Saturday, July 30, 2016

Baphomet's Blood - In Satan We Trust (2016)

In Satan We Trust is the culmination of everything I've ever wanted out of any of the prior Baphomet's Blood records, to the point that even if some of them are decent, I doubt I'd ever even listen to them again now that I have this in my possession. The Lords of Salem sample inaugurating this speed metal ritual is used more effectively here than it probably was in the movie, and though it might feel like bait for a lawsuit, the orchestration rolls right into the mid-paced, field leveling mosh rhythms before mutating back into the lethal genetics of Venom, Tank, Exciter and Motörhead that were clearly seeded into these members' brains at a vital age. With the obvious caveat that there is little to nothing among these riffs and lyrics that hasn't been done a thousand times in the past, this is thus far the Italians' opus of high speed, angry dirt.

Forceful rhythm guitar patterns here add a lot of meat to the bones of bluesy fills and leads, none of which are super exemplary or incendiary on their own, but all contribute to this roadworthy crusade of hellfire which simply sates that inner, pissed off teenager I was back in the 80s, listening to what tapes I could scrounge up and watching the horror selections available to me on my parents' cable when they thought I was in bed. Baphomet's Blood doesn't fuck around with a huge variety of tempos, in fact the majority of the songs seem to move at the same velocity entirely, so telling them apart becomes a tedious chore, but the pacing and flow of the music itself just becomes an addiction I want sated after the dust from each previous track clears. The rhythm tone is pretty much perfect, potent and fiery, but crisp clear enough to pick out the various tracks and slight nuances in each of their playing. Bass is bombing here, a good tone that is better fitted and more audible than what you'd hear on a lot of their older records. Drums are driven and passionate, and while Necrovomiterror's vocals certainly haven't 'evolved' over time, they just sound continuously more gruff and nasty and honest here...not giving a fuck. And that is to their benefit.

There are, to be honest, a number of generic riffing progressions on this album that are lifted from a gestalt of their influences, and occasionally they flirt with slightly more boring speed/punk phrases that should be thrown in a locker with no combination. But even these, when placed in the fingers of hands that want nothing more than to give the listener and honest, faux-Satanic drubbing which puts them into a sense of nostalgic unconsciousness, are effective enough to contribute. You have to be at rest with the fact that this is not the music of progression or new levels of extremity, but more or less a twisted mirror of the past, so many of these younger acts inserting themselves into a history that they only belonged to as spectators, and offering windows to very specific cross-blends of their forefathers that, frankly, I don't mind existing. I have a soft spot for this sort of unapologetic, grimy speed metal when performed properly, and even though these Italians don't count themselves among the most atmospherically throwback or inspired of the lot, they have continually improved upon each record to the point that I feel they're rock solid reliable and know what they're doing.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (forget your life, forget the light)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Revocation - Great Is Our Sin (2016)

Revocation might be down to only one of its original members these days, but Great Is Our Sin proves, if nothing else, that there is plenty of thrust and momentum left in this Massachusetts engine as it metes out what is honestly the band's tightest and most efficient record since its 2009 sophomore Existence is Futile. As a local to the band's catapulting onto the international extreme metal scene, it's hard to believe that we're already six full-length records deep and touring all over everywhere, but the constantly mutating roster seems up to the task. And all the while, the hybrid style promoted through the songwriting, that of punctual, dynamic death/thrash continues to attempt to refine and own itself. I still don't get a strong sense of 'personality' from the band's records, or Dave's harsher vocals, an aspect that has long plagued me when composing my thoughts of their music...but Great Is Our Sin is strong enough and fun enough in translation that I can put those niggling details on the back burner and just thrash out.

Drummer Ash Pearson, formerly of 3 Inches of Blood, fits effortlessly into Phil Dubois-Coyne's recently vacated chair; and I'm not going to lie to you, as someone who found his prior band's output eye-rollingly mediocre and not remotely funny, I'd say Revocation is a huge step up. His solid and tempered battery of kicks and fills is pure fuel to the taut, semi-complex thrashing patterns dished out by Davidson and Dan Gargiulo, which often erupt into full-bore tremolo picked progressive death metal patterns in total 90s Death fashion. I'm not going to say that these riffs stick 100% of the time, and the album starts off on what is far from one of its stronger numbers, but at the very least I never felt less than compelled to continue exploring throughout, and tunes like "Theater of Horror" and "Communion" had plenty of earworms that I kept wanting to spin repeatedly. Brett Bamberger's bass lines are excellent, especially where they're given room to breathe in the bridges and other passages where the rhythm guitars serve more as a punchy applause for their low-end aerobics. They also pull off a pretty nice instrumental in "The Exaltation", which is simultaneously my favorite stuff on the entire record and their best attempt at this to date.

As for the vocals, which have always felt boilerplate and never interesting, I think either I've just gotten used to their bludgeoning post-Anselmo aesthetic or that Dave simply does a better job here than on most records. The cleans won't be for everyone, channeling some of that modernist rock radio angst people like Burton C. Bell and Devin Townsend first championed, but they are executed with enough taste here that they don't become a detriment to the volatility of structure. Another complaint I might offer is that, as modern and tight-fisted as the production here is, it rarely offers any sort of atmosphere or dynamic conducive to making this album fun as I have listening through it, it's not one I'm likely to remember or revisit much by the end of the year. The "Altar of Sacrifice" cover sounds at once both more modern and aggressive and far less vicious and memorable than the original, and just seems like a too-safe icing on the cake, where I'd rather hear the band go after an old tech thrash number or something and make it their own. All told, though, Great is Our Sin is a pretty good record, edging out its predecessor Deathless just so slightly and far more of a tour de force than the middling eponymous disc or the solid, unremarkable Chaos of Forms.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Monday, July 25, 2016

Carnal Tomb - Rotten Remains (2016)

Not content to merely ape the endless hundreds of Swedish death metal retrophiles, Germans Carnal Tomb have used a bit of that style's production as a backbone and then fortified it with raw and pungent elements of ancient Dutch death metal (specifically earlier Asphyx and Pestilence) to create an entertaining hybrid of the genre's roots with a couple unexpected surprised that make for a well-rounded studio debut album. That I had heard nothing of this band in advance also rather stunned me, since I think there's a great level of appeal here for fans of bands like Repugnant or Corrosive Carcass who brandish similar aesthetics, but don't exactly wind up in the same murky graves through their sepulchral expeditions.

It starts with a pretty obvious horror sample that I could live without, and then breaks into one of the more straightforward pieces on the disc, with roiling tremolo picked rhythm guitars that channel a mix of Left Hand Path and Consuming Impulse, with dank growled vocals that hover just at the edge of the din, tangible bass tone and harried drumming with lots of energetic fills...when they burst into the early Bolt Thrower grim future breakdown at the mid-section and then piledrive with the double kick drums it feels pretty satisfying, though it's one of the less interesting pieces here. Forward to a tune like "Cycle of Horror", where you've got all these standalone atmospheric bass lines that sound like they're almost side-tracking into some sort of cemetery swing and then plastering it with morbid harmonies, and again those lesser volume, steady growls which feel like you've come across a low key side conversation at a necromancer convention that you're not meant to hear. Or the pure, driving melodic thunder of "Cemetery Inversion" which reaches a glorious, melodic flow in its own bridge.

All told, Rotten Remains is rather well-balanced between its faster and slower sequences, and thus escapes the boredom I feel from a lot of other bands that are doing little more than recycling what they've got in their record collections from 1993 and earlier. That's not to say Carnal Tomb is all that unique, a lot of their riffing patterns are predictable and not always so catchy or evil sounding, but I think if you dwell on a plane in which efforts like Last One on Earth, Onward to Golgotha, Realm of Chaos, Cause of Death, Fornever Laid to Rest, Scream Bloody Gore and the aforementioned Entombed or Pestilence serve as part of some perverse pantheon, then the Germans have clearly promoted themselves beyond pure acolyte status into the strong arm of the supporting clergy, and they've got just enough of an atmospheric snare, and an ability to assess and take marginal risks that they warrant some further attention. Album looks like it sounds, and it sounds like death fucking metal without any other pretensions than to simply 'get it right'.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Friday, July 22, 2016

Baphomet's Blood - Back from the Fire EP (2016)

The three original tracks on the Back from the Fire EP don't really advance Baphomet's Blood beyond the material from their third full-length Metal Damnation; in fact they feel like a step sideways and slightly backwards, embracing the cheesier aspects of their speed metal existence. While the band had been escalating its level of engagement and nastiness over the prior half-decade, this might be seen as a slight sign of some stagnation. But, that said, it's a fun enough little romp between proper records, and keeps the band's vital signs active and 'in the game' throughout the seven year gulf between those third and fourth albums.

Solid, if predictable riffs that generally run a similar course until they're cut up into slower, heavy metal pacing and lead sequences. The guitar tone here is roughly in league with Metal Damnation, that is to say superior to the first couple albums, but I found the construction of the rhythm patterns to be slightly less incendiary or exciting. Tunes like "Back from the Fire", with its dextrous opening lick, seem to speculate what it might have been like if Raven in their 80s prime were fronted by Algy Ward's workmanlike, gruff vocal presence, which manifests a lot in Necrovomiterror's timbre, rather than the screaming nasal vocals they were known for. That is certainly my favorite track of the three originals, but even then it's pretty much paint by numbers songwriting which pans out exactly like you think it will as soon as you've experienced the bridge into the first verse. The bass seems to have finally hit the right stride here, with a pluggy little tone always present on the underbelly of the guitar, and the drums sound as tight as ever.

I'm no expert on Italian heavy metal veterans Strana Officina, but I have actually heard a couple of their older releases, including "Metal Brigade", which Baphomet's Blood uses to close out this EP, using actual vocal contributions (i.e. unruly screams) from vocalist 'Bud' Ancillotti himself. The tune is simultaneously the sloppiest and most amusing on the record, with some production differences from the rest that only make it seem a fraction out of place. Still, it's nice that the band pays tribute to someone that most in the world have never heard of, but were certainly some kind of influence on the younger band and possibly the scene that shaped them and peers like Children of Technology. And thanks to the 'exclusivity' of the material on this release, which seems to be a lost art half the time with so many EPs stuffed with live cuts and re-recordings, I'd say that Back from the Fire is not going to disappoint those who know what to expect, and its overall quality is equivalent to at least the band's debut, and even a lot of material from Second Strike. But still a good half decade before they would finally stoke the braziers Satan uses for hookahs.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Friday, July 15, 2016

Baphomet's Blood - Metal Damnation (2009)

Metal Damnation was yet another step forward for the Italo speed metal gods-in-training Baphomet's Blood, and until recently it would have been the first album I reached for if anyone had ever expressed to me their interest in checking them out. From the grate graphics and blue-fringed photo on the cover to the production of the music itself, strides were being taken in rounding out the band so it became a little more than just an arid expression of ideas that had played themselves out some 25 years before this was set to tape. Structurally, there isn't much of a difference between this and either of its predecessors, it simply sounds better, with rhythm guitar riffs that feel just a fraction more propulsive and powerful than those they had laid out before. While they were already haunting the back roads of the speed metal highway, they had now skidded out onto the main thoroughfare, kicking up lots of dust en route to the next pit stop where they were primed for a barroom brawl.

Searing strikes of a horror score (I can't recount where the sample is from) and then it's off to the race with "Devil's Night", a tune redolent with the scent of old English outfits like Tank who were taking that inner punk by the throat and then layering it with denim, leather, spikes, growing out the hair good and long with handlebar moustache and trading in those Sex Pistols vinyls for some vintage Warfare. There's also a healthy taste of both US and German speed and power metal which help to mold the lead sequences and the brighter overall resonance I came away from this one feeling, like they had found a nice median between old Riot and Motörhead and then sat it down in front of some speakers and blasted an Iron Angel record, which left an indelible impression on the tape itself. The style of riffing really isn't all that removed from the path they were already on, just choppy speed and barking, gruff vocals, but it's just that much more forceful, and the tone of the guitar has a slightly more raw, ripping edge to it that sounds good and crunchy like locusts being ground into the asphalt.

Bass is a little better here, but still tonally the weakest link of the band. The leads are definitely much improved, taking that undefined feel of the older albums into a more explosive, exciting arena. I also like the stops/starts they toss into tunes like "We Don't Care" which give you a nice chance to recharge, round the mountain pass and go charging back to your destiny. The mix of the guitar and vocal is also a lot cooler, as well as the way the songs are set up. There could certainly be more variation...quite a lot of the tempos feel exactly the same, and they're not changing up note patterns noticeably enough to thrill anyone who isn't in the mood for this brand of raunchy speed metal, but it fills runs out its 37 minute fuel tank well appropriate energy and leaves me feeling like the band has finally caught some fire. Just how much? Stay tuned.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Baphomet's Blood - Second Strike (2008)

The moody acoustic intro to this sophomore record, and the slow but sure heavy metal buildup that bleeds into the band's namesake anthem definitely gave me impression that the Italians had refined themselves for a greater impact this time around, and in truth I feel that Second Strike is a step up above Satanic Metal Attack in every way, maintaining that roughshod road burn raw production some listeners probably loved about the debut but angling up the actual songwriting ability. This is still throwback material, to a fault, meaning that unless you've got nostalgia for a more testosterone injected alternative to the original NWOBHM scene, namely a band like Tank, 'Head or Venom, this is probably one to avoid, but I can easily relate to this with a skunked beer in my paw and that stinking denim vest I made out of an old dungaree jacket that darkens the bedroom closet for now and evermore.

Basic shit here, pavement worthy anthems with only vague degrees of variation to note selections, which are all cast in that bluesy iron of the old British bands in the late 70s, and slathered in the ugly and lower blue collar vocals of Necrovomiterror, who by his name seems more like a natural fit for a band like Blasphemy...but I'm guessing some of the names these guys used were also a nod to the band Sodom from their heyday. Good, violent thrash metal names, for songs that only faintly dip into the thrash-well, and even then only at that niche's most basal. The drums are little more than brute force, effective but occasionally monotonous, driving clatter that merely fuels the licks, which are themselves far from nuanced but generate a similar vibe to that first time I heard Filth Hounds of Hades or Iron Fist. Solos are sloppy and grungy and again, like having molten blues-based hard rock poured into a fiery forge for smelting into these workmanlike, thundering exercises in sounding EXACTLY like they look on their cover pose.

As with the debut, the bass guitar is fairly lacking in the mix, and the tone doesn't really sound good, a page from the Lemmy handbook must have been ripped out when they were formulating the style and direction they wanted Baphomet's Blood to head towards. So that can make Second Strike feel a little on the dry side, but doesn't completely break the deal for me, because this is just something so 'innocently' vile and straightforward. Every lick on this disc was probably written 20 years or more before it came out, and a lot of bands could probably write this entire album's worth of material in an afternoon; yet there's just something retro and refreshing for me which I value more than innovation on a particular effort like this one. Don't get me wrong, this is FAR from one of the best in this backwards speed metal scene, and even this very band has surpassed it, but if anyone were to be listening to this in their car and picked me up, I wouldn't ask them to turn it off or even turn up my nose at what is such a crude, good time. It makes me wish I smoked cigarettes. I don't, but maybe in some alternate reality my other self does. And he's doing it to Second Strike.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sodom - Days of Retribution EP (2016)

Days of Retribution is a far more qualified herald for Sodom's 15th full-length album Decision Day due to the proximity of its release to that (I'm assuming) anticipated splatter-platter by the legions of disheveled gas-masked ghouls, young and old. A clarion oiled with the blood of innocents and ready to sound off like an airstrike. After all, if the mighty Tom Angelripper is still doing this shit then we're all still young at heart, right? Just run with that. Grab a cold beer. Optionally, a Pepsi. Caffeine not working for you? A vitamin water, then. Whatever it takes to keep the rust off the joints, the RAD meter ticking with the appropriate level of heat and danger, and...fuck it I just really hope this offers me a prayer than the new album is going to whisk me away to that pivotal 1986-1990 era in which this band was one of the most reliable among the German outbreak of the Golden Age.

This is a longer EP than Sacred Warpath, and thankfully does not rely too heavily on its live content, although that does rear its head in the waning moments of the release. "In Retribution" is the new tune you want to hear, and thank fuck it's actually an appreciable scorching of mean and speedy licks that is arguably the best I've heard from them in about a decade. His voice just sounds enormous and raunchy over the force of the rhythm guitars, more focused than emotional as it was on that previous track. It almost sounds like a slightly more modernized take on a tune that would have been ripe for inclusion on the Expurse of Sodomy EP back in '87, and though not as memorable, and far more mature than a "Sodomy and Lust", it delivers a fairly ominous chorus with a wildly looping little melody that comes flying off the rhythm hook. Just an incendiary effort than I could have hoped, and the highlight of this whole release, though their 'Motörhead' section of this EP isn't so shabby either, beginning with the inclusion of the bonus track "Murder One" from their In War and Pieces album, and then busting directly into a cover of "Ace of Spades", which is far too obvious, but let's face it...

This is a band that was HEAVILY inspired by Lemmy in both songwriting and bass playing, so after his untimely passing, there was no chance of something like this being neglected. It's a serviceable send-up, but nothing out of the ordinary. The band then breaks out into a rehash of more songs that have already appeared through their catalog...."Kamikaze Terrorizer" off the eponymous 2006 LP, and "Waterboarding" off Epitome of Torture, and then it dawns on me that this is really just a sampler of Sodom's material from the last decade...the choices are good, of course, but even though some of the recordings might be unfamiliar, it's almost like a micro-compilation, and that stinks. There is yet ANOTHER inclusion of "The Saw is the Law" live, and also "Wachturm", but by then all of my dreams were dash, my hopes deflated, and my Pepsi flat. What started off so great just took a nose dive, but with the caveat that "In Retribution" is a fuckin' grand time and with that and "Sacred Warpath" already planting its hatchet in my brain, I have positive expectations for Sodom in the very near future.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sodom - Sacred Warpath EP (2014)

Sacred Warpath is the first of two Sodom EPs that will ultimately go down as a teaser for the forthcoming Decision Day full-length, only this one was released a couple years ago, perhaps without even the intention that it's sole new track would feature prominently in the future. Because of the way it was positioned, it almost feels like more of a tail for Epitome of Torture, a record that was by all means competent but a little limper in the songwriting department than I'd have liked. So expectations for this thing were never crazy high, and to top that all off the remainder of the four tracks is composed entirely of live performances, so there's just nothing else new going on beyond the artwork, which is itself...nothing really new.

Have to say, the title track is a solid one, a mid-paced melodic piece which is moodier than usual, with a lot of warlike rolling drum fills and an atmosphere that made it feel like it could have been some environmental/culturally aware outtake from Nuclear Assault's Handle With Care album. I found Tom's voice here to be exceptionally raspy and brackish, he does reach a little deeper to his normal, gruff bark, but it's kept a lot more bloody and subtly screaming which only adds to the mournful nature of the tune's subject matter. Acoustic guitars and a pure, driving melodic bridge with a dependable lead definitely further the notion that this was meant for a more 'mature' and measured style than "The Saw is the Law" or "Agent Orange", and it's pulled off well enough to spin through it a number of times, and part of me wonders if the Germans were at that time planning for the next album to take Epitome's well-rounded approach to an even more emotional range, but I felt like this particular track was the equal of anything there at least, even if there are no money shot riffs.

The live material is headed off by a spurt of a "Surfin' Bird" cover and then erupts into a neck breaking rendition of "The Saw is the Law", an obvious choice, but there's a bit too much clip and unevenness to the chugging that Tom's bass seems enveloped by the rhythm guitar, and that's a distraction. The production on "City of God" and "Stigmatized" is much the same, but they both feel a little denser and angrier and it ultimately leads to a better reaction, though some of those same flaws in the recording do come through. This is no Mortal Way of Live but it's never a bad thing to hear such a revered, ancient thrashing entity still delivering beatings from a stage. Unfortunately, once "Sacred Warpath" appears on Decision Day there's just not going to be any reason to keep this thing around unless you're a steadfast collector of all things Angel Ripping, so I'll pass on paying it any attention in the future, though it's not an entirely worthless release like so many others of its ilk.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

Friday, July 1, 2016

Baphomet's Blood - Satanic Metal Attack (2006)

You could do worse than to kick off your debut album with a Nightbreed sample, and that's precisely how the Italo speedsters Baphomet's Blood entered my life with their bombastic and no fucks given Satanic Metal Attack. It's no secret that a lot of bands out of Europe have a legacy of offering tribute to the metal of old, specifically that of the 80s in which most of the heavyweight genres and niches were born, and the speed and thrash metal of that era had already been sent up numerous times by the arrival of the new millennium, but I'd say that as the formative works, or 'originals' of these genres grow further and further away, the hearts tend to grow fonder and gravitate straight back towards them. These days the nostalgia farm is in full harvest, with a lot of rotten crops to go along with the delectable, but I'd say this band were kind of at the vanguard of this newer wave of atavists, and who can forget (or forgive) all those awesome pics of these guys decked out in there in sleeveless tees with flying Vs and all kinds of great poses.

Not me.

I'll state outright that Satanic Metal Attack is not the band's best work, but it was a critical part of arriving there. Crude, galloping licks the likes of which derive directly from two decades prior, you're going to hear a smattering of simplistic guitar patterns here that rum the gamut from Destruction to Kill 'Em All to very early Slayer, but specifically recount the Canadian primacy once mastered by bands like Exciter and Razor. This entire album was crafted with a motorcycle wheelie mentality in mind, a Mad Max-like spurt of testosterone, dust and vitriol slathered in sloppy harsh vocals. This is far more in the strain of a Venom than the more punkish fundamentals of Motörhead, with some dexterity and finesse to the rhythm guitars, although they are certainly predictable and basis in structure. There are other horror samples used to break up the momentum, even one from Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, but almost every song among the eight here moves at a similar clip with the exception of the neck jerking mid-paced thrash riff moments that messily try to evoke a lot of old East coast hardcore or Toxic Waltz, or the slightly more uppity speeds the band spits out that enter Rigor Mortis s/t territory (as in the depths of "Kill the Monk").

The bass guitar cruises along but doesn't really register much, and the rhythm tone is a little plain and boxy, with the drums adding a lot of very cluttered crashing. A lot is really left up to the vocalist for added character, along with the gang shouts and sporadic, ridiculous leads, but I'd say the all pull it off to the point that when I listen through the album, I can imagine myself doing 90 down a desert highway in a beat up van spray painted with all kinds of bad graffiti of devils and boobs and sicks and just having a petulant time while I spray my tonsils with warm whiskey that had been sitting in the sunlight on the passenger side for too long. It's a bit of a party, but a peculiar party, and one that should not under any circumstance be replicated in any real world situation unless you have a short lease on your life or a lot of really cool (and brave) friends. Satanic Metal Attack is alright when you're in the mood, but even if you have a lukewarm or lesser response to this, don't panic, because Baphomet's Blood get up to the devil's business with much greater efficacy on future efforts.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (drilled by Satan)