Thursday, April 20, 2017

Airdash - Vengeance Through Violence EP (1989)

Having seen Finland thrive over the last 20 years in just about every niche of metal that exists, with a particular emphasis in the melodic death, old school death, Gothic and black sub-genres, it is quite difficult to imagine a time in which this was not one of the centers of all metaldom. And yet, the 80s were such a time, with only a handful of heavy and thrash metal bands gaining a reputation through the European underground and potentially whispered about here in the states. Don't get me wrong, there were some GREAT bands from this era, like the mighty Stone, or the classics Tarot and Oz, or A.R.G., or Antidote, but with the possible exception of those first 2-3, you just didn't hear much about this scene over here in the States, and even then only when you went looking. But since I'm occasionally in the habit of jerking some obscurity from the ether, I present to you a limited press EP by another Finnish thrash act known as Airdash, which definitely sounds like a move you'd throw down in an early Street Fighter clone, maybe King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, etc.

Vengeance Through Violence is a three-track vinyl EP released between their second and third records, Hospital Hallucinations Take One and Both Ends of the Path. Or, more accurately, it's a single for one of the tunes off the former album, the title track, packaged with a couple of tracks that are unique to to the 12", or at least one of them is, and another appears to be re-recorded from one of the band's demos. These guys played a style of thrash pretty typical for the time, with meaty riffs that kept busy while hinting only slightly at the technicality other acts from Europe were employing at this same time. I like the brash, raw but brutish tone of the guitars, the winding mute patterns of the title track that keep my head banging up to the chorus with it's excellent gang shouts. But I'll be honest in saying that it sounds a hell of a lot like Belladonna-fronted Anthrax, only with the rhythm guitars more firmly planted in the late 80s Exodus camp. There are plenty of minor differences, but the overall sound is very much an American, urban street thrash rather than the Teutonic brilliance or savagery, and that works for me, because "Vengeance Through Violence" is actually a solid cut.

"Blow Under Belt" is similar, but the guitars patterns here make it feel more like a party thrash version of something that might have been left on Master of Puppets' cutting room floor. Maybe a little Whiplash, Xentrix, or if you can remember the East Coast band I.N.C, it cultivates that sort of silly atmosphere with the way the guitars break up in the chorus. Not a terrible track, but less robust and effective than the first. Sadly, "Cable Terror" with its staggering verse riff progression isn't much of an improvement; despite a great gang shout in the chorus, it just doesn't hook me overall, and I'd even say the production on these two doesn't seem as good as "Vengeance...". In the end, we can figure out why this EP wasn't named after one of those, or why they didn't wind up on the full-length, but I can certainly say that if you're feeling the material, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to check out ANY of their three full-lengths, since it's not a far cry from even the debut Thank God It's Monday. These are hardly top tier, or even B-tier records, but if you're nostalgic for the purity of the scene's underground in the 80s they're nothing I'd scoff at...just make sure you head for whatever you can find from Stone or A.R.G. before bothering.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Lacrimas Profundere - Hope is Here (2016)

For their 11th full-length, Lacrimas Profundere seem to have emerged from the stagnancy of middle-of-the-road Gothic arena rock to produce a sound slightly more compelling, if not entirely vacating the safe zone in which they'd survived for many years. Rather than the predictable, driving guyliner chord progressions, I honestly had no idea what was coming around the bend at any point on this disc, not because it's wildly dissonant or unique, but because it just seems to open up and breathe, to let the band put its ideas to tape without forcing them into corners. Where prior records had offered a slight variation on the accessible Gothic metal common in the Euro countries like Germany and Finland, Hope is Here recalls a hybrid of modern Anathema and elegant British veterans The Mission, with a few flourishes of anything from prog rock percussion to edgy country/folk noir.

It works, and it works fairly well. While the band is still not writing the knockout choruses you'd really need to carry this style into a broad audience, the production is rich and vibrant, the tunes always possessing some interesting undercurrent, and despite how easy it might have been, you can still see a few glints of their heavier, more metallic, chugging roots shining through the emphasis on cleaner strings, pianos, scarce electronics, and subtle orchestration used as an ambient motif to backup the central rock fundamentals that hold up the tunes. Nothing is really off the table, with a track like "My Halo Ground" producing a Middle Eastern vibe through the instruments that steer it, or the title track which is very much a big acoustic/orchestra piece which really feels like you're that kid in antlers staring out over the horizon on the cover. The band knows when to lay into their big chords at precisely the right moment, and they tender those sequences with simple, added melodies. Rob Vitacca reminds me a lot of a mix between Wayne Hussey and Ville Vallo, limited in range but really expressing himself better here than on most of the Lacrimas records I've experienced. The beats are also pretty impressive, using interesting patterns to keep even, simpler, airier moments like the verse of "Aramis" a lot busier than you'd expect, and it pays off once the chorus arrives.

Hope is Here is more or less a modern, Gothic rock infusion of the Moody Blues, just right for those moments driving on an open road or lying under an expansive sky and seeking something that can encapsulate the experience with just the right, moderate level of pacing and depth. Production here is scintillating, thorough, and amazing, and goes a long way to creating compulsion for even the most vapid riffing they might add to it. Lacrimas Profundere have found a way to translate the emotions already present in much of their earlier material to something that is more refined and rewarding, and even if this puts them in a less traveled space where bands like Anathema have divided up their own followings, it takes a lot more guts and dedication than churning out yet another bland effort like Antiadore or Songs for the Last View...not that either of those was an expressly bad record, but they were too easily lost in a crowd of bands that focused in on a sound which was extremely hot for a few seasons and then sort of dispersed, still practiced but never really mastered by anyone who hasn't taken it into a heavier, dirtier Christian Death/Sisters of Mercy direction. This is a good album, and a good place to build from as we follow that balloon across the cloudscape.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (the past is consigned)

http://www.lacrimas.com/

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lacrimas Profundere - Antiadore (2013)

Lacrimas Profundere is a band which has more or less followed the trajectory of legends Paradise Lost, originating with a Gothic doom aesthetic and then gradually transforming into a far more accessible brand of man-mascara rock which mirrors the sounds that Finnish acts like H.I.M., Entwine and Charon made pretty popular in the earlier 21st century. That's not to say it can't be done well, for instance I really enjoy the band To/Die/For, who brought a lot more of an 80s pop flair to the style with some catchy keyboard lines in amongst the head banging. But there's certainly a trend that a lot of these bands end up with their backs against a wall, using the same familiar chord patterns repeatedly since bands like Sisters of Mercy or Type O Negative made them redundant, and I feel that these Germans, despite having an unquestionable level of class and professionalism, don't really stick their toes outside the safe zone enough to leave much of an impact...and they haven't in a long time.

Antiadore is their 10th full-length record, and it more or less employs the tropes and conventions we've come to expect from this sort of watered down Gothic metal which lacks most of the frills and genuine darkness of the genres which inspired it. Safe verse/chorus song structures, choruses that are not too high in pitch but go for a clear level of radio appeal, solid fashion sense, marginal use of electronics which can add some nuance to the predictable chord patterns. Once you've heard a track or two on a record like this, you're pretty much heard them all, the only variations are in the minor details like subtle shifts in tempo or particular melodies used to layer over the chords. Rob Vitacca has a seasoned, graceful voice, but there is little range, and for that reason a lot of his lines feel rather samey with not only their neighbors here, but the last half dozen or so discs the band has released. The drums and bass are well mixed and appropriate, but never stand out on their own, leaving the full emphasis on the riff passages and vocals, which unfortunately do not deliver much beyond the usual four chords. When the band goes 'heavier', it's simply safe groove metal patterns which are used to get the blood flowing temporarily until another of these maudlin, mediocre choruses...

Occasionally you'll hear a harsh vocal, but it sounds really out of place, overwrought in an attempt to channel genuine pain and emotion, where proper Goth rock or Goth metal needs no such gimmick. The lyrics and song titles are generally just cliches or cultivate imagery you've already seen in this niche a million times, and in truth there is next to nothing which separates the songs on a record like Antiadore from commerial, mass appeal rock music, except maybe a little more guyliner or the clubs and crowds that this might be played at or adhere to the genre. Here in the US, this style had very little impact beyond H.I.M. or Sentenced; even when Paradise Lost was nailing this sound with a catchier and slightly 'edgier' record like One Second it wasn't being talked about. It seems like by about 2013 this would feel out of date, or the band would adapt once more into something new, or a blend of their older/later styles for variety, but Antiadore is about as bland and insipid as you can get...I kept waiting for one song to really hook me in, but most of them were simply the sort that might have been memorable if I had heard them 'first', 25-30 years ago. It's far from a bad album, since the band is so slick and confident at playing it safe, but they need to throw a lot more curve balls, atonality or dissonance or eeriness or haunted atmosphere to do their meta-genre justice.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


http://www.lacrimas.com/

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Nocturnal Witch - Summoning Hell (2014)

Summoning Hell might not prove the Next Big Thing in terms of an ever broadening pool of blackened thrash and speed metal, but what it does represent is one of those rare cases where a band somehow manages to improve itself without broadening or diversifying its stylistic or aesthetic portfolios by even a few hairs' breadth. The debut full-length from Nocturnal Witch is simply better crafted, better produced, and better executed than the Into Dungeons EP, as if the members had some infernal flame lit within them that steered their hands, feet and lungs to better riff patterns, harder hammering beats and more grotesque, resonant guttural snarls. None of this is accomplished by reinventing its niche, this is as straightforward as the style gets, but it's fun enough to remind you of the first few records you heard of its type and why they can take such simple, established riffing tropes and a raw, unforgiving atmosphere and carve out some menacing black metal.

Guitar progressions are still mired completely in a hybrid of pure punk/speed metal chord patterns and tremolo picked, mid-paced black metal riffs which have a little of the fell melancholic to their melodies which was a very popular thing in Swedish black metal throughout the 90s. Leads and tinnier melodies are cast about the atmosphere to create an even more dire effect where they appear, and all the riffs just grind off Tyrant's vocals like a bunch of grave soil cascading off a smoldering animated corpse as it crawls out of the graveyard. The whole mix sounds brash and hellish, with simple bass lines and beats that don't offer much by way of interesting fills or technicality, but spur on the galloping hellishness of cuts like "Among the Ruins of the Dead" and "Black Death". The construction of the chords and the overall style owes a hell of a lot to the usual suspects, and you'll hear echoes of Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Slayer and early Kreator, but when played with some piss and fire this is simply not a style that I find myself tired of, it almost always engages the angry adolescent hesher spirit inside me unless it's meted out very boringly, which this is not.

Not to say that Summoning Hell is this riffing monstrosity, because it thrives wholly on pre-tested formulae and lacks some of the wilder, frilly intensity that a Deathhammer or Antichrist dishes out on a regular basis, but it's just damn solid and mean sounding and you sound like your rubbing spiked shoulder guards with the opposition at some Abyssal Super Bowl, and that feeling keeps up through the whole 36 minutes, which is a good length, some meat on its bones but never threatening to wear through its warlike welcome. The lyrics also don't bring anything new to the table, amalgamations of many other songs you've read through before, but the conventions and images they produce are once again staples that don't ever fail me provided they are delivered with some vitriol, as they are here. A good effort pays off, and anyone looking into the band, or simply another gem in the bowels of the blackened thrash movement of the last decade, probably shouldn't pass this one up, even if it's not an exemplar of its specific sound.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (burn this planet of sheep)

http://www.realmofthedead.de/

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nocturnal Witch - Into Dungeons EP (2012)

Blackened speed and thrash metal is one of my favorite niches in all of the genre these last couple years, but it relies so heavily on the traditions of its medium that it can be tough to pull off, requiring a certain level of nastiness, personality and catchy riffing to properly pay tribute to its forebears like Venom. To get that influence across without sounding like some sodden, soulless derivative is no easy feat, so I have to say I feel spoiled by how much of it I've been enjoying lately, from Antichrist and Deathhammer to Satan's Wrath and Erazor. Germans Nocturnal Witch seem to have all the hookups for a success at this style. Some of the live lineup is drawn from bands like Nocturnal, Old, Division Speed and Cruel Force, who all have comparable sounds, and they certainly grab the style by its roots here and give it a good tug, the old Satanic collegiate try.

Unfortunately, it bears little fruit on this EP, because Into Dungeons has all the trappings and none of the charisma to spot its spiked gauntlet, bullet-belted figure among the crowd in which it surfs. Cover looks cool, old school, band name is cool, logo cool, songs sound exactly like they should, but its the riffing pattern and lack of any dynamic force which drags this down. There's no real lack of hellish energy being executed, just a dearth of inspired tremolo picking riffs, or at least those you haven't heard a thousand times. Here, they launch from that rapid fire blackened/speed metal sound into some clamorous, even faster bits, and gang shouts erupt everywhere to fuel the momentum, but while it all looks good on paper, they feel like they're just playing by-the-numbers chord progressions which never take you by surprise. There are no good leads or other distractions to steer you away from this fundamental flaw, and the cuts feel thematically 'appropriate' but dry unless you're just seeking out more of the same pseudo-Satanic swill others have peddled for decades.

Drums and bass are efficient, vocals raucous blackened barks that seem enthusiastic but never really evil enough to compensate that it all seems like sheer testosterone, with little to back it up except the right intentions. The recording itself is fairly level, slightly raw but not obnoxiously so. All in all, if this were something I heard off in the background outside at some hell kegger in the woods, where you weren't allowed without a denim jacket or something leather on some part of your anatomy, then this would probably make for passable background noise, whether live or on someone's beat up beat box in which they were spinning a tape recording. Upon closer examination, however, there is just so much out in this field which has more character, better licks, leads, nastiness, viciousness, etc. Having also heard this band's full-length, Summoning Hell, I can say with confidence that you should skip this and head straight for that, because while it's still not exemplary for this style, it both sounds superior and is written better, with some genuinely good riffs and decent songs in spots.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

http://www.realmofthedead.de/

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Horde Casket - Bloodfiends (2015)

I wish I could say there was some further dynamic growth for these Oklahoma/Texas brutes, but Bloodfiends doesn't deviate greatly from the formula the band sharpened on 2010 sophomore Slab of Infinite Butchery. Granted, for purists of that brutal death metal window of the mid to later 90s, in which bands like Suffocation, Cryptopsy and Cannibal Corpse had left an indelible impression upon the legions of would-be's and hopefuls in their wake, I don't know that that will prove much of an obstacle to enjoying what punishment they do mete out here. Horde Casket is not a band that defines or pushes at any real boundaries. They seem satisfied with a competent emulation of a style they love, and they keep it about as conventional to that form as they possibly can.

And that style is a midpoint between the traditional brutal death metal pioneered by acts like the ones I listed above, and playing catch-up with the more technical acts that have been saturating the 21st century. With an emphasis on the former. Lots of chugging stop/start patterns set-up bursts of quicker riffing progressions that capture the choppy, surgical and clinical feel of their peers, but they rarely unload any memorable or catchy patterns, and even where they do, that's usually on the first couple tracks on the disc, like opener "Back Country Meth Massacre", a re-recording from the band's 2008 debut Landscape of Cadavers. The vocals are a solid grunt inspired by someone like Chris Barnes, only faster and in syncopation with the rhythmic pacing being banged out on the drums and guitar tracks. Bass lines are punchy, solid and very apparent here, giving the mix an even, clear balance against the other instruments, and I would say with certainty that this is the best produced of their albums I've heard to date, a lot more polished and rich than Slab or the band's cruder debut. Competent, well executed brute-craft...

But it does come with a few flaws. For one, I don't really like the lead tone, which isn't used so often but feels like it stands out and stings the ears a little much against the pounding backdrop. There is very little difference between the tracks in terms of content...you'll get the constant chug/burst I noted above, a staple of the genre, and a few breakdown riffs which at best can give you some death/thrash neck jerking but don't feel much fresher than the hyperactive flurries that cede the songs to them. It's also a pretty short album, at least the new, original songs. Roughly 22 minutes, which is not unusual for this style of music, but not once does it take any chances...the weird, guttural glitching intro to "Cerebral Dissection" (another track redundant to the debut) is about the only time any sort of left turn is implicated, and that's over all too quickly. Bloodfiends is consistent, perhaps two consistent, and those looking for atmosphere or a deeper listening experience will be left dry.

The band does round the new and re-recorded material off with a selection of live cuts that swell the length up to around 39 minutes overall, but while these are enough to leave you with confidence that Horde Casket offer a comparable live experience to the studio offerings, they don't sound all that impressive, with the vocals a bit louder, the kick drums almost feeling like coherent static and the guitars, as busy as they are, rather washed out in the back ground. In sum, Bloodfiends feels like a well-meaning and corpulent statement that the band is still flailing its limbs about, but the quality of the material puts a halt to any sense of progression or improvement one might have hoped for after the leap that Slab had made over its predecessor. Not bad at all, but there are a lot of records super similar to this one, on their label Sevared and elsewhere; it isn't really crazy or distinct enough to stand out.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

https://www.facebook.com/hordecasketdm/