Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whiplash - Ticket to Mayhem (1987)

I'd first like to note that Ticket to Mayhem is a great album title, and the cover art here is wonderful. I'd also like to state that this may just be the finest hour for New Jersey speedsters Whiplash. The later Insult to Injury had some excellent, memorable tracks, but this album is just so fast and fun, for the most part. As far as the band's career post-1990, let's NOT go there. I'll just say they played a lot of older material at gigs, and we'll leave it at that.

"Walk the Plank" is the first metal injection of the disc, and it's quite intense, catchy riffs like a wilder, uncouth Metallica meets Destruction. It's also called WALK THE PLANK. "Last Nail in the Coffin" mellows out for just a moment with some acoustics, before a string of power chords start alternating with acoustics and Tony Portaro's wicked vocals. Interesting to put a song like this so near the beginning of the album, but it's still pretty good (again, slightly akin to Metallica from the Ride the Lightning era). "Drowning In Torment" returns to a blood-crazed frenzy thrash barrage, breaking for speed riffing amidst the chug and crash of its verse rhythm. "Burning of Atlanta" has a slightly high seas metal feel, like the thrashier twin of Running Wild. "Eternal Eyes" incorporates some classic blues metal groove to its verse, quite cool. "Snake Pit" is one of those thrashers you don't forget because it's called SNAKE PIT, and also because of the fucking insanely fast picking riffs. "Spiral of Violence" revisits the acoustic intro, but it gets a lot heavier than "Last Nail in the Coffin". "Respect the Death" is an excellent track to lead out the metal festivities, though the album closes with another "Perpetual Warfare" dark ambient piece.

Ticket to Mayhem sounds as it should, razor sharp guitars playing quite fast through much of the material. Tony Bono (later of Into Another) is a good, fast bass player and keeps the single-minded shred of Tony Portaro anchored. The drums of Joe Cangolisi are energetic for their day, and all of this combined makes the album hold up well in today's metal clime. The lyrics are quite mediocre, but they suffice, as most of the songs are quite good. Definitely a nice American alternative to the wilder days of Kreator and Destruction, and perhaps what Metallica might have sounded like had they gone all balls out instead of the progressive, grounded thrash of ...And Justice for All.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(silence overcomes the court)


Vicious Rumors - Vicious Rumors (1990)

Another band that should have been far more successful than they were, California's Vicious Rumors started out on the Shrapnel/ Roadrunner imprint before landing a major label deal with Atlantic (resulting in two studio albums and a live). Though their second album Digital Dictator had been excellent, 1990's s/t effort was simply fantastic, the very peak of the band's career.

To describe their sound best, I'd have to say Vicious Rumors is a hybrid of early Testament (The Legacy/The New Order) and a touch of Metal Church in the vocals and riffs. Carl Albert has a tremendous voice, mid-ranged and melodic with an edge to it that won't disappoint fans of either power metal or thrash.

"Don't Wait for Me" throws the album immediately into cruise mode, total dark highway metal picking up right where Digital Dictator left off. Catchy melodic backups counter Albert during the bridge, before the explosive Don't! Don't wait for me! + GANG VOCALS! "World Church" barrels along a little more slowly, but strikes out again with an infectious chorus with gang shouts (this band has always had the huge catchy chorus down pat, even on the more recent albums). These are both great songs, but neither could prepare me for "On the Edge", which is simply put one of the most fantastic metal songs ever, with it unforgettable riffing and Carl Albert hits the ceiling to exclaim:

On the edge
Living faster you live
On the edge!


On the edge
Because you do it so well
On the edge!

I'd say stick a fork in me, but Vicious Rumors isn't finished yet. "Ship of Fools" creates an epic hard rock equation, it's almost like a power ballad but without the ballad or the suck. "Can You Hear It" once again creates hard rock bliss in a metal shell, with a chorus that one could easily imagine Rob Halford, Ronny James Dio or Ozzy belting out. "Down to the Temple" is a little heavier but keeps the same mid pace of the previous two tracks. Not to fear, the great acoustic intro of "Hellraiser" betrays a raging beast almost on par with "On the Edge".

I'm feeling razor sharp riding on the cutting edge.
I'm going back and forth raging like a lunatic
I'm going to do things like never before
Take the key and open the door
Break the rules my will is my way
Light my fuse I'm coming back for more
Take the life that runs in your veins and flow!

I wouldn't call them poetic or even good lyrically, but Vicious Rumors has that rare ability to make one shiver, to inspire and life affirm. The impact of each note and vocal line is extremely well plotted to evoke emotional response, or at the least, manic fist and headbanging. The scintillating acoustics of "Electric Twilight" yield to yet another of the album's speed metal massacres, "Thrill of the Hunt". The album ends on the aptly titled, if cheesy "Axe and Smash", which comes across as a fun hard rocker in NWOBHM tradition (melodic backup vocals and all) but with the harder edge of the rest of the album.

Vicious Rumors has that big budget 80s sound pat, everything on the album sounds fantastic and the vocals cut right through, part knife part red alert. The songs are uniformly fantastic, with the exception of maybe the middle tunes, of which one or two are simply 'very good'. The follow-up Welcome to the Ball has a similar style, but the songs are a little less exciting. If you've ever wanted to check this band out, start here. You won't be disappointed, or maybe you will be and then we've got a problem.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]
(a human machine, alive invincible)


Usurper - Skeletal Season (1999)

I'll admit it took me some years to come to an appreciation of Chicago's Usurper, but once arriving, I never left the terminal. Usurper is not a band that creates catchy metal-of-the-week. Their material simultaneously offers tribute to the early masters (Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Venom, etc) while forging a rather brutal path of its own. Big, chunky and unforgiving, Skeletal Season is one of those records that you come away thinking 'that was heavy as fuck'.

The band can hammer out slower paced, meaty aggression such as the opener "Shadowfiend" with its crusty Tom G. Warrior-inspired vocals, and then switch it up to a mix of black snarls and death grunts in "Dismal Wings of Terror". The rhythms are always composed simply, but little more is needed. The grandiose bludgeoning of the loud guitars fuzzed out to overdrive evokes more charisma than could be crafted through technical riffing. Title track "Skeletal Season" crunches forth a yawning, morbid doom over the minimal, sparse drumming. A 2-year old could write this song, yet...it fucking BRUISES like an outtake from Apocalyptic Raids once it picks up the pace. "Embrace of the Dead" creates grinding doom with guitars that sound slightly, charmingly out of tune. "Prowling Death (the Demigoddess)" creates a forward thrust like the grate of an 18-wheeler being introduced to your forehead at about 65mph. "Cemetarian" is another monument to crushing, sludgy black thrash metal, with some nice verse breaks where the distorted bass plods along effectively. "Brimstone Fist" is the blackest, most driving track on the record, and it all ends with "Wolflord", another Celtic Frost-inspired piece. Lyrically, the album is highly influenced by horror, sci-fi and nostalgia (similar to the Misfits but a little more supernatural).

Cemetery slaves
Children transfixed in horror
Lurking from the trees
At one with night's dead breeze

Descend your terror from the sky
Terrorizing human life

The mix of the album is loud and obnoxious, and it honestly wouldn't function any other way. The band did mature a little with later albums like Twilight Dominion and Cryptobeast, and those are arguably more memorable than this or the debut Diabolisis. However, there is a charm to the band's early discography which far predates the modern wave of retro worship. Surely, Usurper wore its influences on its sleeve, far before it was cool to do so. They were a consistent band in both the studio and their live performances, and an authentic footnote in the American metal landscape that will be missed (though they still perform on occasion).

Verdict: Win [8/10]
(rabid as a dog of war, hatred fucking me insane)


Timeghoul - Panaramic Twilight [DEMO] (1994)

Timeghoul was an obscure band from Missouri who released two demos in the 90s before calling a day. Thanks to the abundance of modern file sharing, the band has seen a resurgence in cult popularity, and rightly so. Their ability to incorporate multiple progressive elements and dense atmosphere into their death/doom core was quite ahead of its time, and in particular this 2nd demo Panaramic Twilight sounds great even by today's demo standards.

There are only two tracks here, but over 20 minutes of material. "Boiling in the Hourglass" undergoes much transformation over the 8+ minutes of its playtime. Within the first moment, it travels from spacy ambience to male chant choir to energetic, brutal death. The leadwork in this song shreds, but in particular I enjoyed the ringing, melodic doom structures that hover about the 6 minute mark. "Occurence on Mimas" is even lengthier, opening with some nice, doomy chords and haunting melodies. The track is a cornucopia of unrelenting riffs, again with some wild leads. You can hear everything from Suffocation to Deathrow's Deception Ignored within this band's sound, a great balance of knowing when to explode and restrain oneself, as if the track were telling a grand science fiction narrative (which it is, through the lyrics).

Panaramic Twilight is a demo, so don't expect the latest in high budget studio sound, even for its day. Nevertheless, it's very listenable by current standards, and I found this demo somewhat more entertaining than its predecessor Tumultous Travelings. Had Timeghoul continued beyond this, they would likely have garnered the attention they are getting these days, if not a lot more (and getting paid for it). Alas, it was not to be, but I shudder to think...if this band created this 15 years ago, just how intense and innovative would they be today?

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Sadus - Swallowed in Black (1990)

Sadus is best known for the exposure of shred bassist Steve DiGiorgio to the metal cosmos, but the band itself has produced some exciting material both in their early years and the occasional new efforts they release. Swallowed in Black was their brutal and frenetic sophomore album, and while it wasn't their most technical material, it's remained my favorite. Here the band walked the wild side of brusing Bay Area thrash, a blistering chokehold of suffocating speed, crisp guitars interplaying with DiGiorgio's clean yet prevalent bass tone.

"Black" leads the way with hyperventilating guitars and the despotic sneers of guitarist Darren Travis. Musically you can hear a little Slayer in the guitars, but the riffs are windier, a labyrinth of violent impulse. The chorus breakdown is just mean sounding in this track. "Man Infestation" misleads with some ambient tones while a slow, doomy picking serves as the undercurrent below some brutal vocals that continue to elevate over a slow fire until the band just kicks out the frenzy. "Last Abide" is another of the band's breakneck paced spitting thrash tracks, often manifesting the feel of Destruction's faster technical side. "The Wake" opens with a volley of great descending thrash riffs, while DiGiorgio plays. "In Your Face" is one of those extremely short track staples that plagued many a thrash album of the 80s. The riffs are exciting enough that I would have liked another minute or so of the song. Among Swallowed in Black's other strong tracks are the thrash juggernaut "Powers of Hate" and the furious "Arise" (the latter reminds me of what Kreator was doing this year with their masterpiece Coma of Souls.)

The album never struck me as having the best production values, but with this recent listen my opinion has shifted somewhat. The clean bass tones, crisp crunching guitars and live feel of the drums hold up fairly well, unobtrusive and possibly planned this way in advance. There are no fancy effects here, it's just a plug in and play speed/thrash metal album with an added flair for brutality. Though formed some years earlier, Sadus gained their momentum at the turn of the decade, when death metal was beginning to steal the spotlight from thrash. DiGiorgio and crew managed to fit snugly into both mediums, and Swallowed in Black was a worthy effort. It may lack truly memorable riffing, but the cruel vocals and boundless energy somewhat compensate.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (I'm dying for the chance to be)


Monday, June 29, 2009

Riot - Fire Down Under (1981)

Fewer bands have gone on as long for as little credit as New York's Riot. Formed in 1976, the band is now 33 years deep into its career and still producing classic heavy metal music. To put it simply: the UK had the NWOBHM (a myriad of legendary bands and a few thousand lesser knowns). We had Riot.

And you know something? It's a pretty fair trade off. While I generally think of 1988's power metal platter Thundersteel as the best of this band's albums, they have a pretty standout discography, especially their early offerings. Fire Down Under is Riot's third full-length, and a damn good one. I'd describe the band as Rush-like with an injection of classic British metal ala Judas Priest. Hard rocking rhythms and a great singer. Guy Speranza was the original vocalist and he's got a smooth, high tone without ever going off into the Halfordsphere.

"Don't Look Back" is an energetic array of triplets, big bluesy solos, and a great echo to the chorus, excellent night driving music for the highway. "Altar of the King" offers an acoustic intro before another swinging bar metal fest of groovy, Zeppelin-inspired rhythms. "Outlaw" is immensely kickass, one of the most memorable tracks of Riot's entire back log. Who could forget that guitar lick? Listen, you will know the one. "Swords & Tequila" also smites some tail. "No Lies" is a decent rocker feeling very much like Rush. "Run for Your Life" is another high speed (well, for 1981) racer to burn asphalt to.

Fire Down Under boasts another of those timeless mixes which will sound just as good in the year 2081 as 1981. Pure 70s vibrant energy, direct tone, shuffling drum, and vocals doused in just enough reverb to capitalize on Speranza's power, while easily reproducible live. The solo work on this record is bluesy and burning, and no song runs too long. It's a great heavy metal disc, a classic that any collector will proudly claim. Yeah, so we had only Riot and a few other bands here worth a damn during that early metal explosion. They delivered, and this is one of their best.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (spend some electric nights on the danger line)


Queensrÿche - The Warning (1984)

Imagine if you will, a time in which Seattle's Queensrÿche did not suck. I promise you, not only did this time exist, but it actually culminated in the masterpiece that was Operation: Mindcrime. Yes, the 'rÿche was once a metal band of some lordly caliber, and before Mindcrime produced an EP and two full-lengths of reasonable quality. The Warning was the first of these full-lengths, a tidy affair with all the groundwork being laid for the sadly short-lived, melodic power of their finest hours. Like the later Mindcrime, this album is a concept (environmentalism), but somewhat looser in its execution.

"Warning" is a suitable kick-off track, the vocals of Geoff Tate cutting through a sequence of well-laid chords like a knife. As with all the best work of this band, the melody is catchy and engaging while retaining a core simplicity. Graceful fills and powerful chords resound in fist pumping anthem after anthem. "En Force" is even better, with a fantastic intro that conjures a morose glory. The verse riffs are excellent Maiden-esque melodies, and this track alone is certainly better than anything the band recorded post-1988. "Deliverance" is EVEN BETTER, and here the band is channeling that narrative pulse that drives Operation: Mindcrime. "No Sanctuary" opens with mellow tones of acoustic guitar and overarching melodies, but before you can scream "Silent Lucidity" 3x the power kicks in. "NM 156" is another driving anthem. "Take Hold of the Flame" is similar to "No Sanctuary" though the intro has a great swell of Tate's vocals. "Before the Storm" and "Child of Fire" are both engaging spikes of classic 80s melodic metal, with resolute choice in chords and soaring vocal hooks. "Roads to Madness" is the epic finale, almost 10 minutes of blissful prog metal with orchestral touches (orchestration on the album is conducted by Michael Kamen).

The Warning is not nearly as perfect or powerful as its successors. Rage for Order is far more virulent and Operation: Mindcrime is...well, unsurpassed. But it's a mirror into an age when certain bands embraced the metal: big hair, big hooks, and drum cages. Even in 1984, Queensrÿche was espousing their thoughtful diatribe into concept albums that were far more interesting than the 'HAIL METAL SOLDIERS' ethos of the period, and they were quick to earn the 'thinking man's metal' tag post- their fairly average s/t EP. It's a damned shame metal music, which earned the band its place in the spotlight to begin with, is no longer important to this band.

Verdict: Win [8/10]
(back from beyond to rule again)


Prong - Force Fed (1988)

Straight up sewercore. How else would one describe the first few albums of New York's legendary crossover outfit Prong? Many might favor the more thrash-lite polish of Beg to Differ, or the later, industrial metal infusion that the band has used from the early 90s to the present day, but their second album Force Fed is arguably the strongest output of their career. Combine the proto-thrashcore of their debut Primitive Origins with a bristling sewage distortion and an unbelievable array of riffs, and you've got another convincing reason why 1988 was the strongest year in history for metal music.

"Freezer Burn" creates immediate immersion into the drains and back alley lowlight, lowlife world of Prong. Bursts of memorable thrash riffing, with an almost playful overtone below the blunt vocals of Tommy Victor. This is the classic lineup: Kirkland's muddy, efficient bass, Victor's savage riffing and the drum barrage of Ted Parsons. "Forgery" is a morbid and inviting fusion of NYHC and a wastrel-like, almost early Voivod vocal pattern. "Senseless Abuse" is a strong, memorable thrasher, with both a doomy breakdown and a killer death metal bridge riff! "Aggravated Condition" is another fetchy thrasher, surprising how much the riffs evoke the perfect atmosphere for the subject matter.

Squeeze the abcess, squirting release
Press past dry, meanwhile reinfect
Breaks out again, no callous forms
From scratching the scab
Worsen the eventual scar

Did someone just make poetry out of a boil or zit? I believe so. "The Coliseum" is a drudging, dirty instrumental track which creates epic imagery through the slow pace of its riffs and drums, and the distorted angst layered across. "Decay" is another wild thrashcore slugfest with obvious pit implications. "It's Been Decided" is another instrumental, and perhaps too soon, but the riffs are once again catchy. For the remainder of the album, "Bought and Sold" rules, "The Taming" is another track that reminds of a more hardcore version of early Voivod, and "Look Up at the Sun" has some of the catchies riffs on the album behind Victor's thoughtful grunts.

Look up at the sun, turning
Eleven thousand degrees, burning
There's no siren, no fireman
Is it night or day, ninety three million miles away
He's got a gun, pulled out from behind
A thousand mistakes, generalizations
He was beyond reason
He fired three shells
He fired three shells
He fired three shells

Did 80s thrash/hardcore have any right to be so poetic? Apparently so.

Force Fed is suitably primal, with one of the best 'raw' mixes in thrashistory. The guitars blister and scream, the bass is suitably dense and distorted, the vocals seem to cascade about in their claustrophobic conditions, yet with the firm New York gruffness. Riff for riff, this is superior to any other Prong album, but not the only I'd recommend (Beg to Differ and Rude Awakening are their other finest hours, but you can't go wrong with many of their efforts). It's a unique and inspired blend of extreme music genres with an intriguing subterranean atmosphere. This doesn't capture the tough guy streets of the city, but the thriving lifeline of its bowels, where all the piss and poop is washed away with so much of the metropolis' memories and detritus.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10] (systematic self interest)


Obituary - Cause of Death (1990)

Obituary is another case of a killer beginning and no follow-through, despite their rather deep legacy. To be fair, their live shows are quite kick ass and they had a smattering of decent tracks on the albums World Demise and Back from the Dead. But their recent work leaves much to desire, a dull retread of ideas that the band already mastered on the only efforts that really mattered: Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death. The former is a legend of the death metal genre; it may seem silly these days, but Slowly We Rot was all the talk of the town when it first dropped, for the unbelievable vomit soaked vocals of John Tardy and the guttural violence of the Slayer/ Hellhammer influenced guitar work. Cause of Death was actually restrained by comparison, but the style remained intact, and the writing more effective and 'mature'. It remains my absolute favorite of this Florida execution squad.

"Infected" begins with a brief industrial repetition before evoking a wall of slow, gloomy chords. Haunting leads strike off like matches to the 'swing' of the grim atmosphere. Then the song begins to grind and Tardy emits his horrific and awesome vocals, easily among the best of the death metal pioneers and remaining so (the order of the day seems to be out-gutturalizing the rest of the scene, yet Tardy is still heavier than all these fuckwits combined). There are points where his voice will just merge into the carnal landscape of slight leads and the effect is entirely creepy. "Body Bag" follows with a catchy thrash riff and excellent vocal pattern, then the bluesy bridge. Obituary can easily evoke doom-like power in the simplicity of a few chords, and frankly were at their best when doing so. Tardy's presence just makes it all the more volatile. "Chopped in Half" uses a vocal pattern to create the mid-paced, desolate forward lurch of its cumbersome heaviness. The cover of "Circle of the Tyrants" here is one of the best Celtic Frost tributes I've heard, taking the original of Tom G. Warrior & crew to the next logical conclusion. It's also fitting because Hellhammer/Celtic Frost is a tremendous influence on the riffing of Trevor Peres (the restless guitar mercenary James Murphy also performs on this album). "Dying" has a strong flow and groove to it, while "Find the Arise" once again makes great use of a vocal intro to lead the wave of destruction. The title track is another of the slow death/doom variety, with a great thrash pick up and perfect death metal chorus.

Yet, the best song here and my favorite Obituary piece has to be "Memories Remain". It has a similar structure to "Cause of Death" but creates the most amazing fucking death/doom atmosphere during the chorus, as Tardy grunts Life goes on... even after death... life goes on. The leads are shrill and expertly delivered, and this song is really the very definition of 'death metal'. Evil and brooding without needing even the trace of complexity. "Turned Inside Out" is actually another great track to close out the album, with some catchy chug and groove.

Cause of Death sounds deep and menacing, the perfect accompaniment to an evening in the morgue. The lyrics are vague and minimal, and honestly, all that is required here. Imagine the bodies of murder victims rotting in the steam of the Florida night. Imagine you can polymorph these visions into actual music. Voila: I give to you Obituary, circa 1990. Cause of Death (and it's predecessor Slowly We Rot) is one of the true classics of USDM, coming right at the 'cut off' of the earliest years for this now oversaturated genre. It sounds every bit as vibrantly evil and threatening as it was almost 20 years ago, and belongs in the collection of every death maven who doth not reek of poseur.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]
(dissection of the light)


Nuclear Assault - The Plague EP (1987)

Nuclear Assault was one of the more exciting New York contestants in the thrash Olympics of the 80s, in particular the body of work incorporating their first three albums, after which the quality of their songs fizzled (not to mention the abysmal joke of a comeback album Third World Genocide they put out a few years back). The Plague is an EP they released between the great Game Over and the thrash-ter-piece Survive, and notable for continuing their brash and noisy industrial grade thrash assault, as well as the great, mellowing title track.

Instrumental "Game Over" kicks off the album with some simple, flowing chops, the song could easily have had lyrics and fit in with Survive or Handle With Care. "Nightmares" is a quality rager, and as usual it features the bands bright, boundless energy exploding around a traditional NWOBHM/speed metal foundation. "You Figure It Out" is mediocre at best, an increasingly speedy crossover punk/thrashcore piece with goofy lyrics. Thankfully the band returns to what is important for the remainder, and the 2nd haf of the EP is superior, in part due to Connelly's memorable vocals. "Justice" is a pensive thrust of speed verses spiced up with some gladiatoral riffs. "The Plague" is the slowest track here, with a doom/thrash overtone, but ultimately very catchy even as Connelly's vocals soar close to off-key when he tries to up his register. "Cross of Iron" is the best of the faster material on the EP, summoning forth the iron gang locomotive of the band's better full-length material.

Sound-wise The Plague is similar to any of their other late 80s fare. A bright but noisy mix, guitars reverberating forth as they energetically infuse classic metal riffing with a caustic edge. Connelly's unique, torn sounding vocals remained intact here and are one of the true distinctions of the band. The material is dark and consistent, with the final three tracks dominating in quality. "You Figure it Out" is pretty stupid, but everything else is worth hearing.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
(a science against life)


Morbid Angel - Domination (1995)

When discussing the back log of the influential Morbid Angel, I'm often surprised that Domination is typically held in low regard. Though I'm a huge fan of their debut Altars of Madness, fan favorites Blessed Are the Sick and Covenant held very little of interest to me. When their fourth album Domination arrived, I was hesitant to take the plunge, what with its gaudy cover art, but it's turned out to be Morbid Angel's most interesting album, a slab of sludgy yet complex death metal with memorable songwriting. It transports their core of dense riffing and infernal drum battery into a realm of sadistic grooves and sinister tones. These days, when desiring a fix from this Floridian staple, more often than not I will reach for this album over any other.

Opener "Dominate" is not a far cry from the material on Covenant, a blasting frenzy which suffers from a slightly dull verse but makes up for it through its bridge and chorus thrashing and sick leads. David Vincent's vocals are incredible on this album: truly dense and brutal in a way the band had not yet manifested. "Where the Slime Live" may be a silly title, but the song is simply phenomenal with its deep, wrenching grooves over Pete Sandoval's apocalyptic levels of double bass, and its simultaneously anti-Christian, anti-political lyrics. Mythos-inspired "Eyes to See...Ears to Hear" is one better, and perhaps my favorite Morbid Angel track aside from "Chapel of Ghouls". The choral verse is fucking incredible, and Vincent is just VULGAR sounding, it's as if he has transc...descended into one of the Elder Gods the band is so fond of in their lyrics.

Worlds apart are they and I
My world remains in sight
Their lives - despair

The "I's" and "They's" cannot compare

I should also note the amazing guitar work of this track, both the rhythms and leads are among the best constructed of the band's entire catalog. "Melting" is a brief instrumental featuring some hints at deep cult chanting and bombastic synths, which is followed by the intense "Nothing but Fear", another platter of winding, dense rhythm and the 'swampy' sound permeating much of this material. "Dawn of the Angry" features some blistering axework and utter brutality which should appeal to those who worshiped the previous album. Ditto for "This Means War", with a rhythm not unlike "Eyes to See...", only cranked in velocity. "Caesar's Palace" is another of the album's best, with a wondrous, morbid and majestic intro segment before the slow pummelling grooves of the main body. "Dreaming" is another of the bombastic synth instrumentals which do well to pace the record, and "Inquisition (Burn With Me)" is unflinchingly riff-tastic. "Hatework" combines dark atmospheres such as strikes of a bell into its epic, abyssal composition, to close the album with class.

The atmosphere and production on Domination is phenomenal, something the band has never so brilliantly captured on their other output. Formulas Fatal to the Flesh took this 'swampy' Everglades feel of death metal to a further extreme, but simply failed to deliver any quality songs (in my opinion it's horrid and the worst of their offerings). But the grim luster of this 1995 morass sounds perfect today. It's really a shame this wasn't a bigger splash for the band. It sold fairly well but didn't receive the critical acclaim it deserved. I'm not sure a lot of fans who were expecting another blast fest quite understood it. The thing is, it's STILL a blast fest, Morbid Angel 100% through and through, but the cohesive and sludgy groove of the material makes it truly stand out. There are one or two tracks which slack behind as far as memorable writing, at least in part, but the rest of the album is surely the stuff of cosmic cult horror.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]
(might and splendor forever return)


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Flotsam and Jetsam - Doomsday for the Deceiver (1986)

There isn't much a local metal scene in Phoenix. Dave Mustaine has a house in the area. Other than that there are a number of terrible tough guy metalcore bands and a few experimental acts that are never going anywhere. Fortunately back in the 80s we had Flotsam and Jetsam. While they are still kicking around somewhere they released their best work back then and their debut Doomsday for the Deceiver is a record for any thrash fan's collection.

It is difficult to avoid comparisons to Metallica with this album, not just because Newsted is on bass, but rather because it really feels like a follow-up to Kill 'Em All. Almost as if this was another path that the band could have taken. Eric Knutson sounds like a 1983 Hetfield: young, angry and willing to shred his vocals chords on a number of chilling screams.

Most of the songs are uncomplicated but they have a couple of longer numbers including the title track and the next song "Metalshock." "Doomsday for the Deceiver" was likely conceived after Flotsam and Jetsam heard "Fade to Black." Following a somewhat similar intro it gets much thrashier and features some of the slickest riffs on the album.

Flotsam and Jetsam are at their best on songs like "Desecrator" and "Hammerhead": fast as you can picking, complimented alternately by punishing riffs and shredding solos, which are in turn punctuated by screams, wails and whatever other utterances Knutson can manage.

Doomsday for the Deceiver is a solid example of the genre, but I'd definitely only recommend it to fans that have consumed the more popular offerings and are looking for more.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Lizzy Borden - Visual Lies (1987)

There are a few things one has to take into account to avoid an immediate bias against Lizzy Borden. For one, they were 'glam' in the sense that they wore big hair and trashy 80s metal gear like Kiss or Poison. Second, they were a very theatrical band, and they liked their women in leather with hair as big as their own. Third, Lizzy himself, the vocalist, has a voice which can sooth like a crystal scream or wail like a siren, an obstacle for some.

That being said, they are one of the best metal bands ever produced in the United States of America, with a pretty spotless discography. With all that hairspray, I didn't want to believe it either. Sitting at the peak of this body of work, alongside the rock opera of Master of Disguise, is the excellent Visual Lies. This record has a lot in common with Menace to Society or Love You to Pieces, but it's got a cleaner, accessible sound that in no way hinders the marvelous songwriting.

Every track on the album is loaded with memorable riffs and charming vocal melodies. The guitars are expertly crafted: every hook, every melody, every lead, no wasted notes. "Me Against the World" is power metal lite, deriving its energy from the constant, steady thump of its rhythm guitars and big NWOBHM chorus. In fact, Lizzy's entire style is like a beautiful dedication to the masters of NWOBHM who paved the road for 80s hard rock. "Shock" is another another mid paced track with the huge vocal hooks and delicate, memorable guitars. "Outcast" starts with a great riff, and slows for an emotional, acoustic verse. This verse alone has better vocals in it than many bands have on their entire records...and of course, another of those amazing chorus hooks that should have ensured this band would have dominated radio play if the $$ weren't changing hands for other bands to do so. "Den of Thieves" picks up speed at just the right time on the record, and the guitar work during the verse is simply stunning, with some kickass leads to boot. This is one of my hands-down favorite Lizzy tunes, and for the power metal's fans time and money, the one you want to hear the most on this album.

She's a harlot, she holds the key
She's never free, she's a good time
What you see is a slice of the knife
A piece of life in a heartbeat

The title track "Visual Lies" uses some gentle melodic picking lines to create an incredible atmosphere before the swollen, glorious vocal hooks that could easily have given Cinderella or Def Leppard a run for their money. "Eyes of a Stranger" may not be the equal to Queensryche's track of the same name, but it's an excellent melodic mid paced fist pumper. "Lord of the Flies" once again picks up the pace for some more extremely memorable speed metal. It's almost a shame that so many of the songs on the album are slower, not that they're bad by any means, but it would have been a pleasure to hear an entire album where Gene Allen and Joe Holmes were allowed to just go off. "Voyeur (I'm Watching You)" also has some delightful licks but based off more of a blues hard rock vibe. The album ends with the great "Visions" and its swinging hooks and rollicking percussion.

Visual Lies is easily the best produced album of 1987, I don't hear many albums in the 21st century that come close to sounding this good. Every note is at the perfect level and no element of the music dominates another. With a vocalist this graceful and talented, that's not an easy feat. The guitarwork deserves an award for both its restraint and the sheer amount of quality found in every track. This album is a major achievement and it's a crime the band doesn't get the credit it deserves. While not as directly heavy, the material is easily as catchy as a Primal Fear or Hammerfall, in fact it's superior.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (the night is so black, I wait to attack)


Kublai Khan - Annihilation (1987)

Kublai Khan were another of those one-shot thrash hopefuls of the 80s to feature the former member of a more successful band. A small amount of buzz, a single album, and then nothing. In this case it was Greg Handevidt, an early member of Megadeth, who performs both guitar and vocals on this release.

Annihilation is not so bad though. It has that rough and rugged, dirty speed metal aesthetic which a lot of bands are emulating these days on principal alone. "Death Breath" is a pretty exciting tune, you can hear a little Celtic Frost in the opening riff, then pure Bay Area-style speed not unlike Death Angel. "Mongrel Horde" opens with a pretty cool melodic thrash riff, then the band breaks into some blistering speed. Handevidt's vocals are pretty demented, and the manly backups give the impression of...well...an American thrash band trying to emulate a mongrel horde! The breakdown at the 1:20 mark is sick and would have created some great mosh pit memories. "Down to the Inferno" again reminds me of Celtic Frost with its classy descending into chord pattern, but the lead is extraneous and the rest of the song is fairly weak. "Liars Dice" is a nice exercise in sheer filth and speed, and the epic "Passing Away/Kublai Khan" has more than enough bang for the buck. "Clash of the Swords" is a mean spirited shredder with some killer riffs, it is likely my favorite tune on the album. "Battle Hymn (The Centurian)" begins with a very awkward 'Hello' before transforming into another flurry of venomous speed dirt.

To many, the album will sound like crap after all these years, but if you're a little less demanding than the average corn fed Dethklok nutter you will appreciate the raw production for what it was. Hell, half the metal bands around today are trying to emulate this primal naughtiness, whereas back in the day it was just a lack of budget. Annihilation is a decent record for its time, and despite some thin drumming and a weaker tune, purists may derive some enjoyment, especially those who worship Kill 'Em All or Killing is My Business.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (dust on the horizon)


Juggernaut - Baptism Through Fire (1986)

Juggernaut was a pretty crunchy thrash/speed metal band out of Texas, who released two albums in the 80s and was probably most known for having Bobby Jarzombek (Halford, Demons & Wizards, Spastic Ink, Riot, among others) on drums. Of the two, the debut Baptism Under Fire was the better.

The band's style was distinct for me because the bass was very prominent in the mix, running toe to toe with the guitar work. Harlan Glenn also had a pretty interesting vocal style, he could do the melodic mid-range but also had this almost caricature of a sneer which creates some entertaining moments on the record.

"Impaler" starts with some nice clean guitar tones before ripping into the band's noodling, percussive speed metal. You'll notice Eddie Katilus' sporadic but fun lead work which often bursts out when you aren't expecting it. As mentioned, Scott Womack is a skilled bassist and he's running circles around the rest of the band during the rhythm sections. He kicks off "Slow Death" with a flurry before the thrash triplets begin their pumping. This is one of the more memorable tracks on the album. "Cast the Stone First" is a bit more of a traditional melodic metal track. As for the remainder of the album, we get a few passable tunes like "Cut Throat", the tranquil "Purgatory's Child" or the raging, thrashing "Blizzards".

I can't say the album holds up very well, but certainly more than Trouble Within. Although Baptism Through Fire has a few vaguely memorable tracks and scattered moments of refinement, there is a sloppiness created not by a lack of musical talent, but by the occasional uneccessary displays of said talent. "Slow Death" and a few other tunes are worth hearing if you dig old school thrash, and Juggernaut certainly had a sound of their own. Fans of Megadeth and other sneering thrash bands might enjoy the charismatic vocals. I've never loved the album and nostalgia hasn't weathered my feelings.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
(keep your distance)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Into Another - Seemless (1995)

Into Another were never quite a 'metal' band, but there are more than enough elements in common to appeal to those seeking heavier, melodic and original material. It's arguably the heaviest album (and last released full-length) from the band, even moreso than the doomy s/t debut and the folkish, acoustic laden Ignaurus. Many would argue that Ignaurus was their best, but I happen to enjoy Seemless for its space rocking attitude and graceful melodic hooks, not to mention the addition of layered vocal production for Richie Birkinhead (formerly of hardcore heroes Youth of Today and Underdog). And unlike the Poison Fingers Ep, this major label debut thankfully drops the annoying vegetarian angst for a set of songs dealing in personal relationships.

Birkinhead's vocals are quite sensual on this album, and by sensual I mean girls fucking love him. However, despite many of the bands' original fanbase, I would not qualify Into Another as an 'emo' band (in the original sense of the term, not the cheapened cultural internet 'meme'). Seductive and melodic, but never do they sound like some shitty indie rock band over-indulgently obsessing over their high school crushes. Seemless is a pretty, shiny sound, but it speaks to the soul, not the cosmetics compact.

"Mutate Me" opens with bouncing, throbbing bass guitar courtesy of Tony Bono (formerly of thrashers Whiplash and now, sadly deceased). Peter Moses is like a Tom Morello of space rock, alternating between chords and all manner of wah-wah, scratching and whatever basically works in the song. Drummer Drew Thomas (also of a classic hardcore band, Bold) keeps the pace with some killer beats, far better than what you'd hear on the average heavy radio rock record. "Locksmiths & Lawyers" dives right back in, a driving rock track with ethereal, beautiful chorus vocal melody. "T.A.I.L." crawls along with a pumping rhythm as Birkinhead weaves the tale of a disaffected relationship. "Getting Nowhere" starts gently with some catchy lyrics before busting into a heavy rock chorus with, once again, killer vocals.

Monarchs and heads of state, rarely stay up late, that's why their healthy, wealthy and wise

The title track "Seemless" is one of my favorites here, a heavier track akin to something you'd find on Voivod's Angel Rat, aside from the obvious vocals. Chords jangle to create a somber, descending melancholy. "Actual Size" is possibly the worst track here, namely because of the repetition of Ego Ego during the chorus. The verses are light and plucky and not so bad. "For a Wounded Wren" is a beautiful little ballad, good to make the girlys squeal and the bois effeminate. After this we get back to some power. "After Birth" plods and grooves over its flowing bass and pensive lyrics until exploding into another chorus just as catchy as "Seemless" and "Getting Nowhere". "Regarding Earthlings" is another great melodic rock song loaded with hooks, and some of the best lyrics on the album, especially some of your children are vampires. I love that part. "May I" is really dreamy and sappy like Elvis, another of the tracks I tend to skip. Ditto for "The Way Down", though I do like where it picks up.

This was a major label debut for Into Another and it definitely sounds like it. All the instruments are accessible and in particular the vocals shine, Birkinhead sounds wonderful when he's doubling his tracks or singing off himself in multiple registers. Though much of the album has held up over the years, there are a few songs which simply do not live up to the rest. The two tracks "All the Way Rider" and "Anne Dreud's Last Entry" on the T.A.I.L. single were quite good and would have been better choices for the album than the drippy "May I" or "Actual Size". But for the other 6-7 excellent songs, this is worth hunting down, if you're in the mood for something catchy and accessible without turning on the shit on your FM radio.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (minds at rest tend to stay that way, so stay wide awake)


Hexx - Under the Spell (1986)

Before Hexx transformed into a hybrid of Bay Area speed and old school death, they released a pair of great 80s speed/thrash/power metal albums that were unfortunately overlooked in the Golden Age explosion. Heavy riffs, memorable chorus hooks and an astute sense of melodic craftmanship are hallmarks of Under the Spell, their second full-length. This honestly fits right in with most of the Shrapnel records roster of the day, such as Chastain or Apocrypha, but the band I'd most closely compare this album to would be the great Vicious Rumors, who share the same guitar heavy styles and harsh but well rounded vocals.

Granted, '86 was a difficult year to stand out, a year in which Master of Puppets, Somewhere in Time, Reign in Blood and others were gaining enormous popularity and reshaping the metal landscape forevermore. But I have to hand it to Hexx, they released a damn fine album. Just listen to the opening track "Hell Riders", with its dominating leads and entirely kick ass, rocking rhythm guitars. The song is fucking intense, you can close your eyes and immediately envision a gang of leather bound rebels riding motorcycles straight out of the abyss while thunder and lightning tear the sky. Extremely catchy song. And it's not the only one... "A Time of War" chugs forth with a great little melody picked through the powerful chords, then breaking out into a catchy sequence of power/thrash rhythm. Dan Bryant's vocals soar over the track as if they were a fiendish collabration between Udo Dirkschneider and Carl Albert. "Edge of Death" cuts like a blade, the guitar tone is excellent, like every other track. "The Victim" crashes through the night sky with a bouncy, juggling rhythm that would be the perfect fit for two guitarists shaking their axes back and forth in syncopation (total Judas Priest-like). For other highlights...well, there's the rest of the fucking album. Have at it!

As I mentioned, the guitars sound superb on this record. The drums are clamorous and crashing, the bass thick and present, and the vocals mesh right in, though they seem slightly loud, it doesn't distract from the excellent tone. Perhaps it's just the impact of "Hell Riders", but I like to think if I ever bought a motorcycle this would be one of the default albums I'd be playing, especially at night on a California highway. Alright, so I'm projecting. And since I'm projecting, I project that if you track down this album you will not disappointed unless you are a fool.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


Goatwhore - Carving Out the Eyes of God (2009)

Goatwhore has always been a unique entity, a Louisiana band that forsakes the excessive doom and sludge of its peers (Eyehategod, Soilent Green, Acid Bath, etc) even with some of their members in the very ranks. What comes out of the speakers is a blend of thrash, death, and black metal with an old school hardcore energy (and I mean that in a positive way). Previous albums Funeral Dirge for the Rotting Sun and A Haunting Curse were very impressive offerings that earned the band some just notoriety. While fourth effort Carving Out the Eyes of God hasn't impressed me nearly so much as their prior efforts, it's a solid album with no lack for trying.

"Apocalyptic Havoc" breaks out into a pure speed/thrash metal chop, almost like older Cowboys from Hell Pantera meets thrashier Motorhead. Although the energy and lyrics might get the infernal blood pumping, only one or two of the riffs stand out, the rest is forgettable. "The All Destroying" is a little blacker, with Zack Simmons' punishing, unending kit destruction and some melodic, charging riffs, but it still has a few of the simpler hardcore meets speed black riffs like the first track. The title track follows, with a slightly more death metal structure, start/stop brutality. It's actually the strongest track up to this point in the record. "Shadow of a Rising Knife" is very hardcore, with an anger not uncommon in the old NYHC scene, but still some thrashier metal riffs to break it down. "Provoking the Ritual of Death" is boring and chuggy, the slowest track on the first half of the record, though it does feature some melodic black breaks. A few later tracks on the album stand out. "Reckoning of the Soul Made Godless" has a hyper-Obituary feel to it incorporating some hardcore-meets-death metal groove, and "This Passing Into the Power of Demons" is frenetic roadkill aggression.

The production of Carving Out the Eyes of God is a well-balanced attack, all the instruments and vocals sound great in the mix. The guitars roil in a fuzz reminiscent of Hellhammer, though this band is obviously far faster and more technical. Ben Falgoust II's vocals are harsh barks that sound simultaneously 'tough' and blackish without ever sinking to the level of metalcore garbage. Lyrically the band delves into the occult, which often feels unusual since the style of the band is largely associated with more social themes. This is nothing new for Goatwhore, and it's a praiseworthy distinction rather than a negative. The lyrics are actually decent. Sadly I didn't enjoy Carving Out the Eyes of God all that much. Stylistically it's not a huge departure from the previous efforts, but there were fewer memorable riffs here than I could count on one hand. The album is truly pit ready, and fans of their ability to mesh multiple styles into one cohesive package may find more here than I could. I will stick to their earlier releases.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (welcome this dread of unknowing)


Fates Warning - The Spectre Within (1985)

There are two fairly distinct phases of Fates Warning to note. In the early years, primarily with John Arch on vocals (and ending with 1988's No Exit, the debut of Ray Alder in the band), they created classic, riff-heavy compositions in the vein of melodic speed metal with a dash of Maiden. Starting with Perfect Symmetry, a more mechanical, progressive entity took form. While this latter phase produced some interesting and memorable albums (Perfect Symmetry, Parallels, Inside Out), it is the classic Fate's Warning which I hold most dear. There is something truly atmospheric about their first three albums. 1984's Night On Bröcken was a solid debut with a few catchy pieces, but it's follow-up The Spectre Within is not only the finest album in the band's career...but one of the greatest melodic metal albums ever to emerge from the US of A.

Each of the seven tracks on Spectre creates a bold narrative vision, laden in the mystique of carefully plotted compositions and the haunting keen of John Arch. Outside of the music of Fate's Warning, one might find Arch annoying at best, but within the milieu of old, haunted speed metal landscapes, he shines like a fallen God. "Traveler in Time" creates a panorama of flowing bass and insanely catchy riffing which foreshadows their later, progressive work. The track also features some creepy acoustic segments with amazing vocal lines, bells, drumming, unbelievably awesome. "Orphan Gypsy" is powerful and sad, glistening melodies atop its forceful, circular intro riffing. The speed metal of the verse is amazing, but again, this band wrote riffs like no other, you can alreaady hear the adventurous nature the band would channel for the remainder of its career, even though the enveloping composition is somewhat traditional. The lyrical skill of this band was nearly unparalleled in its day, almost poetic.

Young warrior to the drunken galley slave, running with the wind running wayward knave I'm a vagabond with a maëlstrom mind, my blood has left me behind So go away, leave me alone, if you look in my eyes you see only stone I won't let you in, I can lock you out, in your world, your fallacy, I don't want desolate island debris

Just when you thought you were losing yourself in the high mystique of The Spectre Within, it moors you back to Earth with a pair of pure metal ragers. "Without a Trace" features a lick Iron Maiden only WISHED they came up with, and "Pirates of the Underground" is simply incredible, with a gung ho vibe to its volley of riffs, an almost doom/speed hybrid in its verse. "Apparition" has Arch at his best, the vocal melodies are inescapably memorable, and the riffs plod along with limitless grandeur. "Kyrie Eleison" opens with some chanting and then proceeds to create moody atmospheric doom the likes of many others only dream of conjuring, before the amazing verse riffing picks up speed. The epic length album closer "Epitaph" runs nearly 12 minutes length, and never grows dull. 12 minutes of perfection, from the monolithic doomy intro riff to the flourish of proggish synthesizers in the closing seconds. At this point you know you've been on quite the journey, once the album ends you can return to the world of sunshine.

The Spectre Within has a timeless production, the album has never become dated, except in the technical sense. This is a testament to the superb quality of every second of riffing on the disc. There are no weak tracks, no boring moments, and nothing even bordering on 80s cheese. The album is dark and serious, haunting and morose, with only a smattering of fist pumping metal excitement on "Without a Trace" and "Pirates of the Underground". This is one of the very best releases of classic American metal, and one of the best for Metal Blade/Restless. Yes, despite the rash of trendy modern signings the label has made to stay afloat in this tasteful era, they were once the mightiest label around, with a roster of legends. Fate's Warning is surely one of those legends, and this album represents their finest hour.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (defective unit on the street tonight, he hunts the weak and clips its wings)


Exhumed - Slaughtercult (2000)

Exhumed, along with Impaled, are essentially the bastard Californian children of the great Carcass. While the latter may emulate the original a little more safely, Exhumed take the dual guttural/snarl vocals and apply them to a lot more 'thrust' in the music. This is fast, furious, vitriol, like a morbid butcher in a rush to clean up the body parts of his latest 'works' before the authorities arrive. Grinding, brutal guitars are not entirely void of melody, and each track on Slaughtercult is a veritable riff slugfest of undeniable pathos. Their second full-length effort, it managed to destroy Gore Metal in all conceivable ways and wound up one of the best death metal albums of Y2K.

This is just one of those unrelenting death metal events which remains entertaining throughout its entire playlength. Most of the 13 tracks clock in around the 2-3 minute mark, the perfect length to get you excited, rev your bonesaw, inject the formaldehyde, molest the corpse, and get the hell out of Dodge. The immediate one-two knockout punch of "Decrepit Crescendo" and "Forged in Fire (Forged in Flame)" is the aural equivalent of a nuclear explosion in your pants. Violent orgasms of spasming, grinding riffage and carnal lyricism.

Scalding and melding her minge
Smell the acid reek of pubic hair singed...
Melt and weld...Raze and smelt
Blistering crotch...Searing hot...

OUCH. "A Lesson in Pathology" once again features great grinding rhythms over the dual bludgeoning throats of Matt Harvey and Mike Beams, and the explosive leadwork is just awesome. "This Axe Was Made to Grind" is pretty much a metaphor for the entire career of this excellent band. "Carnal Epitaph" shows a slight Necroticism/Heartwork influence in its cold but full riffing. "Dinnertime in the Morgue" is simply superb, rarely have I heard cannibalistic grinding death of such intense quality. There is not a stinker in this bunch, unless you mean the stink of corpses, of which there are plenty available to play with. Other choice tracks on this morguenum opus include "Fester Forever", "Slave to the Casket" and "Funeral Fuck".

Eat, drink, and be merry
For tomorrow we die
Meat is just flesh, only temporary
On its pulpous provisions we dine
A carnal cornucopia
Of maturating bowels and offal
The bitter rasp of decay`s pungent taste
Permeates every putrid mouthful

Slaughtercult sounds insanely good even by modern standards. Perfect grinding tones over slightly lower drums in the mix than usual, but this is what creates the punishing sound. The vocals, though totally Carcass clones, create an added layer of percussion. The guitars slay, and not simply because of their aggression, but the amount of quality riffing interweaved with the forward propulsion. If you can sit or stand still while listening to this album, you are out of order. A robot. Exhumed is a whirlwind of chainsaw bliss, worthy of any mortician's meatpile. Like the yeast on a cadaver's nethers, it grows finer with age.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]
(so many bits and pieces)


Deceased - The 13 Frightened Souls EP (1993)

Though they've evolved into the perfect vessel of NWOBHM-inspired melodic heavy metal meets filthy speed/thrash, Deceased started their career with a noticeably more death metal leaning. Granted, this has never quite escaped their sound, the influence of the prototype death metal acts (Possessed, etc) will always have its place in their writing. On the heels of their debut full-length, Luck of the Corpse, the band released this fine EP, which includes a few tracks from their 1989 Nuclear Exorcist demo and a cover of "Voivod".

The title track leads off the EP with a blistering, fast paced thrashing/death anthem oozing with filth. King Fowley's voice is unmistakable for its tortured, full tone. The guitars are crisp and, while the riffs aren't extremely catchy like on later Deceased albums, they are more than sufficient to transfix the listener with morbid energy. "Robotic Village" begins with a wailing sheen of feedback and some thrum before spitting another Slayer-like, brutal riff that alternates into a chug-a-long verse. During the bridge the band explodes into grind territory and some big hardcore/thrash grooves.

Detached senseless life brothers.
They march pro
grammed by others.
In life forever they follow.
death another lives shadow.....

The cover of "Voivod" is worthy enough, Fowley adding a punkish edge to his voice which is quite cool. The last two tracks are originally from their 1989 demo. "Planet Graveyard" has a melancholic melodic riff which foreshadows a lot of what the band would do with albums like Fearless Undead Machines and Supernatural Addiction. The verse riffs are fueled and grindy, though they wouldn't be special on their own, slathered in King's voice they create an authenticity and primal anguish. "Nuclear Exorcist" is my favorite track on the EP, with a punishing sound between Venom and Repulsion and a great acoustic blues during the verse.

The 13 Frightened Souls is conceptually inspired by cult horror and sci-fi films, and this paranormal/parascientific trend continues throughout all their releases. This fusion of theme and nostalgic death/thrash is one of the reasons Deceased is such a distinct act. Entirely true to their roots, but at the same time, actually doing something new with them, is the forte of this excellent band. One of our finest. Great EP.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (but we shall return all the madness)


Celestiial/Blood of the Black Owl Split (2008)

The best split releases are those that feature unreleased material from two or more artists that have already smitten you. This would be one of those cases, a showcase for two of the best bands in the US to produce a hybrid of backwoods ethnic vibes, funeral doom tones and brilliant, flowing ambience. I cannot imagine a better pairing for such a release, and once again Bindrune brings the quality.

Celestiial is a beastly trio from Minnesota, featuring Tannder Anderson on the vocals and guitar (Autumnal Winds) and Jason Walton (Agalloch) on bass. Their debut Desolate North was impressive, but in truth I prefer this new track "White Depths Dove the Red-Eyes", a nearly 17 minute sprawling vista of scintillating ambience, a rise and fall swell of steadily shifting percussion and bleak rasping vocals. The band's commitment to the empty beauty and purity of our northern US regions is fully translated through both the sorrow and glory of their minimal compositions, an aperture of rural exploration.

"Contemplating the Death of an Olde Friend" is a darker piece, but just as mesmerizing. Chet W. Scott is the man behind Blood of the Black Owl and also the man responsible for bringing you this release. Again chiming in at the 17 minute length, "Contemplating..." opens with a mesh of repetetive strings, flutes and grizzled distortion beneath the cerebral black pitch of Scott's narrative vocals. After three minutes, the track 'devolves' into an ambient underpining with some sparse guitar plucks, beautiful tonal vocals and remains along this course until the end, in which the creepy black rasp returns to bury the coffin.

This is a fantastic split effort, and the fact you can't get the tracks elsewhere makes it an essential acquisition. Both of these acts are among the cutting edge of what the USA has to offer in terms of our own ethnic identity, our own culture. So many post-black metal, ambient black or funeral doom bands have shit to offer by comparison. Celestiial and Blood of the Black Owl have much to offer, their full-lengths are uniformly wonderful and the material here is no exception. Expressive, original and hypnotic.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


Anthrax - Among the Living (1987)

While Fistful of Metal and Spreading the Disease were both great in their own right, it wasn't until their third album Among the Living that New York's Anthrax embraced the crunchy thrash of their prime. Packed full of memorable lyrics and more riffs than you can shake Scott Ian's goatee-thing at, it was easily one of the better thrash albums of 1987.

"Among the Living" begins with a creepy whimper, a simple acoustic line doused in reverb, while feedback resonates. The bang comes in the form of a slowly chugging thrash gallop notable for the bouncing bass, like a pair of breasts wobbling out of a tube top. I've always considered Anthrax a unique band because of their ability to match a fairly weak vocal style with some powerful riffing. This isn't to say I think Joey Belladonna has a bad voice by any means; but it's always struck me as very thin by comparison to the powerful weight of the guitars. This is balanced with backups and gang shouts. "Caught in a Mosh" is a catchier song than it has any right to be with such a stupid title, with a nice groove to the chorus guitars and some pretty irresistable gang shouts. "I Am the Law" improves the album considerably, a choppy thrasher based on the Judge Dredd comic (yes, that's fucking awesome).

Respect the badge - he earned it with his blood
Fear the gun - your sentence may be death because... I AM THE LAW!
And you won't fuck around no more - I AM THE LAW!
I judge the rich, I judge the poor - I AM THE LAW!
Commit a crime I'll lock the door - I AM THE LAW!
Because in Mega-City... I AM THE LAW!

Righteous. "Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)" is a perky thrasher that opens with a nice melodic hook, obviously about some beef the band members had with some suckas. Get it, you say the song title backwards..."Nice Fuckin' Life". So clever...and it would inspire the band to create other classic titles like Penikufesin. Despite itself, the song is still pretty good. "Skeletons in the Closet" is another of the better tracks on the album, with a catchy Belladonna vocal hook in the chorus and a slew of anthemic thrashing rhythms and bass flair. It's based on the Apt Pupil short story by Steven King which was later made into a decent film. I never quite got into "Indians" when I was younger, but the track has aged decently and accumulated on me, especially I like the build-up to the charge riff in the middle of the verse.

The album closes out with three of its strongest. "One World" opens with an almost gladiatoral feel, erupting into a hammering thrash rhythm which would sound fresh if it came out yesterday. The vocals sound great on this track, their level in the mix is just low enough that Joey can go a little crazy and create this desperate, powerful thrust over the guitars. "A.D.I./The Horror of It All" begins with some nice acoustics and a lengthy heavy intro. Once again the riffs in this song are great and Belladonna has some memorable vocal lines here, making 'whoah eh ohs' officially cool in thrash metal. "Imitation of Life" is perhaps the most mature track on the album, with an unforgettable volley of precision riffing and one of the meanest New York grooves this side of old Biohazard. And what disaffected youth could resist the lyrics?

There's nothing I hate more, than all these plastic people
With all their plastic promises, and all there plastic deals
They just can't be themselves, and live their own lives out
They're just an imitation of what life's all about

Among the Living brings back a lot of nostalgia, years of skateboarding and chumming around with a half dozen guys who would wear their various 'Not Man' t-shirts for half of every week. Though I truly adored this album when it was released, I do not feel it has aged quite as well as Persistence of Time, which I consider the strongest of the Anthrax catalog. Crank the volume and this remains just as head banging as ever, but the drumming is rather dull by today's standards and a few of the songs' lyrics are quite goofy. At any rate, this is still a great album to rock out to with some dark, memorable riffing.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]
(spill your guts old man)