Sunday, March 24, 2019

Spring Break 2019

Taking my annual Spring vacation from the blog, but I will return May 1st to regale you with all the latest tales of sex, drugs and debauchery! Or maybe just some more reviews. Either way, thanks so much for reading.



Saturday, March 23, 2019

Usurper - Lords of the Permafrost (2019)

If you had seen or experienced some of the crazy low temperatures these Chicagoans had experienced during the cold snap of 2018-19, then you'd be reassured they can lay claim to the title they chose for this reunion record. Of course, you could also translate it as a clever homage tracing back to that legendary Swiss band which influenced these guys since their inception, so it works on a number of levels. In any case, Usurper has produced its first new studio album in 14 years, and since the simplistic, iron pulsing blackened thrash style they perform in is not one that ever really goes out of style, Lords of the Permafrost doesn't sound like it's missed a single beat. In fact, I'll go beyond that to say that within just a few spins I've decided that I like this more than anything these dudes have put out since Skeletal Season back in 1999.

Without reinventing their formula, or really any formula, Usurper succeeds in sounding refreshed at what they've offered us all along, steady treading, fist pumping thrash metal with riffing progressions that don't sound advanced whatsoever from an 80s mentality, but remain convincing, entertaining and by their own measure, rather brutal. Hellhammer and Celtic Frost are the obvious starting point, but the band hits a lot harder in terms of percussion, and they shift into faster paced, moderate blasted parts which balance out the grooving, mosh-worthy ballast. The rhythm guitar tone on this record is fucking awesome, chunky and voluptuous and repeatedly fisting you in the abdomen while the thick bass lines reinforce it. A couple of riffs where this is most evident have an almost slower-paced vibe similar to Slayer in the late 80s, and the chord selections also have that same sort of chilling, evil feel, with maybe a little vintage Sepultura chucked in there. The leads are likewise great through the album, appearing exactly where they need to be, sounding frivolous and wild enough yet structured, and really round out the whole experience.

I think it's the vocals though that truly bind the album together, gut-fed, hostile paeans to the Tom G. Warrior syllabic crudeness but with more of a death metal, grumbling sustain to them, and then they are often backed up with some other growls or shouts, even some somber Goth-like cleans in the tune "Beyond the Walls of Ice" which honestly got me up out my chair circle pitting around my office/game room table like a denim & leather neanderthal, regardless of the fact that I'd heard these riffing patterns before probably a million times. Lords of the Permafrost is exactly that fun, it never tries to be anything more than an added spike in Usurper's blood-spattered epaulet, and there is just enough variety between the slower and faster sequences in the tracks to keep it engaging and not fall into some sodden, repetitive wreck. Nothing new for this band, sure, but I actually thought that, at least as far as the production quality, this was their best and most immediate sounding album, and I'll happily reach for this off the shelf as often as my previous favorites in their discography, Skeletal Season and Diabolosis... Ice crushing hesher mayhem.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Monday, March 18, 2019

Carthaun - Einheit (2005)

I'm a sucker for a distinct logo, and Germans Carthaun have one that instantly stood out to me, a little hard to make out at first, but I really dig the symmetry and symbolism. The stark imperialism of the logo imposed over the reflection of the trees on the lake (and itself) was a nice touch, and it also looks pretty cool on some of their late album covers. Now I wish I could say the same for the music on this debut album, that it somehow stood out among the flock of European (or specifically German) black metal acts, but alas that isn't the case, at least not for Einheit, which ends up a pretty bog standard recording that, while not particularly terrible, might be interchangeable with hundreds of lesser tier bands from the same era and geographical location.

This is largely blasted black metal with a sound not unlike an Endstille, only around the same time they were doing this, that band was coming up with more hypnotic note patterns to fuel albums like Navigator and Endstilles Reich. Carthaun executes a mix of predictable, straightforward chord selections that feel banal even looking back at 2005, with a few more atmospheric, melodic guitar lines that instantly feel like they elevate the record beyond the former. I especially liked how this latter category of riffs blends in with the swerve of the bass lines, and this is definitely the direction I wished this album pursued a lot more of, but it just doesn't go there quite enough. I do dig the bass playing on the record, it's nothing too technical, but a little more involved than your average four string strummer who might follow too closely to the guitars. The drums have a jamroom feel to them, not too thunderous or powerful or overproduced, but kind of bland in terms of beats and fills, so they never transcend the mere adequacy that this sub-genre demands."

Vocals, on the other hand, are the flat-out worst part of the album, a raucous rasp that sounds like Salacious Crumb from Return of the Jedi choking on one of Jabba's concubine's chains. They sound too flat and mid-range in the mix and kind of smother the simpler, less burdensome guitars alongside them. I'm not convinced that they'd be all that bad if they didn't have such a blunt and uninteresting way that they were mixed into the recording, the more atmospheric guitars and certainly the bass have a mood to them which just isn't served well by all the barking tones. Very amateur sounding, and I found myself desirous of any part of the music that did not contain them, just to escape. Not a great start for Carthaun. It looks cool, but fails to impress to deliver even a raw, paint-by-numbers, traditional sort of black metal. To be fair, what I've heard of later albums like Brachland or Staub und Schatten is quite a bit better than this material, so if you stumble across that sweet looking logo and determine to check them out, head straight for their 2012 and 2015 offerings.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I.N.C. - Terrible Things (2019)

While Black Hearse Serenade was a sizable improvement over the first 'reunion' era album from I.N.C., Terrible Things is a bit more of a baby step forward in quality, and an album that sounds like a quintessential slice of New York thrash, an evolution of the style that bands like Anthrax and Overkill laid out throughout the 80s. In fact, it's an album that is very likely to appeal to fans of those two bands, especially if you were keen on their material through the 90s when they were trying to explore their sound envelopes a bit more with some groove metal, but not limited to that. This album also drops off a bit of the Pantera sound I felt had infested the two albums prior to it...perhaps not entirely, but it's been replaced here by some good gang shouts and a lot more fast, thrashing energy, threaded with some classical, memorable leads like in "Identifier".

This album hits hard and it hits quick, packing a lot of punch into 3-4 minute tracks, and almost always having a nice surprise tucked in there like the harmonized, higher pitch shouts at the climax of the aforementioned "Identifier". They use some catchy, descending harmonies akin to stuff that you'd hear from Slayer or Testament in their classic phases, and the selection of riffs through the album is an even balance of the powerful-but-predictable sort and others that are just plain neat. Not only is the music the best they've written in the 21st century, but the vocals are really on point here, with a kind of blend of shouts, barks and melodic chorus parts that almost seems like a mix of modern Anthrax and Germany's Paradox (check the chorus for "Declaration"). Power/thrash metal would not be a bad tag for this stuff. The bass tone is better, the drumming is exactly what it needs, and like the prior album they incorporate plenty of dynamics from outright frenzied thrashing to some brief and appreciable breakdowns that don't ever teeter on cheese. It's also a consistent disc, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, like there'd be 3-4 good songs and then the rest might be rubbish, but the quality is evenly distributed throughout, and I think some of the better chorus parts and riffs are even backloaded on the thing.

A few of the lyrics are a bit too plebeian and mediocre, and as I said only about half the riffs are really sticky, but Terrible Things thwarts its own namesake to easily take the crown of anything I.N.C. has accomplished since its reformation. The effort and resilience here really shine through, and this is one I'd have no problem recommending to fans of modern 21st century thrash which doesn't take too many bites of the retro pizza, but attempts to enhance or re-imagine a band's primal 80s style into a modern context. I think there's just as much an appeal to Euro thrash or power/thrash fans of Destruction, Artillery, Accuser, After All, and Paradox as I.N.C.'s own New York peers. It doesn't have the quirky personality that their first two albums had 30 years ago, and if I were in the mood for I.N.C. those are what I'd still reach for, but if you think of this last decade's releases as a different band, this abolishes its predecessors, and hints at even greater potential going forward. It's also pretty satisfying to hear a veteran band bounce back like this after splashing around in the stagnant puddle that was Heaven Sent...Hellbound. I.N.C. is now worthy of your radar again.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

I.N.C. - Black Hearse Serenade (2014)

While they were never in contention as being one of the better East Coast thrash bands in the 80s, the Indestructible Noise Command was still a silly, fun group which clearly put some effort into their riff-sets. In fact, they actually had come up with a pretty unique sound that I found easily identifiable, separate from their humorous peers in Ludichrist or M.O.D. So it was sort of a bummer that over two decades later they'd release an EP and third album which felt as if they'd been corroded by banal 90s groove metal influences to the extent that they really didn't sound much like the same group. Oh, you could still tell they were thrash at the core, but the personality of those Giant Records releases was all but scraped off the bone and we were presented with something that didn't really have much to offer anyone who actually had nostalgia for I.N.C. in their formative years, or really any fan looking for a decent thrashing in 2010-2011, whether contemporary or retro.

However, while Heaven Sent...Hellbound could have just been a one and done (or one and a half and done with the Bleed the Line EP) midlife crisis attempt to tug at their roots, it turned out these dudes were serious about being back, and a few years later release Black Hearse Serenade. Right from the onset, this is an album that certainly doesn't look like it's fooling around, and probably not endowed with the comical elements that made their first two that endearing. Indeed, this album sounds like a hybrid of Pantera, Pissing Razors and Anthrax, still moored in some 90s groove influences but to be honest, there's quite a lot of honest thrashing material here which is far superior to the material they dropped in 2011. Busy, hard-hitting riff patterns that constantly keep you guessing, even when they burst out into some pretty vapid grooves, and some decent guitar leads, speed picked harmonies, and so forth. They certainly sound like they were technically proficient enough to compete along the groove/thrash hybrids we heard a lot of through the mid to late 90s, but with a production that suits this past decade snugly. You can tell there is quite a lot of effort placed into the composition and the execution throughout the entire album, and the riffs often border the technical, with a lot of punchy muted patterns devoted to making an audience's necks sore, potentially other body parts.

Now, don't let me deceive you into thinking I liked this one all that much, because for all that work put into the instruments, they almost all fly in one ear and out the other. The note selections are just not all that catchy, and while it's busy stuff, and unpredictable, it's not ultimately interesting. I also didn't care so much for the vocals...unlike the early years of I.N.C., Dennis' style here is like a schizoid combination of Phil Anselmo's tough guy drawl and Belladonna's soaring New York clean vocal style, perhaps even dusted with a little of the John Bush style in the chorus parts. Once again, plenty of effort when into building these vocal lines, they never feel cheap or ill-conceived, but I think it's just that I'm not really into the style other than some of the songs from its originators. If you put this side to side with Razorback or The Visitor, it really doesn't sound like the same band at all, and about a decade too late for when it could have made its maximum impact. That said, this one is far better than Heaven Sent...Hellbound, it's much better than stuff like Damageplan, and I found myself appreciating at least that this band took the style it was using a few years earlier, sharpened it up and went all out here. I think if you're looking for something like a more 'purely thrash' Pantera then this one might be worth your time to at least check out, but I'll stick with the early stuff.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Heaume Mortal - Solstices (2019)

There was a little disconnect for me between the packaging and musical contents of Solstices; where the lavish, beautiful cover artwork seems to hint at a highly naturalistic, atmospheric brand of black metal, the music itself is like a blunt weapon, a wall of force anchored in huge, doomed grooves slathered in the dissonant pickings and harsh vocals more associated with black metal. That isn't to say that this Heaume Mortal debut is bad, not whatsoever, but to me there was a slight contrast in aesthetics which trumped my expectations. Fortunately, both sides of that divide are quite good...the artwork is euphoric to look upon, and to dream of its broad vistas of glaciers, roaring falls, and autumn foliage; a few of the lyrics also reflect this imagery.

The music, much more crushing, urban and personal, but no less effective. Like a number of other acts on this label (Les Acteurs de 'Ombre Productions), there's a focus here on longer tracks, from about 10-14 minutes, and they fill those with this robust blend of black metal, sludge and doom with a lot of belly-felt force and a rumbling lower end. The guitars drudge along with potent chords, slathered in dissonance and horrifying vocals drowned with enough effects that they seem to be shouting at you from a sewer or abandoned building that is crumbling from the very intonations. The groove is highly central to their sound, but they can even pull off such swollen tunes since they are never too repetitive, tossing in chugged sequences, or emergent melodies that constantly shift the turbulent landscape. The bass sound is fat and wholesome, with just enough buzz on it that you can feel it down in your bowels as those grooves lope along. The drums are more rock oriented, which works at the slower pace of the style, but can power up when necessary.

It was curious that they had one furious, shorter 2 minute track in here called "South of No North", which spoke to me that their style could easily fit more digestible, bite-sized material, but even more interesting that they plopped a cover of "Erblicket die Tochter des Firmament" smack dab in the middle of the album, and not only that...but adapted it much to their own style. It captures the longing and helplessness of the original, but with that fattened up bass and those disgusting vocals, really making it into a piece that fits themselves...which to me is the hallmark of a good cover song, doing it that honor without just copying it. It's quite a good addition to an already solid album from a band that I think will have a huge appeal not only to French black metal fans into Glorior Belli or certain Blut Aus Nord albums, but also sludge maniacs into stuff like Eyehategod. In fact they really fit in with some of their labelmates like Heir. It's a cool mash-up style with a lot of potential, much of which has already been realized by this trio. So check them out.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Friday, March 8, 2019

Triste Terre - Grand œuvre (2019)

Grand œuvre takes almost no time enveloping the listener in swaths of mysterious atmospherics, the haunting, melancholic guitars that introduce "Œuvre au noir" standing on their own, dowsed in effects and creating an immediate allure that is satisfied once the drums and rhythm guitar drudgery arrive. But really the joy in this album is in how it constantly offers up thrills that the listener isn't expecting, like the creepy organs, winding little riff-lings or full-bore bursts into a blasted black metal format which is illuminated by faint, eerie higher pitched guitars that constantly lend it this sparkling, vaulted ceiling.

I hadn't heard any of Triste Terre's previous EP offerings, but the six tracks of this debut full-length have made me an immediate believer in the potential of the duo to stand among their better-known peers in an ever-broadening pool of black metal talent. Aesthetically I'd place them closer to bands like Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, they have that same focus on dissonance and sparseness that populates some of the former's more industrial offerings, and some resemblance to the slower material of the latter, though they never hit those same strides of frenzy (not for lack of trying). Grand œuvre might not be the most challenging record in this scene, but it's very much sprawling, oblique and ambitious without ever becoming too confusing for the ear to follow, 9-12 minute long tracks each offering compelling passages throughout their girth.

Though they do offer up some more tortured, raving vocals on occasion, I would say that if this album had a weaker element it would probably be the primary rasp used over most of the material; it's not bad but it's a little less engrossing sonically than the instrumentation, which is absolutely legion here, from the morbid, shuffling little bass lines to the spacious, grim guitar lines that operate on several levels of saturation. The beats are pretty well implemented to complement the contrast between busier sections and the tinnier, minimalistic areas in which the guitars or organs are left to their cult, cinematic graces, and the whole package is very ably produced for what they're trying to achieve.

This is no warm, vibrant journey, but one of shadows and bleakness, chills and obscurity, and thanks to the excellent packaging, it's just as spooky to page through as it is to listen to. Les Acteurs de l'Ombre has steadily transformed itself into a premium label with a talented roster, and this is just another wilted feather in their cap, a patient and penitent escape into majestic negativity.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Queensrÿche - The Verdict (2019)

I suppose after the triumphant Condition Hüman three years ago, my favorite Queensrÿche record in the 27 years leading up to it, I was bound to feel some level of disappointment for its inevitable successor. After all, to aim in the other direction, they'd have to come up with a masterpiece unheard of since the 80s. With The Verdict now in my hands, I have to say that even my tempered expectations for the third Todd La Torre-fronted album would turn out to be too high, because this one partially returns to the relative mediocrity of the eponymous 2013 effort, an album that was very well intentioned but just didn't have the hooks or vocal lines to really impress me. That's not to say this one is bad, and in truth it's stylistically in line with its excellent predecessor, but I kept waiting for those sky high hooks and melodies to engrave themselves into my memory like a "Guardian" or "Bulletproof" did, and it just wasn't meant to be...these just pop right out the opposite ear and life goes on as if I'd never even listened to the thing.

I'd like this to an update of 1994's Promised Land, with that same concoction of progressive and groove metal, driving a little harder than the commercially colossal Empire, but just lacking the great hooks they could come up with back then, or the overall atmosphere and majesty of that album. This one feels as fat and modernly produced as their last album, only that clarity isn't being used to push their best material. Lots of those Eastern-flavored, Tate-like vocal lines populate tunes like "Light Years" or "Propaganda Fashion", driven by Rockenfield's loud drums, but I feel a lot of the groovier rhythm guitar riffs on this album are entirely too bland and predictable, not as thoughtful as what this band has been capable of in the past. The ballads are likewise forgettable, with glimmering acoustics that hearken back to "Silent Lucidity" but no potential at all to be that radio ready. "Dark Reverie" was one of the more solid tunes here, starting off soft and picking up into something enormous, but this too is plagued by a lack of strong ear-worm vocal lines. There are in truth a few choppy metal riffs throughout, but the guitars just don't pan out into interesting progressions except maybe on the track "Launder the Conscience" with its perky melody. Too many are banal, and the leads, while fittingly placed and appreciably emotional and gleaming, aren't enough to elevate the total tracks.

I feel that too much of this disc is left upon the shoulders of la Torre, and while the guy still sounds like the perfect replacement for his infamous predecessor, he's just not working alongside good enough riffs on this one to sell it. The production is massive, but too modernized and polished to feel natural at all, which is not the first time, but harder to overlook when you're not having fun with the tracks. Don't get me wrong, it's slightly better than the self-titled, and far superior to later Tate-era albums like Dedicated to Chaos, Operation: Mindcrime II or Q2K, but with so many other prog metal bands out there exploring such wide swaths of their styles and instruments, elder statesmen like these heavily depend on writing those enduring songs. While lightning struck for me unexpectedly in 2015, this one barely gets beyond a slight, static discharge. I'd honestly go a lot more towards the mid 80s metal direction, which dates you in a positive way, and ditch all the tidy 90s alt-rock groove licks that date you to your detriment, as they have almost all the Queensrÿche albums that so tediously employed them. They hit the target once in awhile, but too often fire off like blanks.

The Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Overkill - The Wings of War (2019)

The last decade of Overkill studio albums have suffered a little bit from an interchangeability issue, in that you could lift a few tracks from this or that one and plant them on another with only minimal production tweaks and few would notice the distance. But that's not necessarily a bad thing in Chaly's case, because the band maintains a high level of energy and consistency so far into its career that you have to wonder what nutritional supplements the members are all taking. As a guy who hasn't truly been 'blown away' by anything during this Ironbound era, and yet enjoyed pretty much all of it for a few spins, I'm hard-pressed to think of individual tracks that I had much disdain for. At the worst, 19 full-lengths in, you could say that they suffer from a little bit of bloat. A bunch of tunes could only ever serve as backups for similar, more exciting tunes that have already carved out the band's legacy, and the only real dynamic power you're going to experience is in just how Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth decides to lay out all that lyrical bravado...where will he scream, where will he shout, where will he sound like an imp nagging you from the sub-cellars of Hell?

That's not to suggest that the musicianship here is anything short of what it needs to be. All of the group's thrashing trademarks are present. The meat-chopping guitar tones pregnant with palm mute power that gives them a little more pit cred than other genre acts. The bounding bass lines from one of the most dependable anchor-men in the entire metal business. Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner succeeds in his debut with the band, giving a performance which never steps far beyond what you would expect to hear, but does so with thunderous precision. And Blitz is still the guy that can dress up a pretty average thrash riff, even by decades old standards, by spitting so much hard luck tough guy wisdom and charisma with those cringey, psychotic tones that you'll hardly care what else is going on as long as continues to hammer into you brain like endorphins. He does sound a little more processed here than normal, but so do some of the instruments, and it balances out rather well even though I think I much preferred them in the context of those more organic mixes on the first couple LPs. But Overkill has always risen to the times in terms of its the 80s, the 90s, the oughts, and these new teens, they sound like a band staying current, clapping some newly forged steel girders onto the songwriting aesthetics they've ever-so-slowly refined since '84.

The Wings of War is a dynamic album too, balancing off the more muscular thrash momentum with the a few big Sabbath grooves they've so long admired, or slower, structured moments that give the listener the right amount of relief before reintroducing him/her to the manhole-cover moshing force that the band has so long championed. They still know how to balance out these two sides without ever becoming too annoyingly groove like a shoddy nu-metal act; rather if you're looking for that NY fix of a Madball, Biohazard, Cro-Mags or early Life of Agony, Overkill remains one of those rare groups of longhairs you can trust to give you the goods. If you were thrilled by their recent crop of records like The Electric Age, White Devil Armory and The Grinding Wheel, then I think they're sticking quite closely to that territory without abandoning a little inspiration from the earlier decades that have stretched out behind them. Superficially, I think the album is really rock solid in its balance of riffs and vocals, constantly supported by that rumbling ruckuss of Verni and Bittner and sure to remind any passersby of your car stereo that you're a person who means freakin' business.

In terms of its staying power, though, I don't think it's quite there at the modern classic level. A few of the tunes like "Believe in the Fight", "Where Few Dare to Walk" and "Out on the Road-Kill" absolutely make my modern Overkill playlist along with the choice cuts off the last four discs, but others, including the two from the Last Man Standing EP, are in one ear and out the other. Again, there is nothing particularly 'bad' about anything on the album, but the individual riffs just don't score that much for me. "Welcome to the Garden State" is kind of endearing in that they created this pure punk metal homage to their home turf, and the lyrics are no doubt funny, but musically it's just not my bag since it feels a little predictable, only more metalized than the dull punk anthems we were forced to endure on the radio 15-20 years ago when that Orange County sound became cool again. Some of the elements in "Batshitcrazy", from the grooves to the leads all rub against one another a bit too much, although the title is a great little paean to the band's mascot when you think about it.

Ultimately, it's a reliable hour of power with a band you've experienced so often before that the colors begin to run together with other recordings in recent history. But there are only two and black, and they've now been swirled together in so many familiar auditory images that there is not a lot of creative space left to dabble with on the canvas. Saying it's 'another good Overkill' album is just like compromising with your significant other and ordering a pizza from that place that isn't quite your favorite but you'll happily eat for the sustenance and to avoid an argument. I'm not going to turn it's got the meat, the cheese, the bread that my tummy needs. A filling 60 minute meal, but it's not some masterpiece ratio of toppings that will have me salivating for years to come.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Overkill - Live in Overhausen (2018)

The Live in Overhausen double-live record is a fairly interesting concept...while a lot of veteran bands have been touring off performances of their seminal albums in their entirety, it's a rare thing to see one take on TWO at once. But that is exactly what Overkill has done with this release, pairing up Horrorscape and their debut Feel the Fire into a double album that must have been a big thrill to fans of their first decade of material over in Germany. The material is presented as a live Blu Ray with the full spread of the performance, and then two audio CDs for each of the albums in case you want to play them in your car or at work if you don't want your wife or boss recoiling from the sweaty East Coast thrashing.

Now, full disclosure here: I'm on record as not being the biggest fan of Horrorscope. It's got some strong moments, for sure, and is far from any sort of career nadir, but I felt this was the point where the band started to evade my interests. It's part of my 'curse of 1991', a year in which a lot of bands I enjoyed put out some records I thought were 'just okay', but a swell in the metal audience made them all successful regardless. There's no question that the band had been building up quite a following through its first four albums, and I've met fans who honestly think it's their very best work. I don't get it, I mean there are single songs on Taking Over I prize more than the whole affair, but what can you say? I'm a far bigger proponent for Feel the Fire, which remains my second favorite of their offerings ever after the 30+ years I've been listening to them, still an exciting debut that gets some spins here, so we all know which disc (or half of the gig) I was anticipating more.

Having said that, the Horrorscape material sounds pretty faithful and well-performed, considering they probably had to really do some digging and prep-work in the rehearsals to summon this all back up. The guitars are chunky and forceful, the drums and bass adequately mixed, the vocals sound good and the crowd response, chanting and pounding away really works well in tunes like "Coma". There are a few elements which sound a little dry, like the lead guitars, but really if you want that meaty moshing thrash stuff like in "Infectious" the rhythm guitar and bass tone got you covered, and the audience clearly appreciated it. All in all, even for someone who's not a huge fan of that record I would say they do it justice, and it's a dynamic record which translates well into a set. However, Feel the Fire is just so much like "Rotten to the Core" and "Hammerhead" retain all of their ages-old frenetic energy, Blitz sounding like he's coming unhinged, a quality that is actually drained a little with the backing vocal or crowd interaction. It's cool to hear it all performed out like this, from the aforementioned thrashers to the eponymous, eerie "Overkill" to their legendary cover of "Fuck You" by The Subhumans, which closes out the set in all its vulgar grandeur.

The video looks pretty good too, lots of lights flashing everywhere, the musicians performing their parts effortlessly. There's not a ton of motion here, I mean I've seen the band when they (and I) were much younger and they put on more of a crowd pleasing, savage physical presence, but considering the age these gentlemen are at they come off as consummate professionals, especially Verni and Linsk. I appreciate metal DVDs and Blu Rays as proxies for actually being there, and this one is worth a view, but there's not a huge level of dynamic change happening throughout the two sets, it can grow a little samey to watch, so I'd recommend it in smaller chunks or just forward to your fave tunes. Altogether a good package for Overkill fans, I liked it more than Wrecking Your Neck Live or Wrecking Everything Live, and I say that's without being crazy for half the material they're playing.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Friday, March 1, 2019

Overkill - Last Man Standing EP (2018)

The Last Man Standing EP is another of those limited edition CDs packaged in with a metal magazine from Europe; this seems to be a pretty big practice over there, and very often for long-enduring thrash acts. At any rate, we have to take it for what it is, a two song sampler of their then-upcoming full-length The Wings of War, with a few goodies thrown in to make it somewhat a potential collector's item. While these sorts of magazine exclusives don't get me all that jazzed up as they might have been when [b]Sabbat[/b]'s "Blood for the Blood God" came packaged as a flexi-disc in an issue of [i]White Dwarf[/i], I can see their value as a way for the declining print publications to offer something more to their readers, and for the bands that benefited from such press for decades to help out without going far out of their way.

The two new songs, while not the catchiest of their career, continue along the same track as what you'd have heard on White Devil Armory or The Grinding Wheel; modernized thrashers that draw from all the band's eras of growth from the mid 80s through the 90s, catering to audiences that might have plugged into the band's fanbase through any of that time. "Last Man Standing" itself is a broad, fast thrasher with a passable riff thrusting it forward and 'Blitz' sounding just as vitriolic and ready to smash up a stage (or bar) as you can imagine he'd ever be. Decent leads, palpable energy, and big production truss up what is otherwise a pretty stock sounding tune for their Ironbound-to-the-current phase. "Head of a Pin" focuses briefly on one of their big, loping Sabbath groove riffs that the band had strongly integrate by the time of Horrorscope, but then picks up into another thrasher with a riff that is again, somewhat catchy, but plays second fiddle to Bobby's manic screams. That said, I liked it better of these two for the structure and the bridge sections.

After that comes the 'bonus content', a pair of tunes taken from two Rock Hard Festival gigs in 2015 and 2018, "Hello from the Gutter" and their cover of the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer". The latter is a little more even across the instruments, whereas "Gutter" is a bit loud on the guitars, but either way they are solid if unremarkable recordings which convey what they need to. Lastly they've included a cover of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by The Animals, which was previously available as a bonus track on the Japanese issue of Bloodletting. It's little more than some banal chugging and chords, but the vocals once again carry it, transforming it into a punchy, mildly entertaining piece despite the shortcomings of the guitars that don't satisfy much in a metal context. I would guess a hardcore Overkill collector already had this in his or her collection, but if not then your prayers have been answered.

As I said above, Last Man Standing is not exactly a retail product and shouldn't be held to the same standards as a maxi-single, or a compilation, etc. Were this an EP out in shops then I'd probably look further down upon it since it doesn't offer up anything much that you'll not find elsewhere. But if I'm flipping through Legacy magazine and come across this, it's a moderate bonus that might entertain me for 20 minutes if this is a genre or band I enjoy, and while it doesn't perk me up all that much for The Wings of War blowing my speakers, it's not the shittiest promotional effort I've come across, but there is nothing essential here whatsoever as the best tunes are the new originals and both would be coming on the full-length.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]