Thursday, March 30, 2017
On the surface, it seems simple, with monolithic, if familiar, slogging chord patterns that feel as if you're watching some rusted, moldering cityscape collapse in on itself, only the occasional flashes of melody created by higher-pitched droning guitars make it seem like the entire scene of decay is being bathed in a radiant, unforgiving sunlight that shines in through the shattered windows, missing bricks and girders on the building frames. Definitely some hints of acts like Godflesh and Jesu here, or on the heavier end of the spectrum the Australian Disembowelment and their highly regarded album Transcendence into the Peripheral. But these comparisons can offer only a starting point, because the specific noises and nuances Drug Honkey mixes into its aural amphetamine don't feel redundant to anything I've really encountered in the past, and I think the industrial, noise and drone influences only strengthen the overall package of this recording so that it crushes you like a hundred simultaneous dystopian nightmares, an album that anyone who survives deserves bragging rights to. There are even saxophones provided by Bruce Lamont which blend eerily well into the composition, as loose as that might seem, reinforcing its urban facade.
For all their minimalist structure and nature, the raw riff progressions here are quite excellent at how they tap into the primacy of the form, as in the depths of "Outlet of Hatred" where a few chords slice through the morass of guttural vocal sustains and other hallucinatory effects that drive the entire, ugly juggernaut forward. Ambiance and feedback are used as sweltering bookends to pieces like "(It's Not) The Way", where Head Honkey exchanges some of his wealth of snarls and gutturals for a clearer, deep, dreary vocal mantra that echoes over the spacious clamor. There are places at which the vocals completely steer and disgustingly define the stoic, sonic backdrop, as in "The Oblivion of an Opiate Nod" which is one of the most grueling and impressive pieces on the whole record. Guitars reach perfect levels of saturation on both the lower ends where they collide with the distorted bass scrawl, and the higher, dirty tones that waft out through the occasional smog-o-sphere. There is nothing clean about this album, it's like a warm bath in rank water, piss, and who knows what else, and yet's it's still a pretty comfortable use of your time.
I'm not completely convinced that the Justin Broadrick remix of "Pool of Failure" (the album's first track) is required to order to round it out as a complete experience, even if it serves as a sort of reprise. So you could cut Cloak of Skies off at at around 44 minutes and be none the worse. But that said, it's pretty fucking cool to have Broadrick himself hack away at one of your tracks, and he does succeed in making what is one of the record's more straightforward pieces a little weirder and more disheveled, while amping up the recognition of his own Godflesh aesthetics. In fact I might like this one slightly more than the original version, but I think it works better when you recognize it as a bonus track and not a core component. Otherwise, I think this is Drug Honkey's best material to date, already on par with Ghost in the Fire about midway through and then hitting that one-two knockout climax of "Opiate" and the title track and dialing it home. Also was impressed with Paolo Girardi's cover art, which seemed a little out of the ordinary for the Italian, but really captures the sounds on display very well. Then again, Drug Honkey is no ordinary client, and the weird, woeful atmosphere they create with just a sliver of ironic grace as well worth pursuing as the end of whatever substance binge you find yourself engulfed in.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10]
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Morphosis is not just some roiling, teething, subterranean sounding morass with guttural vocals and no ambition, but instead a sprawling and balanced offering which exceeds the maturity you'd expect after just a few years. The rhythm guitars are less ominous and far busier, the tone straightforward and dry but capable of translating the massive riff set splayed out across the 40 minutes. While they don't perform material which could technically be considered complex, the album nonetheless creates a labyrinthine intensity which never hinges on the predictable. While there are riff patterns in here which might straddle everything from prototype 90s melodic death metal to Scandinavian blackness, the bulk of the chord selections almost felt like a mash-up of the first three Morbid Angel records, with all the speed and hooks of the first and third, with the occasionally slogging malevolence that many associate with the second. Melodies aren't just employed as cheap gimmicks, but often these essential and ritualistic sequences of songs that are often left to their own while light percussion rattles off as accompaniment. They are also prone to a few abrupt stops and starts and occasionally fly off the handle into more chaotic, frenzied moments where there is just enough control that the record hasn't felt like it's gone over the edge into the abyss without a pilot.
The ability to soundscape an atmosphere through the conventional death metal milieu here is just astounding, as in the escalation in the shorter tune "Hosting Yellow Fungi", or the mournful maze of "Necrotic Epiphanies" with all its wailing excess and double kick mashing fury. Lantern take the familiar and reinvigorate by giving it greater breadth and dimension. The vocals aren't just some utterly deep gurgle, but more of a hacked, angry, atmospheric take on something like Barney Greenway meets Steve Tucker only with tons of shrieking and raving for variety. The flexibility of the drumming allows the material to thrive at any speed, whether it's verging on grind or just the more robust, melodic and measured passages. There's also this feeling I got that the record was gradually becoming more immersive and memorable as it progressed, so by the finale "Lucid Endlessness" I felt like I was really hearing the best stuff on the whole album, rapid riffing and dissonant waves spiraling into my ears, until it hits that great, slow and groovy bridge that just carried it off into the nether. Intentional or not, this is a rare reaction I get to an album where it starts off good but then just evolves into blockbuster territory.
All that praise aside, I found it marginally less compelling and resonant than Below, if only because I felt like I connected to that debut's eeriness and its particular melodies slightly more. I imagine for many listeners, it will easily compensate with its more substantial and urgent sense of ambition and its tighter pendulum of structure and chaos; yet I wasn't quite hypnotized as often in listening though. But really we're dealing with apples and oranges, because this band is still at the very summit of the Finnish death metal scene of the present, with so much to offer, a true torchbearer for their forebears like Demilich, Demigod, or Convulsed, only sounding very little like any of those, with a lot more of a US influence to their composition split between the genre's Florida and New York founders. The fact is that Lantern use that simply as a foundation. Where they go with it is anyone's guess, and two full-length records in, they show more practice and potential than a lot of bands with decades more experience, crafting great death metal worthy of the howling planes of Pandemonium.
Verdict: Win [8.75/10]
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Overkill are no stranger to paying homage to their influences, what with their decent 1999 release Coverkill and various tunes added to other releases, like their rendition of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" on Horrorscope, or more recently Thin Lizzy's "Emerald" on The Grinding Wheel. That said, I can't recall hearing them perform a country cover, and what's more, playing the song IN that style, rather than metalizing it. And so they have done here with Johnny Cash's "Man in Black", spun out with Bobby Ellsworth's unhinged screams in a duet with more a straightforward voice. The lyrics aside, this has never been one of my favorite Cash tracks, and so I can't say I was thoroughly impressed by the band playing it close to the original, when a heavier injection might have at least proven interesting, but overall it's a passable version and it's nice to hear Blitz at least try to apply his own distinctness to a pretty mundane musical exercise.
I was far more interested to hear "Warrior Heart", a new Kreator track with a driving melodic death metal feel to it that would not have been out of place on the recent Gods of Violence, or perhaps on some comparable excursions like 2001' Violent Revolution. Granted, there's nothing exceptional here either, and you feel like you've encountered the melodies before across a number of Swedish bands, but it's wholly competent and never a detriment to hear Mille's voice grating over the grace of those airier harmonies, or the straight heavy metal thrust of the bridge and its substantial leads. So this is the side of the split which ended up appealing to me a lot more, it's at least on par with some of the other recent tracks and one could get some value out of ripping an .mp3 of it and tossing it on his or her Gods of Violence playlist.
Overall, it's a decent gimmick that rewards the integral symbiosis of musicians and press, even if the content is rather scant and not all that great. Nothing on the level of Sabbat's brilliant "Blood for the Blood God" flexi in that old issue of White Dwarf, but Rock Hard isn't leaving you with nothing.
Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
This is a band long driven by the restlessness and street wisdom of its front man, Blitz, and it's par for the course that his performance can make or break even a wholly average set of guitar riffs. And here he turns in an angry, confident, flailing effort right on the level of 2012's The Electric Age, with a lot of snarl and flexibility to his timbre that doesn't rely entirely on the higher range, and excels once the band hammers into some more anthemic, melodic chorus in a tune like "Our Finest Hour". I can't say there is anything here he hasn't hit on in the past, but he sounds great whether the band are meting out faster paced pavement justice or one of their fattened, predictable Sabbath grooves. The rhythm riffs, on the other hand, are really hit or miss, most seeming like they're just paraphrased from a grab bag of the band's prior ideas, and relying heavily on both the lyrical execution and the fat production, but once in awhile one or two will prove a little catchier and more unexpected than their surroundings, and that helps boost the structure and reliability of the songwriting, especially in some of the longer 6-7 minute cuts.
Drums and bass are bedrock here, especially D.D. Verni who's trademark, clean and huge tones are bouncing and twisting all over the mix. Leads have a very classic 70s rock feel to them, not only in the excellent bonus track cover of Thin Lizzy's "Emerald", but even in the original pieces. The range and the variation on the record is quite good, from pace pushers like "Goddamn Trouble" or "Red White and Blue" to leaden, bluesy groove like "Come Heavy" which recounts late 80s Trouble quite well, or the epic, measured mid-gait headbanging title track. The album dishes out just enough breakdowns to keep the tough guy crowds slamming while never becoming too trite or repetitious, and while the thrash here is more inspired by the band's 90s offerings than the clinical late 80s style, I think it's punishing enough to temporarily satisfy those who might have been seeking the latter. Even within Ellsworth's performance, he doesn't keep aping the same verbal patterns repeatedly, but offers seasons, explosive craftsmanship that makes every line seem like it's being taken dead seriously.
Will this stand out against the band's stacked backlog? Hard to say, since it lacks the insanely memorable choruses and riffs of the band's youth, or even that cross-generation appeal of 2010's Ironbound, which was a pivotal release that cemented their legacy as perhaps the U.S.A's hardest working band in the genre, whilst in the midst of the pizza thrashing craze of younglings who were getting into the stuff for the first time. I didn't like that disc quite as much as the rest of the crowd, but its sense of newfound inspiration has seemingly abated over these following three records, all of which have been varying shades of green, and varying shades of good. The Grinding Wheel is no exception, and it is not short on enthusiasm, spirit or craft. After a couple lukewarm listens, it's grown a little in my estimation so that I'd rank it firmly between its two predecessors.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (here's to the liberation)
Thursday, March 16, 2017
So rather than some dissonant, whipping frenzy of a solo, they'll break out something a little more blues based or accessible sounding, and stunningly, it works rather well. That's not to say it's the first time they've crossed that line, but here it actually complements the more ruthless and ripping rhythm guitar tracks throughout the verses, most of which are more or less paraphrased from the band's huge backlog with an emphasis on the earliest material. A few chords are tweaked here or there, but you'll pretty quickly identify where a lot of the note progressions or grooves are hailing from. Only, because I've felt so long parched for Obituary that I enjoy, I'm a little more forgiving here, especially with how angry and vicious John sounds with these vocals in cuts like "Kneel Before Me" or swaggering "Lesson in Vengeance". He's not belching out anything out of the ordinary, but there's a caustic and mean balance between how his voice is mixed here and the sheer might of the rhythm guitars which totally overpowered my speakers and had me rictus grinning from cheek to cheek.
Granted, it doesn't hurt that cuts like "It Lives" feel like they were taken from the Cause of Death sessions, my favorite record from the band, but this has never been a band that flaunted a lot of progression or originality once they had first made their mark with a more gruesome if simple brand of thrash-infused death metal that their statesmen like Death first created. You're still hearing a few of those meaty, Hellhammer-style groove breaks and fat, oozing bass lines, but a lot of the material here is just this wall of mortuary flesh strengthened by the double kick batteries and the cruel symbiosis of Tardy's grating growls and the murderous bent of his lyrics (love that sustained growl that opens "Turned to Stone"). Obituary isn't a total success for all its retread ground and a few tracks seeming staler than others, but it's for sure the first time in a great many years where I have been so thoroughly entertained by one of their releases, and I've already listened through the thing like a dozen times without getting tired of it. Beyond that, it's got enough of an internal variation that it should sate both fans of the more ripping, faster material or the gym-busting bro-groove. Cool.
Verdict: Win [7.5/10]
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
To be clear, while the primary propulsion here is a style akin to records like Eternal Nightmare or Oppressing the Masses, I'd actually draw a closer comparison to Japan thrashers Ritual Carnage who have a storied history of translated those same 80s influence into a more modern context. The vocals in particular have that higher pitch in which a lot of the lines spit out the same notes over and over to create a disaffected style first pioneered by Joey Belladonna of Anthrax. In this case, though, while the vocals are certainly well suited to this jerking, thrashing mix, it's really the riffs that take center stage and manifest the rich intensity of the experience, each track being loaded with a good share of variations and occasional subtleties which range from the viciousness of a Destruction or Vio-Lence to even the turbo fueled power/thrash of Artillery that I so admired coming up. It's not insanely technical or unique, but cuts a nice line between clinical neck-straining and familiar but not wholly bitten off riff progressions that you'll recount from both the German and US scenes, from primal S.O.D. mosh to the scalpel-thrash of the aforementioned Schmier and company.
Discarded Existence is carefully calculated to give you both that richer impression of thrash and its musicianship, with soaring, sailing and wailing leads as well as a whole slew of mid-paced pure head banging riffs that keep the experience a lot more grounded than the victim on its cover. Drums and bass provide an accurate level of support, but are never able to take the reins away from the axes for any length of time, which has never really been the point of this genre. Thankfully, that rhythm tone is just excellent, precise and full-bodied enough to satisfy the production gluttons who want a record which sounds 21st century. While I can't say it produces endless replay value or tunes that are likely to become classics, the whole thing is consistent and entertaining to listen through, with lyrics that stick to the social and political topics thrash has long touted, and a level of energy that never lets up, but leaves plenty of room for variation in tempo and lead-work. If you fondly recount the vitriol and testosterone of records like Signs of Life, Eternal Nightmare, Product of Society, Release from Agony and others of that critical 1986-1990 period, Panikk does a swell job of refreshing the formula.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
Thursday, March 9, 2017
If you've never experienced them, it's more or less charging European black metal with a strong 90s feel to it, very basic riffing structures spat out at a faster pace or brought down to a might, barbaric charge. The chord progressions are quite predictable here, but that doesn't really diminish much of their savagery, with the guitars loud and frontal, the vocal rasps doing a good job of providing an evil impetus towards the uptempo blasted sequences. Definitely a classic Swedish or Norse black metal vibe here circa bands like Marduk and Satyricon, but occasionally with "For Blood and Soil" itself they hit a glorious stride reminiscent of vintage Rotting Christ off Thy Mighty Contract or Triarchy. The drums are rather on the tinny side in the mix, but nonetheless efficient, while the bass is good and think, but doesn't otherwise do a lot to carve its own existence from the solidarity of the rhythms.
The two songs are reined in at about 5 minutes each, so thankfully Bannerwar has no interest in beating the listener over the head with ceaseless repetitions of tired riff patterns, and I feel that for the length of the 7" there is enough variation represented, assuming on a hypothetical third full-length they'd have an even broader range (as they did on Centuries). But the question is, at the end of the day, when the onrush of the night is inevitable, do you want another pure atavistic black metal listening session which offers you little to nothing new? If the conventions continue to attract you, then these Greeks are an adequate vehicle for vengeance and ferocity, but although the material here is just as solid as the stuff on their albums, they still just don't stand out against the crowd.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Speaking of interesting guests, I was interested to hear that ex-Brain Drill bassist was contributing more here than he did on the last one, and once more impressed that he was able to chill out and maintain such a level of restraint throughout the mind numbingly boring half of this disc which is comprised of about 3-4 songs where the idea is to contrast repetitive, barebones primal mugging death metal riffs with the slightly more tech side revealed on Crypt. He doesn't get nearly as flashy as he would in his alma mater, of course, this music couldn't support it, but unfortunately I felt like the content of Torment is just so dry and lacking in real inspiration that it's all for nothing. While a good chunk of this album is far from bumbling or incompetent, I could narrow it's finer moments down to just a couple tracks, like "Schizomaniac" which has some nice thrashing carved out through it's death acrobatics, or the straight neck-jerking base-level death/thrash in "Slaughtered As They Slept", which functions despite how 'heard before' the whole thing plays out. Other than that, there weren't many tracks I enjoyed through and through.
Chris sounds better here than on the previous year's Graveyard Classics IV compilation, where he did an abysmal job of covering Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson with his grunting. Here the battering, bludgeoning timbre of his voice cedes itself to the concussive drumming and viler riff selection a lot more than when he's trying to front such classic riffs; and there are more than a few stylistic nods here to The Bleeding, his finest moment in Cannibal Corpse, but infused with the stoned groove style of riffs that dominated early 6FU recordings like Haunted or Warpath. The mix of the album is quite straightforward, a little dry and doesn't really lend itself well to atmosphere unless Hughell is filling in the blanks with some busier bass lines, but this is par for the course for much of the band's career, and in the end you've got a product here which is the least composed or interesting of their post 2010- works, an era in which they finally seem to most closely have flirted with and even dated some level of quality. Undead, Crypt of the Devil or even Unborn would be more worth your time, but it's not a complete dropping of the ball, just a near-fumble.
Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]
Thursday, March 2, 2017
...given the 6FU treatment, of course, and by that I mean transformed into bludgeoning low rent death metal lite where the only possible entertainment value is hearing Barnes' caveman grunts fart out the lines of scream-gods Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson. Musically the trio on this disc attempts to pair up to the originals as much as possible, only with a sluggish, chunkier rhythm guitar tone that is meant to construe some heavier aggression but winds up feeling rather dry, since the record as a whole lacks that reverb and atmosphere that helped immortalize the 70s and 80s material, which this album largely consists of. The bass and drums do their parts over the album, and I won't say it's the least competent of these Graveyard Classics offerings...the focusing on only two bands kind of helps tighten the experience, and the leads feel frilly and fun, but then you go and plaster them with these monotonous grunts, which feel poorly recorded like someone was playing the background music at a karaoke bar and Chris just grabbed up the microphone. It's a little funny to hear Ray Alder appear as a backup on the "Invader" cover, but one wonders why Chris didn't just hire Ray to sing the whole thing...that might have proven a more passable experience.
I'll give Barnes credit, though, he at least has a fairly good taste in songs by these legends, and does not simply offer up the most predicted or obvious choices in their catalogs. I normally wouldn't expect to hear someone's take on "Prowler", "Flash of the Blade", "Starbreaker" or "Genocide", and these are all included along with "Total Eclipse", "Night Crawler", and "The Evil That Men Do". I don't think there's any question the track list was carefully pored over, and without renditions of the bands' most popular tunes, it affords 6FU a little more breathing space for their interpretations. Alas, they are just not very good in the end, and it's largely the vocals and production of the rhythm guitars that don't do these versions a service. If Barnes had excused himself from this, then you might have an average album of its type, but this is just too laughable to take seriously, and the joke loses its humor about 2-3 tracks in when it just becomes sad and boring. Slightly more consistent than the first two such 6FU cover anthologies, but I would say this project 'peaked' with Graveyard Classics III. Granted, that's like saying my lunch peaked when I projectile vomited against the nearest wall, rather than just puking it into its normal porcelain receptacle. Enough already!
Verdict: Fail [3.25/10]