Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vektor - Demolition (2006)

By now, the whispers surrounding Arizona's Vektor have upgraded to a chorus of roars. It's hard enough these days to find a good band taking thrash metal seriously and not just taking the piss for a chance to get laid and high in their carousel of hi-top retro fashion and Hot Topic love affairs, but Vektor were a lot more than just good. Their 2009 sophomore album Black Future was an astonishing, cohesive glimpse at what made technical thrash of the 80s so good, and nostalgia for the mightiest works of Coroner, Watchtower, Deathrow, Atheist, and Voivod came crashing over me like currents of warmth and sanity among the shills and snake oil salesmen that have somehow throttled themselves into popularity through persistent touring and fucking off.

Demolition is not Black Future, of course, and it's really just an ad hoc, self released debut album pooled from the band's 2003 Nucleus demo and some additional material. Some of the tracks do appear on Black Future, namely "Oblivion" and "Destroying the Cosmos", and they sound much better there, but fans of the band's schizoid, dystopian dementia would probably enjoy this for the material they haven't heard. In particular, I really like the track "Venus Project", which had appeared on Nucleus and rifles through a number of hyper riffs and tranquil bridges, both of which manifest enormous curiosity. The other center piece here is the heavily Voivod influenced "Moonbase", a 13 minute epic that plods for an infinity into some eerie, alien depths. "Testrastructural Minds" and "Fast Paced Society" also earn their keep through faster riffing and psychokinetic intensity, but otherwise the album is just two instrumental shorts ("Spiral Galaxy" and "Infiltration") and the tracks that will re-appear on Black Future.

The sound is obviously not so pro as the band's later gestation would allow, but it's more than decent enough for amateur thrash, especially when played at this level of conviction and ambition. In particular, I feel like David Disanto's vocals here are only a pale shadow of what they'd develop into. He still evokes that impish quality, but his screams are pretty bad where they appear, and he's not yet the manic snarling equivalent of a Kelly Schaefer or even Chuck Schuldiner. The drums also feel a little less powerful in this particular mix, though the original drummer was still pretty good, with some obvious jazz in how he concocts the percussion for the more unusual segments of tracks like "Moonbase". The lyrics are ponderous and analytical as you might expect, similar to Death after they jumped ship to their more 'progressive' album, or a lot of the philosophical thrash bands of the 80s (Deathrow's Deception Ignored, or Coroner), but they also create a lot of stark, violent imagery. In the end, Demolition is worth hearing if you already enjoy Vektor, but start with Black Future if you're new and want to be blown into atoms.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (awaiting and unsure of their fate)


Vehemence - Helping the World to See (2004)

It's amazing that, in the ever shifting winds of the metal genre, the gulf of but a few years can transform a band's teeming potential into sodden excess, but that is precisely what occurred when the Arizona outfit Vehemence launched their third album, second for Metal Blade, called Helping the World to See. Granted, the cover image here is surreal, superior to the earlier albums, and I had hopes that the musical content might match its allure, but really this feels as if the band tried to re-create God Was Created, amplifying a few of that record's constituent elements to unwelcome levels, and forging a magnanimity that falls very flat on the fat curve of its own, bloated buttocks.

Where its predecessor managed climactic poles through taut, intense riffage unending, and the carefully written clean guitars, keyboards, and such, Helping the World to See tends to fail at strongarming the listener. "By Your Bedside" sounds like nearly any US band attempting the Swedish melodic death intensity, albeit with the gruff, guttural vocals and a shitty US metalcore breakdown that I almost laughed at. "Kill For God" seems a little closer to the last effort, with some bristling melodic riffs that culminate in a rather weak nod back to "She Never Noticed Me". "You Don't Have to Be Afraid Anymore" and "Alone in Your Presence" also bring back the acoustic guitars and subtle, narrative vocal textures, but once they both go metal you get pretty average post-At the Gates/In Flames riffing with a thrashing impetus. The remainder of the tracks are scattered with half-baked ideas at best, like the powerful melodic chords tossed into the bridge of "Her Beautiful Eyes" or "What Could Go Wrong?"

Coinciding with the rise of flaky 'New Wave of American Heavy Metal Bands' which are often little more than Gothenburg wannabe bands with Panterrible vocals and mosh core breakdowns, Helping the World to See feels all too contrived and forgettable. But to be honest, it's not a huge leap away from the album before it, just a leap sideways and then back. The songs are nowhere near as interesting, the production not as good, the lyrics tend to suck, the vocals relegated to typical grunts and snarling that once again sounds, and like the first Vehemence record, you get about 1-2 good parts per song and the rest is chaff, a composite of then-current trends striving to amount to the next Slaughter of the Soul, Jester Race, or Heartwork, and coming up well short of the goal. It's not as if the album were merely phoned in or defecated out, there is more refinement here than that, but it's incalcitrant against the inspirational underpinnings of its next oldest sibling.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10] (no word is ever safe)


Vehemence - God Was Created (2002)

If Vehemence stirred up a buzz with their debut The Thoughts From Which I Hide, it was ultimately undeserved, not because it was the most steaming puddle of shit across the flood plain of USDM mediocrity, but because it was entirely void of any personality worth noting. The band might also have been unsatisfied, because God Was Created crosses a major evolutionary gulf in sound. Now touting a deal with big movers Metal Blade Records, the enhancements to both production and musicality seemed to coincide with a band on the way up the ladder of attention, and indeed this must have been the case. Several death metal fans I know cite this as one of their favorite albums in the genre, and while I won't claim it's anywhere even such close to such praise, it's the best of Vehemence, and their sole album worth hearing.

Basically, this is an approach to complex and somewhat technical melodic death metal which bears only passing similarities to the European bands that were already huge by this time. You can hear some vague comparisons to Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates, or early In Flames in the writing, but the Arizonans distinguish themselves by maintaining the brutal death metal aesthetics of their debut. The growls, snarls and even clean narrative vocals are a marked improvement over their debut, in that they're mixed level to the instruments rather than trying to overwhelm them like the previous album, and the songs create an occasionally hypnotic balance of tranquility and disgust. Never more so than the track "She Never Noticed Me", which is glazed with an impressive chug-melody pair off late in the bridge that rides out the playtime.

It's a concept album, and believe it or not, the lyrical implications are pretty faithful to the debut. This is a story about a disaffected youth who, in his obsession over a young woman of his acquaintance, goes on a killing spree, with some necrophilia involved. Sure, it's as fucked and twisted as you'd expect in the death metal genre circa Cannibal Corpse, but the way Vehemence have manifest and structured the contents through a chronological narrative of the music are commendable. You'll go from sympathy for this loser, to disgust at his immoral actions, and then even a morbid revulsion which extends beyond the carnal to the realm of existential terror. Of course, there's more to the story which you can read for yourselves. It's a rarity, even by today's standards and super saturation of the form, and clearly the strongest trait on the entire record, executed lovingly in tracks like "Fantasy from Pain", "Lusting for Affection", and "I Didn't Kill Her".

If God Was Created lacks, it's that it throws so many riffs at you that some are bound to slide off your armor, and while I cannot deny the amount of sheer effort these lads must have put into the album's construction, I occasionally feel some of those 'less would be more' moments that might have crafted more memorable compositions. Though they are cleverly disguised here, the band also still shifts into some of their slam breakdowns, but at least the complexity adds some depth to these that they don't seem so contrived or annoying. Earlier I lauded the band's improvement in the vocal area, and indeed, they are far better than those found on The Thoughts From Which I Hide, but they still sound to me overbearing in spots, like a metalcore band playing melodic death, and it can be distracting over the superior musical content. That said, this is the best of Vehemence's works, certainly the one to experience if you're tracking down the band for the first time, and the one they'll need to one-up.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (I can't fulfill my urges)


Vehemence - The Thoughts From Which I Hide (2000)

Vehemence is a band that was highly cited by my circle of metal friends in the early years of the 21st century as one of the most promising in emergent death metal, but their material has never left an impression on me for long, so I've decided to turn back time and re-examine their albums to see if my reaction has changed. They've since run their career on a roller coaster trajectory, signing to Metal Blade records for their rather well received sophomore God Was Created, dropped mid-decade, some of the members escaping to Abigail Williams, and then reforming a few years later to give it another go, which has yet to bear its inevitable fruit.

The Thoughts From Which I Hide, on the other hand, was a debut that showcased only a few traces of what the band would evolve into come 2002. Vehemence are often described as a 'melodic death metal' band with a difference from most European acts that explore the style, but that isn't very accurate for this record. For the most part, it's your standard mesh of old school and slamming elements simmered in a crisp, popping mix where the rich guitar tone is heavily slathered in the (perhaps too loud) grunting and barking, the drums given a grooving feel through the snap of the snares and the beats they're usually meting out along to the many chug slams of the album. For a self-released, limited run like this, the album does have a pretty clean production, though I think at times it might seem a little too tidy, gimping some of its guttural lethality.

A few of the songs definitely have some potential, like the rape/murder fantasy "I Take Your Life" which flows with some clinical riffs that draw comparisons to a mix of Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Deicide, and Pestilence. The band shows a willingness to cycle through varied dynamic climes, but they usually end up at a slow, trudging groove, perfect for the unassuming, die hard devotee of brutal USDM and slam, but not all that interesting for the rest of us. Chug and squeal, rinse and repeat. "Whore Cunt Die" once again services the band's love of the finer sex, the soundtrack to a pseudo-Mother Mary molestation and sexual crucifixion performed by a religious freak, which has a decent, catchy melody to the mute-stream of the verse. Sadly, this too turns into mediocre mosh grooves, and it's a pattern used all too often here, so even when the band decides to thrust at a higher velocity ("What You've Become" or "Devour the Rotten Flesh"), you know what you're in for eventually, 1-2 decent riffs among a herd of misfires.

The lyrics foster the same interest for misogyny that one will find in the entire strain of Cannibal Corpse style bands, though to be fair, the Arizonans do it with a more personal 'touch', trying to jump inside the mind of the killers and rapists they examine with lyrics that would very well disturb anyone not in the know to the genre. The atmospheric flourishes used in the 11:26 closer "Reconditioning the Flock" are quite surprising. Synthesizers, clean guitars and the criticism of religious sheeple all seem to handle well there, but it's too late to save the uneven contents up to that point. The Thoughts From Which I Hide is hardly more lamentable than many death metal albums at the turn of the century, but it's well outside the realm of those albums worth tracking down for their musical value, and disappears all too quickly from the conscience despite its grisly lyrical fixations.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10] (giving away your love gift)


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Violent Force - Malevolent Assault of Tomorrow (1987)

By 1987, German thrash metal was really anyone's game. Sodom, Destruction and Kreator had arrived, and classic albums in the genre had already unknowingly been issued, but even these bands were still ascending, developing their chops. Violent Force were formed pretty early on, in 1984, and after a series of demos, they managed to get this one album Malevolent Assault of Tomorrow released through the rapidly rising Roadrunner, before writing and recording a second (unreleased) album and disappearing in 1989. The band has recently reformed, after 20 years of vacancy, by guitarist Stachel and drummer Hille, but you have to wonder if it's really worth it...

The reason being that Malevolent Assault of Tomorrow, while not exactly terrible, was at best a composite of the band's more successful countrymen. You can clearly hear the Destruction and Sodom comparisons throughout, with a dash of Kreator and also some Tankard delivered in the no frills attitude, and certainly Slayer. The problem is that Violent Force just don't write songs as strongly as those other names. There is plenty of punchy atmosphere to the guitar riffing, and snappy drums that set a similar stage to a Sentence of Death, Agent Orange or Pestilence's Malleus Maleficarum. Vocalist Lemmy (not the one you're thinking of) lends an adequately aggressive element, his tone somewhere between Tom Angelripper, Tom Araya and Gerre, and the production of the album is deceptively dated.

If you hate old thrash recordings, you're unlikely to change your mind with the sound here, but if you enjoy the Teutonic touch of the mid-80s, it's honestly rather timeless. The drawback is that the songs just don't seem to hitchhike the attention span as violently as the other German works of 1986-1987. Little of the tireless, juvenile and jovial thrust of a Zombie Attack. None of the blitzkrieg barbarity of a Pleasure to Kill. Clinical, cold riffs that don't quite measure up to the scalpel slicing of Sentence of Death or Infernal Overkill. There are some raucous, rowdy pieces like "Vengeance and Venom", "Soulbursting" and "The Night" that send shivers of rusted, brutal antiquity down the spine of the genre's connoisseur, but the actual notation seems average, fuel only for the viral speed and exploding leads. A few tracks like "S.D.I." and the instrumental "What About the Time After" fare better, with more adventurous musicality, but even these become only vaguely distinct against the far better efforts of the period.

I'd note that there are actually two drummers on this album, Jurgen Hillebrand and Atomic Steif. The latter plays on only a few tracks, but would see more success in bands like Living Death, Holy Moses and Sodom. Lemmy and Steif would also join forces in another band called Sacred Chao, which was little more than a short lived exodus of several Living Death members. Otherwise, the rest of the Violent Force lineup has been pretty quiet in the metal realm, with Malevolent Assault of Tomorrow settling largely into the dust of obscurity (with a limited 2007 remaster and re-issue). I've not heard that remaster, but I can only recommend this to the most passionate of German thrash fans. The songs here go a long way towards evoking nostalgia for the style and place, but unfortunately they just don't have the lasting impact you expect from the Big Three, or other bands like Tankard, Holy Moses, Vendetta and Deathrow.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]


Violent Playground - Thrashin Blues (1988)

When the leading gimmick for your debut album is that it's called "Thrashin Blues", opens with a song called "Thrashin Blues", which is nothing more than a slide guitar intro interrupted by a mediocre thrash metal riff with awful vocals and lyrics, and a steppin' blues breakdown, then you're already in a spot of trouble. In fact, I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell for redemption, and the remainder of the sole Violent Playground album reinforces this hopelessness through a veritable who's who of flaws, 37 minutes of awkward and astonishing misery that not surprisingly got the band absolutely nowhere.

Yes, while West Coast and European bands were plugging away hard, writing expansive classics of the genre with tremendous talent and serious attitude, we could always count on most of our New York thrash bands to spend their time instead fucking around, as if they were going to be the next Anthrax circa "I'm the Man" or "Caught in a Mosh". Most prominent would be M.O.D., but at least they would rip out a half-decent riff from time to time. I'm not inherently opposed to something humorous or entertaining in my metal, but Violent Playground, whose career consisted of this sole album (thank any god you worship), simply are not and never were funny. "Thrashin Blues", "I Hate My Boss", "Doctor Feelfine", "Lame from the Neck Up", and "Mr. Dandy" are not intrinsically funny amusing concepts, not even in 1988, and thus Thrashin Blues has only one shot at tickling the memory glands, through its music...

Well, the music almost unanimously sucks. Occasionally a tune like "Doctor Feelfine" will rip out a half-decent attempt at generic speed/thrash guitars, but too many of the compositions suffer from a feeling of lame, punkish abandon. More often, the songs are simply destroyed by the vocals of 'Manny', which are basically lame East Coast foolishness with the occasional annoying scream or a slightly more acidic bluntness which is better served in the crossover genre. Take "Mr. Dandy", which has the glean of a decent melody at its intro, then rushes into aggressive thrash metal and is vomited all over by the miserable vocal performance. Even where busiest, in a "Play to Kill" or "Lame from the Neck Up", where guitarists 'Rocko' and 'The Son' do their best to smash out some mildly entertaining speed metal, the writing feels clumsy and in need of further gestation. At best, the band can pull together an "Anvil Head", where the gang shouts and precision punishment almost offset the wimpy screaming to feel like a dirtier alternative to Exciter.

Compare Violent Playground to another silly East Coast band of their day like I.N.C., and you'll see a huge difference in the quality of the writing. Where such a band got away with their general goofiness by writing riffs that rattle around in your skull chamber, this one sadly suffers from a bit of the bandwagon, an an overinflated sense of their own comic value. As sorry as such a record as Thrashin Blues is, it's also shameful, because clearly the rhythm section is decent and the guitarists try pretty hard to thrill (as we learn through a bombardment of pathetic leads). But under the class clown tutelage of this vocalist, and with such horrendous production and no appreciable songs of note, this album was due for the bargain basement bins before it was ever pressed.

Verdict: Epic Fail [2/10]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Castevet - Mounds of Ash (2010)

Castevet is another of the Profound Lore family of bands that I've heard quite a lot about in the past year or so, talked about in the same circles that adore Cobalt, Ludicra, Krallice, Altar of Plagues, and Agalloch, but I was quite surprised to find that there are some relatively local New England connections in the band: drummer Ian Jacyszyn once played with Boston brutes Pillory, and guitarist Andrew Hock was in Ehnarhe (later Biolich from NY). Joining them is Joshua Scott of the sludgy Anodyne and death grinders Defeatist. Here, the trio step out of their comfort zone to perform a spin on the black metal genre, and like several of their label mates, they incorporate a lot of dissonance and atmosphere into their writing.

Don't expect corpse painted ghouls leaping at you from the woods here with mock blades in hand, but a cacophonous clamor of modernism. This is clearly not traditional for the genre, and you can hear the band's various sludge, grind and math metalcore influences creeping into the various compositions, not to mention the sheen of unapologetic, aggressive post-rock or post-hardcore that dominates the most potent moments of "Red Stars San Chastity" or the swirling progress of "Grey Matter", which is easily one of my favorites on the album, like a mix of Enslaved's Vertebrae with some Voivod. "Stones" is another highlight, with an excellent sequence of chords that simmer, rise and fall through waves of temperamental discord. At times, the chaos does truly manifest much like an archaic 90s metalcore album (think Converge or Coalesce); you know, back when that style was actually worth something.

Castevet deserve some credit, though, for never letting the mix of influences become too frontal or annoying, and as they thread their needles through muted palettes of emotion, dynamic grays that hover at the edge of monotonous living. The vocals are more leaden than the rasp you'd come to expect out of black metal, and I'm not sure I care much for them, since they often feel a little too shallow for the more poignant expression of the guitar chords. The band seems to function best when they shiver off into caustic climes of incessant, streaming melody, whereas their blunt post-thrashing segues (i.e. "Red Aura") feel uneven. Like many of the Profound Lore bands, perhaps this NY trio might suffer from a little bit of undue hype (no fault of their own). The music is interesting, but not memorable. They'll definitely hold some appeal to fans of Krallice (one of whom recorded this album), and I'd also draw them to the attention of anyone who enjoys the band Tombs.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Cemetery Urn - The Conquered Are Burned (2010)

Congratulations to yet another band who somehow manage to evoke the primacy of early 90s death metal without entirely adhering to the trends of Incantation and Swedish worship. Alright, to be honest, you can hear a little of both here on the Australians' second album The Conquered are Burned, but there's also a very natural aggression here that measures off its grinding bursts of intensity with vile, twisting tremolo rhythms that recall what so many of us loved about Death, Morbid Angel and so forth. Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised at the results, since D. Bloodstorm and A. Gillon have been involved in seminal atrocities Abominator and Bestial Warlust, but this is easily among of the strongest material they've produced.

Speaking of Bloodstorm, his vocals are perhaps the biggest treat on this album, callous and downcast and smothering the ground meat of the guitars with guttural abandon somewhere between Craig Pillard and Martin van Drunen. The guitar tones harvest their morbid autonomy from the raw force of a Repulsion, Napalm Death or Bolt Thrower, but the compositions duck and weave through a dynamic range reminiscent of old Carcass or Cadaver. They're also not above throwing you into the expected, like the slow crawl that "The Plague of Annihilation" devolves into during the bridge, or their efficient taste in leads. Personal favorites here include the rampant "Bloodied Death Curse" for its wastewater, fluid intro riffing, of "Possessed Terror", which is simply a romping, stomping pit of grooves that cycle into blast territory like they had just escaped Symphonies of Sickness, and one of the best solos on the disc. Closer "The Conquest Are Burned" is similarly scorching and infernally blessed.

If Cemetery Urn has a weakness, it might simply be that in a few of the tracks, the constant forays of the guitars can turn up nearly as many dull riffs as they do winners. This isn't all that often, mind you, but there were points at which I noted to myself, gee, it's so cool that this sounds like Realm of Chaos, Horrified or From Enslavement to Obliteration. Next, please. On the plus side, the Australians have that 'next' lined up and ready to swing, so you won't spend much time reeling in familiarity or exhaustion before the next blitzkrieg sounds off in your skull. Certainly, they have a more exciting approach to this brand of dense, atmospheric material than many of the other new bands manifesting to transform death metal back to its cavernous roots, but they're not yet composing the stuff of legend that they idolize (or in this case, the stuff they helped spread like wildfire, down under in their previous bands). But black eyes are at least being served up here with not only combat boots, but a dark sincerity.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Revtank - Wanderings (2010)

Wanderings is something of an anomaly to arrive here at the offices, a duo performing an interesting blend of psychedelic and progressive rock elements that are both adventurous and accessible, rugged but refined, with a pool of influences so wide that one could never swim from one end to the next without motorized assistance, or at least a good pair of flippers. Well outside the comfort zone of my concave, metal battered brains and tastes, right? Okay, so it's really only one office. Actually, more like a desk, a PC, and a pile of promo CDs, .mp3s, various expended juice boxes and an inflatable footman's flail. But I wasn't exaggerating about Revtank: these gentleman are firing up an enormous balloon of potential, floating off to discover what lies beyond the cloud-lines of simple categorization.

I can offer references, but they in no way could honor or complete the range of this experience. I'll throw Porcupine Tree out there, or Genesis, or Pink Floyd, or modern Anathema, or the Beach Boys' wonderful Pet Sounds, or nearly any other expansive challenge to the security of convention. This is a vocal group, and the emphasis is very often placed upon the soaring words as a vehicle, like if Fleet Foxes weren't afraid to come down from their mountains, dip their feet in the ocean, or stare into the oncoming traffic on a highway. But there is just as fundamental of a support group in the music itself, and this is where the band unleashes staggering levels of variation, from the churning, steady pianos and stubborn electro fuzz that carry "Quietus" like an Atlas of sound, to the Floydian organs and blues of "Loaded as a Gun", to the space warp of "Remember Soldier" which erupts into whip-tails of distortion and dementia like an acid-wagging tongue.

All of this is fascinating, but the real strengths of the album do tend to be hidden near its aft, namely the stunning "Eleven Eleven" or the blissful, atmospheric tone prose of "Such Were the Joys". Both of these tracks are examples of the band turning their talent well past 11, well past the well meaning but often jilted compositions to come before. Both are better than most of the disaffected, post-rock organic hash that currently pollutes the tradewind buzz of popular media. Both dealt a more loving, expressive, professional palette than their neighbors, where a "Seasons Changed" or "0513" only hints at brilliance. Thus, the Wanderings might not seem so complete, the listeners attention span being drawn in and then snapped out like an elastic through 50+ minutes of dense exploration in the guise of acoustic an electric guitars, pianos and synthesizers, deep and high pitched vocals and subtle shifts in percussion.

The other snag might be the production, which seems a little too muddied up front ("Quietus" and the shambling electro and metal traces of "Voices"). This is obviously not some huge budget at play, but the not yet spent creative juices being applied to immortality through whatever home recording equipment is convenient. That said, there are spots in which Revtank will truly fool you, because "Eleven Eleven" and "Such Were the Joys" probably wouldn't sound much better if you dumped 50K on them. But the heavier guitar tone used on a few of the tracks is in need of some refinement, and often an acoustic line could also benefit from more volume against the swagger of the pianos or the sheer, wind-like ambiance coursing through the album.

All said, though, Wanderings is clearly a work of much effort, and unchecked inspiration. Where the duo might lapse into excess Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree territory, they are quick to remedy through the unexpected sounds that take shape. If I were to associate this album with one of the four prominent elements, it would be air. Like the gentleman on the cover, the songs make you want to stare off into vast spaces, fulfilled by their emptiness, collapsed to the static inferiority of the human skin prison. This is well and good for 30-40 minutes, but at some point, I'd like to hear their take on earth, fire and water, and I hope as their ideas for this project continue to evolve, they'll smite us with more than just a steady breeze. Until that time, I think you'll find that there is still enough sky here to lose yourself in.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]


Tsorer - Return to Sodom (2010)

It's amazing what one can often encounter completely at random, and in the case of Israel's diabolic duo Tsorer, this would be the case, for I had never before heard of this band or any mention of them in any forum or format until I was referencing them through another project of vocalist/guitarist Heller, the disgusting black thrash hybrid Hell Darkness, who were lauded by Fenriz over at the Darkthrone as a part of his recommendation series. I admit I didn't get a lot out of that project, but when I tracked down Tsorer, I was knocked over by just how easy and practically perfect this debut offering was (through Black Hate productions).

When I begin the auditory journey through a traditional black metal album, this is pretty much exactly what I want to hear. Simple, catchy as fuck guitar rhythms that service all of the usual suspects (Hellhammer, Burzum, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Bathory, etc), harsh vocals and an incredibly evil atmosphere. Through the notation and pacing, I want to be terrified at the images evoked, regardless of how familiar the actual style may seem, and I feel these two pull that off in spades. Tsorer also incorporate keys to create this magnificent, raw, subtle symphonic effect, never once distracting from their abysmal, rocking core, and Return to Sodom leads off with a trio of stunning, mid paced works in "Misanthrope", "Sodom" and "Again", each of which reaffirms exactly what I so loved about early 90s Darkthrone, or the much earlier catalog of Celtic Frost.

At this point, the album slows to even more sodden vortices of menace like "Gifts" and "Old", the minimalist song titles serving as poignant, almost mocking statements of how much this band can kick your ass with so little. The latter, "Old" includes jilted, chaotic pianos and swells of melodic noise that fit fluidly over the crashing power chords, and it stuns me that you'll hear almost no tremolo picking on the entire fucking album! Just huge, simple streams of chords delivered with uncaring arrogance! Not surprisingly, the rest of the album remains consistent in quality, with the darker pauses of "Penetration Skills" or "End", and the crushing, demented fuzz of "Messiah" staking their ground on the psyche, often so dowsed in the atmosphere of the keys that they take on otherworldly, almost ethereal doom characteristics.

Return to Sodom is flat out one of the best of the pure strain black metal albums I've heard recently, standing alongside the latest Sargeist and Maniac Butcher efforts as a fully functional scratch of the ancient, church burning itch. If you're seeking some progressive spin on this genre, then you'll most assuredly need to seek it elsewhere, because Tsorer create nothing but raw, brutal libations to epochs of the past, when it was never a question of how MANY chords you wrought, but HOW you wrought those chords, how you placed them into a nexus of memorable malice. There's nothing impressive about their musicianship, and next to no noted innovation. They're just that convincing...and this is only the debut.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


Lantlôs - .Neon (2010)

I'm sure my feelings on the most prominent of Neige's projects, Alcest, are already well documented somewhere out in the vast internet, but I've hardly got a hate on for anything else the guy has done. Amesoeurs wasn't all that shabby, and his earlier drumming for Peste Noire and Mortifera shouldn't be overlooked, but the man is hardly the savior of style and grace that many have lauded him to be, and I'm almost positive he'd agree. That said, the guy is enormously popular, so it's not a surprise the German Lantlôs, who run in similar circles of sound, would enlist the Frenchman to front their sophomore effort, the sequel to the well-received s/t album in 2008. His aggressive, tortured throat is perfect for the wall of sound, post-rock influences so fluent and important to the compositions here, and his cleans are actually a positive addition for this album's chilling, negative atmosphere.

Unfortunately, .Neon is one of the most perplexing albums I've come across lately in this entire field of post-black experimentation, because while it creates the skeleton of an amazing creature, the actual flesh upon the frame is wholly dull and numbing. I realize that is the intent of such a work, but I'm not referring to the emotional effect so much as I am to the notes and composition. Tranquil segues of drifting post-rock cycle into screaming patterns of melodic chords in "Pulse/Surreal", while some take it to the next level of Burzum and Weakling adoration, surges of streaming black metal vitriol still simmering with the weave of dreamy chords, as in "These Nights Were Ours". The resulting product is both Romantic and hostile, sincere and surreal, yet I just can't get over the fact that these guitars are not written in successful or memorable patterns, and thus I feel all too left out to dry.

Perhaps the one song where I felt a perfunctory momentum carrying me would be "Coma", but this is already pretty late on the album, and the following title track drags me straight back to the coma from which "Coma" ironically aroused me. The real shame is that, from a tempo standpoint, Lantlôs knows exactly when to shift to the fore and rear. The songs were crafted with some assurance that they would not drive the witness into cacophonous disinterest, but the blood and veins of the writing simply do not live up to the marrow upon which they are set into circulation. It's somewhat comparable to bands like Heretoir or Alcest, the latter being far more enamored of the tranquil side of the coin, but then, if you know me, then you know that's not really saying all that much. Lantlôs possess the structure for success, and obviously the personnel, but I feel that they need to dig in a little more in their writing process and really make those notes shine in patterns as hypnotic as they deserve.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]
(a light pressure)


Woe - Quietly, Undramatically (2010)

Oh, these clever bastards and their misleading album titles. Woe is the offspring of Chris Grigg's imagination, a man you might know as the new drummer in fellow US tyrants Krieg. A few years ago, he released A Spell for the Death of Man, an album he had written and performed all by his lonesome, which possessed the same hybrid of drifting and blasphemy that we come to associate from many black metal artists in America; not so different from a Thralldom, Cobalt or Krallice, but pierced with the stake of fairly lengthy, traditional compositions that were often heavy on repetitious blast beats. My reaction was that it was alright, but I had hoped he would venture forth into the more sonically included terrain of the chords he cast across the din of dull expectations.

With the follow-up, which is not so quiet or undramatic as its title implies, he seems to have developed along the lines I had pondered, and the result is a more dynamic, organic sounding album. Part of this is that he's expanded the band into a full, breathing entity, joined by several members of his other project The Green Evening Requiem, who are also in the rather lacking (in my opinion) Woods of Ypres. Regardless, this seems like a good combination to perform Woe's music, because they too dowse their more straightforward influences in the wall of sound that many of us seem to enjoy on these shores. Where it works, like the 8 minute title track or the scintillating "A Treatise on Control", we are carried off into an existential realm where darkness and sadness are weighed off, one never quite overshadowing the other. But not every song delivers the same measure of razor bliss, and the 13 minute "Full Circle" becomes a rather sodden bore after about a quarter of its playtime, and the afterthought "Hatred is Our Heart" has maybe one decent riff.

The sound is not so shining and cutting as its predecessor, but I do actually favor this prevalent, structural balance of highs and lows. The lyrics are emotional explorations of solitude and social castigation, with the sort of poignant and image-heavy lyrics that one might expect out of the melodic hardcore of the 80s, or maybe Katatonia; effective and fitting to the sounds, but rather faceless in their construction. The band is clearly doing something right, as they've created a stir in the underground and signed with hard hitter Candlelight Records, but I ultimately found Quietly, Dramatically to be another example of those USBM releases that fade almost instantly from my attention span, like Wolves in the Throne Room, Cobalt, and so forth. There are very few riffs of quality, most feeling rather tepid and disingenous, thus the contents are left to their atmosphere and emotional discourse to drag the listener in, and they fall a little flat. Not by any means a bad effort, but pretty average in the grand scheme of things that are, and things to come.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]


Cauldron Black Ram - Slubberdegullion (2010)

On a purely aesthetic level, Australia's Cauldron Black Ram holds an enormous appeal to me. Their 2004 debut Skulduggery was a brash, polluted mess of a good time, its morass of jarring, sludgy content shining through its flaws into the realm of flatulent joy. The lyrics conjure incredibly strange and atmospheric, blunt and minimal streams of historically derived imagery, and the band's style is also pretty far out, a clumsy conflagration of black, punk, death and doom that are as intentionally crude as they come. Coming six years later, Skubberdegullion doesn't fall far from the eaves of its ancestor, and with titles like "Seadog Assassins", "Black Market Trade of Whore and Blade", "Blunderbuss" and "Satanic Whores in Bestial Brothels", I had set myself up for another bout of abnormal bliss, stagnant rum in hand and dirtied, scummy beard reeking of the latest lay.

Perhaps its just that I'm older, or perhaps the music is just overall not as great on this record, but at the very least, Cauldron Black Ram remain loyal to their absurdity. Opener "Seadog Assassins" creates a foul smog of primal death metal, grinding off the simplified rocking drum beat, the best part being the black, rasped vocals that bounce across the guitars, a goofy waltz of horror. A few of the other, shorter pieces like "Blunderbuss" and "Black Douglass" are also quite fun, and there are some surprises like the dark, acoustic sewer-ballad "Rats" and the oddly conceived climate shifts of "The Cave", ranging from grime grind to creepy guitars. Sadly, the majority of the record consists of longer, plodding black/thrash pieces like "Black Market Trade of Whore and Blade" or "Haphazard Divulgence of Olde Evil", which show hints of promise but inevitably begun to dull as the rum shudders and stirs the stomach.

None of the material is all that bad, and it maintains the band's atmosphere of crude antiquity, but the result is an uneven album that comes across mildly confused. There are plenty things to like about them, and one can only expect such tremendous weirdness from current and former members of Portal, Misery's Omen, Denouncement Pyre, Myrddraal and so forth, but the sum of these parts does not equal a great album this time around. The production is dour and honest, nothing more than instruments given a lethal, obscure tone and cast straight into your eardrums like a cutlass-spit of rotting caramel apples. Skulduggery seemed a little more abusive and a little more of an anomaly for its day, and better written, whereas almost all of the thrills here are purely lyrical and aurally environmental.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
(they know we come for the sluts)


Aborym - Psychogrotesque (2010)

Aborym have ever been an enigma, standing out harshly not only amongst the Italian scene but also metal at large with their whirlwind, alien style.  From 90s techno elements to extensive industrial sampling to neon corpsepaint, Malfeitor and his cohorts have never been quite like any other band.  However, without the involvement of previous singers Attila Csihar or Prime Evil, and the first album without long-time guitarist Nysrok, Aborym came into this project stripped to the mere basics - the mastermind Malfeitor, the equally veteran Bard G. Faust, and Hell-IO-Kabbalus' debut among the alien host.  With a bevvy of guests and a unique concept album prepared, Aborym made their move with Psychogrotesque

The album begins with a largely forgettable ambient collage of recognizable hospital sounds, taking the usual intro piss of being destined to be skipped over on every subsequent listen. Thankfully, "II" kicks in with a groaning, off-kilter solo, immediately recalling the accurately-titled shock and awe invasion of "With No Human Intervention."  Dropping off into precise, chunky death metal riffing and gritted Malfeitor-meets-Attila vocals before quickly introducing a soaring synth hook like the herald of some frantic hospital rave, "II" is a quick dose of candy for the patients.  That it transitions into a doomy segment in short order only stirs fond memories of Generator, picking up nicely near the end with some industrial samples and tempo changes.  As the first significant song of an album considered to be one long piece separated into track, it seems like an excellent breach into the styles and moods Aborym have explored before - a warmup for more in-depth subject examinations. 

Yet, most of the tracks here manifest in much the same way, mixing new elements into the same hospital gown folds.  Taken individually, each piece fails to create its own identity, changing tack rather than charging into the maggot-storm of ideas unleashed, and every seeming attempt to force the music aggressively up and out becomes a short-lived segue into another simmering down-tempo section.  These drawn-out, brooding parts are the most consistent element to be found throughout the album, with faster metal sections and traditional techno elements added and discarded at whim.  The standard song structure disappears, leaving the listener with nothing concrete to hang onto besides the ever-changing nature of the composition.   

It becomes quickly evident that this is not an album to be taken in pieces, despite the traditional song separations that it is forced into.  Once you settle into Psychogrotesque on its own terms, taking each emotion as it comes without a thought for the future, the picture starts to come together.  The temperamental changes and repetitive tempo reversions take on a thematic importance as the listener is subjected to the story's schizophrenic trappings, each twist and turn a sudden lucid moment, each relapse to the mire a misfired synapse, a forced syringe, a reminder that there will never be freedom.  In this context, I find that Psychogrotesque largely flies by me with classic Aborym aplomb for the bizarre, inhuman, and fascinating.   I say largely, however, because there are some parts of the album that could have used a few more minutes with the surgeon.  While I accept the slow parts that I've talked about so much, their highly repetitious nature makes it all the more important that the riffs used therein are plotted carefully, and more often than not they teeter on the edge of clinically sterile.  And honestly, I wish track "VIII" just left out the guitars and singing altogether - the purely electronic beginning is completely good on its own. 

A few botched stitches don't make that much of a difference - this is another absolutely unique offering and progression by Aborym that still retains their core values.  The electronic and industrial elements are flawless; the metal is as sound as a padded cell; and the compositions are a blend unlike any other.  I love that they take the topic of insanity so seriously - this is something that will affect every fucking one of us at some point, not to mention the pertinent questions that mental perceptions pose in a genre that holds individuality so dear - and Aborym certainly approach this in a worthwhile manner.  Yet, when the heart monitor goes flat at the end of it all, I just don't find Psychogrotesque to be completely memorable as a whole, and it leaves me less affected than its predecessors.  This is an ambitious project, though.  That there are a few less interesting parts is not highly surprising given the nature of the album, and a step down for the band is still far ahead of most others.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (kill yourself for the comfort of others)


Metal Inquisitor - Unconditional Absolution (2010)

Germans Metal Inquisitor have been sticking to their guns now for about 12 years, exploring the roots of heavy metal with a heavy emphasis on classic British sounds like Saxon and Iron Maiden, and Unconditional Absolution sees refinement in both their writing and production values, so it's not a stretch to imagine that they've reached a new career height, surpassing the quality of The Apparition and Doomsday for the Heretic before the smoke has cleared off the first few tracks. Where so many younger bands are attempting to imbue manic vigor and ironic screaming into their 80s worship, these men sound like they not only actually lived it, but approach an album in 2010 much like their idols would, without any of the brash arrogance off or silly self-referential indulgence.

"Extinction" begins with steady rock fluency, giant shimmering AC/DC chords thrust into a Judas Priest verse, solid below the consistent delivery of El Rojo's distinct style. He's basically like a pastiche of various NWOBHM singers with a slight accent, never really scaling the heights to a screeching rage, but keeping the vocals smooth. "Casualty Evacuation" maintains the pace with busier riffing, and I truly enjoyed the bridge chords here, bluesy, hard rocking and well fit to Rojo's howling. They follow with what hints at balladry but soon erupts into another classic riff, "Quest for Vengeance", which sounds like the love child of Iron Maiden, Saxon and Riot (yes, a tryst!) But the best is yet to come, in "Betrayed Battalion", an angrier, powerful number that emits all the crunch and force of David Wayne's work in Metal Church/Reverend, or perhaps Sanctuary sans the Warrel Dane screaming. "Satan's Host", "The Arch Villain" and the fun "Persuader" are also a hoot, and "Suffer the Heretic to Burn" kicks the ass of almost anything else on the entire record (aside from "Betrayed Battalion").

I'm not sure that Unconditional Absolution creates the constituent, legendary moments of many of the band's influences through the chorus sections, but if you're a purist, you're very unlikely to care, you'll be so satisfied that a band like this honors where it came from without the needless stupidity of so many 'retro' acts. If you're into the more recent, quality effort by Accept or Saxon, or perhaps the better solo records from Bruce Dickinson or Halford, then you are exactly the sort of market that this will appeal to. Good hooks, great sound, and sincerity really add up here, and hopefully this will broach the broader audience than the 30 and 40 something record collectors who were partial to their previous albums. What I'm saying is, throw away the White Wizzard CD you've been fingering at the record shop, and pick this up instead, if you can find it.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


Monday, November 22, 2010

Immaculate - Atheist Crusade (2010)

When I first saw the cover art to Immaculate's sophomore effort Atheist Crusade, I realized I was either going to really love it or truly despite it. I had heard the Swedish band's previous effort, Thrash, Kill 'n' Deströy, and found it quite forgettable. Also, the song titles here include "Thrash Metal Avenger", "Gutterthrash", and what might be the most lame, "Thrashark". Thrash fucking shark? Why must this, perhaps my most beloved of all metal styles, be reduced to such foul humor in the 21st century? Yes, the tidings for the Atheist Crusade were grim indeed, but against all odds, something wild occurred: I started to jiggle around in my flesh, rattle around in my brain, and ultimately I developed an appreciation for it...

The reason being, that Immaculate are one of the most spastic technical thrash bands out there, with screaming vocals that conjure up comparisons to Realm, Toxik, or Watchtower's debut Energetic Disassembly. Mike Eronen has a shrill, piercing voice that could easily slice vegetables, and perhaps most meats, were it marketed on infomercials for $19.99 plus shipping, and the frenetic blitz created by "Nino Vukovic and Fadi Ghanime" through tracks like "The Immaculate Dead", "Sanity's Eclipse/Steel of the Missionary" or yes, sadly, even "Thrashark" itself. Perhaps the best modern comparison would be the hot commodity of Vektor. Take that band's higher pitched, shrieking frenzies and create an entire album out of their flesh ripping psychosis, and you arrive at Immaculate. Granted, they don't have the songwriting skill, and basically just level you with rapid fire riff after rapid fire riff, and little lyrical strength, but if you're in the mood for something bewildering and complex, but still purely thrash, then you've signed up to the right club.

Atheist Crusade is not exactly perfect, but I feel like almost every original composition has its share of exciting riffs. The band also includes a cover of Fates Warning's "The Apparition", for a few added scene points, and it marks a striking contrast to the rest of the album, since they don't ever decide to break the hyperactive speed barrier with it. It's at least a brief respite before you are assaulted with the screaming madness of "Gutterthrash", during which you'll spend 50% of the time laughing, and 50% of the time losing your hair to the manic and scattered riffs. Wrap all of this up in a crisp guitar tone, with snaking melodic leads and you've got a noted improvement over the Immaculate debut, and one of the most head-spinning thrash speedster combos you're likely to hear in the wake of Vektor.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (you believe you are safe)


Disfigure the Insane - Ouroboros (2010)

The logo presentation for the Disfigure the Insane debut Ourorboros doesn't hold out much hope for the quality of its contents, but before I proceed I should probably establish what exactly this is. Disfigure the Insane is the project of Callum Cant and Craig Robinson, a pair of Scots with a good sense of humor and a sensible grasp of their own limitations (I found their MySpace page enormously entertaining, to tell the truth). Ouroboros is a good old twitching of the death metal nerve, and it's got more than its share of problems, but believe it or not, there is something quite more to it...

What really stunned me about this album is how similar it sounds to Morbid Angel's classic Altars of Madness, only completely batshit insane, and with a drum machine. If you take that ripping, old death/thrashing tone and apply it more chaotically with myriad time shifts that don't always make sense, you've come up with something nearing Disfigure the Insane. Granted, you'll hear some other sounds in here like Deicide, the sporadic intensity of Atheist, or even the vicious twist of black metal venom in some of the vocals, but the way the guitars tear off across the hostility of the vocals truly reminds me of Trey and David Vincent. Such vitriolic fuel makes a track like "Slaughter of Figures...Once Divine" or "Crooked Cage" not only tolerable, but honestly quite good. Both the bassist and guitarist have a solid level of ability, whether pounding out the rapid chords or masturbating into a little shred work.

There are downsides here, like the unfortunate "Kentucky Fried Children". Yes, the lyrics are obviously funny in that least effort sort of way, but my real issue was that it sort of steers away from the great, Altars of Madness feel I get from other compositions. Other tracks deviate from the formula with greater success, like "Ouroboros" itself which makes great use of evil, clinical guitars, or "Sado - Necropolism" which sounds like a jamboree of insane, progressive technical with a strangely uplifting in the bridge. The drum programming, while tight enough to keep the rhythms and even flip its own lid, simply doesn't service this sort of band as much as a live drummer (but they're working on it). Also, sometimes the compositions are so twisted that they tend to crash in upon themselves, with various riffs meshing together that make little sense and become distracting. Fortunately, this is not that often, and you can generally pick up what the band are putting down without achieving a migraine or colostomy.

So, what's next? Certainly, if Disfigure the Insane pulled themselves together, got a drummer and packaged these tunes properly, they would turn some heads. I noticed a lot of death metal bands from this region of the world like Mithras, Scythian and Dãm tend to channel the Morbid Angel influence heavily, but these Scots seem to jerk it forth straight from 1989 and layer it into a modern, spastic context. Ouroboros is a bit of a mess, but it would be foolish to ignore the potential pushing below that mess, like an unhatched fetus trying not to choke itself off in the umbilical, so it picks up a guitar and saws its own nutrient sac in half, dooming itself, and yet giving everyone in the inevitable operating room mental scars for life. Flawed? Most assuredly. Fun? You betcha.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]


Ending Quest - Led to the Slaughter [DEMO] (2010)

Ending Quest is another young Swedish project performing straight up old school death metal, a further vehicle for Stefan Nordström of Desolator. Like that band, this Led to the Slaughter demo is unflinchingly old school and not afraid to flex its familiar muscles, but there are a few differences of note. Where Desolator worked within a miasma of rugged, early 90s aesthetics, Ending Quest feels a little closer to a hybrid of the old, crushing tones of Entombed, Therion, Unleashed and Grave, and the Florida legends Death, at least on their albums Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy. Toss in some Pestilence and Asphyx for good measure, and you're off to a worthy start.

The production here is also quite an improvement over the Desolator demo, and it almost feels like someone were recording Leprosy or Consuming Impulse with the highly recognized and cloned Swedish guitar tone of the master. No, there are not riffs here of the caliber once conjured by a Patrick Mameli or Chuck Schuldiner, but in all, tracks like "Life Recedes" and "Master Therion's Reign" are fun despite this oversight, if only because of their thick, raucous delivery. It's not until the title track that you get a pretty damn excellent guitar riff, and "A Fiery Fate" is another clear winner, with an eerie opening guitar melody and strong body of pulverizing, dynamic force. "Body of Christ" moves with the same momentum as some of the earlier tracks, with a half-baked breakdown into which creeps another spooky guitar line.

Ending Quest has also included a cover of "Wolverine Blues" from Entombed, sort of surprising since you'd think there would be more interest in something off Left Hand Path or Clandestine. It's not a huge leap from the original, and perhaps too close to warrant attention, but it's harmless to show that the band have the chops to tackle their influences head on. In the end, I found that all five of the original tracks had something to offer, and while they are far from unique, they're fun enough examples of the style that they might very well be snapped up in the feeding frenzy for the old Swedish sound. Obviously, I'd like to hear this entire scene produce something more novel, and perhaps such an evolution is not long around the corner, but if you are seeking only the nostalgia for the death metal of your childhood, or you're just getting into this stuff for the first time, you might add Ending Quest to your list.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Desolator - Gravefeast [DEMO] (2010)

Gravefeast is the initial demo offering of a young Swedish act who perform death metal of the late 80s or early 90s variety, where the riffs are the center of attention, the atmosphere is largely generated in the guitar tone itself, and that's how it lives or dies. You won't hear any massive biting off any one individual band here, but there is the sense that you've heard everything before, only not...exactly. Shades of Entombed, Grave, Obituary, Deicide, Bolt Thrower are certainly experienced within the six tracks, but there's also the sense that Desolator have consciously stripped away any ballast that might have labeled them trendy and decidedly only to exploit the very roots of the genre, coming up with their own ends.

Thus, Gravefeast is not the product of the Left Hand Path bandwagon who have released their countless libations this past decade, and it's also not one of these bands to channel Incantation. No excess guitar tone, and no suffering walls of gloom, just the purest of death metal motives recorded in a din so blatantly honest that I first mistook it for a rehearsal recording. The vocals are the average, blunt gutturals favored for the style, while the riffs never even hinge on the precipice of technicality, woven through a cautious but bludgeoning cycle of chords and tremolo passages. "Gravefeast" itself has a nice thrust between its various guitar lines, and some of the best cemetery soiled vocals on the demo, while "Bludgeonined, Beaten and Berated" also evokes some monstrous grooves and rotten, flesh ripping faster fare. The other track I'll point out would be "Antimortem Autopsy", which succeeds at nearly 7 minutes of the band's festering lack of gimmicks, with some morbid melodies closing it out as it cedes into but one, clean and sad guitar.

There's a sizable chunk of this demo which did little for me, and that would be "Demise of All Life", "Desolated" and "Second Killing of Christ". It's not that the songs aren't consistent with the rest, they have that same bitter atmosphere of unadulterated death, but there just weren't many riffs of note, except perhaps the bridge of "Second Killing". Also, on the whole, the band does suffer somewhat from the honesty of their intentions. Though solid for the style, none of the songs really benefit from interesting compositions that could distinguish Desolator from the hundreds if not thousands of aspiring death metal acts of the 90s underground, not to mention the exponential number out there today. Some refinement and progress will be necessary as the band chisel out their path. That said, Gravefeast is a demo tape, a testing of toes in the waters long structured into an ecology and economy of predators and prey, sharks and lesser fish. The material is functional enough for gigging or the appreciation of old school die hards, and it's not a bad introduction.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]


God Dethroned - Under the Sign of the Iron Cross (2010)

High on the fumes of war and history that delivered their prior album Passiondale, the Dutch terror tactics of God Dethroned have returned for yet another venture into the past, a grim reminder of the bloodied and storied architecture of the 20th century. While I concede that having Henri Sattler and his band of belligerents as social studies professors is an intense and exciting prospect, I do glean the notion that this WWI or WWII metal could become all too trendy, with Hail of Bullets as the obvious forerunner, and many others in the underground following suite (some pretty good, like Invasion). I worry that, like the trend in first person shooter entertainment that burdened the earlier 21st century of gaming, this might grow to some level of stagnancy in short order...but hell, it's better than zombies and rape fantasies, right?

Don't answer that. But you may have to answer to God Dethroned, for they are quite intent with Under the Sign of the Iron Cross to blow your fucking head off its foundation, so manic and focused are the compositions here. There is no subtlety whatsoever to a "Storm of Steel" or "The Killing is Faceless", and at best you're going to have the sprinkling of Scandinavian melodies like rain on a grim battlefield, or some clean vocal breaks as in the title track which, while not catchy, are at least not so annoying. The drumming here is particularly nasty, with Mike van der Plicht of Prostitute Disfigurement and Toxocara taking over the duties from Roel Sanders, and he sounds like a human carpet bombing. Sattler mans the helm like a commandant barking down damnation and condemnation upon the theater of war, nearly as percussive as the riffing and unbridled wrist and footwork raging below him. It's not all blitz-worthy, the band will often take a breather, for their own health or the listener's, but the road always leads to some inevitable outbreak.

Unfortunately, though God Dethroned perform this hyper, voluptuous array of Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal and Bolt Thrower with measured accuracy and unflinching passion, the songs are simply not here to survive more than a few spins of the attention, and I found it was about 2-3 interesting tracks short of a Passiondale or Lair of the White Worm, though still superior to 2006's disappointment, The Toxic Touch. The music resonates within the mix, and the album should be heard simply for the intense battery, but the faster material gets old rather quick, and the slower fare, when it transpires, is just not as hot as the munitions being fired off throughout the narrative. It's not exactly a letdown, because it stays pretty consistent to the prior album, but it never builds on Passiondale outside of few instances of sheer speed and force.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Sodom - In War and Pieces (2010)

30 years of German thrash history do not come without a price, and that price is that Sodom will occasionally release an album that fails to puncture the great expectations manifest through Obsessed by Cruelty, Persecution Mania, Agent Orange, Better Off Dead, and so forth. Whether it was the band's 90s relapse into a punk frenzy, or the repeated attempts to reinvigorate their political and warfare driven classics after abandoning the Satan pit, there have been some dips in quality, never lasting long. In War and Pieces, the 13th studio long player from the Teutonic titans, feels like one such plunge into the sub-cellars of the memory, but it's not for lack of trying, and in this case, trying pretty damn hard.

Yes, In War and Pieces is ultimately an average thrash record, but it has a number of strengths that can't be argued. Tom Angelripper's vocals still sound vexed, as if he's still ready to set the world on fire at the drop of an incendiary. The production is eminent, one of the best or at least most accessible efforts in their entire career, and the songwriting is also quite diverse, with extended melodic passages that balance out the more direct, thrashing fare that returns to the 1987-89 period for inspiration. As a power trio, the band sound tight as you might expect from a persistent lineup since 1997, and Bernemann has a positive, thick tone to his playing which makes it difficult not to bang the head even at the most uninspiring patterns of notation. A few of these ragers: "Through Toxic Veins", "Nothing Counts More Than Blood", "Storm Raging Up" and "Stypic Parasite", kick some thorough ass, but there just too many that don't, despite the most violent of intentions.

"In War and Pieces", "Hellfire", "The Art of Killing Poetry" and the escalating thrash ballad "God Bless You" offer little more than forgettable riffs, and pieces like "Feigned Death Throes" tease us with something promising, then let us down gently, summoning only tortured nostalgia for the potential shown by the band's 2006 brain buster Sodom. In War and Pieces is as professional and driven as we could ever dream the Germans would remain after three decades, and it's in truth not a bad album, it just doesn't obliterate its target efficiently enough with the 47 minutes of focused artillery fire. There are no nuclear winters, agent oranges or volcanic sluts anywhere near the scene of this battle. If you're a Sodom die hard, of course, there is a bonus available in the limited edition that might tip your hand to your cash or credit card, and that's an additional live CD from the Wacken Open Air performance in 2007. It sounds pretty good, and the band include favorites like "Sodomy and Lust", "The Saw is the Law", "Ausgebombt" and "Outbreak of Evil", so even if you're reaction to the new material was limited like my own, there is that bit of incentive.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]


Impaled Nazarene - Road to the Octagon (2010)

Impaled Nazarene might not release works of unchecked, viral and raw brilliance anymore like a Latex Cult, but they've kept with the times rather avidly, never once sacrificing their extremity and nuclear party attitude through their studio evolution and improved musicianship. Road to the Octagon is the band's 11th full-length offering, and the Finns once again remind us that black metal need not be bloated or pretentious to be effective, straddling the snortable white line between serious lyrics and execution, and fare of a lighter, punkish 'fun' nature (i.e. the continued legacy of the goat), with a similar, hi-octane thrash aesthetic that permeated their past few albums like Manifest and Pro Patria Finlandia.

As expected, this experience is not the usual stabbing in the wintry woods, staring in pain as the blood pools out into the snow and icicles form along the lacerations, but rather a band of mutant reavers pounding your skull into fragments on the pavement as their leather and spikes glitter in the fallout of a world gone mad. Velocity is the weapon of choice, and tracks like "Enlightenment Process", "Tentacles of the Octagon" and "Convulsing Uncontrollably" all burst past the listener in rarely more than 2 minutes time. There are a few swerves in the formula, like the blistering death metal riff that inaugurates "Reflect On This", or the further dynamics of the album's 'epic' finale "Rhetoric Infernal" (epic only that it's over 4 minutes long...) which actually breaks for a slower rhythm in the bridge, but for almost the entirely of the 13 tracks and 33 minutes, you're being repeatedly flogged at rapid tempos.

That is what Impaled Nazarene excel at, and on Road to the Octagon, they do it with more fervor than we've heard in years, not to mention one of the best mixing shine jobs of their career. As voracious and vorpal as the band's writing remains, the better production here is a huge leap over the band's 90s efforts, and though it might not be cited for the same smutty novelty the band were then associated for against all odds, it's a ripping good time for a half hour spent on the dragway burning rubber, or at the dumpster passing your liquid lunch. Whipping guitar rhythms channel thrash, punk and heavy metal influences into the characteristic snarl of Mika's blasphemous binging, and the rhythm section storm along like twins born of opiate lightning. No compromise, no compositional evolution, and if you think the band are slowing down as their limbs experience the continued incursions of gravity and cell death, well...first you'll have to catch them.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Urskumug - Passover (2007)

Passover is a pleasant offering from the rare Latvian artist Urskumug, but some might consider it a clear step sideways or backwards from Am Nodr. Here's the catch: Passover (Pareja) is not really a new album, but a re-issue of the band's 2004 demo album. The song structures here are simpler and draw a more direct comparison to symphonic Norse bands like Dimmu Borgir or Emperor, however the synth sounds used are often quite unusual, I'd risk even calling them 'cheesy'. Thankfully, this is not the brand of cheese that repels the listener from the contents of the album, but only draws him in. Personally, I enjoy atmospheric black metal which sacrifices all to achieve that dreamy, otherworldly effect, and I feel that Passover achieves this, though perhaps not in spades.

A dark, industrial/ambient piece called "Her Majesty Silence" initiates the album, before we are driven towards the dire delights of the band's namesake "Urskumug", a creepy track with typical black/thrash riffs graced in quirky, memorable synth passages. "The Third" feels a lot more typical, just about any European band in the 90s might have produced it, but that doesn't mean it lacks immersion. But the contents continue to improve as you waltz deeper into the quizzical streams of history, the haunted house pondering of "When the World Becomes Ice", the Baltic reaving of "Nāvas Ēna", and the steady belligerent romping of "Warriors End". Closer "The Heavens Cave" might just be the most memorable piece on the album, with frightening keys that lash out against windswept, savage streams of beautiful chords.

There are a few ambient pieces spread throughout the effort, and these lend an eerie fabric to counterbalance the siege of the central compositions. The production is almost the same level as the debut Am Nodr, with visible, well honed guitars, thundering drums and ripping vocals. Where Passover falls behind the debut is in its actual approach. We get some solid, atmospheric black metal here with hints of symphonic progression, but almost all the tribal weaving elements of Am Nodr are lacking here, yet to be developed in Krauklis' sound. If you actually enjoyed that 2006 album, then I don't see enough of a difference that you couldn't find something to like here, but aside from the great atmosphere in the synthesizers, there are few standout riffs, and I don't often feel the desire to visit it when there are better alternatives available.

Verdict: Win [7/10]