Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hammerlord - Wolves at Wars End (2010)

This American thrash band, hailing from the small college town of Lawrence, Kansas, is one of the better and more aggressive bands to pop up in this latest New Wave of Thrash.

Hammerlord plays a dirty Sodom and Kreator influenced Thrash: fast, pissed off and taking no fucking prisoners. Hammerlord may be a bit more messy than say, your Vektor, or your Havok, but they bring the "rage" in "raging thrash" more than either of those two luminaries of New Wave Thrash. While some tunes are fun lyrically (Tombstones Piledriver), every track is intensely aggressive and their love of German Thrash really comes through. To my ears, Bonded By Blood would be the closest of the New Wave Thrash bands to Hammerlord's sound, in terms of production and the gestalt of their tone, but Wolves At War's End clearly has more in common with Kreator or Slayer, than Exodus.

The production is the quality you would expect from a signed band, and is really quite good for a self-produced demo. Adam "Hammerlord" Mitchell actually mastered the album and mixed the tracks himself at his studio where he produces for a number of local Kansas bands.  He told me that he was going for a more full and deep sound on Wolves At War's End than the standard 80s thrash production; more along the lines of death metal or latter day Kreator. Although the drums are occasionally a touch too loud in the mix for my tastes, the production does call to mind the dulcet tones of Hordes Of Chaos or Enemy Of God, minus the brickwalling, so I'd say he achieved his goal.

The "Hammerlord" anchors and powers this little steamboat at lightspeed, which is exactly what we would expect given the eponymous nature of the band's name. Adam plays Thrash drums as fast and aggressive as I've heard anyone do it. There are some nods to modern metal drumming styles which I enjoy, because the modern touches are used very effectively for emphasis, and allow more dynamics in the rhythm section than more straightforward thrash drums. Also admirable is that Adam manages to achieve hammering precision without sounding like a robot.

The vocals are a definitely out of the harsher side of thrash, ala Slayer, Kreator, Sodom, Destruction, etc., but they really fit the style that Hammerlord is playing, and lend extra aggressiveness to the album that would be missed if they used a Bay Area style vocalist instead of Steve. Steve Cruz is quite good on this album, comparable to a slightly less guttural Tom "Angelripper". Also, the lyrics are a net plus, but it would behoove Hammerlord if the lyrics Steve was writing were a touch less goofy. To me, their sound fits better with social/political commentary or some evil occult rituals than the goofiness embodied in some of their lyrics, but I'll admit that they do achieve a good balance between fun 80s pop-culture references, and more serious topics. Besides, The Undertaker is still metal right?!

The riffs are fresh and not overly-derivative, as many of the New Wave Trash bands can be (I'm looking at you Bonded By Blood). However, while the riffs aren't boring, they are not necessarily the most catchy either, since aggressive speed is the focus. That's not to say the riffs are bad, in fact the riffs are quite good, just not epically, unforgettably great, though they will get your blood boiling for the duration. In addition, the leads are well done, particularly in "The Anomaly Rue" and "Creating Destruction", but not quite stratospherically amazing or catchy enough to sustain the attention too far beyond the end of the album.

I'm a bit surprised that Hammerlord hasn't been snatched up by Earache yet along with Bonded By Blood, but with the Japanese snatching up copies of Wolves At War's End left and right hopefully their status will quickly go to "signed".  Hammerlord definitely resides in the top end of New Wave Thrash, and while I am still anticipating an Epic Win from them, they have done really quite well here with their sophomore. I recommend this to anyone seeking more of that classic aggressive Teutonic Thrash sound, who is open to good New Wave Thrash.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (working outside the ring)


Autopsy - Macabre Eternal (2011)

It was difficult to deliberate as to whether Macabre Eternal is more of a relief or a disappointment, but I'm settling for a little of each. Truly one of the single most anticipated offerings of the death metal genre in 2011, it's the first Autopsy long form in 16 years, or 19 if I can exclude Shitfun (and believe me, I'd love to). In the interim, the band's popularity has not only maintained, but seen an exponential increase. I'll be frank with you, there were not nearly enough folks singing this band's praise back in the late 80s, early 90s (I'm not sure if there was much comprehension or tolerance for Reifert's cunning and crude aesthetics at that time), so it's been refreshing to see them come to life through the years, new generations lavishing praise upon their classics Severed Survival and Mental Funeral.

This is not necessarily the band's 'comeback', since they squeaked out a single and EP in the past few years, the latter of which built my own bloodied expectations to a fine froth. I'm happy to report that there are no redundancies here with either of those releases. Macabre Eternal is a brand new, full-length Autopsy with a number of strengths and weaknesses all unto itself. The artwork is stunning and appreciable (excepting perhaps the logo/title coloring), the production the most bold and bright of any of the band's works to date, and there's a renewed sense of creativity in the writing that I had not expected. Sure, there are nods here or there to the band's formative backlog, and this album thankfully abandons the sludgier, forgettable drivel they churned forth in the mid 90s, but I was surprised that it's no mere product of derivation. So, for instance, you might hear the early Sabbath meets early Death that you expect from the first two records and their moderately death/doom leanings, but even these slower manifestations possess much versatility.

Unfortunately, I found that there were treacherously few songs that truly stuck out to me as I kept listening through Macabre Eternal. "Dirty Gore Whore" is certainly counted among the winners, with its zippy and explosive verse guitars and its torn throat narrative. Fast paced, fluid and original, I enjoyed this from beginning to end, both the searing and wah-wah pedaled leads that transition into the jarring tension of the bridge. Also unexpected was the 11+ minute epic "Sadistic Gratification" which explores perhaps the widest contrasts and emotional range of any Autopsy tune to date. The slower, instrumental doom sequence that inaugurates this track is truly something to behold, culling back to the Retribution for the Dead material if it were more melodic and distinct, parsing from surprising tranquil bliss to jaw crushing force and then back again, once again in vocals that tell a story. I especially loved the trade off between the female screaming and the menacing mockery near the climax of the song (around 9:30 in).

Then there is the rest of the album, which, while 'good enough' never really settled in memory outside of a few scattered riffs. Straight, groovier death/doom pieces like "Always About to Die", "Sewn Into One" and "Seeds of the Doomed" rollick along with a rank, ritual effluvia, but they seemed rather predictable, while the bouncier "Born Undead" maintained its charismatic vocal slather at the expense of its rather mediocre notation. Others are more concentrated and complex, such as the accelerated miasma of "Deliver Me from Sanity" or "Hand of Darkness", with its Leprosy-like rhythm beneath the lead, but they still feel like they're missing that one, inspirational guitar that would force them over the top like their betters here. Perhaps the one constant of quality here is that of the vocals, vintage Reifert with perhaps a hint of influence from Necrophagia's Killjoy (not unwelcome).

The album is not nearly so menacing nor malevolent as Severed Survival and Mental Funeral, but then, that's from the perspective of one inundated with about 20 years of cloying and grisly death metal since hearing such cult fare, and certainly one could not expect their equivalent. However, Autopsy is a band I do turn to for the atmosphere they curry in spite of their lewd primacy, and I feel that in that department, it falls short of even Acts of the Unspeakable. This is more of a clean, theatrical Autopsy prepared to take all comers with a more brazen variety of their old school riffing, and also cite innovation where it can, but too often succumbing to a filler mentality amidst the better elements of the songwriting. A decent album, I think, but not quite measuring up to its preemptive tendrils of vaporous decay, the carrion cloud of cult comforts it drifted in on.

Verdict: Win [7/10]


Six Feet Under - Double Dead Redux (2002)

For five albums and about ten years, Six Feet Under had gradually evolved into what must, for all intensive purposes, be the lowest common denominator of US death metal. Pedestrian compositional ability which at best rivals the career lows of a fellow Floridian band (Obituary); failure to even remotely hinge upon the brutality that Chris Barnes made a name for himself with via Cannibal Corpse; the exploitation of cheap 90s ploys like having a rapper guest star (and having that suck) or trendy songs about smoking weed as some sort of promotional element; too fair a share of cover songs choking up the discography; lack of compelling musicianship or quality production values. Essentially this band was the ghetto of death metal's potential.

Still, the band maintained a positive relationship with their label Metal Blade Records, and there were people buying this tripe. Now, there were people buying Insane Clown Posse. Juggalos. People bought Alicia Keys albums. Avril Lavigne. Good Charlotte. I should not be surprised that enough faith was still placed in Chris Barnes to support his vapid bong-addled haze of dull rock aesthetics and death metal fundamentals, despite a career beginning with mediocrity (in Haunted) and then descending into the muck of disbelief. But what the fuck do I know? There was obviously enough interest for him to release a live album/DVD combo pack, to which he would affix some tattoo-like art: enter the Double Dead Redux, 16 apathetic anthems spanning the underwhelming back catalog of 6FU, and about as agonizing as one might expect.

The audio CD and DVD components of this package are culled from two separate performances, with mildly different track lists. The CD itself, recorded in San Francisco in '02, sounds the better of the pair, but that's not really saying much, because it's nearly as ineffective as the band's studio efforts. Basal, 'my first death metal riff 101' material chugged and grooved along with all the splendor of the 90s' most easily forgotten groove metal, spliced with vibrant but forgettable leads which seem to cohesively lack direction. Barnes' blunt throttling throat is bad enough, but when he's alternating with the snarled vocals (as in the first track "The Day the Dead Walked" it becomes downright awkward), and soon enough ("The Murderers") you get an idea of just how cheap and lacking in creativity this band's fare truly is ('it's all fucked up! it's all fucked up!'). I feel like I'm listening to the ravings of a gangsta rap-riddled middle school drop-out after a serious pipe packing as he ruminates over the troubles in the world...

And that's just not what I want to hear. Now, granted, Barnes seems like a nice guy who does indeed appreciate his audience, as he curses constantly to emphasize. He shows this not only in his banter between songs, but also in his balanced selection for the set. There is a measured selection from each of the four studio original full-lengths. From Haunted (their best) comes "The Enemy Inside", "Silent Violence" and "Torn to the Bone", and no surprise that they're the most entertaining of the lot. Warpath is represented by "Manipulation", "4:20" (lulz), "Revenge of the Zombie" and "A Journey Into Darkness". Maximum Violence gets a larger cut: "Feasting on the Blood of the Insane", "Bonesaw", "No Warning Shot", "Hacked to Pieces", and "Victim of the Paranoid"; and True Carnage gets "Impulse to Disembowel", "The Day the Dead Walked", "The Murderers" and "Waiting for Decay". The DVD set is slightly shorter, with "Torture Killer" in place of "Hacked to Pieces", and shot in Minnesota that same year.

Obviously I favor the earlier material here, because it's the only stuff that doesn't completely suck, but the doomy "Feasting on the Blood of Insane" is also one of the better sounding tracks (if you forget the lyrics). It's a fair play length (54 minutes on the audio CD) without growing too bloated or boring, but that assumes you're an actual fan of Six Feet Under, in which case there is a team of anthropologists standing by to monitor your diet, drug use, migratory and mating habits. As far as a fan package, it's not so dire as the Graveyard Classics compilations, and to be fair, Barnes doesn't stink up the set with other peoples' buds (no covers), just his own green and reeking vapors of banal bludgeoning. The sound isn't so hot for a live mix, but the instruments are good and even, including the base, and I've certainly heard worse. I wish I could say the same for most of the songs.

Verdict: Fail [3/10]


Paths of Possession - Legacy in Ashes (2002)

Really, it was inevitable. A Florida death metal act to draw influence from the more melodic treatment being given the genre at large. To their credit, Paths of Possession do not approach their writing with the diminishing returns of all the At the Gates and In Flames wannabes, but as more of a halfway point between the local death metal of a band like Death, Massacre or Six Feet Under with a dose of traditional 80s metal and some cursory grooving material which is sadly the bane of this debut album's existence. Legacy in Ashes is before the band acquired the presence of Cannibal Corpse (and ex-Monstrosity) front man George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher, and the vocalist here sounds more like a lower pitched Chuck Schuldiner or John Tardy.

He's not really the problem, though. The issue with Legacy in Ashes is that, while a mix of heavy and death metal is a pretty good idea, one that in superior hands has seen mild success, Paths of Possession don't really do anything compelling with the hybrid, at least not on the debut. A few of the tracks like "Darklands" and "Army of Death" have surging melodies gliding across the loud and plunk bass tone and double-bass infused drums, but the majority of them represent nothing more than half-assed groove/death metal anthems that you could find in any 90s nu metal or bar-core band. "Cold Vengeance" is one such sucker, a song so pathetic in its bouncing banality that I can't believe the band included it here. Or "The Dawn Brings War", which is more redolent of Obituary at their most mundane. Others try to straddle the space between these two poles, like "The Sword Coming" and its glorious but weak melodies, but on the whole the album just never distinguishes the band's ideas beyond their roots.

The production is workmanlike and balanced enough, with the guitars having a nice crunch to them, but there is just no fire in the writing, and the best thing about Legacy in Ashes is the cover art. It's almost a pity, because this was at one point the new vehicle for ex-Morbid Angel axe-slinger Richard Brunelle. Had Paths of Possession pulled this off, they might have served as a welcome contrast to their local peers, who were mostly engaged in releasing mediocre or downright weak albums in the 21st century. Granted, this is before Corpsegrinder entered the picture, and the deal with Metal Blade, but then I wonder how either party's curiosity had been engaged by such a wimpy and indistinct debut such as this? A real 'first and worst' here.

Verdict: Fail [4.25/10]


Monday, May 30, 2011

Malevolent Creation - The Will to Kill (2002)

As cliche would have it, the apple does not often fall far from the tree. When that tree is Malevolent Creation's back log of reasonable riffing onslaughts and street stalkings, then its fruit must bear fists of frenetic violence. The Will to Kill is the band's 8th studio album, and frankly not a whole lot different than a number of their previous offerings: The Ten Commandments (1991), Retribution (1992), and Envenomed (2000) all come to mind as direct references to the songwriting. Simplistic old school speed pickings parsed with concrete chugging sequences bent on snapping marrow. This album marks the debut of Kyle Symons to the fold, after Brett Hoffman would once again take a leave of absence from the lineup, but unlike Jason Blachowicz who fronted the albums Eternal and In Cold Blood, Symons is quite close to Hoffman in his stark lethality.

The Will to Kill is essentially your 'stock' Malevolent Creation album. Tight performances all around, and a few snippets potent enough to whip your ass into a frenzy, but very little to write home about, and even less to look back upon. There are a handful of tracks I admire: "With Murderous Precision" seems to me what Slayer might manifest if they took a slight turn towards a more brutal death/thrash hybrid, with a central riffing momentum that would have been a solid match for any of the Bay Area gurus' 80s efforts. "Assassin Squad" balances a deadly clinical precision with pummeling breaks that catapult the listener into the pit before the dense thrashing of the bridge and its snaking, feral lead. "Superior Firepower" is another machination of high paced warfare, conjuring ample tension and release through its barbaric notation, and the closer "Burnt Beyond Recognition" is also nothing to limp out on, about as straightforward and sadistic as this band has ever been.

Sadly, like so many of their releases, there just doesn't seem to be enough to launch it to the upper echelon of memorable death metal classics. The first handful of track possess the same canter and brutality of their peers, but they never serve up even one riff that to stake my attention, and later there are tunes like the moshing "Divine and Conquer" with promise potential and then deliver about 50% empty, filler riffs. I think Fasciana and Barrett do a good job of capturing the pernicious pace of 80s thrash (Slayer, Dark Angel) within the more bludgeoning context of Symon's vocals, while Justin DiPinto floors the listener with his muscular expedition. But at the end of the day, I don't just want my ass kicked in such predictable fashion, I want it done with a subtle malignancy, a shred of nuance and distinguished horror regardless of whether I'm listening to tech, slam, old school death, what the fuck ever. The Will to Kill does not peddle such wares, it remains too straight on its slaughter-course, with no element of surprise and very little enduring extremity. Better than a Stillborn or In Cold Blood, but not among their strongest outings.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (now unstoppable, this storm of murder)


Hate Eternal - King of All Kings (2002)

As strong as the case might be made that Hate Eternal are naught more than a Morbid Angel derivative featuring a member of that very same act, their Conquering the Throne debut was nonetheless the most exciting new career flagship since the late 80s and early 90s, when the 'core' Florida bands were writing their most potent and lasting materials. Three years later, with an adjusted lineup, Erik Rutan would return with the follow-up, King of All Kings, sporting an Andreas Marschall cover redolent of Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle-Earth, production by Rutan himself, and a boast that little to no editing was done during its creation in the studio. The sophomore is a tense, explosive manifestation which follows rather closely in the footsteps of its predecessor, while upping the level of sheer speed and discord woven through the puerile battery.

This is one intense overdose, and the band takes full advantage of percussion mercenary Derek Roddy, who replaces Tim Yeung. King of All Kings is surely one of Roddy's most unrelenting performances, securing his position as an unflinching hired gun across the wide spectrum of extreme metal, shredding out fills nearly as often as Rutan. And speaking of the ex-Ripping Corpse, Morbid Angel speedster, the burden of riffing falls entirely on his shoulders this time out, since Cerrito had also left the band. The result is a mild lack of the preceding album's firm and Faustian structure, replaced by the weaving of entropic threads below Erik's zipping octave rhythms and blustered, processed lead work. It's a fucking tumult, which often suffers from lack of distinction between tracks, but a few of the tracks like "Servants of the Gods" and "In Spirit (The Power of Mana)" show a surprising strength of musicality betwixt the admittedly flashy and ravenous bombardments of "Beyond Redemption", the staggering brutal of a "Chants in Declaration".

The admixture of velocity and taut thrashing execution was something to be feared, even if it does not always produce the most resonant and durable of riffing sequences. King of All Kings is close to an even further hyperized Fatals Formula to the Flesh, or the faster segments of the divisive 1995 Morbid Angel album Domination, and some of my enjoyment of the latter surely bled forth into my appreciation for this. The most destructive of Hate Eternal's full-lengths, if not the best written. Rutan knew his audience and his weaponry well, and brought it to full bearing on the sophomore, but there are stretches of vapid guitar flatulence and dull bludgeoned vocals that fail to overcome the consistency of the debut. Otherwise, this remains one of their strongest albums. There is much to occupy the ear, as you translate Roddy's superhuman applications and Rutan's terse magnificence into a comprehensible, despotic dialect, and surely it's a more tangible and memorable piece than several of its successors.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (I my dominion, my own affliction)


Friday, May 27, 2011

Monstrosity - Enslaving the Masses (2001)

Though the band had only been three studio albums deep when it was released, and might have been better off waiting for more odds and ends to accumulate before unleashing it, Enslaving the Masses is at least the sort of Floridian death fan package which doesn't feel like some greedy ex-retiree banker somewhere in the 'Glades is laughing his hairpiece off at the purchaser. Manifest through indie imprint Conquest, who Monstrosity will remain with for some years, the collection gathers a few objects of desire that the rabid fan or completist would probably want to get his/her hands upon, in addition to a few that really don't matter one way or the other.

There are two discs here, the first of which contains various studio rarities from the band's early history. The most important of these are the Horror Infinity (1991) and Slaves and Masters (1994) demos which feature George 'Corpsegrinder' Fisher in the vocal booth. Granted, all of the tracks from both were re-recorded for their respective albums (Horror Infinity material wound up on Imperial Doom; Slaves and Masters on Millenium), but as usual it's nice to own original versions if you're into the more rugged sounds. Both of them fare well enough, though they pale in comparison to the studio full-length versions. Rounding out this disc, also, are five alternative mixes from the Imperial Doom sessions: "Imperial Doom" itself, "Ceremonial Void", "Vicious Mental Thirst", "Final Cremation" and "Darkest Dream". These actually sound decent, a step in quality above the demos, but not enough to supplant the previously released incarnations.

As for the second disc, it consists of 13 live tracks culled from various dates in the South (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, etc), with the band's newer vocalist Jason Avery. Having seen the band during this period, I can attest to their tight level of brutal execution in this venue, but I can't vouch for the sound of these recordings. The rhythm guitars are rather repressed in the mix, which is sad since they stand alongside the drums as the band's main feature. The leads are a bit louder, and the vocals and drums are balanced well, but the rhythms and bass are largely buried, so it's not that consistent of an experience. As for material, it's pretty heavily in favor of their third album In Dark Purity, which makes sense with Avery on board: "The Angels Venom", "Perpetual War", "Hymns of Tragedy", and of course their cover of Slayer's "Angel of Death" which was a staple for them, revving the crowds up. However, they do throw a few older tunes in like "Horror Infinity" and "Imperial Doom" to round it off, and Avery handles them efficiently.

So, in all, you're not really getting anything impressive here or that you couldn't already find in a superior format throughout the previous Monstrosity full-lengths, but at least it helps you collect the demos on a CD. I might have preferred that they include their two singles here as opposed to the alternate studio mixes, but then, the contents of those are just as redundant as what wound up on the final product. Also, the live material definitely leaves much to be desired. Enslaving the Masses is not necessarily worth the money unless you can snap it up dirt cheap or you insist on having everything the band releases (including bids for their underwear on eBay), but rest assured that its not complete ripoff dreck like some of the label-spun schemes out there. Of course, if you don't already own their full-lengths, then any one of them would prove a more suitable return for your investment.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]


Deicide - In Torment In Hell (2001)

The rational minded among us might suppose that, a single year after one of your flagship death metal acts released their most mediocre effort to date, you'd want them to take to their time when next they enter the studio. If the members of Deicide are to be believed, this was not the case for In Torment In Hell, a purported rush job at the bequest of Roadrunner. Why am I not surprised? This is the same label, after all, which rose (or fell) from genuine greatness in the 80s to one of the trendiest cash whores in all the extreme music industry. The label that, two years hence, would release the worthless 'Best of' Deicide compilation to squeeze a few more bucks beyond this heap of negligible returns...

As it turns out, though, the production and the album art (which isn't frankly all that bad, merely a re-integration of past cover symbols) are not the only impediments to this wretched low. The songwriting is equally to blame, a collection of mundane and uninteresting riffs that offer nothing the band hadn't already delivered in exponentially greater quality on their formative releases Deicide (1990) and Legion (1992). In fact, the music here is so mediocre that it makes the vapid, ridiculous leads sound positively angelic by comparison, as wild and meaningless as they tend to be. In Torment In Hell is perhaps closer to the band's roots than as Insiniteratehymn, but where that album still had the capacity to bust out a half-decent guitar pattern, these are treacherously forgotten within seconds of their passing. Your typical mix of grooving chugs over double bass and explosive old school speed picking that in no way comes off effectively malevolent or even muscular (arguably the band's one strength on their better works).

The vocals might occasionally resonate along with Benton's finer performances, but their meter comes off wholly generic and derivative of the band's back catalog. I'm seriously hard pressed to think of even one riff I appreciated on the album. Even the tighter tracks like the mosh intensive "Let It Be Done" and "Imminent Doom", or the thrashing closer "Lurking Among Us" fall flat on their inverted crosses. Don't even get me started on the title track, which is perhaps the worst on the album, a poor choice for an opener. As the band would agree, the mix sounds like shit. Pick any random demo from a brutal death metal band around the turn of the century and you're likely to find better. I like the zip of the leads, but only because their frivolous tone makes them stand pitchfork and horns above the rest of this lazy, lamentable lattice. Deicide have released other disappointments through their career, but this might have given Jesus the last laugh if they hadn't decided to survive through it.

Verdict: Fail [3.75/10]
(no more empowered)


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amorphis - The Beginning of Times (2011)

After shaking free their impulse to produce forgettable renditions of their classic material (dragging it forth unto the 'now') with newer vocalist Tomi Joutsen, Amorphis have returned to what actually matters: composing new songs that best suits the current lineup of the band. Having been well in favor of the last three albums (Eclipse, Silent Waters, and Skyforger), I found myself anticipating this much as I looked forward to each of their new releases in the 90s, but the streak seems to have hit a bump in the road with The Beginning of Times, their latest conceptual piece, and tenth studio full-length. It's hard to believe Amorphis have entered double digit albums and that it's been 15 years since I was salivating over Elegy and Tales from the Thousand Lakes, but the band has come a long way, both evolutionarily and de-evolutionarily.

To be clear, The Beginning of Times is not a disappointment of the caliber that Pasi Koskinen's swansong Far From the Sun was in 2003. The general ingredients of Skyforger are firm in place, between Joutsen's balanced singing and growling and the heightened sense for melody that the band have embarked on since the mid-90s. Unfortunately, where albums like Elegy and Skyforger wrought such melodies into glorious, potent compositions, those of this album seem to simply sail along, never offensive or well structured enough to glean the ear's affection beyond a handful of spins. Often the songs become a little too fruity or happy, like "Song of the Sage" or the vapid "Mermaid", in which both Tomi's cleans and the female guest vocals seem rather lame, and the music returns to the Tuonela era with less than astounding results. There are a few too many 'soothing' songs, like "You I Need" and "Reformation" which don't really add up to the engrossing experiences the band were churning out in the past ("My Kantele" and so forth).

On the other hand, there are some goodies lurking in the album's depths. "Beginning of Time" feels like an Elegy natural, with loads of melodic bombast in the backing vocal arches and the general thrust of the thundering rhythms into the glorious, growled chorus above the organs. "Escape" and "Crack in a Stone" are two of the most catchy songs amidst the 54+ minute length, and I only wish they'd been thrust up towards the fore in place of "Battle for Light", which isn't as compelling. The production here is on par with the past few efforts, wonderfully capturing the varied instrumentation and dynamics of crushing aggression and blissful, accessible melody so beloved in the band's current audience. Lots of synthesizer, piano, clean guitar passages, and multiple vocal styles provide for an appreciable, kinetic backdrop, and they treat their lyrics and history with the love of natural born sons, looking backward to propel forward. Ultimately, this is least impressive album with Joutsen at the helm, but it's nothing to scoff at, and earns a few needed points late in the game to squeak by.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]
(echoes and tones I understand)


Six Feet Under - True Carnage (2001)

Chris Barnes' Six Feet Under is like a diseased cur that refuses to be put down. Its bark and bite are equally weak, but for some sanity defying reason, Metal Blade records would continue to support this stray mutt's crusade to rain distaste down among the distasteful. At best, the quartet have the ability to create mediocre, tired tropes of groove-laden death metal, and at worst, they are an abomination so heinous that only the veterinarians at the pound dare examine them closely. True Carnage is the band's fourth original studio album, and the worst today, making its predecessor Maximum Violence seem like a glittering jewel by comparison. Fuck, even the first Graveyard Classics collection gives it a run for its money...

The most that could be said for the first 3-4 tracks is that they are simply pedestrian, with zero value whatsoever when held against nearly anything else in the field of death metal. "Impulse to Disembowel", which opens the album, is a treacherously boring groove/slog with a generic fast break and a taste of Barnes most awkward contrast in grunting and snarling to date. "The Day the Dead Walked" at least tries to create a proper old school death atmosphere, with a nice fast pace joined to its thick bass, but the riffs are flat and uninspired, and would never have made the cut for The Bleeding. We're only getting started though, because the depths of this album take a turn south from even this material! "One Bullet Left" is a gangsta death metal song with Ice T guesting on vocals, and fucking pathetic. What's hilarious is that the Original Gangsta takes a punch at critics in his flow, as if this were going to somehow shield this sad band from their due in negative reaction. Ice T can do much better than this, hell even Body Count was better than this, and once Barnes rejoins the proceeding with his grunts it becomes more than awkward...

For some reason you motherfuckers think this is some kind of motherfuckin game
You ain't gonna realize until I got some fucking steel pointed at your faggot-ass face
And blow your
motherfuckin dome off your goddamn shoulders
You motherfuckin critic-ass bitch motherfuckers, catch you comin out your motherfuckin house

But hell, I could just wallow in the irony and be amused. I might say the same for "Snakes", in which Barnes grunts the title over a bouncy groove metal chugging sequence numerous times. It's goddamn ridiculous, but almost comic in a base way, at least when you take a step back and stop using your brain to process thoughts. Unfortunately the music in this song sucks, like a slam pit hymn from Disturbed with bouncy, jump da fuc up rhythms. "Knife, Gun, Axe" is another hideous bouncer with a few Prong-like rhythms circa Beg to Differ. Barnes' primary gutturals here get good and low, almost like a Will Rahmer (Mortician), but then he ruins them with these machine gun snarls that sound like a bad joke, like Salacious Crumb providing commentary while Jabba the Hut is being strangled by his captive Princess Leia. Then we've got "Sick and Twisted", on which another guest appearance is manifest through Karyn Crisis. Now, I've seen her main band a number of times, and she's a pretty eclectic personality, but hearing her wig out alongside Barnes' bludgeoning voice is a headache I do not wish to repeat.

The only 'carnage' this album produces is in the removal of its listeners' gray matter, leaving the mush to soak in a toilet bowl. Was Chris just getting stoned and trying to fill out a contract? To remain productive without any semblance of a good idea? Surely the guy has written better in the past, but this is easily one of the worst offerings from Six Feet Under, and one of the worst Florida death metal exports in history. Its production is muffled and uninspired, it has an anomalous ability to produce not even one good guitar riff throughout 34+ minutes of material, and it seems almost entirely phoned in, as if the accumulation of 'guest spots' would somehow compensate for its myriad faults. There might be a giggle or two here for those who revel in the dumpster of death. Otherwise, avoid at all costs

Verdict: Fail [2.75/10]
(reduce their heads with lead)


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Toad - Rotten Tide EP (2011)

Sort of how Norway's Kvelertak successfully marries the youthful energy of blazing punk rock to a furious black metal rasp, so too does Arizona's TOAD conjure up a hybrid of burning, jangling rock & roll with occasional tremolo picking passages and a hoarse, tormented front man. The true joy of this Rotten Tide release, however, is the process the band used to record it, with only vintage instruments (from the 60s or 70s) and primitive distortion at hand, straight to an analog. So basically, this is a live recording, yet not a live album, and to that extent, the band sounds phenomenal, to the point that I can easily see how this might become a widespread process that many, many more bands want to get their greedy fingers on, and off their bedroom black metal home recording software.

But do the songs add up to the aural aesthetic? For the most part, though the vocals can often feel a tinge monotonous, the emotional real variation being a shift from the brutal bludgeoning to a more salacious sneer. There are five tracks here, adding up to just over 21 minutes, more or less an EP, and each brings something interesting to the table. "Midnight Hunger" rollicks through a scuffle of dire melodies, mid-paced mutes and tightly coiled thrashing acceleration, while "Pale Nimbus" evokes more of a traditional black metal aesthetic between the crushing chords and bleeding streams of dissonant melody, with a great finale. "Embody the Ghost" builds an eerie, rocking structure, and "Morning Disgust" is more open aired and breathtaking betwixt the big grooves. "Necrophatic Vatican" had an Entombed/Hellacopters thrust about it, at least until the gang shouts at the end, but this was my least favorite here.

Rotten Tide isn't bad at all. I like the imagery being conjured through both the band's choice in tonal structure and the cover art. They're doing something interesting, even if there are still a few kinks to shake out. I mentioned the vocals, and also the riffs themselves are about 50/50 on fire or dull. I'm not sure just how often I would listen to this, but if the band wa able to produce a full length using the same style but a greater dynamic range within the songwriting itself, with some more charisma to drive the lyrics down your eardrums, then I think Toad (aka Take Over and Destroy) would be worth getting excited over.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]


Owl - Owl (2011)

There's been a good share of hype surrounding this Owl s/t, as will be the case with any side project from a competent and talented individual like Christian Kolf. If you've had the pleasure of his other works, like the tranquil Island or the impressive Woburn House, you will understand that this gentleman has an eclectic taste for transforming given genres into transcendent works of atmosphere, and Owl is not an exception to this technique. The roots here lie within the field of old, drudging death circa Incantation, and the time is right for striking up this particular match: this end of the spectrum is currently populated with a wealth of promising acts who strive for the same strain of nostalgia and mood.

Naturally, Kolf has come up with something even more atmospheric than one expect from his cavernous, grim peers, and he performs most of the instruments himself. Owl ranges from long periods of guttural morbidity and simplistic death/doom riffing to more progressive, folksy passages and cleaner vocals redolent of his Zeitgeister kin Klabautamann, Island, and so forth. It seeks to swallow the listener whole into its ebbing portrait of loss, and does so not only with the musical palette but also the extensive song titles like "Lost in Vaults Underneath the Melting Mountain of the Saints", "Spell of the Ignis Fatuus That Leads to the Impalpable Altar of Beasts" or "The Daimonion of Dying Summers Looming Through the Golden Mist of Dreams". I wasn't sure if he was attempting an ironic humor here (akin to Bal-Sagoth and their vernacular excess), but the songs certainly seem like none other than serious business. Though they often drag on as lengthily as their song titles, swollen with needless, solemn debris, there are at least a few moments of excitement, some memorable bones dug out from the skeletons of the songs that prevent the desolate ennui that I was dreading.

But this is only the first half of the album, comprised of four tracks. The latter is but a single, 30+ minute, yawning ambient piece titled "Threnodical Ritual at the Spectral Shores of the Eternal Sunset", primarily built from dull, resonating organ tones and then samples of things like lapping shores. Ever so slowly, the minimal patterns of notes here shift about, but if one is not in the mood for such a melancholic backdrop then I'm afraid he/she might find this fragment of Owl to be a dreadful bore. Had the metal hymns been more absorbing, I might have found this piece to provide a curious contrast, but alas, I often had to struggle just to get through the inaugural din of "Conquering the Kingdom of Rain (Enter Her Holy Halls)", which is over 13 minutes itself, so while it succeeds in its atmospheric ambitions, I felt as if it was constantly hovering at the precipice of my attention span.

Don't let me delude you into thinking this album is merely 'slow', because there is some blasting involved as in "Lost in Vaults...", and that's perhaps the track I enjoyed the most for the ringing, eerie melodies and momentum. It's not without some variation, and the lyrics create a vigorous, varied imagery to accompany the meter of the instruments. Owl provides a more drawn out alternative to other commodious chasms of sorrow like Chile's Godless, Australian circus act Portal or Vancouver's Mitochondrion, but unlike Kolf's other involvements, I felt that the vision and mood created here were often more compelling than the actual music, and it only just scrapes by on its artistic merit.

Verdict: Win [7/10]
(pious malignant lore)

Deceased - Surreal Overdose (2011)

Deceased are one of those rare bands which never seems to release anything even hinging on a bad album, at least when it comes to their full length studio fare. The most obvious reason is that King Fowley and his cadre of metallurgical historians have their minds and fingers upon the pulse of good taste, the lure of nostalgia and yet no crass committal or constraint to merely sounding 'old school'. Then there's also the fact they've been developing their instrumental chops for decades, and know how to right a damned good conceptual song, whether campy or genuinely intriguing. Surreal Overdose might only be the band's sixth proper studio album in over 25 years, but you'd be surprised at just how much it brings to the table: Everything.

Nothing is off the table here if it can contribute to a good song. From the band's traditional death thrashing aggression to the liberal dosage of traditional heavy/speed metal cast both in the core rhythms, dual melodies, to the time and effort placed into the lyrics, to Fowley's distinct vocals, both dour and emotional in each captured phrase. Deceased represents the very best of what any modern (or surviving) metal entity can achieve: quality compositional ability that manages to pay a wonderful compliment to all of its influences, but at the same time sounds incredibly fresh and important, as if it had just stepped off the pain train to convey your suffering. Cash on delivery. Those who are fond of the band's past works Supernatural Addiction (2000) and Fearless Undead Machines (1997) are in for a particular treat, because Surreal Overdose is every bit as memorable, if not more so.

Each track distinguishes itself very well from the next, with only modest similarities in the vocals or the volatile pacing. There are a good number of full on, raging relics like "Skin Crawling Progress" which draws upon everything from Voivod to Venom; or the uplifting intro to "The Traumatic" which quickly devolves into a paranoid instilling hostility (dig the belligerent drumming passages that cut through the volleyed verses); or the scathing, morbid thrash that heralds "In the Laboratory of Joyous Gloom". But they are also some strategic breaks in the action, if no less hair raising, like the clinical spikes of titillating melody that inaugurates the track "Cloned (Day of the Robot)" or the subtle, haunted texture of the guitars in the instrumental "A Doom-Laden Aura" which sets up the finale, "Dying in Analog" (what a title there). With the exception of that instrumental, there isn't a single cut here void of at least 4-5 breathtaking, exciting riffs, and even the leads flow with electrical enthusiasm.

What's more, Surreal Overdose possesses what must be the best production of any Deceased full-length to date: the guitars even more brazen than Supernatural Addiction, the rhythmic balance meticulous, the vocals hovering at just the proper level beyond the asylum window. It blows the previous disc As the Weird Travel On clear out of the airlock, in both quality and the actual sound. A love letter to the psychological breakdown of all humanity. In summation...what a rush! You don't get an album from these Virginians very often, so when you do, it's almost always guaranteed to keep you occupied for many listens. Surreal Overdose is no exception, and in fact, and I'll go so far as to say it's the best thing the band has ever stamped their logo upon. These are men who love metal. METAL. It's not a hoax. It's not a joke. It's not a laughingstock for suits and hipsters and 'cultured' fuckheads. If you can say the same for yourself, then you're about to become one album richer.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]


Diabolic - Vengeance Ascending (2001)

Counter to its feeling 'rushed', Vengeance Ascending was actually the proper Diabolic album of 2001, being released only a few weeks after Subterraneal Magnitude had finally arrived (due to delays). That can't be fun for any band, because which do you promote? Well, if I had been Aantar Coates and company, I would have just run with the sophomore, because Vengeance Ascending is one of those 'rush to the finish line' albums which gestates pure speed and brutality, but not much by way of interesting riffs or compelling songwriting. In fact, the one saving grace this album might possess would be the leads, as in "All Evils Inside", which provide about the only tangible journey up and above the monotonous blasting and double bass.

Certainly, the drums are a lot more incessant than the previous two albums, but there's just not that much else happening to distract your ear away from them. "Darken the Imagination" opens as if it were a long lost runoff from Altars of Madness, sans the quality riffing of Azagthoth, and then it bursts through the next 3-4 songs as if some hellish premature ejaculation. The rhythm guitars are functional enough, yet they never quite achieve the mesmerizing patterns necessary to conjure any real malevolence. In fact, if you were to remove the samples, the album would be a total bore up until the bridge/lead sequence in "Marked for Banishment", which is followed with a dark ambient trip called "The Inevitable", through which the listener can take a break before the tightly coiled thrashing that inaugurates "Possess the Strength". But the remainder of the cuts follow the same mired formula of blasted mediocrity, half-decent dynamics and solos thrust into the compositions too sparsely, like oasis of memory in a desert of forgetfulness.

The mix of the album is also less impressive than Subterraneal Magnitude, because it's just so level that nothing other than the leads ever stands out to the fore. They're still using a similar guitar tone to the previous albums, but it feels less potent somehow, failing to distinguish itself from Coates' abyssal battery. The lyrics also felt a little less interesting than the two before, even if its skirting about the same occult pageantry. Diabolic seemed to be going for an all out death race of aggression which would impress those rabble who care for nothing else than sheer wall of force metal with zero immortal qualities, or at the very least a Morbid Angel knockoff, but they wound up with an album that has no real character beyond its barbarian forcefulness and a few spidery, resonant leads.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (relish the human decay)


Diabolic - Subterraneal Magnitude (2001)

Though the album was delayed for a year, finally arriving just a short span before Diabolic's third full-length Vengeance Ascending was ready for liftoff, I am happy we were finally able to get our mitts on Subterraneal Magnitude. It's the best of this Florida band's efforts by a fair margin, combing the depths of those old school aesthetics unearthed by the band's forebears, but at the same time establishing them as more than a mere clone (at least here). This was their peak in both tone and mood. Reasonably strong songwriting compounded by rhythmic variation, dense atmosphere and entertaining, engaging lead work that succeeds in grasping the listener's attention when and where it might seem to begin to drift off...

I'd situate Subterraneal Magnitude between the poles of Morbid Angel and Pennsylvanians Incantation, though the former clearly remains Diabolic's most obvious influence (always would be). Tracks like "Infernalism", "Deadly Deception" and the superior "Failed Extraction" make strong use of Aantar Coates' musculature as the guitarists lay out storming frameworks of turmoil and strife, Paul Oulette's cavernous, deeper David Vincent tone presiding across the onslaught without stealing the mix away from the impenetrable rhythm section. But the album is even more interesting when the band slows itself to a raucous stomp, as in the intro instrumental "Vassago" where a catchy piano succumbs to copious grooves; "Fleshcraft", in which a simplistic and instantly sticking guitar pattern grinds off into the most potent and hellish thundering of the entire album; or the closing title track, which too manifests a climactic groove before thrusting off into the band's comfort zone of blasted, primal torment and tense solos.

All of this and a fine, throbbing production make for a band's early peaking. One wonders how this was not released on time. That added initiative might have allowed for it to cause larger ripples than it did among those craving brutal roots death among the hordes of more melodic acts that were taking flight around the turn of the century. Nowhere close to immortality, or perfection. But the decent lyrics, eye catching cover art and generally powerful composition (a few of the faster blasters leave something to be desired) drive this beyond their debut Supreme Evil and the following Vengeance Ascending with ease, not that the writing is all that distinct from one to the next, but Subterraneal Magnitude curries their Diabolic potential like a Beelzebub stuck in celestial amber, a cataclysmic statement that might have disintegrated a broader host of witnesses had it been given the chance.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
(reverent life living despair)


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Incantation - Upon the Throne of Apocalypse (1995)

Imagine you were to go to your nearest Hearse dealer and take a shiny new funereal ride out for a test drive. Now, imagine going back to that same lot a year later after hours, blow-torching that same vehicle and then taking it out for a joyride...using only the reverse gear. Not one of my most overt analogies, but it pretty much sums up Upon the Throne of Apocalypse, an alternate recording of Incantation's crushing sophomore Mortal Throne of Nazarene which was released but a year after the first. Apparently the band and the label had some disagreement over the audio quality of the studio album, and went back to the well to create something more supposedly ominous and issue it through a limited edition.

Understandably, there are two camps regarding this record. The first believes in and justifies its existence, claiming they prefer the deeper, bass-heavier tone of the re-release, and that it better suits the band's cavernous aesthetic. The other had no problem with Mortal Throne of Nazarene as it was, and considers this a bit of a ripoff. To be fair, Relapse put out only like 1000 copies of this CD, so it wasn't meant to be some widespread scam, simply a means to make themselves happier, presumably the band and also a chunk of the fan base. Had this been the 21st century, Incantation might have released this themselves through a website for a few bucks, perhaps iTunes or a 'Pay As You Will' scenario for the fans. Or maybe released it with a remastered or re-issue of Mortal Throne of Nazarene, or as part of a fan package with a bunch of their demos and other materials. But this was 1995, and the timing of its manifestation was slightly suspect. After all, this was a pretty underground band even in its heyday, so who really cared? I guess a thousand or so people...

Now, I happen to love Mortal Throne of Nazarene for all its benefits and flaws, so I fall into the latter reaction. Not because of some implied, sinister machinations of the rough mix's presence, but because I rather appreciate the contrast in tones found on that incarnation. Upon the Throne is deeper and perhaps darker, but only in the most obvious stripping of the mix. I can understand why it would feel more streamlined to the dank and desolate, crushing weight of the band's material, and certainly the majority of the Incantation worship bands existing today go for this approach, but it lacks the dynamic disconnect between Craig Pillard's enormous guttural resonance and the higher pitched grinding tumult of the guitars, a subterranean approximation of Bolt Thrower's bludgeoning with a more versatile exploration of tempo. Thus, in exchange for making the music a bit 'darker', the overwhelming shock of the vocals (their most potent and distinct characteristic) is lost a little on the 1995 version, and some of the bright curvature of the guitar grooves is also dimmed.

There's also the notion I've heard that the Mortal Throne mix is too 'clean', but that's nonsense. It is not tidy in the slightest, but septic and pummeling in line with many of the more intense, extreme death and grind acts of the early through mid 90s. The track list is precisely the same on both releases, just presented in reverse, which was a lot bigger deal at the time than it is now with the age of mp3 players and barely anyone listening to albums in order (critics and purists being the exception). However, I must say that I preferred the album's initiation to tear my skin off with "Demonic Incarnate", rather than the trudging brute that is the 8+ minute "Abolishment of Immaculate Serenity" opening the ceremony. I felt that epic was better suited to the depths of the disc as a grand finale, so I simply do not see the advantage to having it the other way. I also preferred having the extra leads on the album.

Upon the Throne of Apocalypse is pretty much a waste of space, even if I can discern why some listeners would prefer this more earthen, dreary copulation of tones. It's more consistent, but at the same time less interesting because the striking disparity of its brazen brutality is muted. Being a limited edition, there is an obvious appeal for collectors, but I feel like the material itself was best presented through Mortal Throne of Nazarene, which joins the debut Onward to Golgotha as a timeless US classic of boundary forcing, grotesque obscenity. Even the cover art choice here is not so appealing. It wasn't broken, it didn't need fixing, and I can only imagine the turbulence that would ensue if Relapse had green lit the same treatment for a dozen other classics, but then, this is a label known for shaky relations with their artists. (John McEntee himself had friction with them for some years).

Verdict: Fail [3.5/10] (a salacious burden into utter paradise)


Death - Live in L.A. Death & Raw (2001)

Remaining objective about an album like Live in L.A. (Death & Raw) can be a difficult thing for me While I don't care for the album itself due to the rather miserable track listing, it was released for a decent cause (to help Chuck Schuldiner raise proceeds for his fight with brain cancer) and has at least an audible production which is accurate to the band's performances during this period. It's one of those rare cash grabs which is actually for a GOOD reason, but at the same time it offers fans a long awaited, official live offering. Kudos to Schuldiner for not taking advantage of his rabid fan base many years earlier. He could have released a live album every six months since 19991 and devotees would have gobbled each up like starving robins on a trail of bread crumbs.

As its title implicates, Death & Raw was recorded on the West Coast in December of 1998, when Death was a few months out from The Sound of Perseverance, touring with that lineup (Hamm, Christy, and Clendenin). Unfortunately, this means its heavy on newer material, as we had yet to reach the point where classic metal bands focused on their classics (though for a handful of the faithful, you'd think Perseverance was the Second Coming). It's not all that bad, there are but three new tracks in the set: "Scavenger of Human Sorrow", "Spirit Crusher" and "Flesh and the Power It Holds", but I must say I got nothing more from them than I had on the studio album. Symbolic is more thoroughly represented, with "Crystal Mountain", "Zero Tolerance", "Empty Words" and the title track; while Individual Thought Patterns and Human each get a pair ("The Philosopher", "Trapped in a Corner", "Suicide Machine", "Together As One"). Sadly this leaves only two slots in the 13-track list to cover the first three fucking albums! Yes, the classic DEATH metal albums are represented only by "Pull the Plug" (Leprosy) and "Zombie Ritual" (Scream Bloody Gore). A damned travesty, and I don't care how 'forward thinking' Chuck was, Spiritual Healing is completely absent!

That's a pretty big gripe when wants to experience excitement through a live recording, but recognizing the fact that Schuldiner probably wasn't interested in the least in his older material, I guess I should be happy that even those two made the cut. Or, I would be, if they sounded the least bit entertaining. Chuck was using his more torn throat vocals by this point, sounding almost like a black metal rasp, and it simply does not sound fluid with the formative songs, or even "Suicide Machine". The least affected tracks are those from Symbolic, which are more melodic and sparse enough to bear the shift in his tone; or The Sound of Perseverance, since the vocals sounded similar in the studio. As for the rest of the mix, its raw and functional, but nothing special at all. The drums are rather loud and poppy, and the guitars felt too compressed and distant, though the leads carry through decently. I've already mentioned the vocals, and they sound a bit hacked, and Clendenin's clunky bass lines rarely stand out against the guitars.

Live albums are supposed to be the next best thing to being there, and I can't accurately claim that Death & Raw provides this experience. It's by no means an awful recording, but it leaves much to be desired, more like a glorified bootleg than a legendary live. The 'raw' in the title is no joke, but neither does it benefit Death's sound. As a token of appreciation for one of your icons, to help him battle his life threatening illness, it was worth the coin. You were getting something in return for your labors, a positive idea all around. But as a standalone live release, it just does not cut it, and I found little to no satisfaction in the content itself.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]


Death - Live in Eindhoven '98 (2001)

Live in Eindhoven was released only a few weeks after Live in L.A. (Death & Raw), so presumably this was also used to generate some funds for Chuck's ongoing struggle with cancer. There is a DVD for this also (I believe one for its predecessor too), so I will immediately recommend that everyone interested just focus in on that and skip the audio only release, since there is just not much value to it coming so close after the other release. Still, if you were all for funneling the money to the ailing musical legend, it would be something purchased sight unseen strictly for the assistance it was providing. Hell, even if Nuclear Blast wasn't giving him a large share of the proceeds, he was at least getting the usual percentage and royalties, right?

The problem is that this Dynamo Open Air gig has the same lineup and same general track list as found on Live in L.A. (Death & Raw). The difference is that "Lack of Comprehension" and "Flattening of Emotions" have been included, and the following removed for the shorter set: "Zombie Ritual", "Scavenger of Human Sorrow", "Empty Words", and the title track from Symbolic. It's not much of a better set, though they fuck around with the finale "Pull the Plug" less than the other live album, and I felt that the sound quality here was evenly balanced, if still pretty raw and lacking. The vocals are a tad less grating, the guitars and drums better mixed, and I can hear the bass lines better even when the dual axes are sounding off. In all, I felt a fraction of more potent excitement than I did listening through the other, but I have to question its overall use when we'd just been bombarded with such a similar product.

What would have been excellent would have been if the band and labels had dug through the band's history and given us a CLASSIC live album from the Ultimate Revenge 2 years, or an earlier tour. Surely there were a wealth of bootlegs and soundboard recordings to cull from? Now that would have been something, offering the fans two choices: a modern lineup and an old school rendering. I would have plunked the money down on that instantaneously, and I'm sure others would have appreciated the same. In the end though, this is just another release you're going to snatch up to support the artist as opposed to expecting much throughput of the content, and in this case it's safer just to grab the DVD so you're getting the video component.

Verdict: Fail [4.75/10]


Monday, May 23, 2011

Torture Division - Through the Eyes of a Dead [DEMO] (2011)

Torture Division are back with another new demo (download page here) for us cheap bastards to enjoy (download their whole catalog for free or donate if you like metal - I've ponied up almost $50 over the years it seems). While I found Evighetens Dårar III a bit lackluster, Through the Eyes of a Dead has made up for it by being in my opinion, the best thing these Swedes have ever recorded coupled with the best mix Dan Swanö has ever (graciously) done for them as well.

What I Liked:
This is pure Torture Division-styled classic death metal with the Swedish punk/d-beat energetic backbone that I have always felt these guys pull off better than some bigger bands of the style such as Vomitory. You can never say that Torture Division play without heart, and you can really tell these Swedes just love metal. That being said it doesn't hurt that they can also write a catchy tune. Lyrically this is not much different than past Torture Division albums - verging from near slam death metal level lyrics ("Clark the Monarch" detailing a near-legendary crazy drug-dealer or addict [can't figure out which]) to more punk themed songs ("Vampire Empire", a song about a pissed off and angst ridden 16 year-old vampire). As always, Torture Division pull both off with style that will have you banging your head.

Overall I just find these guys to be fun to listen to. Lord K.'s guitar is heavier than ever making the groovy riffs extremely satisfying - check out the midsection of "Vampire Empire" from 1:15 onwards for proof. Tobias Gustafsson's drums are the usual d-beat/death metal mix that it's always been, he sounds really good in this release - props to Dan Swanö again on the mix. Again Jörgen Sandström's has the dual duty of bass and vocals - his bass sounds awesome though mostly follows the guitar and drums as in the past releases; the vocals on the other hand are like a gruffier Johan Hegg mixed with some interspersed screams for effect - pretty catchy vocal patterns at times, especially "Clark the Monarch", though not nearly as catchy as Hegg's stuff in Amon Amarth.

I also want to touch on the Mastodon cover of "Iron Tusk" that they released around the exact same time as this demo because it's awesome. Having really loved the original, I can say that Torture Division fucking turn it to 11 with this one and really make a unique cover (direct download here).

What I Didn't Like:
How I have to wait for the next demo - while this is the most satisfying Torture Division demo it's still not enough. Knowing that all the music for the next demo is just waiting to be recorded sometime this summer is reassuring at least.

This is how I like my metal to be - recorded with love and care.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


Peste Noire - L'Ordure a L'etat Pur (2011)

While its song structures prove more epic and substantial than those of Peste Noire's last effort, Ballade cuntre lo Anemi Francor, their latest album L'Ordure a L'etat Pur is every bit as eccentric and scatterbrained as nearly anything the French oddity has produced to date. Famine, or shall I say La Sale Famine de Valfunde has crafted another startling absurdity, this time through his own new imprint 'La Mesnie Herlequin', for which he's also managing a record store and 'zine. As usual, expect the unexpected as you're listening through this, for while the prior album might have shown some degree of restraint in its core, black metallic-inclined tracks, this albums lacks the uncanny vignettes of its precursor, incorporate the abstract and versatile directly into the loaded, bizarre nationalist hymns.

Strange as it might seem, my favorite constituent within a Peste Noire album is ever the guitar tone, and I was certainly not unsatisfied with the natural, humble authenticity of the riffing in "Casse, Pêches, Fractures et Traditions" or closer "La condi hu". A solid balance of distortion, fuzz and creativity. As much as the band might seem to get off on its own ridiculous parameters, its the actual metal that shines. However, this album goes all over the place, both in its more overt bastardizations of genre, like the cheesy techno beat fueled "Cochon Carotte et les sœurs Crotte" with its eerie sampled perversions and Famine's rank howlings; or the first segment of "J’avais rêvé du Nord"and its pulsing ghetto beat. What's fascinating is that the elements which should absolutely destroy any semblance of sanity or seriousness are rather fluid alongside the metallurgy. This is a man capable of selling you any used lemon on the lot, because he's just that good of a composer of these dynamic and laughable contrasts.

I do feel that some of the five pieces here feel 'padded', a bit too thick with ideas for their own good. It's interesting to explore a 10-20 minute tune when you're constantly being bombarded with such surprises (rhythmic bird calls? They're in here), but some of the actual riffing suffers. I greatly preferred "Casse...", "La condi hu" and "Sale famine von Valfoutre" to the other two tracks, but there are bits of each that stand out against the sum experience. Also, the production to this album is quite cleaner than any of the prior full-lengths. Not exactly a drawback, per se, but if you fancied the raw aesthetics of Ballade cuntre lo Anemi Francor (which I loved), then you might be a little reserved. I can't say I enjoyed this quite so much as the last two records, but nonetheless its a bastion of risks that yet again proves its worth, that Famine is one of the most distinct voices upon the European black metal landscape. He will continue to be loathed or adulated based on the listener's relative political and social beliefs, but there's simply no denying the charisma he infuses into his releases. L'Ordure a L'etat Pur might not have entirely stuck so glue-like to my ears and conscience as its predecessor, but I can promise that its a trip you will not be taking elsewhere.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]


Autopsy - Torn from the Grave (2001)

Tyler Durden really had it right, didn't he? Selling the ass fat off rich old women back to them as soap? So too did the record industry of the emergent 21st century, cashing in on 80s and 90s death metal gems, much as the RIAA and its constituents and predecessors had done for the past 30+ years in rock, pop, and other mainstream musical outlets. The old 'Greatest Hits' fiasco, riding high to bait a new millenium of suckers. Californian godfathers of the grotesque Autopsy had been yet untouched by this mass scam, having only had a few discs of unreleased material (demos, live gigs) put out through the imprint Necroharmonic, but it was only a matter of time before Peaceville would realize they were sitting on a goldmine in the band's back catalog, and Torn from the Grave would be torn from the archives, packaged in some thrifty cover art and foisted upon the masses who by this point might damn well have grown tired of Abscess and desired their beloved carrion eaters Autopsy back in their authentic incarnation.

I would have loved to think Chris Reifert and crew were above this sort of treatment, the icons of the underground that they've always been, loyal to a fault, but alas, their 'Greatest Hits' arrived. Like Obituary's Anthology, this is admittedly a substantial collection with 27 tracks and 71 minutes of material, but 22 of these are lifted straight off the studio releases through Peaceville (1989-1995). Most were culled from the four full-lengths, with Mental Funeral getting the royal treatment of six selections ("Twisted Mass of Burnt Decay", "Fleshcrawl", "Slaughterday", "Torn from the Womb", "Dark Crusade" and the title track), and the others all getting about 4-5 each. Yes, even Shitfun has been represented ("Brain Damage", "Blood Orgy", "Bowel Ripper" and "Humiliate Your Corpse"), but this is thankfully at the end of the disc so you could stop early if you did not want to once again exposure yourself to its underwhelming content. The band's earlier EPs are also given proxy here: the title track from Retribution of the Dead, the title track and "Squeal Like a Pig" from Fiend for Blood, so no gravestone is left unturned from the band's 'official' discography of the period.

The selections are decent, I suppose, but utterly worthless to anyone who already owned the original recordings. As I've said many times though for similar collections by other bands, the few and the proud Autopsy fans (this was before the band's massive internet popularity resurgence in the 21st century) were very likely to have most of them, even the EPs which had been included on CD re-issues of Severed Survival and Acts of the Unspeakable. For these begrudged stalwarts, the value of Torn from the Grave must lie in its alternate recordings and live treats, no? The "Robbing the Grave" and "Shiteater" performances included here (from California and New Jersey, respectively) are also available on the Necroharmonic live compilation Dead as Fuck (2004), with many more, so they're easy to skip here in favor of a more solid experience. The other performance track, "Service for a Vacant Coffin" from Germany in 1990, is decent, but probably also available on a CD re-issue or bootleg. "Ridden With Disease" is included from the Critical Madness demo (1988), but then you can get both of the band's demos on the comp of the same name (Ridden With Disease) that was already issued. That leaves "Funereality", which is listed as from the Vol 4 Peaceville compilation, but is also on Acts of the Unspeakable...

So you can sort of see where this is going. Nowhere. Another sanctimonious waste of scratch being peddled 'because it can be', to pad pockets and be forever consigned to used record bins or the unstirred shelves of collectors, buried in dust. Not even this sacred cow would be exempt from such molestation, and I'd highly recommend that it be forgotten, and that the Autopsy aspirant, the most likely candidate to be pulled under this rug, spend his coins on the band's first three albums, and welcome himself to manhood.

Verdict: Epic Fail [1/10]