Thursday, December 1, 2022

All is calm, all is bright

Thanks as always for reading, folks! I'm off for the Holidays but will return for a year's end list, and then new reviews in January! - autothrall

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Sodom - Bombenhagel EP (2021)

Sodom contributes once again to the near endless stream of EP releases they've been using to keep themselves busy in between full-lengths, which I can't complain about too much, since those full-lengths have generally been good the last couple times out. The usual process is a new tune or two, and then either a cover or a re-recording or a tune from a neighboring full-length, and that continues with Bombenhagel, a disc centered largely about the re-recording of the Persecution Mania track. This is for me largely unnecessary, because I have no problem with the original and didn't ask for it, however I can give the Germans some credit because this version sounds a little more vibrant, messy and impactful due to some deeper bass in the mix, frilly and sloppy leads and the fact that Tom still sounds as pestilent as ever with his rasp.

That said, as a fan of Genesis XIX, you know I was eager to skip right past this to the new tracks, "Coup de Grace", which is a nice crossroads between their death/thrash side and then some of the punkyness that overtook the band's output throughout the mid to late 90s. "Pestiferous Posse" is also a nasty one with some of his most evil and raw sounding vocals that hover just behind the propulsion riffing, of which there is plenty in the five minute run track. On both of these new pieces, Angelripper also has some nice shouts that ascend or descend and make a good contrast against the dirtier, low-end vocals, or at least I think that's Tom doing those. Frank Blackfire also appears here as he did with the last album, nice to have him back in the fold for those seeking to channel the genuine 80s Sodom thrash, and you even get legendary producer Harris Johns contributing a lead guitar. Now, there isn't much essential here, and these tunes aren't exactly the quality to lead off a new studio full-length, but at the same time it was all 'fine', there were no throwaways and it sounds like the Germans are genuinely having fun so late into their career. The serious Sodom enthusiast who just wants more will be in ammo belt paradise, but I don't know that I'll listen through these more than a couple times.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Morgue Supplier - Inevitability (2022)

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' is the popular expression, and had these Chicago deathgrind lunatics followed up their eponymous, excellent 2016 album with more of the same, I wouldn't have complained much. But Morgue Supplier LIKES to break it. They LIKE to shatter their style up against a concrete surface and then reorder the pieces, and thus Inevitability very quickly becomes their most fragmented, unhinged and challenging record to date, but one that doesn't leave its predecessors far behind in terms of stylistic foundation. If I described this to you as a hypothetical project in which members of Voivod and Godflesh teamed up to create a harrowing, grinding rival to Napalm Death, would you believe me? Because more than once in listening through this 38 minute frenzy of blasting and jerking, dissonant rhythms did such a comparison wrench itself into my brain.

Be ready. When you first spin this album you'll be presented with an immediate flurry of distorted bass and crazy tech grinding, almost enough to knock the wind out of you. I readily admit that when this band is going off the rails at full speed, it can become exhausting, but the real treat here is what lies in all the spaces between such spasms, where the material becomes more spacious, brooding and experimental, almost like the dissonant industrial apocalyptic landscapes that might surround the borders of what we see upon the late Marius Lewandowski's cover art. Loping, drudging Streetcleaner-grooves that split up the head-spinning violence, or airier guitar sections where the more open notes are allowed to ring out (as in the bridge of "Closing In") before they return to the tumultuous aggression. The drum programming is incredibly intense here, with all sorts of broken fills and patterns that feel like a claustrophobic puzzle you're trying to figure out, with each new track providing another painful peace. There are also these wild leads that erupt to keep you even further off-balance, and Stephen Reichelt's aforementioned buzzing bass-lines keep pace with the rest of the massacre.

The vocals of longstanding front man Paul Gillis are as sick as usual, trading primarily between a deep and resonant guttural and the impish snarling and rasping you might also recognize from his other projects Drug Honkey and Rabid Beast. It's a wild and hideous contrast that works very well against the razor-edged but scattered precision of the instrumentation, and you won't even get a chance to become bored of it as you'll constantly be questioning just what is this guy on!? Then, right near the center of the record you get hit with this instrumental, swelling, droning interlude which is just the perfect place to give your ears a rest while still feeling threatened. Some of Inevitability's best material actually comes through in the second half, "Existence Collapsed" with its wild riffing patterns, or the super clamorous and industrialized hell-scape that is "Thoughts of Only Darkness" which really hits that Godflesh/Treponem Pal feel but laced with the Voivod space-weirdness. The production is clear enough to convey the manic message of the death and grind aesthetics, but still malleable and raw.

Are there any chinks in the armor? Cracks in this already cracked mirror of an album? Not many. A few of the song structures feel a little overly random, spitting out idea after idea but sometimes forgetting to capitalize more on some of the better ones. And I think the more rapid-fire, spastic moments on the 2016 album hung around with me a bit longer, but Inevitability is a little more experimental, more deeply exploring other influences that weren't always as prominent before. Morgue Supplier is one of the better, more important grind or grind-adjacent bands out there because they don't rest on the dull laurels of the form...this isn't your garden variety collection of sped up four-chord hardcore rhythms, or a sample saturated gore-fetish platter; it's compulsive and cerebral and reminds us that this music can have a brain, even while it's hammering nails through yours. Put this alongside Poland's Antigama or some of the cooler, recent Napalm Death records as evidence that there's so much more to explore.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Rage - Resurrection Day (2021)

Resurrection Day proves that you don't have to get softer as you get older, because part of the appeal to this album is its reliance on the punchier, low end riffs which have a slightly more meat-headed and thrashing force to them than you might expect. Not that Rage hasn't flirted with this level of aggression many times in the past, and in fact you could argue they've got a lot more intense songs in their backlog, but this one doesn't waste any time in using that to get your attention, which it does...the problem would then be in KEEPING that, which was not always successful on this...twenty-fucking-forth full-length album, if I'm counting correctly? This is not a band with anything left to prove on this Earth, that has given me more great music than I could ever know what to do with, and maybe this isn't their magnum opus, but having said that, it's still well-rounded, professional and hits more often than it misses, and those of you tuned into the modern Rage catalogue will have little cause for complaint.

We're still pretty far removed from the shrieking, innovative speed metal of the band's 80s period, but Resurrection Day incorporates pretty much all of the band's tropes past that date. Arrangements that involve a lot of 'Lingua Mortis' orchestrated intros or backgrounds; the burly, unique, mid-range Peavy Wagner vocals that he's settled so comfortably into since the mid-90s; clean and potent production; and a crack team of musicians that make it all sound so simple. There are a few misfires here like the 'death grunts' which are obviously not confident enough to appear for more than a few intonations, and I do understand that this is all an attempt to feel cool or relevant, but while they don't muck up the works here they really aren't necessary. Jean and Stefan's guitars are mighty whether they're chugging along, or breaking into the sticky, dramatic leads, or even lots of little unexpected chords and/or riffs that they throw in here to counterbalance everything else. The rhythm section is fully on point and everything on the album is clear and distinct, in terms of polish this one is unquestionably one of the most up-front of their works, you won't be straining your ears for anything.

I think what this one comes down to is that it's another of their albums when, 'in the moment' I am almost constantly impressed and engaged, but once I've shut it off for the day I never think about it. Tracks like "The Age of Reason" or "Arrogance and Ignorance" prove that this band has every right in the stakes to be as blown up and popular as a Blind Guardian or Sabaton, other than the aforementioned 'extreme' vocals, but like a lot of the modern output from both those groups, it's just not sticking with me for an amount of time longer than it takes for me to get my fix, and then I find myself wanting that fix from earlier Rage records. Don't get me wrong, this one is a whole step above 2020's Wings of Rage, which to one of my least favorites in their catalogue (if still not 'bad)', and it's about on par with Seasons of the Black, but when I'm interested in listening to their post-1990 material, my modern Rage medicine is still going to be Unity, Soundchaser, or Carved in Stone, which most of the ensuing 21st century albums have more or less been trying to reiterate.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Killing Addiction - Mind of a New God (2021)

The Shores of Oblivion EP and Killing Addiction's signing to XTreem Records seemed to be an incredibly positive direction for the unsung Florida death metal troupe, but unfortunately the band wasn't able to immediately capitalize on that with an album the following year. Fast forward half a decade, and it appears we had finally gotten that album with Mind of a New God, which if nothing else delivers on some of that potential, and firmly establishes that this new phase in their career is by far their best in terms of compositional strength. I mean even the worst track you'll find among these is superior to Omega Factor and all the material on their early EPs, and it's another effort like Shores of Oblivion which is just a pleasure to sit straight through without skipping any of the tracks...this is consistent, bludgeoning, death metal that understands how to sound like a threat and not just going through 'the motions', even when it is.

The style is largely built upon the back of that aforementioned EP, only the palette is more adventurous by far, with a slightly less trudging early UK vibe, and even more emphasis placed on the middle and upper registers of the guitars through clinical harmonies and leads. The production is a bit crisper although you'll get plenty of that lower ballast through the steady gutturals, however this also plays to the strength of the guitars which are for me the highlight of the album. Style-wise it sounds like a mash-up of elements from Brutality, Monstrosity, Benediction, Morbid Angel, Malevolent Creation and even a bit of Pestilence in some of the more dissonant, interesting guitar parts, but I'm not citing that as some sort of limiting bracket of parameters, because there's a lot to work with in there, and Killing Addiction does. If you're thinking you'll miss out on some of the lower, knuckle-dragging death metal grooves, they've also got plenty of those in tunes like the end of the title track to sate your pit-punching needs. But really despite the commonalities of tone and structure between the tunes, they're all set up with a balance that continues to offer you a riff or two to take you off guard, which is the hallmark of good songwriting.

You've heard Mind of New God before through the band's backlog or its influences and peers, but that doesn't make this any less fun to listen through if you just want a dependable, entertaining death metal record that embraces the strengths of its genre. There is still plenty of good stuff coming out of those early Florida staples...for example the latest Cannibal Corpse and Cynic records are pretty good, and I even thought the latest from Deicide was a nice surprise, but the road to victory for Killing Addiction is much more redemptive since they've finally earned a spot at the table with an EP and album that should thrill a good cross-section of the death metal audience, between the more classic, atmospheric fans and those who were slightly more tech-savvy or into the brutal pioneers of the 90s out of New York or the Netherlands.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Monday, November 21, 2022

Killing Addiction - Shores of Oblivion EP (2016)

The first time I heard the Shores of Oblivion EP I almost did a double take. I'd had few expectations based on the previous output, and yet was pleasantly surprised by how much tighter this material was than anything they had put out to date (including Omega Factor). The songwriting is catchier, the leads are good, the little details they put into the tracks are appreciated, and it barrels forward with a confidence not unlike its primary influences, which I've hinted at before carry some similarities not only to their Florida fellows, of which Brutality is certainly an apt comparison, but British mainstays like Bolt Thrower or Benediction, super evident in the first cut "Engine of Ruin" which is pretty much pure tank tread death metal, 'slow grind' with the great gutturals that crumble with a cool decay every time they are sustained for even a few seconds.

Take that bottom end and then glaze it with nice, creepy atmospheric guitar leads and you'd have what would be the best song in Killing Addiction's library, only the others here are just as good, like "Cult of Decay" with more good leads and a nice, loping groove that emerges deeper into the bridge, or "Into Shadow" which sets itself up with some nice, creepy cleaner guitars that ascend into electric melodies and some really nice, old school riffing circa 80s Death. Everything about this is just a step up, from the guitar work to the production, the rock steady drumming and most importantly, the ominous, dark but clean feel to the way the instruments are all mixed...certainly a bit more polished than the EP that had come two years before it that wasn't half this memorable. Shores of Oblivion is no reinvention of the wheel, and you could argue it's just quality, generic death metal, but it's also proof positive that persistence can really pay off, for however easy it might be write off some of their earlier material, this one is just 15 minutes of what you like in this genre...evil grooves, dark leads, well worthy of repeated listening.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Houle - Houle EP (2022)

Up front, I really like the approach to nautical black metal taken by this new French act. I believe 'Houle' translates to 'Swell', as the waves, and the primitive artwork with white waves and cliffs imposed upon the black background reminds me of a negative taken of some old art or etchings found in some old marine texts or books. The ocean, with its ebb and flow, its calms and unrelenting tides in juxtaposition, is easily one of the best inspirations you could have for the medium of black metal, and this EP attempts to capture that to a tee. The band also has a cool look resembling lighthouse workers or potential escapees from a prison barge. To this conceptual degree, I would say it is a success, since the melodies chosen and the overall attack of the band does sound like some sort of desperation at sea, the roiling guitar rhythms play out like a long stretch of choppy waters for as far as your eyes can gaze.

But it's quite straightforward, melodic black metal, with a little bit of sadness in there, and a nice mix of strangulated rasp vocals with some cleaner chants that have a lot of potential, often infused with a bit of a spoken word vibe. The guitars are constantly ushering in cycles of melody to offset the raging lower chords, and the production throughout is really great, with thundering drum-work and the vocals hovering at a volume just a fraction higher than the instruments to emphasize their emotion, which can often peak in some Burzum-like scream. Like a lot of newer black metal acts lately, Houle definitely dwells within that traditional 90s framework, only they don't use synths to create a vibe like vintage Dimmu or Emperor, instead relying almost completely on the guitars themselves. So to that effect they remind me a little more of Swedes like Dissection or Dawn, albeit with the neat nautical sound effects thrown in there to give this recording a clear place in the world.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Friday, November 18, 2022

Killing Addiction - When Death Becomes an Art EP (2014)

Killing Addiction might never have the hitting or staying power of so many of their better-known Floridian death metal peers, but the band has managed to survive the years with smaller transfusions of creativity that result in the long 28-year stretch of EPs between two proper full-length recordings. When Death Becomes an Art didn't arrive after a decade plus hiatus as its predecessor, Fall of the Archetypes, but at the same time it doesn't seem like much to advance the band, just a two-track offering of meat & potatoes death metal which channels the style they've always been more or less known for, with splashes of a Malevolent Creation or Morbid Angel, but not really the material to stand out. This was a self release at the time, digitally and with some limited CDs, so one would not maintain high expectations, but on the surface level there's nothing really wrong with this either...

It's straight up, rumbling death metal, perhaps a little more involved than an Obituary or Six Feet Under but not as wild or proficient as Corpsegrinder-era Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel. The band doesn't rely on any bedrock of cheap grooves, they actually incorporate a little grindier UK-sounding death that reminds me of an earlier Benediction or Napalm Death, and then a little bit of clinical precision along the level of the later Barnes years of Corpse. Deep, steady but average gutturals are accented by some snarls, and the whole mix keeps a very low-end sensibility, the band doesn't really go off to explore those frets until the lead sequences, which in "Promethean" are at least passable and offer another dimension to the ear clubbing sounds they offer. The band manages to sound exciting without actually playing riffs that bore into my memory, especially on that second track, so I'd have to say while this 8 minutes of content is nothing overly special, it at least gave me some hope that Killing Addiction might have a stronger future ahead of them than their past, which had peaked with 1993's JL America release of Omega Factor (which you're more likely to track down on it XTreem Music re-issue).

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Wesenwille - III: The Great Light Above (2022)

After a quality sophomore effort last year and a reissue of their debut with some additional live material, the Dutch act Wesenwille is already firing up a third onslaught with some of their most savage material up front. The Great Light Above is another album one might fit snugly into the 'urban black metal' mold, its vibes do not holler at you from the side of a snowy mountain slope or a canopy of pines, but from the shadows of depressive cityscapes, shadowy back-streets throughout the history of strife-fraught human civilization. Musically it's just as gray as its two predecessors, and that can certainly limit the experience if you're seeking something more colorful and melodic, not that this album is void of such techniques, only that they are delivered in such a starkly desperate, dissonant armor which a nearly industrial certainty (though the music itself could not be dubbed industrial).

Atmospheric trapping abound like organs that help round the record out and give it a fuller body, but for the most part this is just savage, straightforward traditional blasting black metal which uses a lot of nuanced guitar techniques to dress up its tremolo-picked progressions that they feel bolder and richer than you're going to find off your garden-variety worship of Mayhem or Dark Funeral. There is always some direction this band is thrusting in, and when they break it up to slower, churning rhythms as in the track "Transformation", they become even more interesting and frankly, rather original. Would these components stand out as much if not placed against the scathing, bleak black metal battery? Probably not, and that's why this is yet another record which confidently gets its hooks under your skin and continues to pull until your outer layers are stripped, because it's just got the right balance between full force momentum and sparser, almost ambient segues which permit pensive escape.

If it suffers from anything, it might be a little of the redundantly dissonant black metal that we've heard so often these last 10-15 years from the wave of bands that follow the modern French masters, I mean you can tell their albums are going to go that way just by looking at the black/white artwork. It's a bit samey with their earlier efforts, sure, but looking at The Great Light Above from any sort of objective angle, it's sharp, raspy, cleanly produced, well-rendered and never lacking for effort, further cementing Wesenwille as one of the best up-and-coming genre acts on the Dutch scene, with ease.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Deliverance - Neon Chaos in a Junk Sick Dawn (2022)

Generally when I see an album advertised as blackened sludge or sludge/black metal, I get the automatic notion that it's going to be very dredging, crushingly slow and heavy material with a rasping vocalist, and a focus more highly on the heaviness and production than on a sense of interesting riffing-ness. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear a band like Deliverance shrug off such preconceptions, with a highly varied third full-length in Neon Chaos in a Junk Sick Dawn (clearly one of the coolest album titles of the year). This is a group interested in pushing the boundaries a little wider, that's not to say that there aren't plenty of the requisite grooving doomy sludge passages throughout the staggering 62 minutes of content, but so much of it is well balanced, riff-strong and calculated to keep your brain engaged with more than straining the neck to which it is attached through leaden headbanging.

For one, the band implements synths tastefully throughout, little electronic pulses that serve mainly to complement the guitars and vocals, through a mix of brooding organ-like tones or more modern electronica vibes. They're never too brazen or dominant and they instantly give Neon Chaos another dimension forbidden to most such records, some added melodic drama. There are also cleaner, sparse minimalistic passages like the intro to one of the record's two leviathan-sized tracks, "Odyssey", which give you plenty of breathing space. When it comes to the crushing, they've got that too, but I feel that most of the nastiness comes through in the tortured intonations of the vocalist, whereas the riffs are usually well written enough to remain catchy (even when derivative), and you've got the glaze of those keys to distract your conscience while your chin nods along to those grooves. There are often little surprise chords or note patterns inserted through the rhythm guitars so they don't just become some repetitive afterthought.

The band is even competent with straight-ahead black metal progressions like they kick off the album with ("Salvation Needs a Gun"), where the organ works perfectly to saturate the moderate blasted speed with a mood of nostalgia, and then it breaks into the more arpeggiated sounding synth and groove and you're already off to the races with catchiness. The big challenge is the aforementioned titanic tunes, "Odyssey" and the finale "Fragments of a Diary from Hell", but rather than dragging on, they are clearly plotted, purposeful and loaded with cool hooks, and where it does descent into a little more space and experimentation, it's rather cool with some narrative vocals over the top, dissonant guitar ringing out, plunking syrup-thick bass strokes and other earworms that keep you satisfied until they break into the excellent climax (of the latter), which is probably the peak of the whole experience. The album isn't always on fire, but overall it's quite well done.

Verdict: Win [8/10]