Friday, June 28, 2019

Carnal Diafragma - Grind Restaurant Pana Septika (2017)

The impressions I once took away from the violence and spasticity of grindcore have long since abated for me, and these days I find myself searching far and wide for bands in this niche that can craft up creative riffing, interesting aesthetic themes, or successful cross pollination into other genres. The same old sped-up punk and core riffs don't really work for me, nor does the shock value or silliness of the vocals that I once got a laugh out of. Sure, the eccentricity and extremity of the lyrics might still get a tickle, or just the notion that there are so many bands out there still doing this and loving the fuck out of the style, but it's not often I reach for a record of this sort beyond the early goregrind staples already in my collection. So I've begun examining a little deeper into the European stuff, in particular the Czech scene which seems to have had a thriving grind scene for some time now.

Carnal Diafragma is fairly standard for the goregrind style, with effortless blasting, thick rhythm guitars spewing out riff patterns from the Carcass and Napalm Death playbooks of the later 80s and early 90s, and a mix of vomitous gutturals and gremlin snarls that are going for the gut laughs. They also pair these up with a couple churning, groovier slow sections where the riffs actually sound pretty solid, but you kind of get the drift in the first few tracks and there isn't much beyond that to surprise you. These guys aren't sample-heavy. There are a few, but usually they cut right to the chase and serve up a salacious menu of tunes that sort of stay on-theme with the album title, basically about disgusting delicacies. It's kind of a cute gimmick, but since I can't speak the language or even read the song titles without a translator, and there's nothing musically out of the ordinary to convey the vibe that you're in some grotesque bistro, the theme is only flesh-deep. Having said that, I don't think diehards for this style of grind would be too disappointed, because they capture as much excitement as possible into the tempo shifts, the cut-off riffs, the occasional breakdowns.

The production here is excellent, good and loud but not feeling like polished silverware. The utensils
Carnal Diafragma serves you with have been well washed in guts and goo, and the album will not lack for kicking your ass straight into the cauldron and then seasoning you up. The vocals blend together pretty well, again very voluminous but managing not to overshoot the guitars, and there is enough dynamic range within each of the 1-2 minute tracks that you'll never be bored, partly because they don't give you the time to, but mainly because with a 22-year history and numerous albums and splits already behind them, they know the ins and outs of this madness. I would even go so far as to say they can come up with a catchy riff about 1 out of 5 times, which is a good average in this style, but as many positives as I can lay upon Grind Restaurant Pana Septika, it's just not that addictive, a gruesome gourmet that you'll soon forget about once it vomits forth from your nethers.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Squash Bowels - Grindvirus (2009)

Poland is another heartland for grinders of the gorier persuasion, and Squash Bowels have proven one of the more enduring of their carnal connoisseurs, with 25 years experience and a long laundry list of pulverizing splits and albums. Plus they've just got one of those band names that sticks out to you, probably for all the bad reasons, because who hasn't felt this way about their digestive system after catching a stomach flu or eating some very, very wrong?! It's a bit of a surprise, considering their name, that a lot of their lyric focus in the past hasn't necessarily been all that gross, but their 2009 effort Grindvirus definitely has a slight waft of scatological violence about it, although not attaining the stench levels that many of their peers do on a regular basis.

It's hard not to label this Napalm Death worship, because really they just have so much in common with those British Godfathers of grind that you could interchange a lot of their riffs and vocal patterns and not know the difference, especially from the period around Death by Manipulation, Harmony Corruption or Utopia Banished. Perhaps not a direct clone, because there are a few differences, like the meatier production used by Squash Bowels, and a guttural vocal that has a little more personality than Barney's muffled roars. They also do some slower groove parts that almost sound like nu metal (as in the parts of "D.I."), primarily because of how those riffs are paced with the lower tuning. But when they're belting out one of those downtrodden, brutal fast riffs they sound exceedingly close to the source of their genre, and to me that was one of the limitations. I can't pick out a single riff on this entire album that was remotely interesting or unique, they're all par for the course, no matter how much of a thick, crushing production they are given as they repeatedly pummel the fuck out of your ears.

Maybe the issue is that my expectations are too high for this style? I mean I hear a group like fellow Poles Antigama, who keep their riffs quite compelling and establish a unique mood for the genre, or even Nasum, who succeeded by tossing a healthy heaping of catchy d-beat Swedish death metal into their grind-matrix...and I'm on board. But here on Grindvirus there just isn't anything a lot by which I can distinguish them. Don't mistake me, the production here is quite good, the energy is obvious, and they have a lot of the veteran hallmarks, even some pretty cool cover artwork. This is even put out here through Willowtip Records. I'm sure folks over at the Euro festivals can mosh the shit out of this material, but all I get here is 28 minutes of battery that doesn't really endure even in the midst of experiencing it.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Monday, June 24, 2019

Morta Skuld - For All Eternity (1995)

While they've never been numbered among the most legendary US death metal acts, one can make a solid case for the earlier works of Wisconsin's Morta Skuld as minor Midwest 90s cult classics, in particular the debut Dying Remains, which at its best was almost capable of going toe to toe with some of its Floridian forebears of around the same period. With the four full-lengths they released from '93-'97, however, there was a fairly steady, if not immediate decline in them writing much of interest, which bottomed out on the album Surface, upon which mediocrity was finally achieved. For All Eternity, their third album, and their first with UK's Peaceville Records, shows that there was still a little bit of fight left, a number of riffs that were clearly winners wedged among some that weren't.

I liken their style on this one to a heavier take on Chuck Schuldiner's Death, primarily the sense of pacing; or perhaps a few pages torn from the Obituary sophomore Cause of Death, or the first few Gorguts discs. The focus is on slower, heavy grooves, but keeping them dynamic and interesting, with some nice tremolo picked patterns and no tendency whatsoever to dwell on anything that might border on boring. Once in awhile they break out into a faster pattern, but they are all about keeping this thing heavy and really fleshing out all those chugging palm mute patterns so that they're easy to distinguish from one another. There's also a bit of influence here from more clinical thrash sounds, used in bridges or breakaway sections before they barrel back into some Morbid Angel-like groove. There are clearly a lot of riffs here that don't quite pass muster, but they just keep those breakdowns and tempo shifts rolling along, so the overall bodies of the tracks are well arranged and keep you interested if you dig your death metal plodding and pugilistic without being interminably dull.

The vocals are a gruff growl redolent of the bands I mentioned above, and not the strongest point of the record since they don't vary it up all that much by the lyrical patterns, but still competent enough, and I can't imagine what other style would really match the rhythm guitars. They lack the psychotic edge of a John Tardy, and actually cross a bridge into the more brutal death vocal style that was becoming popular around the same time through groups like Suffocation and Malevolent Creation. The drums here are very tight and groovy, the guitar tune a bit muffled but not as much as some of Scott Burns' worse mixes, and I think it's better produced than As Humanity Fades was, although the riff quality is fairly even on both those records. The cover art is pretty cool, the lyrics are more personal and thoughtful (ala Death) rather than a gorefest, and I'd have to say that if you were out scouring the past for some well-constructed death metal, this one holds up fairly well to this day. If not game-changing or constantly memorable, it's at least capable of filling out its 48 minute length without putting anyone to sleep.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (innocence is over)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Outrage - Brutal Human Bastard (2013)

The simplistic sort of death metal advocated through bands like Austria's Outrage is honestly pretty brave these days, when you consider that it's not a style many fans of the broader genre really go for. Groups like Six Feet Under and Jungle Rot received mixed at best reactions from an audience divided between the nostalgic saturation of old school, atmospheric, evil death metal aesthetics and the more flashy, athletic scene honed in more for precision, technicality and clinical production standards. So efforts like Brutal Human Bastard don't cross my path very often, and while that might be a good thing in general, these guys actually attack the genre from a slightly different angle than I'd expected from the cover. I won't go on record to say I'm the biggest fan, but this sophomore outing gets a little credit for having a few refreshing ideas, hit or miss, which define it.

The bedrock of the songwriting is slower, churning, accessible death metal circa Bolt Thrower or Six Feet Under which is heavily mosh-flavored; in fact the large majority of the time the material is pit ready at the cost of creativity. That's not to say the riffs don't work, especially in the clarity of the production which allows you to feel the weight of those rhythm guitars straight in the belly, but you won't often be surprised by the notes they choose, it's more a vehicle for the front man's broad yet monotonous gutturals. Where the band really shifts it up is in how they obviously take a big influence from rock and thrash metal, and come up with these pro lead guitars sequences through most of the tunes that are quite catchy, and even more impressive in that their contrast with the bulkier, brawling undertow doesn't come at the cost of the music's overall potency. I'm not going to call it 'melodeath', although certainly there are a lot of faster paced melodic death metal groups that place a similar emphasis on the consonant lead-work, harmonies, etc, but it definitely creates a warmer vibe than what you'd expect on Realm of Chaos or War Master.

The drumming is quite good on the album, a lot of steady, tribal, warlike rhythms to keep those simpler mute patterns more bombastic than they'd be otherwise, and although I'm not always the biggest fan of 'clean' mixes for my death metal records, this one services the style well. I did not get much out of the riffs, mostly just blander death/thrash patterns I've heard before, but sometimes they bust into a cooler tremolo picked passage or something that stands out from its surroundings, and the album doesn't really experience any lulls, it's consistent stuff throughout, for good or ill. Though the growls are pretty bog standard to the genre, they do throw some snarls over the top to give it a more Deicide vibe, and he can shift the guttural up to a slightly higher pitch for variety. For me, the main highlight was always the leads and melodies and how they combined with the rhythm section to create something seasoned and dynamic. Song titles, lyrics, even the album title were just a 'meh'. I can't give Brutal Human Bastard a glaring recommendation, I was lukewarm with this stuff at best, but those looking for some intro level death metal (and I don't mean that insultingly) which is honestly the polar opposite of trendy right now might dig it.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Varulv - Wolfszorn (2015)

Wolfszorn is not a record reared on subtlety or invention, it's what you'd call a 'textbook' example of the black metal genre which does not step outside the margins of that realm in any capacity. I was immediately taken by the rustic folk art, as I often am within this genre, especially because the werewolf central to the image appears to be carrying the Holy fucking Hand Grenade from Monty Python & the Holy Grail. And also whatever the hell else is going on in the image. Is the dude with the sword in the taking a piss? Are those witches strung from the gallows in the background? Is that laborer exhausted or did the lycanthrope push him or her to the ground. Does anyone even care that this man-beast is driving a pushcart of Papal corpses through their village? And what's with that thing in the background. Is that a building on fire or just a very unusual-shaped potted plant?

So many mysteries to unwind, except for Varulv's music itself, which pretty much just kicks you in the chin immediately for a swift takedown, and then spends the next 36 minutes eviscerating and playing around in your entrails with its direct, ghastly traditional black metal. This is not a record which dabbles around with nuance or atmosphere, the details are straight to the face and perfectly content with that attack plan. That's not to say they lack some degree of dynamic range...the riff patterns here swerve between glorious, melodically-engraved charges and slower, nastier grooves, both of which recalled the Darkthrone of the early 90s, but there is no ramp-up whatsoever. Do not expect acoustical, haunting segues, intros or interludes, synthesizer scapes cultivating the full moon light to catalyze the transformation of the Varulv. Nope, this thing is in full Crinos form, ripping down the village doors and dragging the women and children, or rather the clergymen, to their grisly feast by fang and claw.

Guitar tone is a major factor here, it's kind of huge and mid-range and has a solid texture in which you can hear every note of a chord shining along, but still vorpal sharp and hostile. The black metal rasp is super carnal, which suits the subject matter, but rather generic in its inflection and doesn't have much ability to catch could honestly use a little more flawed inconsistency which would lend it a little charisma. As it stands, the only deviation you get is when some ominous, broader growl is used to double it up. Bass doesn't really seep through this album at all; you can faintly trace it in the slower moments, but it's mostly all six-string testosterone and intense drum battery and that can grow a little dull, although the Austrians handle it with a professional competence. And truly, if you are in the mood for just black metal of the most obvious format, the most direct distillation, then I think there are some sections of Wolfszorn that wouldn't disappoint, but I didn't find the album to have much character beyond the obvious, much horror lurking beneath the surface carnage. The debut was creepier, if less forceful, and the third record Sagenlieder is more well-rounded without losing the teeth.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Monday, June 17, 2019

Dauþuz - Monvmentvm (2019)

If Monvmentvm has any flaw, it's that it comes after three records which defined the conceptual freshness Dauþuz brought to their genre, and doesn't really do a whole lot to further expand upon or innovate upon that theme. Not that these are necessities in the composition of a great album, and this third full-length is quite good for all that, but I felt that at this interval, the Germans might pursue a little more nuance, layer a little more aesthetic variation into their formulas, or just come up with a masterwork to cap off what has already been a formidable slew of recordings. Instead, they play it rather safe here, if an underground black metal record with German lyrics about mining could ever really be considered 'safe'. I'm sure we'll be hearing it on our local mainstream radio networks anytime now. Wouldn't that be a world?

At any rate, this is still a fine record, from the outside in. Luciana Nedelea's gorgeous black & white artwork might be the most aesthetically pleasing of their covers, although I had no problem with its predecessors. The production of Monvmentvm is probably their most level and balanced, and while that might leech away some of its dynamic punch, it creates their most mournful atmosphere yet, accompanied with some very sombering guitar lines, and probably the largest number of woeful clean vocals they used yet, which are somehow even more effective in how they don't stand out terribly much from the instruments. The acoustic guitars continue to glimmer sadly, whether they are used directly in a longer metal tune or in the instrumentals, of which there are three. There were also some well integrated acoustic pianos at the finale of the album, its 10-minute title track. The guitars have been slightly more prominent on past albums, to be sure, but you can still here them quite well roiling against the drum patterns with their huge, glorious, if somewhat predictable melodic passages, and there are occasionally breaks where they get to breathe by themselves and its rather euphoric.

This is probably the Dauþuz album where no individual component stands out far beyond any other, but it's also strangely the most laid back, 'epic' experience if you're simply seeking an escape from your daily grind and wish to journey back to the grinds of craftsmen and laborers centuries past in a black metal transfiguration. You'll still have some of the suicidal howling to create tension and no insignificant sum of horror, but you can also pop this on your headphones and doze off (in a good way). Another notch in a belt of well-cut gemstones, but one does hope a little that the Germans' inevitable follow-up offers a slightly more expansive or ambitious piece of jewelry to complement what they've already adorned themselves with. I'd place it roughly between the first two albums in quality, and once more recommend it to fans of Medieval or atmospheric black metal with the adage that it's still quite firmly rooted to the genre's conventions and offers more of a thematic departure than a musical one.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Friday, June 14, 2019

Dauþuz - Des Zwerges Fluch EP (2018)

For a newer band, Dauþuz has kept itself very busy over the three years of its existence, dropping one new release annually, before most in the potential black metal market have heard any of them. But, damn it, for whatever limited audience pays attention to my ramblings, I aim to change that last bit, because they deliver on all counts to the traits I want out of well-rounded, fulfilling, effective underground black metal. Des Zwerges Fluch ('The Dwarf's Curse') is a less substantial offering than Die Grubenmähre, being an EP of around 35 minutes, but that's still quite a lot of bang for the buck, and it's a fluid continuation of the previous material which enacts a few tiny embellishments into its harsh and acoustic mining-scapes to easily justify its place on your shelf if you're into Medieval or antiquity-focused black metal escapism and not just looking for your next horn-throwing fix.

Certain of the tracks here, like "Unwerk - Des Zwerges Fluch I" and the 10-minute opening surge of "Steinhammer" are among my favorites in their whole catalog. The screams and growls have become even more crazy and intense, and the use of cleaner, chanted vocals has become more confident, they usually just follow a melodic guitar line with them but it really helps drive home the subterranean aesthetics they aim for, without all the claustrophobic, smothering stereotypes you'd find in cavern-core death metal. Some will probably find this approach a little cheesier, but I couldn't give much of a fuck since this is the sort of band where the mood itself is central to my appreciation and Dauþuz hasn't faltered from creating such an atmosphere, almost entirely through the riffing and keeping. The material here on the EP probably has the most even distribution of flooding faster rhythms and then the more gradual, melancholic bits where they make good use of harmonies. The acoustic parts are just as impressive as ever, gloomy and Medieval fireside vignettes that doesn't outstay their welcome, and are often paired up with some snarls or screams or samplings of the tools of the trade central to the theme.

Lyrically, this one stretches a little bit more into folklore territory on some tunes, which I think is welcome. In fact, while I love the historical mining theme, I wouldn't be put off if the Germans decided to do some fully fantastical concept albums in the future. An album about Moria? Sure, or pretty much any dwarven lore from any setting. They still don't incorporate dungeon synth elements, a request I had from back on my critique of their first album, but I think by now I've fully forgotten about that, because they've just become so solid at their sound, and it's not like I can't get that stuff from a thousand other places. Again, highly recommended from me, I think Die Grubenmähre is the best starting point to explore their sound, but this EP is entirely complementary to that.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Dauþuz - Die Grubenmähre (2017)

Dauþuz' second album, Die Grubenmähre ('The Mining Horse'), doesn't distinguish itself all that much from their debut, but for being just a year apart it does seem as if the duo were pursuing a slightly more dynamic range to their riff patterns and the result is a more foreboding and desperate effort than its predecessor. While it might lose a fraction of the first album's brightness, there are a number of minute shifts here which make it more of a soul scarring listen. Never mind the thematic implications of the title and cover, thinking back on these ancient work-beasts and their thankless and fatal toiling at the behest of their domesticators, automatically casting shadows of sadness and empathy across the recording, but the music itself carves into you like a pick into the stone.

First off, the vocals are far more intense, aiming for that more suicidal, screaming tone that you find in a lot of suicidal or Burzum-like black metal, sometimes to ghastly, delirious heights, but playing them off against the rasp of the debut, and some deeper groans and growls. This permeates the music with a more panicked appeal, as does the harsher flood of rhythm guitars. They still ingrain their chord selections with a lot of melody, but Die Grubenmähre at its heaviest does feel more brutal and unforgiving than the album before it. The mid-paced rhythms remind one of Blood Fire Death a lot, with different vocals, but just as much pomp and glory. Tempo and mood changes here often feel more abrupt than before, but also much more effective, such as when they'll let a single tremolo picked guitar start off into the distance and then trample it with the ferocious howling, blasting and some chant-like vocals which hover on the edge of perception. Some of the percussion here on the low end really thunders along, almost as if representing the thudding of the mining tools down in the depths of whatever doomed excavation the Germans are on about.

Bass does not play a very strong present in terms of sculpting and molding the songs, as it didn't on the first record, but the rest of the atmosphere is solid enough that you'll be following right along with the rest of the instruments and won't care a whole lot. When these guys hit a beautiful riffing passage as they do in "Dem Berg entrissen", it's instantly more memorable than the material off the prior outing, and almost all the non-acoustic songs across the 50 minute span of this disc have at least one such moment which will send thunder and shivers down the listeners' spine. Ultimately the album is better than its forebear in all categories, offering the same style but fleshed out into more dramatic upheavals, nastier vocal passages and songs that resonate well past their playtime. We have the evidence that Dauþuz is not just some one-off, but a promising new voice on the German scene which offers heavy immersion into its specific theme, very much worth experiencing whether or not you lie behind the language barrier as I do (though this is mostly fixed with an online translator).

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Monday, June 10, 2019

Dauþuz - In finstrer Teufe (2016)

As an individual whose atavistic tendencies are often triggered by the art he chooses to experience, I fully endorse using metal music to explore historical themes, persons, civilizations, and eras. Black metal, perhaps due to its inherent grandeur, atmosphere, mysticism, and instrumentation has long been the main sub-genre in which this transpires. Germans Dauþuz have chosen to hone in on the advent of European mining in particular, an excellent, interesting concept which immediately attracted me to the group's music, which as it turns out is also quite good. A bit on the conventional side, where I might have incorporated more directly ambient or cavernous sound to immerse further into the theme, or perhaps some overtly dungeon synth elements, but I think they at least succeed in transforming the roots of this critical industry into something suitably intense, oppressive, and melancholic.

My German is rather pathetic, and for this reason I wasn't able to translate everything perfectly, but I believe the album title here translates to something like 'In dark (or sullen) depths', and man do the lyrics to the tracks on this debut relay that through descriptions of not only the environment and process that these centuries-old diggers and spelunkers experienced, but also the tragedies which often befell them, a perfect topical choice for black metal which is at once desperate and angry. When Dauþuz is charging ahead with some sorrowful melodic stream of picking over a blast beat, and vocalist Grimwald is spitting out those tortured, sustained rasps, you can easily picture in your mind the desperation of some workers trying to escape a cavern collapse and grasp futilely at the last light they might ever see. On a broader spectrum, this stuff falls right in line with a lot of glorious European black metal through which the listener can fantasize over some grim, idealized landscapes. It's not quite as claustrophobic as its subject might imply, but instead rather spacious and majestic enough that it could find purchase in the audience of Medieval black metal particularly prevalent in France and England.

There are not a lot of tremendously catchy individual riffs, but the overall songwriting patterns here are quite consistent throughout the experience. Guitars are savagely loud but gloomy, while the drums and vocals are mixed just right to accommodate them. Acoustic segues and interludes give you the real feeling of a night at rest after some exhausting dig, by the flickering firelight with a waft of roasted meat to accompany the dirty countenances and strained muscles of the miners. Structurally they don't deviate much from other acts of their style, but they do inject enough of a dynamic balance so as not to come off totally monotonous here. There's little I can promise that you won't have heard before, but this is a really solid debut with good production, and if you've encountered either of the members' other projects like Idhafels, Schattenthron, or Isgalder, or have an interest in Germanic veterans like Falkenbach, Horn and Menhir, then this one is a pretty safe bet to check out.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Friday, June 7, 2019

Darkthrone - Old Star (2019)

While Darkthrone's different 'phases' have cultivated individual audiences to themselves, some not too keen on the others, this is one band I've found enjoyable to follow wherever the wind would take them. From the frigid earnestness of their seminal death and black metal records through the nostalgia-tinged, often tongue-in-cheek side treks into punk, thrash, speed and heavy metal, they've always branded each album with their trademark personality, self awareness, and lyrics more clever than they might seem on the surface. I just don't feel as if they've ever failed me in this regard, and still get just as much pleasure listening through The Cult is Alive or Dark Thrones and Black Flags as I do A Blaze in the Northern Sky or Soulside Journey. In fact, I've long considered that they purposefully created their own counter-culture to the now-traditional necro black metal style they themselves were heavily influential upon, and I get a fat kick out of that.

Arctic Thunder stumbled for me a bit, not as a 'bad' record, but the first case in recorded memory where I felt some of the catchy nuances were missing, it didn't really string together the sort of personality that their earlier material thrived upon, with a lot of riffs that felt half-formed and just on the edge of catchiness without crossing it. Thankfully Old Star sets them right again, not a record bound for modern classic status, but a thoroughly consistent, enjoyable listen, especially at higher volumes, which sets out on a particular sonic path and then sticks the landing. While a lot of the initial reports and reactions I've read herald this as a 'return to form', meaning the band is back to its 90s black metal roots, I'm going to disagree there. Sure, you could place this back in around 1998 as a natural successor to Total Death and not sense that any major deviation to trajectory, but Old Star is heavily inspired by the classic heavy/doom metal riffing that they played around with on efforts like The Underground Resistance. Perhaps not quite so quirky or melodic, but it's given a more stolid and mighty countenance to create this huge, accessible sound. I'm not implying that you're about to hear Darkthrone cycling every half hour on your local corporate rock radio channel, but this one has a straight to the face, level production that many of its predecessors lack.

Everything sounds phenomenal, from Fenriz' simple, effective rock and roll beats and fills, through the dominant rhythm guitar tone, to Nocturno Culto's timeless, broad rasps and the lowly hovering bass lines, hardly adventurous but giving the rest of the mix just enough weight. I'd point out "The Hardship of the Scots" as a poster child for the aesthetic blend here, almost entirely a heavy/doom style track which busts back out into the Norwegians' Hellhammer-inspired churning and bending throughout the bridge. Others like "Duke of Gloat" go the opposite route, more or less a pure 90s throwback Darkthrone cut but with that same, formidable production pounding you in the skull. It's also astonishing how the band can still take a set of fairly stock, predictable riff patterns and then somehow refresh them just by putting their own touch, production and vocal style on them, and then whoosh, I don't feel like I've heard them all a hundred times before, even when I have. That's one hell of a skill for a band not renowned for anything bordering on technicality or complexity. It's also one of the reasons they've long been high up on the short list of my favorite bands ever, and if Old Star is any evidence, that status isn't going to change for a very long time.

Lyrically the album continues the pattern of simplistic verses containing clever little subversions, all wrapped up into song titles that you HAVEN'T heard a hundred times before, primarily in English, as usual these days, but with a handful of Norse lines. Granted, a lot of folks will probably never read them, but while they are far from poetic wizards, the grisly-yet-thoughtful layman's appeal to their words is among the best in the entire scene. If Chadwick St. John's cover artwork seems familiar, it's because he uses a similar, gruesome, detailed pencil-like style that you might recall from Grafvitnir's Obeisance to a Witch Moon or Arckanum's ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ. Great to see here and very fitting to the atmosphere of the six songs. Overall, Old Star is a step above Arctic Thunder and The Underground Resistance; the former because it left such a dry taste in my ears, and the latter because its handful of  genius tracks are counterbalanced by some of its more muddled ideas. This isn't the first Darkthrone CD I'm going to grab off the rack, but it's very well constructed, gets a little better with each of the initial listens, and if you're down for a mix of, let's say Total Death and Circle the Wagons, then I think you'll be more than satisfied.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]  (while Atlas cringes)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Kafirun - Eschaton (2017)

Unlike a lot of their fellow Canadian acts, Kafirun eschews the rustic and naturalist black metal atmosphere for something more hypnotic, ritualistic and blunt. That's not say that there aren't some nuances to Eschaton, their proper full-length debut album, but rather than having raw guitars that emulate the sounds of streams, wilderness and history, these guys go for the throat with a heavily blast-centric songwriting style and then layer the more atmospheric embellishments on top of it all through gruesome vocals which are often sustained into low rumbling chants, which honestly feel as if you're experiencing them bouncing off the walls of some creepy cavern deep below the light of the sun. This is a claustrophobic, unforgiving descent into the occult and philosophical horror which should please pundits who prefer their black metal to remain evil at all times.

Now, while I maintain that it hones in heavily on its faster paced material, I didn't mean to infer that Eschaton lacked dynamic value. In fact there are quite a few spots here where the material will move at a slower or more glorious mid-paced gait (as in "Omega Serpent"), and here the drumming gets more interesting. Guitars throughout are either melodic-tinted, fell majestic chord patterns or some that become faster and more drone-like or insectoid, which is where they actually introduce an alien, mesmeric sort of experience. We're not talking Deathspell Omega levels of dissonant, labyrinthine, fascinating riff structures, but there's plenty going on to keep the imagination engaged without ever sinking to idea-less, vapid repetition. I wouldn't say all the guitars are compelling, and you'll know where a lot of them are going within a few notes, but they keep the notes and patterns flying and occasionally there are a couple that will stick with your brain once the smoke and ash of the whole album experience fade. For me though the favorite parts are when they're streaming some evil chords, the drums are going full frenzy and then they break out one of those groaning vocal lines.

They also know how to dress up a track with melancholic or cryptic guitars that seamlessly erupt into the more aggressive speeds, so there's a lot of musical value to each beast rather than some soul sucking blasted monotony. The bass lines are loud enough to keep the furious drumming and guitar lines grounded, and while some might find the mix of the record calamitous or confusing I think it all worked pretty well in conveying the determined and horrifying mood. There is no warmth and happiness to what is transpiring across the 42 minutes of material, it's an explosion of moldy subterranean spores and viscera that only lets up to attack you with different, more measured angles of obscurity. Worth tracking down if you're fond of the dissonant and unrelenting style used by groups like Antediluvian, Mitochondrion, Dodecahedron, Ulcerate, Auroch, Deathspell or Blut Aus Nord.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Monday, June 3, 2019

Morbid Art - The Cult of Flesh (2017)

If there's one thing I'll never grow tired of, it has to be the classic death metal cover art which goes overboard to evoke a cryptic sense of horror and wonder. Japan's one-man act Morbid Art gets some points for the sarcophagus being carried prostrate towards headless undead Baphomet, cultists flanked by seas of spectral skeletons and columns of twisted phantoms, cone-shaped torches burning cold flames which illuminate the scene. Perhaps a typical sort of image to find on any remotely old-school fashioned album of this genre, but fuck it if I don't get drowned in nostalgia for that one time my Dungeons & Dragons character barely escaped such a scene with a few precious hit points and a tale to scare fellow adventurers at the next tavern stop. Also gotta mention that I dig the logo.

As for the music, it's sort of what you'd expect, but with a few unusual elements that prevent it from feeling all too familiar or predictable. This is, in truth, crushing old school death metal which draws heavily on the Swedish tradition in terms of guitar tone. Rough, raw, flesh-ripping chords bombard the listen in either drudging chord patterns or tremolo-picked accelerations akin to old Entombed. Quite a number of groovier break-downs sure to please pit-hards, but none as catchy as what you'd find on a record like Clandestine. The vocals feel like Consuming Impulse-era Pestilence, early Asphyx Van Drunen-isms or maybe a bit of countrymen Intestine Baalism, only there's a little less of the gruesome pitch-dynamics which made those memorable...Infernal Demolisher definitely goes for the more guttural end and his voice is tucked a bit too neatly beneath the harsher edge of the distortion. Once in awhile a Deicide-like snarl pops in alongside them, but overall they are not too distinct, pretty much standard for the style, a little monotonous but not much of a detriment.

The beats here are a bit too clean and programmed, but mixed just right so that their mechanistic feel never burdens the songs or takes you out of their cavernous, hostile mood. Bass guitars are hovering in there but again, really get lost up against those guitars or even the vocals. The little edge of what makes The Cult of Flesh not a complete photocopy of its influence are some of the weirder, almost happy or silly chord patterns that occasionally invade the riffs or an almost proggy little fill part, or some wailing harmonies embedded into a song like "Summon the God of Plague", so you can't always tell what's about the happen around any given corner of the disc. By and large, though, this is intestine-gouging death metal which heralds the earlier 90s, just not with the most memorable set of riffs or ideas put into its composition. If you're dying for more of that feel you got when you first heard Left Hand Path, Clandestine, Dark Recollections, and Symphony of Sickness, or if you dig similar Japanese acts like Baalism or Deadly Spawn, or Rogga Johansson's groups like Revolting or Paganizer, this album is far from a dud. But it's also not super inspiring or memorable beyond the look of the thing.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]