experience. Grim, rime-encrusted and shadowy orthodoxy, on vinyl, through a respected imprint in its feel. There are less than 10 minutes of content here, but while that may seem skimpy, it also means that Warloghe don't pad out their performances to the point that they'll become really boring, and while I don't feel that much of the material here is all that impressive or even really that good (the A-side didn't phase me at all), it's more or less exactly what the band's fans will be seeking out and working as intended. If you're seeking out the band for the first time, however, I would set a course straight for Womb of Pestilence and develop any further interest from there.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]