Saturday, October 12, 2019

VHS - We're Gonna Need Some Bigger Riffs (2019)

VHS might be one of the first bands I've come across purely through social media; I initially saw their page recommended to me, must have been on Facebook, around the time they put out their debut Screaming Mad Gore back in 2016. Their name pretty much says it all. If you were 'privileged' enough to be around during the old Blockbuster rental years, renting or purchasing stacks of VHS tapes for horror and exploitation films, felt the campy thrills and gnarly shocks of all that formative sleaze and gore, then you already know what these Canadians are all about. Most of their tunes are either direct or indirect tributes to specific creature and slasher films, served up on a pallet of dynamic riffs that cover a good array of sub-genres.

Sure, VHS fits pretty snugly into that largely West Coast US scene of schlock horror acolytes that includes the likes of Exhumed and Ghoul, with a healthy heaping of other acts like Cropsy Maniac, Macabre and Impetigo. They don't take things all that seriously, but they obviously love what they do, and without much sense of irony, even the cheesy films and stories to which they pay homage. The cartoon cover art only adds to the charm that these are a bunch of guys who might be hanging out in a garage or basement in your neighborhood, 80s posters on the walls, B-movie slashers on the TV, lighting up a joint or a cigarette, pounding some brews. Enjoying every moment of it. As you should be if you were hanging with them. Somehow, they manage to translate that feeling into a competent, entertaining mix of thrash, death, punk and grind aesthetics captured in a bright, loud, meaty production through which every neck-straining riff is felt straight to the face. I would say that the central style most relied upon is thrash, which comprises a lot of the energy here, from the more uptempo material to the breakdowns, but they certainly go off on whatever tangent they feel without the album ever feeling strained or like its trying too hard to please everyone.

The more gruesome elements are in the vocals, a set of low gutturals and rabid snarls which hearken back to the tradition of good ol' Carcass, which is no surprise when you saw the other bands I had compared this to above. All of these are performed quite well, although you could say they were fairly standard for their styles, not especially gruesome...maybe the sustain on the lower growls when they are sustained for more than a second, but otherwise just functional, fun vocals, and they go well with the bigger grooves on the album like in "Marine Monstrosity". When it comes to the more hard hitting, structured death metal riffs that alternate with the thrashier parts, you definitely pick up vibes of mid-paced stuff like Obituary, Bolt Thrower and earlier 90s Cannibal Corpse. Melodies and leads are no strangers to the Canadians, who spice up several of the tracks so you're getting a little more than a one-track beating, they clearly put a lot of effort into making the 14 tracks on this album varied enough that they all actually mattered, without one feeling too repetitive of another.

Toss in a tight rhythm section, some guest vocals from Matt Harvey (Exhumed) and Trevor Strnad (Black Dahlia Murder), lyrics about your not-so-guilty favorite films like Lake Placid ("An Old Lady and Her Crocodile"), or Creepshow 2 (or least I think that's what "Oozing, Bubbling Black Mass" is about), and you've got yourself a pretty good time. The focus isn't entirely on nautical horror flicks but certainly with the cover art and a number of the tunes that is a prevalent theme (they've even got a "Zombie vs. Shark" song). Have you heard a lot of this stuff before? Certainly with bands like Ghoul, Blood Freak, Frightmare, XXX Maniac, among others, but it doesn't really get old when you're having fun with it, and We're Gonna Need Some Bigger Riffs surpasses Screaming Mad Gore with exactly what it advertises.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Abscess - Horrorhammer (2007)

Dennis Dread has got to be one of my favorite cover artists working today, and California's filth merchants Abscess had the honor of dressing up their records with his distinct black and white artwork numerous times, my favorite of which was 2007's Horrorhammer. I'll also go against the grain and say that this was hands down one of my favorite albums from Reifert's post/pre-Autopsy project, while understanding the complaints against it...that it's not quite so gruesome as their output before it. But I'm not going to lie, I've had a bit of fun when cranking this record and I love its focus on the more upbeat material and really clobbering you over the ears. Horrorhammer lacks any degree of subtlety, it simply lives up to its title and for that I am grateful.

I'm not saying I entirely love the album, but when I'm in need for a grisly, high-body-count reel of death metal, speed metal, crossover and punk, graced with Reifert and company's unmistakable vocal ugliness, this one scratches my nethers. You could think of it as a halfway point between Autopsy and Seattle splatter-gods The Accüsed. Velocity meets carnage on a freeway of cult exploitation, but I don't want to mislead you into thinking this is monotonous. There are some faster, simpler cuts here like "Another Private Hell", or mid-paced like "Four Grey Walls", which are essentially pure punk adrenaline made different only through the vocal presence, but quite a lot of them have brief, slower sequences, sometimes just an atmospheric clench on a few dissonant chords, or some of the obvious death/doom that creeps back into the sound with a cut like "When Witches Burn", one of my favorites in their whole catalog. I love the guitar tone this time, not too abrasive but keeps its corpulence whether fast or slow, and sounds great with the rocking leads that often burst from the rhythms like a cannibal baby from its womb.

The drums and bass sound equally cool here, but all of this stuff is simply in support of the undead elephant in the room, those abusive vocals, just as loose and unhinged as Chris' mainstay, and thus more genuine feeling than most monotonous guttural orators which don't sound nearly as sick as they'd like. And even better, they sit equally as uncomfortable across whatever genre component Abscess is using at the time...the more accessible punk parts, the speed/death licks or the doomier sequences. Just enough effects on them at points to make them feel as if they're raving and barking at you from the sepulcher, or chasing you down a tight alleyway at night behind the butcher's shop. To some it might seem a bit garbled, but the energy there completely matches the waxing and waning of the musical muscle, or the oft-shoddy transitions between sub-styles. The instrumental title track is cool, as are the lyrics, simple and gory as they are. To be honest, there aren't a lot of truly catchy riffs, maybe a half dozen on the disc. But when those do appear, like the intro lick to "Hellhole", they do kick some serious posterior, and it's an album so compact I find no problem listening through the entire 35 minutes, as it congeals together so well like clotted blood.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Dellamorte - Home Sweet Hell... (1999)

If Dellamorte had shown up during the huge Swedish d-beat death metal revival that struck around the 'oughts, I think they might have made some in-roads as one of the more savage, raw bands to adopt the style. Unfortunately, their tenure in the 90s came at the tail end of when the audience was first starved for the sound, with bands like Dismember going strong, and others like Entombed having already been there, done that, and moved into other pastures (before the inevitable ID crises that would lead them back). So I can see why they were overlooked, but those who really enjoy that sort of late 80s/early 90s aesthetic unraveled by Nihilist will probably find a soft spot for these guys as a sort of pure gorehouse approach to the niche, a lot closer to Dismember than others.

Home Sweet Hell... was their third and final full-length and it hits like a truck with a fat, imposing Sunlight Studio tone slathered in some sustained, raw-throated, angry fucking vocals which give the other vocalists in this one-limited field a run for their money. They're not all that different than how L-G Petrov or Matti Kärki hammered them out, but perhaps a little more snarled and outraged, and you can often hear some backups shouted alongside them which creates a mild variation on what you're used to. The guitar riffs are straight from the book of the first three Entombed records, or Indecent & Obscene, with an often heavy emphasis on the death & roll riffs, mixed in with some simplistic, chunky chugging parts that carry a lot of heft due to the straight to the face production of the record. The drum kit in particular gives it a lot of rock & roll feel, not to mention the implementation of wah wahs, lots of grooves, and chord patterns that are painfully simplistic. Dellamorte truly relies on the sheer volume and potency of what they play to impress the listener, they are about as far from subtle as you can get, and even if there were nuances you might not hear them because of how the album is mixed.

This is an effort that I've always wanted to like more than I do. The vocals are savage, the power is undeniable, but it ends up with a barely passing grade from me simply because there are too few riffs worth a damn here, most just being coughed up from the playbook of pre-existing Swedish death metal bands, or rather, duller versions of those played more intensely. On occasion it really rocks the fuck out, as in "Into the Fire", and if you're a fan of all things blazing and d-beat then I can't imagine tracks like "The Tombs of My Fear" would turn you off. I mean this album pummels the fuck out of you...the tone, the pounding bass-lines which hover just below the rhythm guitars, the grooves and the momentum that they shift between, but I just think the album needed a little more attention to the riffs...if there were another dozen or even half-dozen killer guitar parts on this one I'd get so much more mileage out of it, but at the very least it's a sobering blunt instrument to the eardrums when I'm in the mood for the densest, simplest and most pissed-off sound that this sub-style can mete out.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Morgul - Sketch of Supposed Murder (2001)

Sketch of Supposed Murder is not nearly the leap that The Horror Grandeur was over the first two Morgul albums, but its certainly an enforcement of the notion that Jack D. Ripper was content with his newfound industrial influence going forward, and if anything this is just a fraction more accessible and varied, but clinging to the horror concepts all the while, with an emphasis on torture, murder and misanthropy. It's also an album that sounds a little dated in its ideas. Many black metal bands had turned towards electronic, Goth and symphonic stylings throughout the late 90s and beyond, and many in the audience found these genre maneuvers unwelcome, so it might be considered a bit of a trend-jumper. There are parts to this album that might sound like a ghastlier Marilyn Manson. Or other parts which sound like Cradle of Filth's snarled vocal channeled through Samael's electronic beats and simplistic chord progressions which serve only to add some beef to the industrial beats.

More accurately, there are parts here, like the track "The Dog and the Master", which sound almost identical to what fellow Norwegians The Kovenant were up to, so mileage is going to vary, and those who want nothing of these musicians beyond their black metal roots should probably stick a fork in Morgul beyond just Lost in Shadows Grey and Parody of the Mass. Despite the obvious cheesy or cringeworthy elements, I still enjoy this one a bit because the production is fantastic. Orchestrated or ambient components are these resonant tapestries against which the heavier frontal rhythms and snarled, goofy vocals balance perfectly, and just when you think some of the guitars might be too dull, or things are getting predictable, Ripper will throw some great new beat at you, or orchestral sweep, or one of the handful great choruses here. It's only rarely pure black metal, except the electrified blast beat in "Dead for a While", but the overall atmosphere throughout will certainly give a shiver or two to fans that don't mind when releases in this medium sound like they belong in a cheap, second-rate haunted house or carousel ride.

Programming is really great, as are the synths, organs, and guest violins. The guitars sound very good in the mix, but again with a lot of industrial metal or Neue Deutsche Härte they are extremely banal and only rarely involve any semblance of creative, instead settling for a percussive effect to keep this vaguely within the 'metal' realm at all. Over this, Ripper splatters all manner of grumbles, growls, goofy narratives, dramatic cleaner ravings ala Vortex or Garm, and some really warped vocal effects that create a psychotic phantasmagoria which lasts through pretty much all the original tunes here; he's also a little experimental in the use of the violins, crowd sounds, etc. The cover of "She" by the mighty KISS, however, is rather ill-advised, and although it's tacked on at the end of the album, it kind of botches up the cohesion of whatever came before it. I remember that dragging it all down for me when I first heard it, and even more so now. Not like it's an awful cover in of itself, but just has so little to do with the rest of the material.

I dig Sketch of Supposed Murder, and it makes a nice combo with The Horror Grandeur around this time of year when the Halloween decoration are up and you can feel all that anticipation brought on by both the holiday and the autumnal season in general, but can fully appreciate that it's not going to satisfy everyone. Think of it like The Sham Mirrors' weird older sibling decked out in mascara, Gothic hosiery, sipping absinthe while he's watching a marathon of noir mystery murders. If that sounds like a party you want to attend, then I think this is also an album you'd like to attend. But stop it after the 8th track.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]