Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cloud Rat - Qliphoth (2015)

You know how sometimes you get a new record from a band that you’ve never heard of before, and it takes you a few songs or a few listens to really feel captivated by what is going on musically? Qliphoth is not that album. You will know after the first few songs whether you are all in or not, and I sure as hell hope you are because this is a great album.

Qliphoth opens with a tranquil vocal line, but it does not take long for the true form of Cloud Rat to manifest and unleash their incredibly catchy variety of grindcore. I honestly feel a little out of my depth even talking about Cloud Rat in terms of genre, as I mostly gravitate towards the more well known bands from the genre - earlier efforts from bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, and Bolt Thrower to name a few. And, well, there has been a hell of a lot of progress in the genre since the 80's.

Cloud Rat is loud, aggressive, and fast, but they punctuate the more turbulent riffing with moments of calm, giving you a chance to come up for air. Like clockwork, a string of loud, fast, loud, fast will be interrupted by a calm instrumental or an opening riff that gives you a time to brace yourself before the inevitable avalanche of noise that is about to drop.

In fact, my favorite portion of the album is the five song sequence that begins with “Raccoon” and ends with “Udder Dust.” “Raccoon” begins with a slow three note riff that builds to include additional instruments and eventually vocals. It is a nice resting place, after the onslaught of the previous three songs, and the songs that come after “Raccoon” are among the most intense on the album. Cloud Rat is at their peak on “Rusting Belt,” which channels all of the bands aggression into the first minute only to resolve in the spoken words “arson is a form of self-expression in a place where you can’t express yourself.” Vocalist Madison Marshall puts in a hell of a performance on this album, but this spoken line, the only one of the album, was the one that stuck with me after I listened to it for the first time. I have since looked at the lyric sheet that came with the record, but this one line feels like the thesis statement for the entire album. It is poignant and powerful, and if it doesn’t make you want to set fire to the suburbs then you’re not listening to it loud enough.

While I don’t think I can call this the best album of 2015 so far, it is probably my favorite. Unlike some of the more technically impressive efforts I’ve heard, there is something about Qliphoth that I keep coming back to. The record feels like bottled lightning in that they managed to channel all of their sound into aural catharsis, and I find myself wanting to flip the record and play it all over again when it’s done.

Verdict: Win [8.0/10]

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Not that I've been terribly active lately to begin with, but for the first time since kicking off the blog in 2008, I'm actually taking a couple months off to refresh and recharge! Not only that, but to finish up some fiction and game design, and spend more time outside with my son. I shall return in the autumn for a very active month of horror metal, and will still be listening through the reams of promos and new CDs in the meantime, to mark them for my year's end lists (here and on Rate Your Music). Thanks, as always, for reading, and enjoy a few other voices in my absence. - auto

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Loathing Requiem - Acolytes Eternal (2015)

I was first exposed to Malcolm Pugh's A Loathing Requiem through a video review of his 2010 debut Psalms of Misanthropy on YouTube, though I've also heard encountered his work in a few other bands like Inferi and Diskreet. This project essentially takes a lot of Pugh's finesse as a musician, focuses it and intensifies it into a whirlwind of acrobatic chops that will probably have the tech death/Summer Slam audience prying their collective jaws from the pavement. What's more amazing, is that aside form a few guest spots, this is all Pugh...every instrument, just about every minute choice and detail found throughout the record, and it's frankly difficult to decide which instrument he's better at...

The bass lines are often just as busy as anything going on with the dominant, punchy and rapid-fire rhythm guitars. Beats are fast and precise, though they're pretty much par for the course when it comes to this niche within death meal. The vocals probably lose out here, since they're a fairly standard, monotonous grunt which lacks for dynamics beyond the expected, brutal punctuation. But when it comes to string-work, low end or high, Pugh is as practiced as nearly anyone you're going to find in that dense Californian tech death scene or, really, almost anyone in the world. Before I get ahead of myself, that's not to say Acolytes Eternal is comprised of the most memorable songs you're going to be humming to yourself in the shower; in fact, the note progressions whirr by with such a clinical celerity that they often seem to blend into one another. But, then again, that's the style he's working in, and anyone whose grown fond of records from acts like Necrophagist, Arsis, Fallujah or Decrepit Birth will find some familiarity in how Pugh puts all of this material together.

To his credit, there is a strict standard here for melody which accompanies the frenzied 'exercise' feel of the manic fret-work. Rhythmically, the guitars might seem too busy for their own good, but when it comes to leads or harmonies he reins them in so they drift memorably above that pacemaker shattering punch of the lower end. Where the material might have come across as proficient yet soulless, these elements, as in "The Mortal's Harvest" offer another dimension that keeps the mind engaged regardless of how many comparable tech death acts it has experienced. Tempos flit about like bats on fire. Ambient interludes and other tactics help to keep the more exhausting aspects of the music balanced off, and there is very clearly an overbrain at work, cautiously tweaking the entire experience so it feels complete rather than just showing off at every availability.

Is is enough? I would say 'yes', A Loathing Requiem has enough merit and musicality to warrant a listen even if you find yourself jaded with a lot of modern tech death for its focus on production and ability above songwriting. Let's face it, the purpose of discs like this is not to compose a bunch of anthems people are singing in arenas 30 years in the future (though wouldn't that be something?). It's not the age of Priest or Maiden, or even Death and Morbid Angel. This is an individual testing the limits of human endurance and attention-span, without going far too into the over-cluttered territory in which bands like Brain Drill have staked their claims. I didn't find the tunes here as compelling or visionary as Fallujah's The Flesh Prevails from last year, but keep in mind this is just one guy, and a frighteningly talented one. If Pugh's songwriting capacity and control catches up to his proficiency, we'll be in for something unparalleled. For now, Acolytes Eternal is a solid proof of potential...just don't blink or you might miss something.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hail - Lawgiver EP (2015)

As opposed to the Bestial Storms of the Abyssal Pit demo, the Lawgiver EP represents the first official new material released from Finland's Hail in over a decade, and as such will be held to a higher standard by those enthusiasts who follow this particular scene. Two substantial tracks with a brighter, clearer production than on either of the other recordings I've heard from them, and here the one-man act pursues a more organic mesh of black and death metal qualities which are superior at holding the listener's attention than the demo I recently reviewed. Though the cover artwork might not look nearly as strange as that other release, the music really does live up to it, with the less-than-cheerful disposition of the grim axeman. That said, I felt like stylistically this was a smooth evolution from Inheritance of Evilness, with the same sense for loosely focused riffing patterns that snaked around simple ideas and used production and maniacal vocal presence to thunder them home. Don't go expecting anything truly innovative or out of the ordinary, but Hail are far from a clone of other, better known acts from Dirtmaster's homeland.

The guitars have an excellent, grainy level of saturation to them which helps flesh out the tremolo picked guitar patterns in "Lawgiver & The Ghost Sword", but a lot of the time he's playing more open chords that lend the music a more melancholic, heavy/doom atmosphere. Note choices are quite simplistic, but even though they're not constantly ear-catching, they really work within the raw, raucous parameters Dirtmaster has set up. The drums still maintain that demo feel, tinny to the point that even the kick feels a little thin, but they're little more than timekeepers for the rhythm guitars that vainly attempt to penetrate that black, clouded cover to the entire din. The vocals here are nowhere near as crazy sounding as the old demo, and instead focused on a dirtier, gruffer syncopated growl, which functions appropriately within the nihilistic approach to composition. There are a few points where the transitions seem slightly sloppy, which resonates a mildly improvisational aftertaste, but at the very least they always seem to develop into some subtle but epic heavy metal riffing patterns...

Like what he does with the harmonics and chords at the end of "Lawgiver...", where the riffs really adapt an early Varathron-ish Hellenic black/heavy metal aesthetic worthy of a Robert E. Howard short story, before escalating into a pretty evil sounding death metal riff which is frankly the most creepy sequence of notes I've ever heard from Hail. This brand of fell majesty continues well into the second track, "De Revolutionibus Orbium Colestium 666", which occasionally sounds samey to the first, but is broken up by some little dissonant wisps of notes and a more doom-like sparsity by the middle of the track (around the 5 minute mark). The vocals get really vile and mocking at that point, and I just love what he's doing with the atmospheric guitars, using the vocals as grisly percussion. When given ample time to work their horrors on the listener, Dirtmaster seems to just excel at these passages, and while there is some room for improvement and to make the tunes catchier in general, Lawgiver is a genuine, dark glimpse into a musical future that hopefully won't take 12 years to manifest.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Friday, July 3, 2015

Hail - Bestial Storms of the Abyssal Pit [DEMO] (2001, re-released 2015)

Before critiquing a demo like Bestial Storms of the Abyssal Pit, it's probably important to place it into context. This is a recording by Finland's Hail from just after the turn of the century, now seeing the light as an accompaniment to their new Lawgiver EP, but made of somewhat cruder material than their prior full-length Inheritance of Evilness from 2003, which was an unknown gem of the scene. So, hailing (sorry) from the birth of the band in 2001, one shouldn't really expect a high level of cohesion and professionalism, and thus there can't really be much of a sense of disappointment when that is exactly how the material here is delivered. Raw, slightly chaotic black metal which likely doesn't sound distinct from a hundred or so other bands at the demo stage, but that is not to say that it is necessarily bad, and even from these earlier details one can assume that Hail were not completely relying on the 'blast first, think later' qualities of the medium. They can certainly perform in that capacity, but the core aesthetic to this EP and so many of it ilk is that resonating, evil vibe off the riffing and lack of production values.

The cover of this new MCD release is indeed surreal and compelling, but I can't claim that the music quite lived up to it, even though it offers visual cues to the songs. These guys vomit forth tracks with amusing titles such as "Lava of the Cavernous Cave" or "The Great Semen of Satan's Mantis", and I'm not sure whether or not they were intentionally going for a laugh, or it's just a translation issue, but where some might see that as a flaw, I found it personable. As for the material itself, it is comprised of extremely loud, ghastly vocals which veer between the genre's traditional rasping and some hoarser, disheveled elements that actually sound like a human being regurgitating toxic waste. The vocals are so echoed and stand out so much from the other instruments that they can prove a distraction, however when they disappear you can hear the clashing clutter of the drums, especially the cymbals, and the wildly aberrant leads (like in the closing of "The Great Semen..."). The riff structure of the rhythm guitar is rooted in speed, thrash and punk as most trad black metal of the Bathory lineage, and not a lot of the chord progressions really stand out, but then I'm not so sure that's the point of them, but rather to contribute to the wishy-washy, hostile lo-fi atmosphere.

The third track, "Evocations in a Crypt at an Ominous Forest" is the darkest sounding of the three, because it lacks the firmer riffing qualities and is instead feeling almost improvisational with its crashing percussion and mix of acidic and melancholic guitars. Unfortunately, I didn't find the musical choices on the guitars as creepy as I'd have liked, and the vocals just seem to run away with the whole recording. So far as I can tell, the band has only had one member, the Dirtmaster, and he lives up to his handle by composing aural atrocities that only a small slice of even the black metal audience are going to find merit LEAST on this demo, because the Lawgiver and first full-length have better sounding production that doesn't detract from the sinister intentions. So Bestial Storms of the Abyssal Pit is really meant to suit its purpose as an artifact of this musician's career, and appeal strictly to those who enjoy the rawest, most loosely structured demo recordings of black metal's past. And to that extent, it maintains enough of a crude charisma to satisfy the purpose, but if prompted I would far rather listen to the other Hail recordings.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]