Thursday, March 16, 2017

Obituary - Obituary (2017)

Apart from the first two records, both excellent, I've been fairly ruthless with the Obituary catalog. There have been occasional tracks of note permeating the last 27 years of material, but so much of it felt phoned in, lazy and lacking in the menace and savagery of Slowly We Rot or its groovier, more minimalist and memorable follow up Cause of Death. The band experimented with a more hardcore, mosh oriented sound and audience at one point, which had mixed results, but have since come back around to exploring their roots in detail, trying to figure out what made those early records stick as classics. I'm surprised to say that the eponymous 10th album has done a better job of that than the last seven, by reaching right back to that wretchedness of their formative years and supplementing with something I just didn't expect, a more pure 'heavy metal' sense of melody and structure to several of the riffs, in particular the bridge and lead sections.

So rather than some dissonant, whipping frenzy of a solo, they'll break out something a little more blues based or accessible sounding, and stunningly, it works rather well. That's not to say it's the first time they've crossed that line, but here it actually complements the more ruthless and ripping rhythm guitar tracks throughout the verses, most of which are more or less paraphrased from the band's huge backlog with an emphasis on the earliest material. A few chords are tweaked here or there, but you'll pretty quickly identify where a lot of the note progressions or grooves are hailing from. Only, because I've felt so long parched for Obituary that I enjoy, I'm a little more forgiving here, especially with how angry and vicious John sounds with these vocals in cuts like "Kneel Before Me" or swaggering "Lesson in Vengeance". He's not belching out anything out of the ordinary, but there's a caustic and mean balance between how his voice is mixed here and the sheer might of the rhythm guitars which totally overpowered my speakers and had me rictus grinning from cheek to cheek.

Granted, it doesn't hurt that cuts like "It Lives" feel like they were taken from the Cause of Death sessions, my favorite record from the band, but this has never been a band that flaunted a lot of progression or originality once they had first made their mark with a more gruesome if simple brand of thrash-infused death metal that their statesmen like Death first created. You're still hearing a few of those meaty, Hellhammer-style groove breaks and fat, oozing bass lines, but a lot of the material here is just this wall of mortuary flesh strengthened by the double kick batteries and the cruel symbiosis of Tardy's grating growls and the murderous bent of his lyrics (love that sustained growl that opens "Turned to Stone"). Obituary isn't a total success for all its retread ground and a few tracks seeming staler than others, but it's for sure the first time in a great many years where I have been so thoroughly entertained by one of their releases, and I've already listened through the thing like a dozen times without getting tired of it. Beyond that, it's got enough of an internal variation that it should sate both fans of the more ripping, faster material or the gym-busting bro-groove. Cool.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


http://www.obituary.cc/

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Panikk - Discarded Existence (2017)

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to come up with the sound that Slovenia's Panikk are going for on their sophomore outing Discarded Existence. Those familiar with the second tier of Bay Area thrash from the 80s will remember a certain, violent debut album which also featured an individual being sucked into a swirling vortex, only this time it seems more like a tornado than a series of toothy maws. Sure enough, once you've actually given this a spin, you'll encounter a lot of the frenetic, high strung thrash metal which dominated that unsung masterwork of the genre, and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that's a bad thing, because there while it might take a few pointers from their predecessors, this is solid improvement over their 2013 debut Unbearable Conditions, and proof that putting a little effort and a fraction of complexity to the songwriting can vault you well over the shoulders of much of the useless and redundant pizza re-thrash of the last decade.

To be clear, while the primary propulsion here is a style akin to records like Eternal Nightmare or Oppressing the Masses, I'd actually draw a closer comparison to Japan thrashers Ritual Carnage who have a storied history of translated those same 80s influence into a more modern context. The vocals in particular have that higher pitch in which a lot of the lines spit out the same notes over and over to create a disaffected style first pioneered by Joey Belladonna of Anthrax. In this case, though, while the vocals are certainly well suited to this jerking, thrashing mix, it's really the riffs that take center stage and manifest the rich intensity of the experience, each track being loaded with a good share of variations and occasional subtleties which range from the viciousness of a Destruction or Vio-Lence to even the turbo fueled power/thrash of Artillery that I so admired coming up. It's not insanely technical or unique, but cuts a nice line between clinical neck-straining and familiar but not wholly bitten off riff progressions that you'll recount from both the German and US scenes, from primal S.O.D. mosh to the scalpel-thrash of the aforementioned Schmier and company.

Discarded Existence is carefully calculated to give you both that richer impression of thrash and its musicianship, with soaring, sailing and wailing leads as well as a whole slew of mid-paced pure head banging riffs that keep the experience a lot more grounded than the victim on its cover. Drums and bass provide an accurate level of support, but are never able to take the reins away from the axes for any length of time, which has never really been the point of this genre. Thankfully, that rhythm tone is just excellent, precise and full-bodied enough to satisfy the production gluttons who want a record which sounds 21st century. While I can't say it produces endless replay value or tunes that are likely to become classics, the whole thing is consistent and entertaining to listen through, with lyrics that stick to the social and political topics thrash has long touted, and a level of energy that never lets up, but leaves plenty of room for variation in tempo and lead-work. If you fondly recount the vitriol and testosterone of records like Signs of Life, Eternal Nightmare, Product of Society, Release from Agony and others of that critical 1986-1990 period, Panikk does a swell job of refreshing the formula.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

https://www.facebook.com/panikkofficial

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bannerwar - Anthems of Blood & Soil 7" (2017)

Nestled deep into the Hellenic underground, Bannerwar is a band which must be almost forgotten after a decade plus absence in the wake of its solid if unheralded sophomore Centuries of Heathen Might. And while I can't quite claim that the two tracks present on this Anthems of Blood and Soil 7-inch are going to reverse that fate, it's certainly not because the band is lacking in the hellish energy required to perform the sort of orthodox, traditional and spiteful black metal they employ. But apart from the band's NSBM roots, which may or may not persist in their inspiration, there's just not much of a 'gimmick' to this style, or any single component which can separate them from so many others performing in such a similar, straightforward realm.

If you've never experienced them, it's more or less charging European black metal with a strong 90s feel to it, very basic riffing structures spat out at a faster pace or brought down to a might, barbaric charge. The chord progressions are quite predictable here, but that doesn't really diminish much of their savagery, with the guitars loud and frontal, the vocal rasps doing a good job of providing an evil impetus towards the uptempo blasted sequences. Definitely a classic Swedish or Norse black metal vibe here circa bands like Marduk and Satyricon, but occasionally with "For Blood and Soil" itself they hit a glorious stride reminiscent of vintage Rotting Christ off Thy Mighty Contract or Triarchy. The drums are rather on the tinny side in the mix, but nonetheless efficient, while the bass is good and think, but doesn't otherwise do a lot to carve its own existence from the solidarity of the rhythms.

The two songs are reined in at about 5 minutes each, so thankfully Bannerwar has no interest in beating the listener over the head with ceaseless repetitions of tired riff patterns, and I feel that for the length of the 7" there is enough variation represented, assuming on a hypothetical third full-length they'd have an even broader range (as they did on Centuries). But the question is, at the end of the day, when the onrush of the night is inevitable, do you want another pure atavistic black metal listening session which offers you little to nothing new? If the conventions continue to attract you, then these Greeks are an adequate vehicle for vengeance and ferocity, but although the material here is just as solid as the stuff on their albums, they still just don't stand out against the crowd.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Six Feet Under - Torment (2017)

Despite it's Bleeding-era, trilly little fakeout riff, "Sacrificial Kill" is hands down one of the dullest album openers I've had sitting on my review pile in quite some time, and although it tries to pick itself up with a hustling end section, the riffs being meted out are the kind of low caliber, Six Feet Under material that one would all too quickly delegate to the dustbin as soon as possible, the boredom that at least half this band's albums in the past have choked themselves to death on. Thankfully, elsewhere, Torment gets a little peppier, marginally more ambitious, in that it offers up some more energetic simpleton death metal infused with some groove and nu- metal sequences, but the songwriting overall is just not on the level that they hit with their rare gem Undead or the previous full-length, Crypt of the Devil, which was solid if only because of the temporary roster involved with it.

Speaking of interesting guests, I was interested to hear that ex-Brain Drill bassist was contributing more here than he did on the last one, and once more impressed that he was able to chill out and maintain such a level of restraint throughout the mind numbingly boring half of this disc which is comprised of about 3-4 songs where the idea is to contrast repetitive, barebones primal mugging death metal riffs with the slightly more tech side revealed on Crypt. He doesn't get nearly as flashy as he would in his alma mater, of course, this music couldn't support it, but unfortunately I felt like the content of Torment is just so dry and lacking in real inspiration that it's all for nothing. While a good chunk of this album is far from bumbling or incompetent, I could narrow it's finer moments down to just a couple tracks, like "Schizomaniac" which has some nice thrashing carved out through it's death acrobatics, or the straight neck-jerking base-level death/thrash in "Slaughtered As They Slept", which functions despite how 'heard before' the whole thing plays out. Other than that, there weren't many tracks I enjoyed through and through.

Chris sounds better here than on the previous year's Graveyard Classics IV compilation, where he did an abysmal job of covering Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson with his grunting. Here the battering, bludgeoning timbre of his voice cedes itself to the concussive drumming and viler riff selection a lot more than when he's trying to front such classic riffs; and there are more than a few stylistic nods here to The Bleeding, his finest moment in Cannibal Corpse, but infused with the stoned groove style of riffs that dominated early 6FU recordings like Haunted or Warpath. The mix of the album is quite straightforward, a little dry and doesn't really lend itself well to atmosphere unless Hughell is filling in the blanks with some busier bass lines, but this is par for the course for much of the band's career, and in the end you've got a product here which is the least composed or interesting of their post 2010- works, an era in which they finally seem to most closely have flirted with and even dated some level of quality. Undead, Crypt of the Devil or even Unborn would be more worth your time, but it's not a complete dropping of the ball, just a near-fumble.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

https://www.facebook.com/sixfeetunder

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Six Feet Under - Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest (2016)

Chris Barnes' mainstay has been on a strange trajectory these last five years, first stunning me with an album that was actually good, 2012's Undead, and then proceeding to not exactly follow that up with anything worthwhile (Crypt of the Devil was decent), playing some musical chairs with his band line-up, and ultimately deciding for whatever goddamn reason to release another entry in his band's abysmal 'cover tunes' album line, Graveyard Classics. Although this time, it doesn't appear that he's even bothered to come up with a halfway decent cover concept, not like the records predecessors had anything resembling eye candy. IV: The Number of the Beast is, as if you couldn't guess, exactly as lazy as it looks, and it's a collection of strictly Judas Priest and Iron Maiden covers...

...given the 6FU treatment, of course, and by that I mean transformed into bludgeoning low rent death metal lite where the only possible entertainment value is hearing Barnes' caveman grunts fart out the lines of scream-gods Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson. Musically the trio on this disc attempts to pair up to the originals as much as possible, only with a sluggish, chunkier rhythm guitar tone that is meant to construe some heavier aggression but winds up feeling rather dry, since the record as a whole lacks that reverb and atmosphere that helped immortalize the 70s and 80s material, which this album largely consists of. The bass and drums do their parts over the album, and I won't say it's the least competent of these Graveyard Classics offerings...the focusing on only two bands kind of helps tighten the experience, and the leads feel frilly and fun, but then you go and plaster them with these monotonous grunts, which feel poorly recorded like someone was playing the background music at a karaoke bar and Chris just grabbed up the microphone. It's a little funny to hear Ray Alder appear as a backup on the "Invader" cover, but one wonders why Chris didn't just hire Ray to sing the whole thing...that might have proven a more passable experience.

I'll give Barnes credit, though, he at least has a fairly good taste in songs by these legends, and does not simply offer up the most predicted or obvious choices in their catalogs. I normally wouldn't expect to hear someone's take on "Prowler", "Flash of the Blade", "Starbreaker" or "Genocide", and these are all included along with "Total Eclipse", "Night Crawler", and "The Evil That Men Do". I don't think there's any question the track list was carefully pored over, and without renditions of the bands' most popular tunes, it affords 6FU a little more breathing space for their interpretations. Alas, they are just not very good in the end, and it's largely the vocals and production of the rhythm guitars that don't do these versions a service. If Barnes had excused himself from this, then you might have an average album of its type, but this is just too laughable to take seriously, and the joke loses its humor about 2-3 tracks in when it just becomes sad and boring. Slightly more consistent than the first two such 6FU cover anthologies, but I would say this project 'peaked' with Graveyard Classics III. Granted, that's like saying my lunch peaked when I projectile vomited against the nearest wall, rather than just puking it into its normal porcelain receptacle. Enough already!

Verdict: Fail [3.25/10]

https://www.facebook.com/sixfeetunder