Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tribulation - Lady Death EP (2017)

I've already gone on at length about Tribulation's latest album, Down Below, the first case in my opinion in which they've decided to stick around on one particular style and refine it. The results were roughly even with Children of the Night for me, but I've enjoyed both the albums quite a lot when I'm in the mood for an overcast but beautiful admixture of traditional, melodic heavy metal, death metal and the Gothic overtones the band has been obsessed with in both sound and image the last couple outings. "Lady Death" is the third cut on that full-length, opening with an ambient escalation into a downtrodden, mid-paced mope-rocker glazed in great, classic melodic lines that merge very well with the harsher bite of Johannes vocals and the sparser, steady lower chords...a treat for fans of melodic death, Euro-Goth metal, or even Trouble-esque doom metal since a lot of the note choices just put me in a similar mood to much of their material from around 1985-1990.

But, as with the first two entries in this triptych of Tribulation singles I'm reviewing, I had already heard half in advance. The "Lady Death" half. What truly drew me to this short player was the second song, "Skärselden", which I had not been acquainted with. To my surprise, it is not at all a cover or another rock-oriented piece, but instead a 4 minute swell of haunted dark ambiance which feels gloomily cinematic in its scope, cresting at about a minute in, and then again later in the song. Now, as a dark ambient fan in general, I was fairly satisfied with this. Usually I'd like a longer time to get these vibes festering in the shadows of my imagination, but if nothing else its proof Tribulation could have a career on a Cold Meat Industries or some other comparable label, alongside one of their talented ambient countrymen like Raison d'être. That being said, I could see how this would throw off some fans...I mean we don't have much context for this in terms of Tribulation's body of work, and I'm sure a lot of people anticipating Down Below would have preferred a more representative example of their music to whet their appetites alongside the lavish "Lady Death". Mileage is going to vary on this one, but it's probably not the wisest career decision. Nonetheless, in hindsight, the title track is about on par with the rest of their fourth full-length, and the ambient piece is fine for what it is. As to the value of this single? Or this 'EP', as semantics would have it? Not much at all, though the cover of the 7" is eerie, minimalist and classy.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10] (Beautiful and severe)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tribulation - Waiting for the Death Blow (2015)

Identical to my approach towards Tribulation's prior single, The Death & Rebirth of..., released in early 2015 before Children of the Night dropped, I was only interested in Waiting for the Death Blow for one reason alone...the Swedes' cover of "One Hundred Years" by Gothic heads of state The Cure. Now, this single is actually comprised of TWO covers, the other being "Pay the Man" by the pop punk sensations The Offspring, but I had already heard that from the Melancholic EP in 2016, on which it was repressed. It was a strange choice, to be sure, but probably one of the Californians' least obnoxious tunes, and I'd say that its transformation into moody, melodic deathpunk metal probably raised its stock with me, but if I compare it to any of the original Tribulation material, in ANY of their stylistic eras, then it falls short of the mark.

On the other hand, "One Hundred Years" is closer to a stunner, capturing the mood of the original but also twisting it into something more appropriate for the cult, black & white horror nightscapes that the Swedes have become known for these last several years. This is Jack the Ripper and Vlad Dracula taking tea in some dingy corner pub while gleefully swapping tales of victimization. The vocals are a little overloud, moreso even than the complaints I occasionally read about their growling in general, and the bass guitar doesn't quite have the same presence as in The Cure version on Pornography. But the atmospherics conjured up by the guitars and steady shuffle of the kit are wonderful, and the lyrics, which contribute the title of the single, still haunt as they did coming out of Robert Smith's quivering wails. So this one is well worth a listen, and guess what...if you're smart, and not me, you can pick this up alongside "Laudanum Dreams" from the last single I covered, on the digipak version of Children of the Night through Century Media. Waiting for the Death Blow itself is unnecessary unless you've committed to collecting just about everything. Cool cover pic though.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10] (Ambition in the back of a black car)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Tribulation - The Death & Rebirth of... (2015)

I'm actually coming at this single in reverse order here, having already been exposed to the demo version of "Holy Libations" as it appeared on the band's Melancholia EP one year later. To briefly reiterate, I found it and the other demo recordings there to be roughly on par with the versions on Children of the Night, slightly less polished and fractionally more passionate due to the mix, but not enough that I'd switch over to them rather than just run through the entire album. For this single though, it definitely seems as if it would be hurried out the door just to have something ready for the band's installed audience, perhaps even a 'shot across the bow' for those who might not have been anticipating their transformation from the progressive death of Formulas to the more sultry and melancholic Children. To that extent, it serves its purpose, with this memorable, morose tune the vanguard, and the bonus that it's a limited press 7" collector's item.

But for those not interested in such baubles, fear not, because the B-side, the reason I was actually interested in checking this single out, is also available on several of the full-length presses, only somehow not on the one I originally covered, because fuck my life. "Laudanum Dreams" was the real attraction for me, and I was not in the slight bit disappointed, since it's a driving, solemn and vicious piece rife with thundering fills, walls of chords, and threads of melodic tremolo picked lines which almost create a mid-90s, mid-paced melodic black metal feel, and the brazen, shining 'chorus' of the guitars is well worth the investment, along with its overall triumphant aesthetic blow the torn throat roar of Johannes Andersson. Cool band pic, too, in coffin shapes on the cover, a Gothic noir sort of 'teaser' in the title as to their style change. Ultimately, you just want to track down a version of the full-length that includes "Laudanum Dreams", and if you need experience the demo mixes then go for Melancholia upon which there are more than them. So I can't stack praise on this, only that it's got a good B-side which is album worthy.

Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10] (Precedence is given to the dreamer)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Asenblut - Legenden EP (2018)

It was always inevitable that the success of a band like Amon Amarth would inspire some imitation, and listening through this German band Asenblut's latest EP, I think we've come across one of the more clear-cut cases, a hurdle that its musical content can't quite seem to leap with enough clearance that you could ignore the forest for the trees. That's not to say that the original material here is incompetent...far from it. If anything, Legenden takes what its Swedish forebears lays out and ramps up the drumming with just a fraction more intensity, but the shifting between those glorious, moody riffs, roiling tremolo picked melodies and verses which are escalated towards a majestic climax sound almost EXACTLY like half the output of their better known influences over the last 15 years. I can't say that there is enough by way of memorable writing that it can stand alongside or even surpass the original article, but at least when it comes to constructing a track with a variety of riffs, leads, and such, tracks like "Die Legende" and their namesake "Asenblut" aren't exactly lazy, in particular if you're a fan of records like Twilight of the Thunder God or With Oden On Our Side.

Now, to be fair, Asenblut have been at it for awhile now, and four of the five tracks here are new recordings lifted from their 2009 debut Aufbruch, which I covered many years ago. Certainly these sound mightier and clearer than those, albeit lacking in novelty as all reworkings of pre-existent material tend to do. But the fifth tune, "God or Man", is a cover of a rarer Manowar track off the Thunder in the Sky EP, and I actually feel that Asenblut did a fantastic job of translating that over directly into their own style. In fact it gives the original a run for its money, and is hands down the catchiest tune on this release, the only one I kept wanting to come back to. Love the melodies, the lead, the grunting and rasping vocals contrasted against the soaring riffs, and it just keeps getting better as it goes along. While it's no surprise that a Manowar cover would be chosen, it was not expected to be the highlight of this release, and adds a bit of value. Otherwise, Legenden would not be a mandatory listen unless you really want newer versions of the Germans' songs from a debut album that they probably think needed the most studio tweaking.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tortharry - Sinister Species (2018)

One of the longest surviving European death metal acts to receive what seems like absolutely no attention whatsoever, the Czech Republic's Tortharry have been nonetheless thundering and growling away for well over a quarter century and nine full length albums. Having come across a few of their works in the past, I can understand how they might get lost in the shuffle of far more overt and attention-grabbing brutes, but I certainly enjoyed their 1994 debut When the Memories Are Free as an example of an unsung, classic death metal gem, and efforts like Reborn (2006) or Round Table of Suicide (2008) clearly place them in that camp of beyond competent, aggressive death metal which evolved as a parallel to other acts like Cannibal Corpse, Severe TortureMalevolent Creation, Deicide, Krabathor, Blood Red Throne, Hate Eternal and Suffocation.

Sinister Species is another check in that box, a balanced attack of blasting mid-90s style death metal with churning and chugging breakdowns which they thankfully keep blisteringly intense and even interesting in some songs, rather than constantly devolving into redundant meathead palm mute patterns. Some of them will no doubt breed familiarity, but Dan Pavlik's Vader-like grunting always maintains a brutal tension that helps almost all the material feel fresher than you having heard it a hundred times. I mean this shit is half meant for you to mosh your fanny off, but it's busy enough that you might actually stop for a few seconds and try to make sense of your bludgeoning environs. They keep a thrashing edge on some of the mid-paced riff progressions, whereas the faster ones will alternate between the chug-and-go patterns so traditional to this niche, and tremolo picked rhythms that hinge on being evil or threatening melodies. The drumming is about as destructive as you want, with good levels across the kit so that the fills are as distinct as the double-bass rolls and blast kick patterns.

One aspect of this band I've long enjoyed are the bass lines of Martin 'Lemy' Vacek, which throb between a big, fat, deep groove and then some higher pitched fills or lines that twist away from just pure rhythm guitar emulation. His presence continues to contribute character to what might otherwise border on run of the mill material, and thus Sinister Species feels as if its been fleshed out far more than other, average entries into this category. That's not to say the record is incredibly memorable, but they put a lot of effort into the verses and bridges so that you'll sometimes be dealt a card you didn't expect around some of the blasting, pummeling corners, without ever stretching credibility. There is definitely a sense that Tortharry stays stuck in a time when this particular strain of death metal was considered an apex of the medium, and a lot of the audience have turned towards its more deeply retro or atmospheric mutations, but these guys are totally solid in their execution, and had Sinister Species dropped around 1996 it might even be considered a minor cult classic. Brutal Truth's Kill Trend Suicide had a cooler version of this cover concept, though.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Friday, February 16, 2018

Atomwinter - Catacombs (2018)

I have to give credit where credit is due, and the cover to the third Atomwinter album, Catacombs, is a total classic, one of my faves thus far in 2018...with its creepy vagina dentata, loads of visceral details, squirming things every where, and some of the longest forked tongues I've ever seen. I mean as disgusting as this place looks, it's one i want to explore, one I want to send my 9th level RPG character to experience, and my hats off to the band for choosing it to represent them. Now it's almost impossible that any death metal record is going to live up to the imagery and mood established by such a cover, and Catacombs assuredly does not, but if this one were released in the mid-90s it would certainly be rated among the classic images we relate to the medium, even with its black & white format. And rightly so.

As for Atomwinter's actual music, they've been around for some years now, helping add Germany to the roster of national scenes that support throwback death metal, and while I've never been terribly impressed by their output, it's archetypal and competent. The same can be said here, for an album that offers no surprises whatsoever, but has quality production, a true old school veneer and still packs enough of a punch that genre diehards looking for their fix probably won't regret checking this one out, even moreso than either 2012's Atomic Death Metal or 2015's Iron Flesh. The clear reference point for me is mid or moderate paced death via the UK or Netherlands scenes, more specifically a mix of Asphyx and Bolt Thrower, with a doomier finale in "Funeral of Flesh" that reminded me a bunch of vintage Autopsy, only more polished. So in general you're dealing with churning guitars, recorded in a tone redolent of the classic Swedish camp, but not quite so overdriven as some. A lot of the riffs border on grind in the same way their influences do, but on the other end they'll splay out some super simplified, sparser chord segments which remind me of the slower Obituary material back in that band's earlier era.

Olle Holzschneider's vocals don't often belt out interesting or nuanced lines, but he does a fair job of keeping them grisly and charismatic, just not to the level of a Martin van Drunen. But they do work really well with this extremely straightforward brand of death. A loud, firm growl over music that is basically built to be cranked. The drumming is tight, the energy hellish, and there were a few points through the album where some genuinely dark, evil riff erupted. They don't work with a tone of leads or melodies, but where they do spit out the former, you'll get something frilly and vibrant that works well above the pummeling undercurrents. The cello intro was also a pretty cool touch, though I would have been thrilled if they actually incorporated this through the meatier tracks, would have made this album instantly something different. And that's kind of where this album falters, as it's just so obvious and familiar throughout the entire run that it gets lost in the memory with so many other midlisters. Just a few less overt choices in chords, a little more dissonance, some stranger chord structures, all would contribute to making a better album than this; but as it stands, Catacombs is not something to scoff at, and if you had a vinyl of this lying around, I'm sure it would draw attention from your creepy (and therefore awesome) friends.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Blooming Carrions - Necrosis Twilight [demo] (2018)

Necrosis Twilight is a promising if marginally flawed entry into the realms of caustic and cavernous Finnish death metal, not entirely reliant upon mimicking its influences, but close enough in countenance that many will lump it in a lot of its peers. I was drawn to this by the creepy band name, the even creepier black & white cover artwork and just the fact that I've been a fan of this stuff going on back to the Demilich, Convulse, Demigod and ancient Sentenced years, and ultimately impressed that this was all put together by a single musician covering all the instruments. The two tracks are admittedly a little bit fattened at a respective 9 and 7 minutes long, and don't possess a gulf of internal variety that really deserves that amount of corpulence, but as an EP it wasn't a case where I really found myself bored, and there isn't an insane amount of repetition, I simply felt that more ambiance or atmospheric breaks would have rounded out the existing, suffocating riff set to make for a more memorable demo.

The vocals are a massive, sustained, often howled guttural in the Craig Pillard vein, where they themselves transmogrify into mostly an atmospheric effect rather than a syllabic labyrinth. The guitars morph between old school, 80s Death-like Floridian evil fluidity, only rawer, and then higher, more melodic sheen tremolo picked breaks that I found were the most interesting. Bass guitars are turbid in the mix, but don't break away from the rhythm guitar patterns all that commonly; where as the drums are a bit of a complaint...functional and frenzied, but often just provide a clamorous backbone to the weight of the riffs, and don't really deviate or impress by themselves. Altogether, though, Blooming Carrions achieves its goal of fearful, morbid, asphyxiating, subterranean escapism. Murk and deep earth and dancing shadows and apparitions. Not so much that it can stick its neck out far from the pack of death metal bands this last decade, who all pursue similar aesthetics, but if you're a big fan of the darker, roiling acts on the Dark Descent roster, or you scour the mortal realm for obscure cassette-death, then I think this is an act to keep an eye on. Or rather an ear, to the muddy convulsions below, which might one day belch this forth like a visceral geyser from the deep underground if a bit more balance and nuance is attained.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Monolithe - Nebula Septem (2018)

Seven minstrels. Seven tracks. Seven minutes a piece. Seven tones. Seven letters of the alphabet to start the song titles. Nebula Septem. One might ascertain that there was something unusual and 'celestial' about the structure that doom mavens Monolithe have adopted for their... seventh album (of course), but that's not the only quirk that went into this piece. Nebula is quite likely their most dynamic and musical expression in terms of how much effort went into the riff building and melodic execution, and a lot of that has to do with how they've gradually evolved away from their excessively long in the tooth roots. A quartet of 50+ minute uni-track albums gave way to more digestible, but still chunky 15-minute triads on their last pair of albums Epsilon Aurigae and Zeta Reticuli, and now they've cut even those down in half. The consistency of mathematical patterns in their output almost seems to be building some cosmic convergence, some formula that might be hidden to us all until its two late and their deathly Franco doom cracks the heavens and replaces the oxygen of our atmosphere with pure chemical despair.

In the meantime, they've written a damn fine record, which I don't have a hell of a lot to compare to; busily shifting tectonic chord patterns glazed over with immediate and often desperate harmonies, with some fundamental rhythmic variations in cuts like "Anechoic Aberration" that leave me with a prog death impression not unlike the one Dan Swanö put together for his solo album Moontower, only not so busy, nor heavily reliant on the Moog organ sounds. Here the synthesizers peel off into the atmospherics created by the guitar melodies, to give an almost aurora-like counterbalance to the drudgery below, Rémi Brochard's guttural bellows creating just the right amount of sustain to emulate what must be the ultimate 'death metal vocalist floating through space...only you can hear him' sort of ambiance, straight to your ears, splattered well on the peak of the instruments without displacing or drowning them off in the vacuum. There's a constant sense of interplanetary tension that courses through the album, which is aesthetically consistent even through the mutation of the chords and the plodding, passionate fills and beats being strewn out terrestrial-like before them. But it's not always the frightening feel like you're not only seeing celestial bodies contract and collapse, but burst into existence like bright sonorous beacons that dance off across impossible distances.

It's really interesting to me how, even though they're not always paced equally or assembled in the precise same manner, how having each track at the same length creates a cerebral uniformity. I'm sure there is some scientific term for this, but I'm simply not used to it when 99.99% of all the music I absorb is broken up into longer/shorter pieces across albums, interludes and intros and outros and all that jazz. In a way, you could look at this simply as one of their first four records if it were just divided into seven, because the material itself is unquestionably fluid in stylistic decisions and instrumentation. There are only brief segways, usually in track intros like the Tangerine Dream-esque set-ups for "Fathom the Deep" and "Gravity Flood", but even these can be relied upon to rupture into splendorous misery through the growling and power chords. If you're at all enamored with the 'cosmic' in your musical purchases, or you like doom to be accessible and multi-faceted without transplanting its slow-beating, elegaic heart, then I'd say this band has long been a must for your attentions. Nebula Septem is no exception...lavish, professional, exploratory but stable. Perhaps not exceedingly memorable when broken down into its seven constituent parts, but taken as a whole it hits 'experience' level. So check that your suit is sealed, that your water and primary oxygen tanks are filled, that your battery is at full power. All life support go. And climb aboard for a glimpse of the formidable, beautiful beyond. You won't have to keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, there's plenty of room out there to shake them around.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Monday, February 5, 2018

Spite - Antimoshiach (2018)

It seems like any and all bands associated in any way, past, present or future with the great Negative Plane infer some sort of inherent quality, even being as stylistically widespread as they are. From Occultation to Funereal Presence, you're getting some damned compelling material. New York's Spite might only share a brief, live connection with the above, but having also heard Salpsan's other project Horns & Hooves I was already aware the guy could brew some nasty black metal extract, and I am not at all let down by this slightly older project, seeing its first full-length through the esteemed Invictus Productions. Like Horns & Hooves, this carries a heavy influence from traditional black metal, but where that outlet little more frilly and speed-metal laced, Antimoshiac is perhaps a more direct line to the wretched sounds of forebears like Mayhem and Bathory in their 80s youth, with just the one musician rasping and playing all the instruments.

Not a lot of material here could be described as unique or nuanced in structure, but the surprise to me is that we've still got guys who can make such familiar patterns feel so cruel and fresh again, and that's really where this album works so well. The range is between mid and slightly faster black metal, driven heavily by dire tremolo picked melody, occasionally slathered in atmosphere from the higher strings being strung above the thundering drum kit. There's not a tune on the album that does not at some point sound exceedingly evil, and that's quite a feat in an age where we've heard it all so many bloody times that it's become almost mundane. Spite songs have vile verses that manage to escalate into more heightened 'chorus' like sequences where they just ramp up the majestic, melodic progressions that seem to climax alongside the snarling. Another key here is the sheer variety of what he's meting out, with no two songs that sound quite the same...the intricate little muted melodies that slink over the hammering bass-line depths of "The Shield of Abraham" sound little like the straight, venom spitting "Vision of the Merkabah" or the slower, steadily storming "False Magic" which could have been right at home in late 80s Bathory. No boredom through repetition whatsoever.

The production helps a lot, which I would consider perfect to go along with this very specific sound that Salpsan has devised. It's not your average necro-rawness, which many bands who chase this style thrive on. Instead, this is richer; fulfilling but not heavily processed or over-polished, never detracting from the constant vibe you get that a serpent is writhing up your shoulder and whispering ideas in your ear. Bass is sufficiently corpulent to support the rhythm guitars, which very often break away from thicker wall-of-sound chords and focus instead on classic, evil lines. I'd say these tremolo picked parts also draw some of their inspiration from ancient death metal circa the late 80s, they just have that ominous confidence to them, and some of the vocals get a little more gruesome to help accommodate this. This is ultimately a well constructed effort that reminds me so often of why I got into this style of music in the first place, and while you're not going to hear an evolution for the form, such could easily be achieved with a few dissonant tweaks, a few unexpected chords woven into the more conventional choices, a fraction more atmosphere. As it stands, though, Antimoshiac is a sinister delight on its own, and Salpsan's finest studio blasphemy to date.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Tribulation - Down Below (2018)

Tribulation has been one of the few bands out there lately which can make such huge tectonic shifts in style between albums and still pique my interest, exploring every continent on Planet Death from the kinetic thrashing Swedish death/thrashing intensity of The Horror, through the psychedelic augmentations of The Formulas of Death, and then subsequently into a melancholic style of Gothic-tinted heavy growl metal which seems a lot more laid back yet no less effective than the earlier incarnations. This is why Down Below strikes me as an anomaly, because for the first time the Swedes seemed to have staked their claim on a terrain and hung around for awhile. It wouldn't be a stretch to call this Children of the Night Part Deux; there are some minor variations in production and songwriting, as this seems a bit louder, mildly more energetic and straight to the face, but it does lack some of that surprise factor you might have experienced when first listening to the two full-lengths before it. Which might be a turn-off, if the style just weren't so attractive in and amidst all my other listening.

The riffing remains simple, sad, and beautiful, owing to its atmospheric adornments as much as any internal nuance. I'm not saying it's entirely predictable the first time through, but the band is relying a lot more on traditional senses of harmony and rhythm chords and not so much the death metal roots. When I listened to its predecessor, and when I also hear this, I feel like I'm hearing what shape a 'melodeath' sound might have taken if the amplification technology and rock music existed back in the Victorian era. The tunes all evoke cult horror imagery, and are unquestionably inspired by both the black & white cinema of those early Hammer and Universal flicks, or the Gothic literature of writers like Poe, Shelly, Stoker and Radcliffe. I realize this creates a strange anachronism, and even more so when Johannes Andersson's nihilistic gutturals stretch out over the gloomier but warmer rhythm guitar passages, but it's just one of those melodic death sounds that feels instantly distinct when compared to the more frantic, showy Scandinavian bands that have dominated that style for well over a decade. In fact, I could draw parallels between this album and Sentenced's underrated Amok in 1995which also had a moody, Romantic heavy metal foundation contrasted by the grueling and charismatic growls of Taneli Jarva. Or maybe even their countrymen Raise Hell on the 2nd and 3rd albums, where they'd weave in similar horror-inspired melodies; only this is far less brash and not at all thrashy.

At any rate, Down Below is extremely catchy, with a lot of focus on leads and melodies that glaze its moderate rock beats like synth lines from classic horror films. Voluminous percussion. Grand, grating growls that, while monotonous, are strangely subduing. Well-developed bridges, breaks in the rain, exhalations across the dark smokestacks or gargoyle-laden skylines. Solos that are never overly indulgent, but fit the moods of their individual tracks and overall consistency of the album just fine. Even the few moments where this record devolves into sheer ambiance are wonderful. I would say that it does often seem a little too samey in its riffing structures and pacing, perhaps even more than Children of the Night, but that's only a problem so long as I don't enjoy what I'm experiencing, and for me Down Below and their last albums are emblematic of extravagant, ghoulish productions that I really enjoy sitting down to watch, or read. What a fucking great band this is, whether they stick around in this same sphere or once again forge ahead into the unknown, I'm on board, shivering in the full moon, checking out the windows for any black wings that might fly past.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (And the long night comes with grace)