Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Black Magician - The Pursuivant EP (2013)

Black Sabbath. Electric Wizard. Black Magician. It stands to reason that there is aesthetic lineage taking place in the UK which seeks to refresh and perhaps embolden the roots of doom metal. My own attraction to bands like this is that I'm seeking out spooky and psychedelic swaths of atmosphere induced by evil riff progressions, deceptively simple bluesy grooves which teeter my imagination upon the precipice of darkness, horror and despair, only to yank it back into reality with workmanlike force. I sought after Black Magician for that very same reason, but while their 2012 debut Nature is the Devil's Church had its moments, others were tepid and/or dry; I simply didn't find it as evocative as other bands conjuring up antiquity like Seremonia, Blood Ceremony, Occultation, select Cathedral records, or the masters I mentioned in opening. Not to write them off, because I think these guys have their fingers on the pulse, they simply have to sink their collective fangs into that vein and sup on it.

The Pursuivant EP seeks to do just that with some stoic, majestic riffing interwoven with Gothic organ melodies. The best way I could describe the title track is as if Candlemass adopted a lot more of a 60s or 70s atmosphere with raunchier distortion, and they were joined by Lee Dorrian on vocals. Liam Yates adopts that same, vile sounding, no-fucks-given inflection which he'll spin off into some sustained gutturals, and comes across a lot like a 'poor man's Dorrian', with the exception that he keeps it really dingy and doomed and doesn't take a lot of the same charismatic riffs that his predecessor does within that limited range. It's interesting in how it really grounds the more grandiose concoction of the keys and rhythm if to state that no matter how beautiful its sepulchers and monuments, the graveyard is still an ugly fucking place, and the ghastly caretaker is covered in the soil and remnants of the departed. The drums jam along with what is really a contrast in motions, from the lurching obelisks at its onset to the thickened grooves in the late bridge, and there is an undercurrent of that same prog rock you'll usually find as a cooperative inspiration for so many of this genre's practitioners in the 21st century.

The other tracks here deviate mildly, with the lush balladry of "Grene Knyght" led by its lush acoustic guitars and folksy yet stark, haunting harmony vocals...this is EASILY the best cut I've ever heard from Black Magician, and I would love it if in the future they could blend pieces of this quality with surges of heavier, atmospheric power chords. The vocals are just so much more interesting than the haughty growling. This tune is the one thing here I really felt like listening to over and over again for its dreamy departure to ancient English glades and spells and encroaching darkness. Things take another turn entirely for the closing "Black Henbane", which is more like an aggro doom, jammy nightmare rock & roll track festooned with banners of grating psychedelic organs, and simplistic leads which give off a trippy chase through a Hammer Films haunted house vibe, if it were enacted by surf bums. Kind of a strange, righteous closure for this 14 minute EP, but then it's nigh on impossible in such a limited space to really pace out material beyond its mere presentation. And that's really the major flaw of this format: The Pursuivant seems like a smattering, a mere sampling of ideas, several of which would have kicked royal ass in a full-length format where there is more space to flow from one pole to the next. It succeeds at that, but ends before your psyche has had the chance to truly get invested.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (abandoned by the dwindling flock)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gorerotted - Only Tools and Corpses (2003)

You know you're probably in trouble when the bookend samples for the first cut on an album are of the Crypt Keeper from HBO's Tales from the Crypt, that's about as obvious a choice you can get from the horror field apart from a Freddy Krueger quote or biting off the theme from Halloween. Also obvious is that England's Gorerotted were a bunch of young hopefuls barking up the tree of Cannibal Corpse, in particular the transitory period between Chris Barnes and Corpsegrinder...records like The Bleeding. I seem to remember a cloud of buzz surrounding their sophomore effort when it was released in 2003 through Metal Blade Records, but after going back to listen again, I was mistaken. It was merely flies.

That's not to say Only Tools and Corpses is a heaping helping of dogshit, but at best it was a fairly middling affair which probably just played upon some folks' nostalgia for the previous decade. I can't exaggerate how some of the death/thrashing verses in tunes like "Hacked in the Back, Dumped in a Sack" sound EXACTLY like stuff Cannibal Corpse was doing around the same time is this, though they often seem more reliant on bland tremolo picked progressions. Sure, they can lay out a thuggish groove from time to time which isn't going to disappoint one who's just there to throw his bulk about a pit, but so much of the material is centered upon the typical alternating 4x chug/burst mechanic that it continues to beat that script to death long after it was already passe. Vary rarely a sequence of notes will surprise you from nowhere, or they'll cut out to some syrupy bass playing which is reminiscent of Alex Webster's aesthetic, but by and large you feel like hearing one song here qualifies that you've heard them all. Not always going to be a problem for devotees of the genre, but the individual riffs and constructions just don't have the personality of their forebears, and it reeks of 'also ran'.

One area of distinction between this band and that other I keep mentioning would be in the vocals, which sort of trade off between four styles. You've got the standard, gruff beatdown-guttural which sounds a little bit like a David Vincent meets Infestdead, and then a rapacious stock snarls of the Deicide double-up variety. But then they'll also implement some of the deeper, gurgling inflection attributed to the more toilet bowl variety of brutal death metal, as well as some hooligan barks that sound like really pissed off punk or hardcore molded to the context of death metal. None of these are impressive or interesting, but there at least exists that level of versatility distributed at just the right amounts over the riffs. Lyrics exude a fine odor of Limey violence and misogyny: "Fuck Your Arse With Broken Glass" or "Zombie Graveyard Rape Bonanza", and they're fun if you're into that, but again, this was arriving at a time in which it was all old hat...not only did you have mainstream shockers like Corpse, but Gorgasm, Lividity, Mortal Decay, and on and on, many of which were just more vicious and memorable.

All told, Only Tools and Corpses is not a miserable effort, it's just too easily lost in the crowd. The cover art is by an artist who did a splatter comic called Tales from Uranus and has a fun style, and the mix of instruments here is functional and punishing. It just lacks for delivering the riffs that make me want to keep it around and listen through it consistently, and the few points at which I've gone back to it have me slaked for Bloodthirst or some other masterpiece of the medium.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (I find live people and I play with them)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Necrophagia - Harvest Ritual Volume I (2005)

I've always wanted to like Necrophagia a lot more than I actually do.

That's not to say that Killjoy hasn't in his own way contributed to the extreme metal culture as a large, he's certainly one of the earlier musicians to cater so much to his cult horror fetish through both his lyrical choices and the samples and intro/interlude bits he collects. He also has one of the more gruesome pure death metal gutturals (and accompanying snarls) you'll hear from those US veterans still kicking about, not as distinct as Speckmann or Tardy or the late Chuck Schuldiner, but still pretty potent. I thought a few of his earlier records were pretty good (Season of the Dead and Holocausto de la Morte, at least), and I also find that I get whipped into a frenzy every time I read about the next disc he's releasing through this band. The cover art is usually campy and fun, the ideas behind it cater to my own nostalgia for both horror classics and their B movie shadows, and when presented with a title like Harvest Ritual Volume I I am insta-triggered due to my love for the autumn season and the once-pagan holiday I so enjoy for both its atmosphere and the activities surrounding it. I truly wanted this to be the Necrophagia recording that finally won me over, but was left hanging...

Similar to bands like Master, or Massacre, or Death, Necrophagia's evolution towards the death metal genre arrived via thrash roots, but unlike those others I just named, the metallic components of Harvest Ritual Volume I remain very heavily balanced in that camp. Extremely simple brute chugging patterns that don't sound like they took a lot of thought or time to craft, with some occasionally breaks into the more morbid tremolo picking we commonly associate as a hallmark of the OSDM style (as in "Dead Skin Slave" or "Return to Texas"). The rhythm tone here has quite a lot of meat and punch to it, but it seems very pit-centric, without interesting note progressions and a few lower bends and fills just to help flesh out the band's aesthetic to a more current brutal flavor. You're really only getting maybe one half-inspired, memorable riff per dozen they fire off, and sadly I find this a common trait for a lot of the records Frediablo has played on. That's not to say it sucks, or it doesn't fit the mesh of mechanics Killjoy is working within here, but at best they only serve as dependable when other things are happening in the tunes, like the 'spooky' synthesizer lines closing out "Unearthed" or the cleaner, eerier guitars dowsed in effects that set up the organs and creepy loops in "Cadavera X".

Another issue I took here was with the vocals. While I appreciate Killjoy's over the top, loudly barking quality, and the lyrics he's spitting are evocative if simple, they often seem far too structured and uninspired in how the syllables are set to the riffs, like clockwork as he's raving between the two inflections. A looser, more raucous approach really seems to work better with this style and would add some desperately needed chaos to the music, for a genuine ugliness. A lot of these tunes just seem too tidy in composition, like he's holding back rather than letting the werewolf out. The drums are simple but powerful, largely just rock laden grooves that hold down the moderate pacing of the songs, but I wouldn't ask for more, since this to me just hasn't been a band about speed, extremity or technique. On the other hand, Mirai's keys are perfectly adequate throughout the entire experience, creating a midway point between progressive influences like Goblin and a more generic but endearing haunted house quality that I just happen to enjoy. But when he's coming up with all this insanity for Sigh, it works because there are also some tremendous guitar riffs woven in and out of the blackened thrash spectacle. Here, he seems like a pylon of pumpkins supporting the stage for a lumbering, monotonous Frankenstein freakshow.

Hell, my favorite track here is "Akumu", pure synth with a lightly pumping bass sound, which feels like what might have occurred if Pink Floyd had scored Halloween instead of Carpenter himself. But then you launch into the following "Stitch Her Further", and the banal chugging of the verses which is lazy at best, or "Excommunicated" which sounds like the same song that had already appeared on the record three times until Mirai's wavering, acidic synth lines burn through the graveyard haze. Harvest Ritual Volume I is an album that wants to be so fun, and comes really damn close, it just needed more time for that thrashing/death foundation to gestate, or perhaps even a different tone with more open, dissonant chords thrust in there to make it more immediately compelling. As it stands, while this isn't the Necrophagia record I like the least, it was nonetheless a letdown. The pumpkins, pentagrams, nooses and crucifixion which grace its cover deserved a little better.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10] (mummified womb of Satan)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thokk - Of Rape and Vampirism (1997)

A justifiably bygone relic of another age, around the point the second wave black metal bubble was ripe to burst, Of Rape and Vampirism nevertheless stands as an interesting example of how indecision and experimentation can impinge upon the experience of an album. Valério Costa, probably better known as Lord Kaiaphas, who drummed and screamed on a few of the earlier Ancient discs and Grand Belial's Key demos, formed this project about the same time as he was embarking on those others. Here he is matched with 'Thegn Damieus the Marauder', some of you have likely listened to as 'Holocausto', guitarist of the politically incorrect, melodic US death metal mainstays Arghoslent. The cover image does well to give an impression of bloodsucking horror and extremity, perhaps in the vein of Ancient, Cradle of Filth, Abyssos, Hecate Enthroned, Siebenburgen, or one of many other such acts which haunted the gibbous moonlit landscapes and castle battlements of the mid-to-late 90s, in many cases to see their respective shelf lives come to a close once the black metal genre segregated into its now surviving tributaries.

The music, on the other hand, does not live up to any conceptual promise of any dark Transylvanian princes exploits, nor the eroticism and mystique surrounding the the theme. Five of the eight tracks are written in a typical black metal mold for the time, and for the other three the duo decides to go absolutely batshit crazy and attempt a more free form excursion into noise. Both 'halves' are plagued with individual flaws, but there is also an overlap: their mutual aimlessness and inefficiency. The 'First Evocation' suffers from slightly over-loud drumming, in particular the blasting and fills, which overpower the airy, fuzzy drifts of rhythm guitar that represent the one saving grace of the music, similar in structure to early Satyricon, Covenant or the first Old Man's Child record. Granted, they seem to have generated in any random order and placed within the context of the larger 'songs', but the melodic tremolo picking is tense and fluid, and there are even a few licks of nastier blackened speed/thrash metal which are always a joy when accompanied by better overall songwriting. Vocals are a stock rasp that occasionally errs on the side of uber-goofball due to some failed attempt at creating a manic, narrative quality. The low cleans are likewise laughable, but where it really falls apart is in how some of the screams are awkwardly coupled with lyrical lines like 'I want your fucking cunt/I need your live-giving blood!' on the title cut.

With the exception of the reappearance Kaiaphas' decrepit hag rasps, the 'Second Evocation' is a sequence of three noise tracks consisting of percolating, rugose, distorted loops which are capped off with frenzied, warped synthesizer noises, implemented to create an unnerving sense of tenseness and alien escapism; an ugly mirror for the gruesome buildups in cult horror flicks that would generally involve a chase or a stabbing or worse. This is clearly the creepier, more pathological material likely to evoke a shiver or sweat from the listener, and yet the experience is marred once the vocals arrive, which sound like a couple of drunk teenagers making a derision of the voices typically found in the genre. I can't tell if Kaiaphas was falling over himself with self-mockery behind the microphone, or if I'm actually meant to take this as seriously as the metal-driven material. While I have no aversion to minimalistic noise or drone or any form of nightmarish soundscaping, this seems all too sporadic and random, a failed parody of something like Abruptum rather than a genuine breaking of new soil like Fenriz did with his dark ambient Neptune Towers project. It's really just...kind of dumb.

In the end, Of Rape and Vampirism might have proven a workmanlike black metal EP had it cut off around the 20-24 minute mark, but extending it beyond that into the absurd more or less soils the material leading up to that point, which was by no means exemplary in of itself. Although there were a few passable and even enjoyable guitar passages, he had much better material to play on with any r Arghoslent effort chosen at random. The vocals are indistinct at best, silly and self- deprecating for the rest of the time. While hints of electronic experimentation are used as book ends for some of the earlier cuts, I doubt many first-time listeners expected it to go Full Audio Retard in its waning tracks, and there just seemed to be a massive disconnect between the two poles. With more integration of the loops and black metal rhythms, the record might have proven a more provocative, evocative anomaly, but here the contrast seem like a means to fill dead air; and there are far better thrills and chills to fill any frightful night. This stuff couldn't seduce a black mascara-drenched farm animal, much less a proper Goth.

Verdict: Fail [4/10] (ivory neck and lecherous thighs)