Sunday, October 28, 2018

Necrophagia - The Divine Art of Torture (2003)

Say what you want about whether Necrophagia was ever putting out top of the line albums for the genre, but one thing I can assure the viewer is that of all death metal gurus, Killjoy was one most committed to the actual ugliness of the medium. Whether that's a virtue or a vice is up to everyone to decide for him or herself; this was never a band that was going to release polished, wanky tech death albums, or melodic death metal, but instead appeal to the most primitive and then plaster on the usual suspect horror tropes like samples, narrative and synthesizers which fulfill the themes of gore, giallo, and cinematic camp. The Divine Art of Torture, the band's fourth full-length, is certainly one of its most ugly creations, if lacking stylistic refinement or many truly memorable tracks.

Does that matter here? Yes and no...there's a primal hideousness coursing through the ten cuts of this album which is certainly engaging and abusive. Like a lot of bands out of the NOLA scene, or Cali's cult crushers Autopsy, there's quite a chunk of punk or hardcore influence, only rather than cultivate a crust, sludge or doom center, Necrophagia channels it directly into a raw, pummeling death metal. Riffs are meaty and atrocious, with a raw, thrashy and crunchy tone to the rhythm guitars that does get a bit noisy in the recording. They do delve into some slower, groovier, doomy riffs at points, and there are also some really minimalist, bottom of the barrel sorts groove/nu metal riffs that they clog up some of the choruses with. Really, though, while a lot of the riffs can feel creatively bankrupt or flat-out predictable, they do suffice at least as a basis from which to launch the keyboards or other effects, not to mention they are angry, violent and abusive enough to compete with Killjoy's savage, tortured barking, forever the hallmark of this project.

It's kind of an odd sound because apart from maybe something like Autopsy, Impetigo, Slaughter or Sarcofago, it doesn't really wedge itself easy into other classifications of death metal. It's 'brutal' by its own standards, but the riffs feel more based in thrash and punk than the influence of the Swedish, British or Florida scenes. You don't get the feeling that there are any 'rules' in motion, or any real ambition, other than pounding the guitars into your skull like nails. The basslines and drums provided by the international rhythm section of Iscariah and Titta Tani, are very barebones and rock & roll in prowess, which also stands out like a sore thumb among the more technical and brutal inclined acts, but then again serving the style on this disc pretty well. Unlike a lot of the faceless hordes of bands that fit snugly into some category, when I hear a Necrophagia tune in a radio lineup I'm going to be pretty sure of who it is, and that's not a bad position to be in.

Mirai of the godlike Sigh provides the keyboards on the album, and he retains his penchant for choosing lines and tones that sound like they're somewhere between carnival music, giallo scores and prototypical New Age. I did not quite like how they were mixed here, feeling a bit too acidic or grating especially when coupled up with that brash guitar tone. Occasionally, as in "Rue Morgue Disciple", the band will break away into some simpler chugging and melodic guitars, where Mirai offers a more fulfilling, symphonic background, and these were some of my favorite parts. Overall though, with all the special effects coming and going through the music, Killjoy's lung puncturing roars, and anything else going on, I do feel like it can all devolve into quite a clamor, and isn't really mixed very well, a flaw that I think could prove a deal breaker for many listeners.

A horror guru like few others, Killjoy picks some interesting subjects here, like a tune about the Parasite Eve video game, or the "Flowers of Flesh and Blood" episode of the Guinea Pig torture-porn series. Not the sort of stuff you expect on your average horror-inspired death metal album which will mine the same old slashers from the 80s, and that much is appreciated here. The Divine Art of Torture is certainly one of the Necrophagia records with the most potential and cool concepts, but the lack of really sticky riff passages, as well as the production hold it back a step.

Horror-Meter: Seven out of ten phobia-driven heart seizures.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Lordi - Monstereophonic (Theaterror vs. Demonarchy) (2016)

Lordi is a band I denied for several years, shrugging them off as a mere GWAR knockoff. As it turns out, this was shortsighted and foolish; as my fondness for shock rock has only improved with age, I decided to return to their discography and discovered that I like quite a lot of their records, not the least of which is their 2016 opus Monstereophonic (Theaterror vs. Demonarchy), a mouthful of a title which is really to signify that this is sort of split into two albums; the first half representing some more fun-oriented, goofy party tracks and the latter half encompassing a miniature concept album in which the music gets a little more serious, technical and almost transforms into Lordi's answer to the rock opera.

Now, on one level I was not mistaken with the GWAR comparisons...certainly the band's elaborate prosthetics and stage get-ups, while not taken to the same extreme, are comparable to the Scumdogs of the Universe. Mr. Lordi's meaty, gritty vocal style also highly resembles the late Oderus Urungus, if a little more sustained and gravel-chewing. They occasionally also strike the same general level of heaviness, while remaining accessible to a broad metal audience following several genres. But where GWAR was rooted more directly in punk and thrash, Lordi have evolved their shock rock ambitions into a panoply of thrash, heavy metal, groove metal, rock opera and 80s hard rock complete with a heavy use of dated synthesizers that remind me simultaneously of cheesy AOR tunes and stuff like the intro to Ozzy's "Mr. Crowley". That they are able to assemble all of these aesthetics into one seamless whole is impressive, especially on this 64 minute, 14-track juggernaut upon which there isn't a single tune void of some extremely catchy riffs, chorus lines, or arrangements.

It does start off a little corny with a narrative horror intro and then "Let's Go Slaughter He-Man (I Wanna Be the Beast-Man in the Masters of the Universe)", which, if you couldn't already tell is a childhood relation towards the villains in the He-Man universe. It's not that I didn't once share this same sentiment, but the lyrics here are dumb as rocks. Likewise with the cringe-worthy sex anthem "Hug You Hardcore", focused exclusively on rear entry. Now, ironically, the music in both of these tunes is quite good...the former a synth-laden hard rocker which reminded me of their fellow Finns Twilightning, and the latter a super groovy rock track with a simple but unforgettable riff gimmick that I'm surprised nobody had ever tried before. So yes, despite their lyrical shortcomings, neither is a track I'd ever skip when listening through the album, and it's no wonder that "Hug You Hardcore" is their choice for a video, which strangely seems to feature more of a slasher theme and doesn't much have to do with the words...whiiiiiich, might be for the best!

After that point, while a few of the lyrics might still be plebeian ("Down with the Devil"), the rest of the music is quite excellent, with a huge dynamic range, from the slow and grooving "Mary is Dead" to the dirty heavy metal of "Sick Flick" to the power metal that inaugurates "Demonarchy" itself. The arrangements of the tunes are just about perfect, with lots happening through the synths and other instruments, but the ability to still come together for an amazing chorus. They employ a few higher screamed vocals which create a cool contrast with Mr. Lordi's usual tone, and maintain a kind of modern, creepy haunted theme park feel throughout. Production on the disc is polished but really perfect in allowing the listener to experience every intricate note, with nothing too loud or muted in the mix, no mean feat when you consider the wide range of riffs on exhibition. That the album goes over an hour without ever firing off a misplaced measure to me is staggering, perhaps not every riff or line is unique, but assembled together they offer quite a substantial window into shock rock contemporary and future, and Monstereophonic is a much less silly than it looks. Far less childish than its early attempts to derail itself. A whole lotta fun.

Horror-meter: Six out of ten underpaid makeup artists.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (scheming the night through)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Deathless Legacy - Rituals of Black Magic (2018)

For a band that essentially started off as a loving paean to Italian countrymen Death SS, the similarly dubbed Deathless Legacy has certainly come a long way unto its own with this fourth album, an incredibly professional sounding effort which seamlessly integrates orchestration with simplistic, heavy guitars and a vocalist with a lot of character to drive home the occult horror themes which inspire them. It might be a little hard to pin down an exact style for this five-piece, it's a sleek, polished, modern approach which could service a cross-section of Gothic, heavy/power, shock rock and possibly even some groove metal audiences, and all the power to them for managing to land a firm identity, keeping their horizons open without ever coming off like some 'please everyone' hybrid that you find a lot in contemporary metal.

You'll instantly notice, upon first spinning the disc, how well the symphonics and choirs have been produced here, impressive since they're largely the work of a single keyboardist. Whether on their own or being used to decorate the straightforward, brutish rhythm guitars that populate most of the album, they feel so well-tuned and well-constructed that you really feel like you've spent a night at an opera which was crashed by some Ozzfest rejects, and I don't say that as an insult. As for the riffs themselves, they don't quite hit nu-metal levels of generic bounce, but there's not much to them other than serving as a foundation for all of those synthesizers, synth leads and the vocals, lower string chords most of the time with a few grooves and fills. Occasionally they'll infuse some higher pitched speed picking stuff that gives an impression of anthemic 21st century European power metal, but the majority of the time they are the element of the record that's striking the listener in the gut while the other trappings are more evocative of the imagination. Some slightly rave-like electronics are also incorporated into the harder riffs, so this isn't just some Gothic horror act living entirely in the past, even if the lyrics and overall imagery seem to point that way.

The real star of this morbid musical cinema, however, is Eleonora Steva Vaiana, who has a lower pitched, evil, wavering vocal style which so fluidly suits the punch of the music. At the cleanest of times she sounds like some sultry which summoning a hex, but she can also get even nastier with a near-rasp tone to accent a few of the lines, and kick in some power and sustain to the chorus lines. I'd liken her to an Agnete Kirkevaag of Madder Mortem, or perhaps Italy's occult scream queen herself, Cadaveria, but she totally makes this album, leveling out whatever elements you might find too overproduced or cheesy with a passionate and shadowy delivery that makes it difficult not to take seriously. Elsewhere, the band shines, with great drums, solid bass-lines, and a bevy of other instrumentation like the acoustics of "Vigor Mortis" that sound crystalline in execution. All of these are mixed in a beautiful balance that can go toe to toe with most 'modern' metal recordings in the fields of Gothic and power metal, without sounding too shallow or commercial.

It's not perfect, as some of the predictable guitars and symphonic melodies don't leave much in the way of a surprise lurking around any surface of this haunted opera. The music in general, while so painstakingly well produced, would not often be that memorable save for Steva's presence, but as an entire package it sounds great, and it casts such a potentially wide net that I could recommend it to fans of bands as varied as Nightwish, Benedictum, Ghost, Powerwolf, Cradle of Filth, Devilment, and of course their spiritual precursors Death SS. A good, solid album to pump out the speakers, not so much for metal seeking filthy, raw, flawed evil sounding material, but certainly could impress a lot of the squares and commercial metal receptacles who are more likely to let it find them than go out hunting themselves.

Horror-meter: Seven out of ten spectral orchestra pits.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Grave Digger - The Living Dead (2018)

I have to admit that when I first saw the title and cover for this new Grave Digger record my pulse started to quicken, as my single favorite of all their extensive catalog was one of their prior 'horror themed' efforts, The Grave Digger from 2001, devoted to the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Thinking this might be the Germans' opus to George Romero, I wound up slightly disappointed at the actual content, not because it isn't a solid effort in terms of the music, but because it didn't have quite the same sort of coherent concept. There are tunes here about zombies, sure, and a few other themes that verge on the horrific, but roughly half the album is dedicated to pretty standard heavy metal fare, like "The Power of Metal" which is about the musical medium itself.

So a bit of a letdown thematically, but beyond that The Living Dead is yet another in a long line of competent, professional, Grave Digger records. Their 18th studio full-length overall, if I did my math right and am skipping the re-recordings album they dropped a couple years back. Like a lot of its predecessors, stretching back to around 1993 (The Reaper) when they truly solidified the German power metal sound they are most known for, the record does feel like its carved out of a lot of typical riffing progressions that the band have used time and time again, 'paraphrasing' them slightly on each iteration. You could honestly jump back 25 years to that and not notice a great degree of difference, other than what Axel 'Ironfinger' Ritt has brought to the table during his tenure, which is a little more Rhoads-like flash and flair to the guitar work that helps shepherd it away from redundancy or from the dire predictability it might otherwise have grown into. He brings a fraction of uniqueness to the decisions here, like the speed picked battery that inaugurates "What War Left Behind", and lots of anthemic little melodies all over the tracks that give it somewhat of a distinct personality.

But similar to their countrymen Primal Fear, Blind Guardian or most directly Running Wild, they really don't require a lot of variation to kick your ass. You know what you're getting into when you pick up a Grave Digger effort, and there's some comfort in that, and some comfort in the fact that they are so committed, over such a long career to keep up the power level. The rhythm section here hits hard, an imbreachable foundation for Ritt's playing and Chris Boltendahl's gritty, unapologetic, accented timbre. The mix is quite good, putting the guitar right up front but not losing the swerving bass lines, the beats or the atmosphere brought in by the vocals. Speaking of Running Wild, you'll hear a number of cuts like "Fist in Your Face" which bring to mind the more layman's style of muscular hard rock Rolf & crew brought on certain songs on their first three discs, or the earliest Grave Digger albums like Heavy Metal Breakdown and Witch Hunt. But for my money there is this large chunk in the middle of the record, stretching towards the end, where its best tracks like "Hymn of the Damned", "What War Left Behind" and "Insane Pain" had me most pumped, the latter of which has a melodic guitar line nestled in there which sounded to me like "The Time Warp".

As for the album's single "Zombie Dance", while it's one of the few cuts that actually service the undead theme I was hoping for, it's more of a party polka folk tune that warps into chugging metal verses, and it's a little on the goofy side, which is obviously the point of it if you've seen the video (in which Chris plays a newscaster who looks like he's about to break down at any moment). I think if you've got a drunk or warm enough audience at some large European festival and break that out, people are going to have a blast swinging around to it, but it's just not the most serious tune here, even though it's far from awful, and develops a decent bridge-chorus. As the flagship for this album though, I might have made another choice, and there are several of them, because The Living Dead is yet another testament to why this band has the longevity it has. They rock the rotten soil off of your self-inflicted domestic coffin, crack it open and then kick your butt back to the land of the living. This is hardly their best album, even in recent memory, but apart from 1-2 tracks it's damn dependable.

Horror-meter: Four out of ten unnecessary sequels.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Warfare - Hammer Horror (1991)

Warfare's fifth proper full-length was such a bloody good idea at the time, or really, at any time: a British metal band paying tribute to an institute of British horror films. Beyond that, Evo and crew were not about stretching their sound a little, hamming it up with some synthesizers and atmospheres that took their street level thuggery into the funeral parlors, the haunted castles, and sundry other environments in which you'd usually place a Hammer Horror flick. Now, I want to disclose here that I am covering the 1991 reissue of the album, which featured more tracks to it as well as a better production than the original Hammer Horror from the year before. It's likely you've seen that one with its original cover that featured doppelgangers of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing against a moonlit castle backdrop, kind of a cheesy but cool image, but don't be fooled...this newer version sounds superior and has a lot more to offer, the one exception might be if you're a die hard puritan for original versions only and are willing to take the bad with the good.

At any rate, Warfare perform a grimy form of speed metal that builds off a similar momentum to a Venom, Motörhead or Tank, but here on Hammer Horror you can tell they were aiming for a more structured thrash nervous system on which to apply all the bells and whistles of the concept. The riffs in tunes like "Baron Frankenstein" almost have a simplistic S.O.D. or Sacred Reich mosh style to them, interspersed with some darker pure old heavy metal progressions. To contrast against this, they use a lot of lavish intros that feel like they're plucked straight from imaginary cult horror films, the organ tones or the acoustics used briefly to frame up the next track, although they'll also throw you a big curveball like "Phantom of the Opera" which is almost all this spacious, atmospheric, theatrical sounding tune which is only borderline metal, features male/female dual vocals and other things you just wouldn't expect if you'd come at this band from their older albums. Normally, the vox are a dirty style which at times reminds me of Cronos or even Ron's garbled barking in Coroner, but he also uses a lot of straight talking, blander narrative lines or others that sound like someone with a tummy ache being tossed out of the local pub by bouncers. It's charmingly pedestrian in places, but also fairly scatterbrained and inconsistent.

This also goes for the's a little difficult to really get involved with the better, harder hitting guitars when they're rubbing elbows with super cheesy, slower punk picking parts as in the verses to the "Scream of the Vampire" tracks here, which are strangely divvied up. The album seems to be split into three chunks: the large amount of intros and interludes, the harder headbanging cuts and then the broad epics like "Hammer Horror" itself which actually do a good job at capturing a guitar-driven sort of soundscape to a perceived film from that time and scene. There are a number of good tunes throughout, like "Plague of the Zombies" which is just some mid-paced, ballsy metal; or the title track I mentioned, or the brief "Ballad of the Dead", but others like the woozy slow dance number "A Solo of Shadows" are almost entirely laughable, though I get the feeling the band was right there laughing along with us when they were laying them out in the studio. As far as its pure metal content, I think the stuff is pretty good, some of their best in fact, with strong licks and cool atmosphere.

The issue is just that it feels a little bit TOO corny and inconsistent to really squeak out more than a barely passing grade. You have to think, at this time we already had an act like King Diamond or his Mercyful Fate putting out one masterful record after another, with more coherent narratives, more complex and interesting and memorable music, so Warfare's approach felt a little too blue collar or primitive; nor is it even as interesting or unusual as something like The Exploited's Horror Epics, and its weird punk industrial metal death rock fusion. That aside, this is a delightfully goofy romp with some genuine good metal moments...just not enough to terrorize its way into greatness. And at the very least, we know Warfare had some ace taste in movies.

Horror-meter: Six sexy Sarumans out of ten.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Autothrall Anno X

It was 10 years ago today that I decided to start up my first metal 'zine' since the late 90s, when I had published several issues of a short-lived, self-published, stapled and photocopied fan rag during my university years. With the help of several fellow forumers over at Penny Arcade, I launched a site to hopefully sharpen our critique on metal and other music, taking the name from my favorite novel (and title) by the late Ray Bradbury. I had at that point stepped away from performing in metal bands for a few years, but wanted to still contribute to the music that had always been there to strengthen and uplift me since early in my childhood. A decade and several thousand reviews later, I've come to learn a lot more about this medium, what makes a write-up work for me, and what doesn't. The response has always been overwhelmingly positive, so to my readers, and the bands and labels that have submitted material for me to cover, I owe you a tremendous amount of gratitude! To receive a message that someone really connected with an album through a list or review here, to experience that trust, has always been the highest reward to me, and the reason I press forward. To those friends who also posted reviews back in the earlier years of the site, I am grateful. Of course, there was no way I was going to post such a volume of reviews without attracting some degree of heat and hate, and while I've happily ignored a scant amount of childish, homophobic keyboard warriors and useless 'metal' trolls since the site's creation, I would absolutely like to thank those critics that have kept it constructive, or folks who have mailed me errata on band line-ups, grammar and so forth, which I've always been happy to correct.

Thank you so much for stopping by, and let's share a toast to ten more years, and all the great sounds, new and old, that we'll discover in that time. Marriage and children might have slowed down my output since the glory days, but...2028? Hold my mead horn.


Friday, October 12, 2018

Créatures - Le noir village (2016)

Le noir village is an album which appeals to me even on its most surface levels. Its obscurity, rarely being spoken of amidst the wave of avant-garde French black metal acts; while it's not quite as exotic or dissonant as a Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, or organic and homegrown to the degree of a Peste Noire, this is clearly well beyond the pale of another 'safe' black metal act, with risks aplenty, and risks that actually pay off for the listener embedded into its atmosphere. The artwork is also exactly what I like to see, some natural looking rustic village scene, a bloody and bleak wood stretching off towards some foreboding castle under grey skies. While it might not leap out at you as frightening, there's so much mystery that could be hiding under those wooded eaves, so much tragedy that could lurk in any of the quaint buildings, or the fields beyond, or approaching along one of the roadways...

Thankfully, this debut album sounds just as interesting and mysterious as it looks. For a one-man project (that of one Sparda), the amount of effort put into Créatures arrangements and ideas is tangible behind each of its epic-length tunes. That's not to say that all of them are equally brilliant or distinct, but no matter what shadows you're playing in here, you're bound to come across some quirk or surprise that separates it from the chaff of pure, monotonous, trad black metal. At its core, the harsher elements here morph between a mid-paced, somber melodic black metal and a more savage, blasted variety. The rhythm guitars aren't mixed too raw, but neither are they too sterile, and many of the riffs are affixed with tinny little melodies that create a particular, treacherous charm. Bass lines are often splayed out into curious creepshow grooves, while the beats seamlessly stray between the mandatory metallic intensity and the sparser backbone needed for the album's more orchestrated, atmospheric components. The rasps here are protacted and tortured to the level of sickening, often bursting into Burzum-like screams over the more frenzied musical moments. There are a variety of vocals used, ambitiously, to represent different characters relating the ominous story.

This would be all well and good, but it's the further details that truly flesh out the experience. Flights of crazy jamming pianos hover at the edge of perception, or eerie little synth lines that sound as if they were penned from classic haunted house film scores. Where acoustic guitars appear, as in the first track "L'horreur des lunes pleines", they are wonderfully sad and evocative, especially joined to the animal and nature samples. Sparda very often shifts into a more garbled, narrative, clean and deep voice in place of the rasping, which might be one small nick on the album's quality, as these lines can become a bit jumbled; but even then, I can appreciate the versatility he's trying to reward to listeners. Minor flaws like these are also easy to forgive when you are beholden to the brilliance of the bridge of "Martyre d'un tanneur", the true highlight of this album, when he evokes this amazingly catchy string section and haunted vocal accompaniment of whispers, rasps and howls that is well worthy of its inspirations, much less other avant-garde horror metal bands like Sigh or Hail Spirit Noir. When the horns erupt deeper into that bridge, and then the blasting and choir-like chants, you feel like some sun of genius has just shined upon the dark woodland border in which the music dwells.

Really, it's almost criminal that Le noir village is not a better known album. While that deep underground status is certainly an attraction for scum like myself, this is top flight stuff with only a few cracks marring its surface. Not only would I recommend it to fans of horror-themed black metal in general, or Sparda's compelling countrymen (early Blut Aus Nord, Aorhlac, etc), but also as a 'spookier' alternative for fans of Quebecois black metal acts such as Forteresse and Neige et Noirceur. The French lyrics and vocals might be a turnoff for some imbeciles, but I found the album intriguing enough that I'd sit there trying to translate through them and better embrace the concept. One of the better albums I've interfaced with this Halloween season, and a great introduction to an act that I hope we hear more from in the near future.

Horror-meter: Eight spine-tinglings out of ten.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Gorgeous Frankenstein - Gorgeous Frankenstein (2007)

Misfits alumnus Doyle has a solid history of attempting to mesh together the horror swagger of that infamous punk entity with a more metallic edge. The best example of this was probably Kryst the Conqueror's Deliver Us from Evil EP in 1990, which had a bit of a Christian streak running through it and was surprisingly not all that bad; I can remember a few friends and I listening to it back in the middle of our high school days. Granted, that material never really turned into anything long term, and if the quality of this eponymous Gorgeous Frankenstein album is anything to judge by, perhaps the sealing off of that particular punk/metal path is really for the better; because this is quite bad.

The core here is a slightly more muscular Danzig style of simplistic hard rock and metal with a bit of Glenn's vocal antics being delivered through the performance of Landon Blood. The riffs are a sort of amalgam of very basic thrash, heavy metal, stoner doom and swaggering bluesy bar metal possessing the banality of a Black Label Society, only far less of the guitar proficiency. The riffs progressions are extremely mediocre across the whole album, with some predictable chugging and groove riffs meant only to work up the manliness of the vocals and the gang shouted chorus parts. It doesn't help that the tone of the rhythms sounds like crap, going for a noticeably more live feel but ending up rather annoying and amateur, especially when being used to perform some of the most insipidly boring chugs and squeals you've ever heard. There are some decent attempts by some backing synths and other atmospherics to try and dress this all up in a more appealing package, but it's really just a clutter of stuff that Pantera would have laughed out of their recording sessions back in 1989.

As mentioned, the vocals are real similar to Glenn Danzig, although once they pick up into a more howled, angry timber as in the depths of "Man or Monster", there's also a clear Rob Zombie style, strained growling influence, only nowhere near as harsh, memorable and charismatic. The drums are loud and clappy, while some of the bass lines seem a little too buzzy and filtered, used often to anchor the really bland bluesy swinging riffs in cuts like "Devilgirl". The lyrics are also very basic, but I wouldn't say they were one of the weak points, occasionally offering out some engrossing or titillating horror lines. Gorgeous Frankenstein is essentially a flesh golem stitched together by numerous other bands before it which have carved out excellent careers imbuing their hard rock, punk or industrial metal with the macabre, Gothic and kitschy traces of horror...but take away the life-giving lightning of catchy songs, or the distinction of those bands, for a fairly lazy and easygoing impersonation. It's not completely awful or incompetent, as there are a couple ideas here or there which make good sense, but I forgot it entirely in less time than the 35 minutes it took to get through the songs. You've got a lot better options out there, including some of the other albums members of this band have been involved with.

Horror-meter: Five gestalt corpse-things out of ten.

Verdict: Fail [4.75/10]

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Energy Vampires - Energy Vampires (1991)

Energy Vampires are an interesting little obscurity from the Midwest who published an album-length demo back in 1991, to little or no fanfare. But knowing what vultures we have all become for such antiquities, Shadow Kingdom snapped this up for an 2008 reissue on CD and vinyl, and I think it's one that might have limited appeal to fans of classic US heavy metal or USPM of the variety you'd hear in the mid-80s from the Metal Blade roster. The band's frontman, John Stewart, who also fronted the heavier, comparable act Slauter Xstroyes, sadly passed away this summer, so I thought it was a good time to shine a little sunlight on these blood sucking hairspray addicts that might have damn well made bigger ripples than they did had the market not been so oversaturated by the time they arrived in it.

I'm assuming the band drew its name from the LaVeyan concept of a 'psychic' or 'energy' vampire, or perhaps the film Lifeforce or some other source I'm forgetting, but regardless, they played the sort of heavy/power metal with excessive vocals characteristic of the 80s US scene, which makes a lot of sense as a followup to Stewart's alma mater. From the 'official' pics of the band, they definitely had a glam look to them, and there's also a bit of a nasty hard rock feel coursing through the music, most reminding me of Mötley Crüe if they'd stuck to their guns and gone more pure heavy metal through the remainder of their career. However, this is largely the sort of driving, anthemic riffing you'd equate with other bands of that region like Shok Paris, Breaker or Destructor, predictable in terms of the chord patterns, but always just messy and unhinged enough due to the way Stewart threw his vocals up over the metal. This s/t can be a bit of a clamor, especially where it gets the most ambitious in a track like "Pull the Stake Out" where they slather in some organs and unruly leads while John is just pouring it on. I mean, if 'overacting' were a musical concept then I feel he'd a clear candidate, but that's not to take away that he has some angry damn pipes, shrieking howls and would have been an enormous star if he just had a great set of tunes to use them over.

You could also compare this to Lizzy Borden, not quite as shrill or consistent, in the vocals, but the music is far less eloquent, technical or effective. Energy Vampires throw you for a few loops, like the Meatloaf-ish opera "Rock 'N' Roll", over which Stewart STILL throws up some of those insane screams, creating an outlandish but amusing contrast, but I get the feeling that even for a demo, this stuff was in good need of a proper edit or a producer who knew how to take these ideas and ground them into phenomenal songs. The riffs are alright, but a little too standard for their style, and I don't know that I heard a catchy lead throughout, even though they are competent and atmospheric. The production is airy and era-appropriate, giving John a lot of space amid its vaunted ceilings to go ballistic, but every time I feel I get into a particular riff section it just sort of teeters out, almost like there's a drunken sheen to the whole affair, the undead authors tapping a few inebriated veins before heading into the studio. Tracks like "Different from the Rest" and the wailing bonus "On the Run" come pretty close to the quality I'd want, but overall it feels like it's all a VERY NEAR miss.

That said, I think if you want another example of what a potential weapon this guy was, Energy Vampires is no less of an exhibition than either of the Slauter XStroyes outings. I'm not saying in a world of Halfords, Udos, Dickinsons, Bordens, Danes, Dios or other screamers that Stewart brought a lot of novelty to the field, since there are a number of others with very similar characteristics to him, but this was a guy feeling around that upper air raid atmosphere, a caged animal that just isn't done service enough by the music, choruses, or lyrical line choices. With further development, meatier riffs, and hooks that got into the skin rather than deflected off of it, this could have been formidable.

Horror-meter: Four crouching banshees out of ten.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Friday, October 5, 2018

Abysmal Grief - The Samhain Feast EP (2009)

Abysmal Grief is one of those perfect bands to break out this time of year; its brand of horror occult doom metal generally satisfies on two levels, the genuine darkness and gloom you'd expect from its genre, and the slightlier campier vibe coming through the visuals and some of the sounds and samples they spruce up the guitar-driven doom with. From the onset you might expect a funereal vibe, which you do get through some of their costumes, all of the lyrical subject matter, and the consistent use of organs, but the music often has much more of a rocking nature to it which wouldn't be out of place for some US stoner metal bands. Italy actually has long had quite a thorough horror metal scene, so it's to Grief's credit that it manages to remain distinct from show-metallers Death SS, giallo fiends Mortuary Drape and Paul Chain's extensive repertoire of psychedelic purple excellence.

Having said that, The Samhain Feast is hardly the golden apple in this band's orchard of rotting sadness. With just two tracks that largely pursue the same style, it doesn't really offer up enough room for the band to really absorb you into its aesthetics. The thick riffs, cruising along with an almost Hellhammer-meets-Nebula guitar tone, are very bare-boned and predictable, in particular for the title track which has a chord progression similar to a dozen or so desert rock tracks you've already heard. Drums shuffle along at a simple pace, with just enough fire in them to support the heavier guitars, and the listener really has to lean on the haunted house organ lead aesthetics and the deep, wavering creep-out vocals of Labes C. Necrothytus to win the day. To give an accurate description of his style, think somewhere between Jari of Root and Lee Dorrian from Cathedral, those flawed but unforgettable lower cleans which care nothing for being perfect, but accurately casting the audience into its world of wraiths, specters, catacombs and coffins left slightly ajar.

Some riffs are better than others, and I'd say that "Grimorium Verum" is the superior of the offerings here, especially where the guitars hit that late bridge riff and the lead breaks out over it. That one also sounds a little more Hellhammer due to the riff makeup, thus automatically more evil! Production on the EP is appropriate, with a very dark, molasses-like consistency to the guitars, and a shadowy murk through which no light penetrates, even with the female near-whispered narrative and the brightness that the organ usually brings as an instrument. Both the tunes are acceptable rockers, without being particularly interesting or inventive, but I definitely don't think this is the sort of format in which these guys can really bring their inner pallbearers to bear upon the audience. Instead I'd make a recommendation that new listeners head straight over to one of their first two full-lengths, the s/t and Misfortune to get a better portrait of what this Italian underground staple is really all about.

Horror-meter: Five out of ten tarnished vestments.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Nailgun Massacre - Boned, Boxed and Buried (2015)

Going by the name and appearance of this album alone, you'd think Dutchmen Nailgun Massacre were probably a goregrind band, or at least a Cannibal Corpse-styled brutal death band. So when I spun their sophomore album Boned, Boxed and Buried, I was a little surprised to find that they play a very pure strain of late 80s death metal with primarily American influences. Slow to moderate  paced, using a voluminous production style and simpler riffing patterns that go straight for your jugular. While there's little to be said for any sort of originality here I'll have to give them some credit at taking something so familiar and them putting a fresh, bloodied stamp on it as if they could have released this back in 1989 and it would receive consideration among some classics.

Obituary is the closest reference I can make, simpler and grooving rhythm patterns that are potent nonetheless when splattered with the vocals. A little bit of a punkish attitude. Thread that influence with a little Swedish death & roll, and some well-crafted leads and evil melodies which recount classic Chuck Schuldiner. I'd also compare this to Six Feet Under, or rather, a Six Feet Under that didn't generally suck so much, because of that emphasis on rock-like rhythms, as well as one half of the vocals, which sound a lot like Chris Barnes grunts. The others that are often paired up with these are like a poor man's John Tardy of Obituary, and it's often quite hilarious what the two sound like in unison, an added layer of silliness that occasionally drags the album down a notch; especially when the Tardy-a-like seems to almost crack up at the end of a few lines. There's also a notable Autopsy influence, just in the massive, raw tones, the abrasion and ugliness that the record balls up like a cleaver-clenching fist and then beats on you before making some choice cuts.

The drums thunder along here, adding a lot of power to the simpler chugging rhythms, and the bass is also really enormous sounding and gives the whole affair a bowel-rumbling effect that is made even more fucking awesome when they cast out some simple, evil melody over the top as in the depths of "I Bury the Hatchet In Your Face". There are some screams and samples and narrations to further emphasize the themes in the lyrics, though once again they can feel a little too goofy if you just want your face flayed off by the great music, but not to the point they become a dealbreaker. Production is really great across the instruments, but I think perhaps the vocals are just a little too loud in general, and highlight some of those imperfections which in this case don't offer much positive charm.

As you can tell by the collage cover artwork these guys are huge on cult horror and exploitation flicks, so murderers and cannibals abound in the lyrics of Nailgun Massacre and that fits the mold well. Those who scoff at the simpler death metal of olde might not get much out of this, the leads and atmospheres created by the melodies are all very good, but otherwise the rhythms are so simplistic and bare-bones that they don't really offer any flashy surprises. Boned, Boxed and Buried channels film inspirations from the 70s and 80s through the death metal of the 80s and earlier 90s, and does a pretty cracking good job of it, with a handful of over the top moments that might have been snipped from the slasher reel.

Horror-meter: Seven out of...does your mom know you're up this late?

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]