Saturday, July 21, 2018
I'm off on my Summer escapades, but will return September 22nd to kick off the annual Horror Metal Marathon leading up to Halloween. Got some strange, obscure stuff to cover this year so stay tuned, and as always, thanks so much for stopping by and checking out the reviews!
Best to you and yours,
Friday, July 20, 2018
I'd place the sound conjured up here between the ballsier NWOBHM bands of the mid 80s, such as Saxon and their ilk, and the more finesse-driven USPM to follow that era like Jag Panzer. The riffs are just as often to break out into conventional, mid-paced, blue collar fist-pumping chords patterns are to explore more gleaning, textured surges of melody, but the two are equally mitigated so that you're getting your fill of the former, with just as much of the latter as you'd need to prevent the tunes from becoming predictable. A small fraction of the aggression and melody also draws upon their Soulless alma mater, which is fine by me since that band is bananas. It also benefits a lot from not sounding painstakingly old school; this is clearly not a pure nostalgia trip by the band members, but an attempt to craft these influences into tunes that fit straight into 2018 and possess a little added nuance than just your average grab-bag British metal proxy. They're a bit more parallel to a Pharaoh, New Eden or Jag Panzer than an Eternal Champion, Cauldron or Visigoth, perhaps, but could be equally appealing to fans of all of these.
Big hooks. Audible bass lines grooving along with them. Big drums, cranked right along the guitars so you can hear every splash and thump. Clear emotional ramp-up between verses and choruses, with effective leads that disperse sorrow, melancholy and other feels over the bridge rhythms. Richards even employs a very mid-range, workmanlike vocal tone reminiscent of Biff Byford or Tank's Algy Ward, and that does bring me to one minor critique. As much as I'm cool with that approach, and how it best uses its available range, I did feel like some of the riffing and production tended to overpower them at times. Without needing a bunch of cliche shrieks and screams, a few more bells and whistles in the mix could bring them out more, whether that's just done in the mix or in the line composition. There was also a backing vocal or two which felt a little bland, muscle those up too. The only other quip might be that the four tunes here kind of covered a samey range of tempos and aesthetics, but this would easily be corrected by a full-length effort where they'll reach wider.
And I hope such an album is on the horizon, because Harlot's Grip is a refreshing entry into a niche I think is often neglected in these days of throwback tweaking...a band that looks backwards only for its foundation and then cements over it something a little more creative. Some classy riffing, some classy sword & sorcery artwork, well worth checking out if you're a fanatic for old heavy metal or UPSM with an emphasis on its songwriting groundwork rather than Harpy-like wailing eccentricity.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Saturday, July 14, 2018
It's actually a little daunting to describe...like a jarring mesh of death metal, thrash and hardcore with an overall atmosphere birthed from the sheer savagery of its motion. The drumming is extremely loud and crashy, albeit not so much that you can't make out whatever else is happening. This was actually one slight little hangup for me, I think they could have turned those down just a fraction. The bass lines are propulsive and groovy, and the rhythm guitars create this sonic envelope which is aggressive but constantly oozing out desperate or sad, if not entirely creative melodies. To that extent it feels like a natural progression from the album before it, only the way the whole picture comes together here seems much more fresh. The vocals range a little higher before, bloodthirsty and raving grunts and howls which almost feel like he's being slapped in the midsection by 2 x 4 boards while he's in the studio booth barking them out. Lastly, they incorporate these little unexpected twists, like the cleaner breaks in "Deliverance from the Astral Sea", or the tribal, clanging, evil intro to the following track called "Echoes of Light". When that chug rolls in off the beat and then they hit those patterns of interchanging chords it feels like the group has turned over an incredible new musical leaf.
And at that point they're only a short way into the album, interesting ideas persist throughout all the tunes. Below the Grief has a really compelling contrast between thundering unrest and melancholy, and reaches a higher bar of craftsmanship and songwriting than any of their albums before it. The production might have a few flaws for a lot of listeners; it's not quite at the level of the album before it, for which of the mix was the forte, but the ingenuity and emotion manifest here is just so much cooler. I'm not saying it's the most memorable album you'll hear lately, but it's clearly inspired. An effort I could see myself recommending not only to classic death metal fans, or 'death 'n roll' addicts who enjoy records like Entombed's Uprising and Inferno, but also to fans of crushing sludge, or Chaos A.D.-like groove metal, or even metallic hardcore acts like Ringworm or Integrity. It cultivates a worthwhile cross-section of ideas, without ever playing them out cheap, and it also signifies a lot more risk than Zombiefication's backlog, which despite the novel geographical origin could have just fit in snugly with a lot of other old-school Swede-loving tributes. Sometimes you take the chance, you roll the dice and come out with a critical hit, and that's what Misters Hitchcock and Jacko have done here, and it's exciting. Well done.
Verdict: Win [8/10]
Friday, July 13, 2018
Fresh to order. What I mean by that 'little something' in the case of this EP is how each of the three tracks' harrowing, chaotic subterranean density is sliced through by some degree of middle or higher pitched, heavily dissonant guitars which immediately lends it a new layer of atmosphere. Obvious examples of this are in the creepy waning moment of "Malkuth", where bewitching harmonies create a haze of paranoia before the EP closes out. Or in "Null", an all-out assault on the senses, when the spikes of fragmented, Voivod-like guitars blanket a phrase over the blunt gutturals and lightly grooving bass lines, before they just erupt back into blasting your noggin off. Passages like these catapult Dire Omen beyond what might otherwise prove a more clinical exercise in the style, and while the bulk of the material here might tend towards the more straightforward and aggressive, it's that detailing which had me wanting to revisit the tracks rather than any of their brutality.
The production of the EP is definitely as dingy and claustrophobic as their past work, placed organically underground without ever shifting over towards vaulted, ominous inaugural Incantation worship. The vocals are used primarily like brute neolithic grunts that serve as an additional percussive weight alongside the drums, and to be honest I wouldn't mind if a bit of effects were placed on them just to have them stand out slightly more. They're intrinsic to the style, but perhaps a little dry and redundant when the music around them is so much more spastic. This is more about the mix than their syllabic placement, and in fact I think the tunes in general could benefit from a more brazen approach, where the guitars more boldly churn through your intestines and the drums cave in your skull. Beyond that lack of gloss, however, there is so little to complain about, and these tunes are equivalent in quality to that prior full-length. If you're seeking an experience bordering on Portal or Abyssal, only 'unmasked', or you're out tacking into the warping winds of chaos-born, dissonant death metal, Dire Omen should be at the other end of your spyglass, approaching with haste.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Thursday, July 12, 2018
I'll lead in with the production, which I found absolutely fantastic and the high point of this disc. As a band so thickly rooted in that old, raucous, heavy Entombed aesthetic, I loved how hugely it comes across on the recording. The rhythm guitars are potent and crashing, the bass corpulent with just the right amount of boom and buzz to stand out solidly in the mix. Drums are raw and snappy, cultivating a very live feel that works nicely with the sheer impact of those rhythms. 'Mr. Hitchcock''s vocals are likewise praiseworthy, massive and grotesque and never content to simply emulate themselves, the guy is always reaching deeply into his gut for another Petrov-ian howl or guttural sustain. The higher pitched melodic guitars here are also a nice touch, showing a clear influence not only from those most foremost Swedish legends, but also bands like At the Gates, Desultory and Edge of Sanity, and they never lay them on too thickly, affixing them to the meatier undercarriage of the rhythm in a perfectly bloody marriage. In fact, the way those melancholic or gloomy melodies interact with the other components reminds me a lot of the last two Tribulation albums, only more brute, less elegant.
Sadly, for all the glory of their carnal presentation, the songs and riff choices here really did not stick to me whatsoever. The chord patterns and melodies are all sort of average, without any standouts or climactic surprises waiting around any corner of the catacombs. The album is like wandering through a low-to-mid level dungeon and fighting the same monster in 8-10 different chambers, rather than slowly building towards that climactic boss battle. There were hooks I was invisibly hearing in my head that just never manifest, and while the sound of this record does do a lot to compensate when cranked out at high volumes, I just become too bored as I realize the musical progressions here are slightly bland. To be fair, there's occasionally a little clamor or unpredictable start/stop when they setup a track, but once you're out into the proper depths of the piece, it just becomes a little too repetitious; not that they're using the same chords or phrases over and over, just that it doesn't go through a series of emotional peaks and valleys, rather just stays on a level plane. It's an issue I take with a few of their European counterparts like Revel in Flesh (who they've done a split with) or a handful of Rogga's projects. Well-produced, well-intentioned, just not terribly memorable.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (we resurrect from tears)
Saturday, July 7, 2018
This album sounds huge, with an ominous airiness coming from the speakers that really lets those churning guitars, growls and beats settle in for punishment. No tricks or gimmicks, just a slab of the purest death metal you're like to hear this year, an album that could appeal across several generations of fans. The guitars are a mix of dense chugs and coiled, evil tremolo picked lines that actually make you feel somewhat creeped out in spots, especially when the light, eerie leads break out over the surface. It doesn't sound like it took a whole lot of effort to come up with these riffs, for when you're in the mindset of how to just make something sound evil and aged, a lot of them seem like they'd spring directly to the muscle memory of your palms and fingers, but that's quite alright here because they exude a pummeling, claustrophobic intensity that transcends time. The bass is thick and oozy, and doesn't stick out too much in terms of note choices but just an extra layer of syrup driving home the darkness. Beats are thick bottomed, with nice fills, double bass rolls and effortless blasts where those work.
It should be noted that several members of this group are in another comparable outfit known as Ectoplasma, which isn't terribly different in style, and also has a recent album out called Cavern of Foul Unbeings that you should probably check out if you're into this. I actually liked the Vultur disc a bit more, but it's certainly blunter. Straight to the gut, vile and colorful death metal which bends the imagination way back to when it all felt so fresh and new, even though there is literally nothing new or innovative about a single damn thing they do. Doesn't matter, when it's wrought with such brute sincerity and passion, and even though the songs do grow a little samey throughout, I've had a great time spinning this one on numerous occasions, and highly recommend it if you're a fan of some of the groups I listed above, Spanish bands like Avulsed and Putrevore, or Finns like Purtenance and Slugathor. The cover art by Raul 'Mortuus' Fuentes is also really noteworthy, had this album come out back in '87-88 it's the sort of image that would be considered iconic decades on.
Verdict: Win [8/10] (ghouls and manglers gathered to feast)
Friday, July 6, 2018
Now, while this particular project might not be well known, releasing only one album and this shorter successor, its members also play in, or have previously played in a who's who of other, comparable acts like Baptism, Horna, Black Death Ritual, Anal Blasphemy, Behexen, or the arena-touring, kid friendly Black Priest of Satan. By the looks of Assaulting the Divine, one is in store for a battering of traditional, newsprint black metal with few twists or surprises, playing it safe within a genre that conventionally relied on being unsafe. And that is the EP in a nutshell, a scathing 20 minutes of tremolo-picked, mildly raw black metal with not a single idea that anyone would ever mistake for being unique. That's not to write off Calvarium entirely, since this is a competent and obscene occult style of black metal which never really grows old for me, even though a great many of its proponents seem incapable of writing the evil riffs, gnashing vocal lines and atmospheres that chill enough to crack the flesh off the bones. These Finns are versed well enough in how to provide such elements, but simply don't ever excel at them.
I'd liken Assaulting the Divine to mix of Bathory and Horna, the former in the storming swagger of the excellently titled opener "Wrathpainted Hammer Upon their Weakening", and the latter almost everywhere else, with sibilant streams of submerged melodies and tinny blast beats driving much of the action. The production on the guitars reminds me of earlier Marduk albums, perhaps Enthroned off their first couple albums. I actually prefer the opening tune to the others, with its hoarse, bloodied rasp that escalates into a broader growl later in the verses, and the fact that I want to ride into battle just like it's Blood Fire Death all over again. "Through the Scars of Selfmutilation", despite its really excellent opening sample (which I couldn't quite pin down to a source), just felt like pretty typical charging glorious material without any standout riffs or truly abrasive feeling. The other highlight might be the black thrashing surge of "The Dark Blessed Elite", but if I were being honest I'd keep the first and last tunes, cut the two in the middle and then maybe find a place to keep that sample. It's just not all that interesting and half of the content is more sinister and memorable than the other, so it's essentially a solid single with some filler tunes.
That said, if you love this genre to a fault, it's really all here and issued with a relentless tenacity that will manifest some admiration. Clearly with this and the previous Skull of Golgotha we caught a glimpse of a group with the chops and experience to make some unsettling waves, but the roster instead decided to do that elsewhere with a myriad of other projects to keep them busy, and some that have borne superior, rotten fruit to this one.
Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]
Thursday, July 5, 2018
If you've been following this band at all, you'll recognize the cover here as a sort of amalgamation of the albums Undead and Unborn...mostly the latter; and as the title implies, this is a compilation of 'rare' or unreleased tunes that were recorded during the sessions for those albums and scrapped due to...wait for it...probably not being good enough for those albums. Now, 'good enough' is a relative phrase with regards to Barne's enduring, uneven career, but I was at least a little bit interested in this due to Undead's status as being the sole Six Feet Under full-length that I hold on to, a shocker that seemed to come out of left field with a volley of catchy riffing, slightly less simplicity than on the many albums before it, and an excellent balance of intensity and grooves. They haven't exactly recaptured the quality there with its successors (including Unborn), but 2012 was clearly a sea change in the band's potential to kick ass with the write mix of songwriting and band members, and in fact Unborn and Crypt of the Devil were competent follow-ups until they once again started to slump with last year's forgettable Torment (and a few of the unreleased cuts here are also from that one).
Unfortunately, since these tunes were drawn from a couple different album sessions, there's straight up an unevenness in the production values and style. Half of the nine tracks are incredibly dull and straightforward groove offs in the vein of much of the tripe they were emitting in the 90s and earlier 'oughts. Something like "Violent Blood Eruption" had potential as a 'lost track' from those better albums, but even then the production is pretty weak and it would have to be mastered and mixed better to even consider it. Same goes for something like "Re-Animated", which is brute and minimal like a lot of their weaker albums, but seems constructed well enough otherwise to get your blood flowing and head banging at its adorable simplicity...even the lead here would be excited if you could hear it, but it just doesn't feel throughout Unburied like there was a concern to master all the material so it would level off with itself and feel like an album unto itself. I get that the intent is to present a bunch of rough cuts largely as they were, but some further care and attention could have transformed this selection into an album on par with or at least more formidable than a bunch of the past stinkers.
As it stands, Unburied is an inconsistent mess trading off some truly middling tunes with a few that could have proven worthwhile if allowed to gestate in Barnes' imagination, or on the mixing board. Die hards will discover a couple hooks hidden here or there, but as they weren't really 'good enough' for the albums they were originally written for, it's hard to think they've somehow snowballed into better Six Feet Under songs in the interim. Hard pass for me.
Verdict: Fail [4.25/10]
Sunday, July 1, 2018
And yet...YET, Tormentium is a fairly charming, bludgeoning way to pass 40 minutes when you're seeking out the sort of escapism you would turn towards death metal for when albums like Scream Bloody Gore, Eyes of Horror, To the Gory End, Master and Fuckin' Death were novelties. Heavily rooted in pummeling thrash riffs, driven towards the grave by the blunt and (admittedly) monotonous, muffled vocal growls. Drums that give you a mechanistic beating beneath the efficient, predictable rhythm guitar progressions. That said, because the material seems so formulaic, the album does offer up a surprise or two, like how the morbid, Death-like guitar at the opening of "Splattered Remains" is slathered with this raucous, wailing, super-minimal lead. Or those evil, neolithic grooves in the belly of "Sadistic Butchery" which are inescapable. Mutilate knows the boundaries within which it works, and never stretches them to any appreciable degree, but between those lines they give you about as much punch as you would desire, without sounding too much like a copy.
Does this have a lot of lasting value, when you could go back and listen to the other albums from the era to which it aesthetically strives? Probably not. There are only a scant few catchy guitar parts, and there aren't quite enough atmospherics to bind it all together. The vocals could use a little more of a dynamic, evil range to them, and a few compelling bass lines would have gone a long way to help with that dingy, subterranean atmosphere which the material dwells upon the fringe of. It's a murky mix, but more like something from a sewer or back alley than an abandoned catacomb or a swamp. The themes go for the violent imagery and proto-brutality that the Death debut and its ilk carved out for the coming kingdom of death metal, but offer up nothing new in that sphere. But for all of its flaws and irritations, Tormentium is still an album which achieves that bare minimum of enjoyment, a thuggish approach to death-metal-that-was-and-will-be, a clubbing of the senses; so if you wish your extreme metal was forever stuck in a cycling time-loop of 1987, give it a listen.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
They waste absolutely no time proving themselves, with a delicious, driven, riff-packed opener in "Fugue Part 1: Every Time She Passes Away" which should satisfy a modernist black metal audience's craving for blasting footwork, volatile guitar progressions and tempo shifts between the traditional charging melodies and a more mid-paced, dissonant groove. The song even breaks into a near-tranquil passage of cleaner guitars near its mid-point, and proves a good qualifier for the range you're going to get throughout the album as a whole. It's also an exhibition of what is the most huge and 'accessible' studio production the group has yet achieved...perhaps not quite as absorbing for me as the more haunted Pillar of Detest, but certainly the most likely to pique the interest of those into modern black/death metal mixes liked you'd find on records by bands like Behemoth. The rhythm section is a virtual storm of energy, the bleeding tremolo picked guitar lines bright and sharp, and the vocals front and center, as they rasp and growl over the aggressive tectonics below.
While this album is stylistically consistent, it retains the band's general unpredictability. Overall, it seems like there is a lot of progressive rock or metal influence through some of the guitars, constantly merged to the faster drums or fits of intensity that break out all over the track list. But the two are so neatly intertwined together that they lack any sort of disparity or unpleasant contrast, it simply feels like these things have always been intrinsically linked. Atmospheres throughout are achieved solely through the guitars, without need for flighty orchestration or synthesized bombast...walls of spacious noise provide a backdrop when the band isn't bulldozing forward, and while the blackened extremity at the core of this experience is a constant, there's just no guessing exactly what is going to happen. I thought Moonreich really excelled here with the monolithic, middle-paced, lurching, dissonant rhythms in tracks like "With Open Throat for Way Too Long", or the thrilling "Heart Symbolism", melded seamlessly to the unforgiving blast beats, and with atonal, interesting notes flung all over the grooves to keep them compelling and not just banal mosh material.
But if you want something a little more patient, there's the incredible "Rarefaction" with its thick bass lines, hideous and evil harmonies, perhaps my single favorite cut on the whole disc, although it's hard to choose when they're just so on-fire. At points this album even has the potential to appeal beyond the black metal crowd into fans of progressive, heavier sludge, or dissonant metallic post-hardcore, sort of in the way Mörk Gryning's excellent, underrated, eponymous 2005 'swan song' came across; the riff selections are just that massive and open-minded, without betraying the band's blacker roots. Not every string of notes here is very memorable, but in terms of structure and balance this is just an expert exercise, with some killer lyrics to boot, and very cool Digibook packaging through Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions. Mildly less atmospheric than Pillar of Detest, and I might rate that album just a small fraction ahead of this one, but so much of that has to do with the production, which will appeal to some more than others. Fugue is straight to the face, high level French black metal that is well deserving of a nod alongside contemporaries Merrimack or Blut Aus Nord, and surely superior to a lot of the bigger name genre bands releasing records this year.
Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (inhale the vapor of lie)