Friday, February 15, 2019
Deathcore actually draws on a number of influences, from the grinding Earache outlets up north of them in Britain, to the crossover thrash endemic to the US West Coat circa D.R.I., Cryptic Slaughter, and The Accused; you might even hear a little S.O.D. in a particular breakdown or two where the band pulls on its splattery reins for a couple bars. Loads of rehashed punk riffs sped up to a junkie pace, and then splayed out with other sections into longer-than-expected tracks. Spontaneous Underground is a long, long damn album for its style, clocking in at over 52 minutes, with tracks ranging from five seconds to over seven minutes in length, a few clicks of a beat and some chords to 'epics' that are constantly shifting around all over the entire riffing and tempo palette of the band. To be honest, that's not saying a lot, because I swear there are a hell of a lot of riffs on this album and almost all of them are the most insipid, forgettable sort that don't seem as if they took more than actually applying your palm and fingers to your guitar to create.
Looking for any sort of interesting progression of chords? Seek elsewhere, the only time you might be surprised at all here is when the guitarist throws out a noisy little spontaneous noodle or weird indie rock riff ("Dolphin Instinct") which feels more like a mistake than anything else. The vocals and lo-fi nature of the recording definitely save it some punk cred, since they have that timeless, earnest, amateur quality about them which we venerate on a lot of early punk and hardcore recordings. But man, when you consider just how much material this band is tossing your way, it's a damn shame that so little of it actually sticks. The loose fills and cadence of the drums, the splatter-style vocals set at various levels of shouts, screams and saturation, and the unfortunately-rebranded band moniker are all things that widely outlived the actual guitars and songs, and that's sadly just not what I seek out in a record like this. That said, it's mildly interesting in its obscurity for being on a label that would go on to explode as much as this one; and not terrible if you dig the DIY mentality usually associated with its style.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
Thursday, February 14, 2019
The backbone of D-beat riffs here also does a lot to trump your expectations...sure a number of the chord patterns will seem familiar at first, but they often veer into an unexpected note selection or get interspersed with tremolo picked death metal fills. It's still accessible and fulfilling enough for those who adhere to more typical acts in the style, but there's just enough gloom and obliqueness to offer a more sinister depth. The vocals are also a little beyond the pale, where normally you get the raving political hardcore barking, here is a rather sustained blackened death inflection which sounds like this shadow hovering over the instruments, with just a enough effects-driven finesse that it doesn't come across as dull or cheap. A broad guttural which often trails off into a bloodier rasp. The bass is a pretty thick, bombastic presence alongside the rhythm guitars which fattens them up rather than trying to stick its nose out elsewhere, and this works well enough here although it wouldn't kill them to drift off on their own for a few bars. The drums have the perky reliability usually associated with this style, nothing too complex but he'll toss a lot of timely, thundering fills to keep the pulse.
I do like that they often break out into the tremolo picked sections, that instantly adds a lot more of a replay value to the usually chord-centered style, and I feel Atrament usually gets enough variation to cover what they're crafting into a typically 2-3 minute track. I also liked the use of a breakout mid paced thrash riff s in "War Seed", just these smaller little dynamics go a long way to keeping the album from getting too samey...and it does on occasion, don't get me wrong, but even then you'll have a few subtle highlights to help you map out one track from the next. Pitch black, driving, menacing stuff here, instantly standing out from the flock of bands that approach this more from the hardcore perspective, which is sometimes pretty damn awesome, but others too predictable. I don't know that Scum Sect is quite the peak for this band, there's plenty of direction to grow into, broadening their higher pitched picking and atmosphere, but it exceeded the baseline expectations.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Friday, February 8, 2019
Not that this has anything to do with the band's skill level. They can blast away at the kit and offer up barrages of chords and streaming tremolo picked notes satisfying enough to the purist, while also taking a few chances to alternate into slower, spacious sections where you'll feel more of the bass fill and can set up something dramatic. Occasionally the riffs get a bit more grimy and groovy, simplified to a near-crust level, and in others it almost feels like primitive melodic death circa the early 90s. I also found they were able to generate some excitement with transitions and breaks, but these are too often neutered when there aren't any great riffs to follow. The drums are heavy as hell, and the bass is pretty audible in the mix, but they don't add a lot to the constantly driving, predictable personality of some of the material, although if you want consistency I can promise they bring that.
The vocals are decidedly death metal, shifting between a couple different guttural timbres, some of which are fleshy and gruesome, or placed at a point where the others being a lot more bland, blunt instruments. Other voices are often employed for backup shouts so there's a bit of variation there that helps compensate from how that main brute growl leaves you underwhelmed. All told, I don't want to leave too much of a negative impression, Morthus are certainly proficient at what they're playing, they simply don't offer up much for me here by way of interesting note progressions, savage or evil fare that makes me want to keep listening though the disc. It would really only take a few tweaks to more interesting tremolo guitar line, or atmospheric contrasts that transform them from a decent act to something with a lot more impact. Over the Dying Stars just seems to stand somewhere in the middle of a very long line of similar groups (from both genres) who have done it better.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Like a good 75% of the other pizza bandwagon thrash stuff that has come along in the last decade, I fully expected that I'd hate the garden variety Exodus, Slayer and Anthrax riffs I would find on the album itself, and in retrospect that was probably a little pessimistic. While I can't deny that these Virginians are in fact influence by a lot of the usual suspects in both the thrash and crossover scenes of the 80s, they actually bite into a nasty, fast-paced style that more often than not hits some degree of paydirt. Nothing about the album is overproduced...the rhythm section is pretty much on par with the mix of the rhythm guitar, which is punchy and saturated without being too raw or polished. The bass guitars pump along while the drums have a lot of rumbling fills, I'm not saying every detail sounds super clear but I kind of like the vicious honesty of how it all sounds, it almost sounds like how a recording would feel during the early 90s when thrash was giving up its ghost to other styles, but bands were coming along with slightly more modernized, 'personal' productions.
The real thrill here is the vocalist, Robbie Rainey, who has a ton of charisma as he cycles through the higher pitched, brief screams, the more extended operatic sustains and then the more aggressive mid range stuff he's barking out. He approaches it from a power/thrash vector. It might seem a weighty comparison, but he kinds of reminds me of a mix of Michael Coons (Lääz Rockit), David Wayne (Metal Church, Reverend), Tony Portaro (Whiplash) and Nasty Ronnie (Nasty Savage). He's quite entertaining, even when he's raving over some of the less interesting riffs on the record, and to be honest...there are quite a few. They always possess a sporadic energy to them that is appreciable, but very few progressions that will actually stick out to you once the dust clears. A reasonable balance of faster parts and then some moshier, mid-speed sections that don't feel too excessively dumb or cheap. The leads are fitting to the style although they often lack anything memorable about them apart from the usual bleeding spontaneity they create over the bridge rhythms. The lyrics aren't all that great but I've read far lazier from this generation of thrash acts, and while City Built With Skulls is not the sort of disc you're going to spin over the actual classics, it's definitely more fun than I thought it would be.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Now, I don't wish to infer that, by their adherence to very traditional riffing, that this album lacks for dynamics, because it shifts pretty evenly between mid-tempo, late 80s Bathory bravado, faster breaks and a few atmospheric flourishes with acoustic guitars or sublime melodic passages that give this whole affair a very complete, rounded polish. The parallels to other Scandinavian masters such as Darkthrone and Immortal exist, to the point that Ondfødt at no point even flirts with originality, but when you hear the bold, bruising rhythms they're churning out, you're easily swept away to the aesthetic imagery that categorizes such black metal: cruel hearts and cold wastes. This isn't an album with a lot of evil note progressions, or one that uses the smokescreen of rawness to masque its lack of competence and devotion...Dödsrikets kallelse sounds enormous, whether its battering you with a wall of chords that sound like weaponized glaciers rolling around on tank treads, or picking up the pace for a blasted windswept melody. Drummer/vocalist hammers away like a winter battalion chopping wood for its campfires, while his huge rasp hovers just above the rhythm guitars, raving over the musical blizard with just the right depth and sustain.
It's the sort of album where, even when you know where the guitar line is going the first time, you want to take the journey anyways. They help break up the steadier riffing with some thunderous breaks, where the chords are reduced to just bludgeons over the beats, reminiscent of fellow Finns like Barathrum, Ajattara or Horna, so in summary they seem to channel influences from all over Northern Europe. The aforementioned atmospheric parts, like the ritualistic intro to "Den sista färden" or the glistening, sad acoustics that permeate instrumental "Dödens dröm", are perfectly placed pauses in the action that help amplify the emotional resonance of the whole disc. It's one that rewards you for sitting through the beginning, middle, and end, even if the latter is a cover of another obscure Finnish act known as Hämys using a cluster of gang vocal rasps. At around 35 minutes, this album never even comes close to wearing out it welcome, there isn't a riff on it which lasts longer than it needs to and the shorter duration is a good fit to the simplicity and straightforwardness. Just a great sophomore effort, and a fine fit for this time of year.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
Friday, February 1, 2019
The full-length Eld debut spends an even amount of time between predictable blasted sequences, mid paced pounders (like "Delxot", one of the catchier tracks), and a slightly slower caste of rhythms that often accrue a little more atmosphere due to the faint hints of melody they incorporate. The vocals are dirty and savage, but don't develop a lot of character to themselves if you're already familiar with a Satyr or Nocturno Culto. They often do double up the vocals to include a cleaner tone, which I found interesting, but the practice is scarce enough that it's never a true feature of the record. The beats are brick-solid and fast as hell when needed, but in terms of fills or good grooving drums behind the slower parts of the album they don't quite stand out. Despite that, it's the rhythm guitars that for me were the weak point...saturated in nasty enough distortion, and pure enough that they could compare to other acts from the early 90s, but almost always what you've heard before and can be celebrated for no other reason beyond that.
To be fair, the two musicians S. Winter and Laeturnus are each handling multiple duties here, with a couple guests contributing other guitars, pianos or keys (including Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved on the track "Rebirth"). But compared to another duo like Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, there is very little of nuance to how they put together their songs. The organs, the scant clean vocals, a sample, and little touches like a techno pulse ("Rebirth"), or the more spacious raw guitars used i the outro, are really the only times this one deviates from the standard, and while that's honestly enough that I'd consider Krieg a 'well-rounded' record, there are just too few inspiring or memorable measures here that I'd ever grab it from the overstuffed line-up of Norse black metal albums available to me. I don't want to sell Eld too short...they are competent, and if you're just in the mood for an inoffensive, Satanic slab of convention, you could do worse, but they drop enough hints here that they're capable of superior mood and structure that I'd prefer to wait until they expand those concepts outwards.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Think of this as slow to mid-paced black metal, entirely driven by a drum machine set to sound more like an industrial backline than a proper metal drummer. The guitars are extremely raw, with a very cheesy saturation to them that sounds a lot like (and probably is) a practice amp, and these are set out into very simple chord patterns, often smothered with a second, dissonant guitar line. At numerous points throughout the album, he'll let the beats and rhythms die down and then just concoct some eerie guitar that plays out in solitude with a nearly hypnotic string of notes. Above all of this is his lunatic, raving vocal style, which seems like little more than some psychopath making a mockery of the form with entirely unfiltered rants and rasps that channel a schizophrenic rainbow of goofy but unsettling personalities. We're all accustomed to the high pitched, painful vocals of luminaries like Varg Vikernes, but Todesstoß is next level, almost like a trolling or deconstruction of depressive black metal in general, with no fucks given. It gets even more bizarre when he'll drop out of the music and just use these as a tortured spoken word all on its own.
Here is an album which is accessible in its simplicity, but almost inaccessible in terms of many fans of this genre taking it seriously. Uncouth, unprofessional, and unconcerned. For all that, though, it's quite artsy and appealing, and if you can stretch your mind and tastes enough to appreciate its eccentricity, it can prove rewarding, although not the most interesting of the albums he's put out. The songs are generally long, between 9-14 minutes here, and while this sort of primeval bedroom black metal could throw that all away by becoming overly repetitive, there are usually some twists or unexpected, fuzzy melodies or synthesized sounds emerging through each landscape which keep it an adventure. An ugly adventure, without a happy ending, but a few passages of gloom and grace that will remind the audience of the roots from which this sprung. Depressive BM with a dash of death rock, industrial beats and maybe late 90s Bethlehem is an apt comparison, but even then I don't feel like that covers it. If you're on the hunt for well-produced, catchy or savage black metal, Todesstoß is one to stay wide of, but if your tastes permit for raw-boned production, genre deformity and plebeian experimentalism then this one might lose you in its minimalist maze.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Friday, January 25, 2019
The production on this album is a marvel, crystal clear but perfectly potent for each of the players, which is important on an effort in which every minute detail is formidable. I mean, with the possible exception of some plebeian, ambiguous 'resistance' style lyrics and cheesy cover art, there is nothing at all cringeworthy across the 50 minutes of this disc. Michael Spencer's bass lines are throbbing, interesting and take on a life of their own at nearly every point on the album. Ex-Fifth Angel basher Ken Mary, in his debut with the band, delivers an excellent set of beats, grooves and fills which are often fun enough that I could listen to them independent of the other instruments. The riff-set is nothing out of the ordinary for Flotsam & Jetsam, you've been hearing sprinkles of this bright, engaging power/thrash style for much of their career, but here they take familiar frames and sequences and then pair them up with nuanced melodies and genuine passion which engages in the intros, the verses, the choruses, and below the competent leads. I especially like it when they get a few layers of picking going, the album gains a lot of depth and is sure to thrill fans of either of the constituent sub-genres which feed this material. Accessible and straight to the face, but also intricate and detailed.
Most importantly, Erik A. K. is once again on point here, sounding even more youthful perhaps than he did on their 80s albums. Granted, he doesn't really go for a lot of higher shrieks, but he gets so much personality out of that manic, shaky mid-to-high range he excels in, and bullrushes into each chorus part with gusto. There are times when he's singing along over a particularly melodic, more trad/power metal element in the guitars where The End of Chaos almost feels like a high intensity 'thrash' answer to Iron Maiden...not the first time I've felt that way, but really polished off here because the tunes deliver. I'm not lying to say when I say that I cranked this sucker and just found myself repeatedly focusing in on each little detail...it's not something I often do when so many albums go more for the sum than the parts, but this one just had me at attention for every single measure, churning out a pure neck-frenzy moment after moment, and never predictable to the point that I could guess what exactly would happen next.
It's a little hard to choose favorites, but some of the cuts on the first half, like "Control", "Recover" and "Slowly Insane" really kicked ass. But even the bonus tunes work, and they mess around with the songwriting dynamics enough that it never grows remotely dull. If you've been avoiding the band since the Cuatros, Drifts and My Gods let you down, then it's probably safe to get back on the wagon now; or if you're a fan for power/thrash ala Artillery and Heathen, and somehow missed out, this could very well be your thing. This is one of those albums that had me smiling from beginning to end, after having only scant expectations for it. These guys are in their 50s now...when I'm in my 50s, I'll be lucky if I've got the strength of limb left to drag my fluid bags around whatever hospice my wife and kids toss me into, trying to sneak a pudding cup after Bingo. So to hear The End of Chaos is nothing short of inspiring. It's got to be that dry, desert air or something.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
Thursday, January 24, 2019
Carnal Forge hearkens back to that age old tradition of keeping the heavy 'thrash' element of their songwriting so entrenched in tense, exciting guitar progressions, and it really shows, since it is by far the guitars which are the most engaging and impressive components of Gun to Mouth Salvation. With patterns that recall anything from the Teutonic and West Coast US thrash scenes of the 80s, to the Danish veterans Artillery, to melodic death pioneers At the Gates and Carcass, I'm always finding something to admire in just about every track on this record. Perhaps not always a strikingly unique riff, and occasionally erring on the side of cheesy groove-like rhythms, but there is such a punchy and genuine energy being packed into every tune that it's infectious. The rhythm section is more than capable of giving the guitars the right level of thrust, but apart form matching the excitement factor they don't exactly stand out against the choppier, melodically-engraved thrashing. The whole force of the band is absolutely loyal to that modern, clinical, industrial strength sort of death/thrash...don't expect raw production, lot of reverb, or other charming hallmarks of the Golden Age; this is firmly planted in the 21st century as most of their albums have been...
...whether that's a positive or negative, that sort of punchy, contemporary production and style, is really up to the listener's preferences. If you're a fan of The Haunted, Darkane, and so forth then I think these guys remain firmly in that camp. However, one aspect of Gun to Mouth Salvation I was not totally sold on was the new vocalist Tommie Wahlberg. He has a 'carnal', mealy-mouthed style which, while not inherently bad or lacking in personality, seems a little too rough-edged for the actual production of the instruments. It almost sounds like they were recorded separately with different ideas in mind. Take that other famous Tomas with the -berg suffix in his name, and approach that style of raving and barking with a more gut-felt, almost splattered timbre, but unfortunately not in a positive way. That said, if you enjoy the more eccentric, harsh lines spat out by frontmen like Lindberg or Friden, I don't think this guy will really get in the way of your enjoyment, and the music is just so solid, from the switch between neck jerking speed, mid-paced atmospheric rhythms and the ability to deliver a good old, epic Swedish melo-death style chorus. This one isn't quite as strong for me as Testify for My Victims, but the riffs are very good, and I like it more than any of the albums that came out before 2007. Their hiatus has certainly not rusted them whatsoever.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Friday, January 18, 2019
The 13th Beast is a bit more brutal and monotonous than its predecessor, bouncing between their usual bootstrapped blast beatings and roiling Bolt Thrower/Brutality-like mid-tempo material. The footwork is intense as usual, the guitars fast and true to the form, or moodier when they slow down and feel reminiscent of stuff you might hear off an album like The IVth Crusade. Leads warp in and out with ease, often adding some genuine thrill to what can otherwise be a duller rhythm riff set, and the bass and drums sound like they need to for an intense battery such as this. Unfortunately, while there are a good number of riffing progressions flying around, too many of theme seem run of the mill and forgettable when assimilated into Malevolent's body of work as a whole. I mean a tune like "Mandatory Butchery" really goes for the throat, giving the listener the entire range of their style, but even then the guitars feel sort of familiar and unsurprising. The rhythm section performance feels slightly more of a mechanical thing, competent and in lockstep but not adding much personality.
As for the new vocalist/guitarist, South African-born Lee Wollenschlaeger, he's got some pretty huge shoes to fill. While his straight brutal vocal is competent and not unlike Hoffman's, there is likewise a bit less charisma in how he delivers it, with far less variety. Gone are a lot of the shifts between snarls and gutturals, here you just feel like you're being beaten repeatedly with a dull hammer. Not that his predecessor was the most unique in the genre, but these feel as if they could have been replaced by any number of other 90s-style death metal vocalists and there wouldn't be a huge difference; whereas experience had really sharpened Hoffman's delivery. Still, Lee's a competent player and growler, fits right into the mold here and with after settling a bit more into the material, should turn out fine. I'll ultimately liken this record to Cannibal Corpse's Vile, a new album from a heavily entrenched death metal band with a new vocalist, which doesn't quite live up to the material just before it, but is not at all much of a dip from the stuff Malevolent Creation has been consistently churning out for nearly three decades. If you're a big fan of Invidious Dominion or Doomsday X then I don't think you'll be too disappointed with this, but I'm unlikely to return to it much.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]