Sunday, September 29, 2019

Coffin Dust - Everything is Dead (2016)

Coffin Dust unquestionable hails from that same death/thrash tradition pioneered by Carcass as they distanced themselves away from their goregrind origins. More recently that mantle was taken up by the family of bands that includes Exhumed, Impaled and then Ghoul, who have been running with it since well before the British butchers reformed. Yes, that was sarcasm. There's at least one member here who has played live with Exhumed, and the roster and ex-members of this group have a pretty vast repertoire between them which encompasses a number of sub-genres. Put it all together and you've got what I might dub a more 'organic' sounding proxy to Matt Harvey's deathgrinding flagship, one that differs in production and also in some of the songwriting nuances.

I enjoy that the record is book-ended with a pair of swollen, dark synth parts that set up the vintage horror aesthetic, but I'm not sure the rest of the material here really matches it other than the themes running across the lyrics. Instead, this is a very crisp, spry blend of tremolo-picked death metal lines, faster 80s thrashing progressions and even a good chunk of crossover/hardcore when the band wants to barrel roll into something more straightforward. The rhythm guitar tones are quite natural feeling, not as heavily saturated as, say, Exhumed, and this lends itself to a lot of slick, speedy little guitar licks which were quite consistently catchy throughout the six originals here. Even better, there are a lot of interesting little lead guitar blitzes that give the whole experience a bit more depth than I had expected, and these two are dispersed throughout the origins and helped hold my interest even in the few sections where I wasn't on board with the rhythm passages. Hooks for days, not that you haven't heard their like before, but performed with some engaging energy.

The bass throbs along the low end, occasionally walking off on its own groove, but I also wanted to compliment the drumming here, which is quite solid, with some cool little shuffling beats used to perk up sections of tuns like the titular finale. The vocals are a satisfactory guttural for the most part, well fit to all the sub-styles being blended into the record, and actually helping mold them into one whole, and there are also a lot of snarl/growl dual vocal parts which is par for the course with just about any band in this niche. The cover of Slayer's "Metal Storm/Face the Slayer" is quite well done, and fits in fluidly with the original tunes, revealing its obvious influence on the thrash side of this Pennsylvanian newcomer. All told, the album is a compact 35 minutes, I was never lulled into any sort of boredom. A few of the more hardcore styled riffs didn't do a lot for me, but these were easily compensated by all the quirkier little melodies and speed/thrash licks. So if you're looking for a band in the vein of Exhumed, Ghoul, Frightmare, or Ex Dementia, but with a slightly less blood & guts production style, this is well worth a listen.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Friday, September 27, 2019

Ghoul - Splatterthrash (2006)

While Ghoul might have ramped up the silliness of their project with the cartoon collage cover art on Splatterthrash, their third full-length, the music was anything but. And that's honestly one of the things I so admire about the West Coast creeps, how they marry such an amusing, goofy gimmick with a seriously excellent riff set and dynamic songwriting which never really got dull through the majority of their career to date. I know there's a massive backlash we always see against 'joke bands', but I'm not sure this one even qualifies for that category since they put more effort into what they're doing than a large portion of the serious bands. But sure, Ghoul is a band you have fun to, laughing at their Creepsylvanian lyrical concepts and send-ups to the horror/exploitation genre."

Like its predecessors, Splatterthrash serves up a lot of influences, but it's mainly a mesh of crossover thrash and the more melodic death/thrash direction groups like Carcass were taking as they evolved a little further away from the grind roots. Certainly you can still hear a grinding pulse behind even this material, but a lot of the tunes go directly for mid-paced mosh-pit service ala "Mutant Mutilator" and "Merde!", which definitely have an Exodus thing going if those Bay Area legends had used a dueling guttural/snarl vocal styles which is also a throwback to Carcass. In other tracks you hear more of a punk or d-beat momentum made crisper by the more palm muted picking styles. In either case, it's the riffs that really steal the show on this album, they're endless catchy, especially the heavy usage of melodies throughout the tracks that almost give the album a more serious tone than you feel it should have, thanks to the atmosphere they automatically spark in the horror-nerd's brain. The way the album opens with "Into the Catacombs" is extremely memorable, with the creeping little guitars picked behind the acoustics and eerie harmonies.

But the other influence I haven't brought up yet is their continued commitment to surf rock elements, occasionally implemented as little bits of cleaner guitars over heavier tunes, or in an outright surf rock extravaganza like "Psychoplasm", which crafts morbid Dick Dale-like guitar lines and then adds all manner of rockabilly or spooky Western style chords in with samples of evil laughter. A lesser band might choke up the flow of their albums with such a stunt, but this isn't the first time Ghoul has pulled it off successfully and it's yet another reason they always stand out. I'd say the lion's share of the material on this album does stick pretty close to the thrashing, though, with riffs that give you the similar feel of a "Toxic Waltz" or S.O.D. tune but wound up with slightly more complex little melodic threads that are meant to spook up the tunes a little so they stay more in line with the band's perpetual Halloween theme. They also make a judicious use of gang shouts which should help keep all your pizza thrashing buds in step (as if they already don't love this band).

The production here is all boxy, organic guitars for the rhythm tracks, with the leads and melodies processed just enough to give them an otherworldly atmosphere. The clean or reverbed surf guitars fit in smoothly, while some of the samples and effects are hit or miss, for example the mechanical vocal filter in "Rise, Killbot, Rise!!!" doesn't sound so great against the music. Bass is good and chunky like a bunch of half-chewed apples bobbing in the party punch, and the drums sound nice and snappy on the high end to help balance off against those thicker guitars. All in all I wouldn't say it's the best mix on a Ghoul record, but its more than functional, and if this band scratches your itch you'll be having too much fun with Splatterthrash to really give a damn. The lyrics are also night and day, for instance the title track is your typical self-flagellating band anthem whereas "As Your Casket Closes" is more elaborate with its imagery. Some of the band's novelty might have worn off here, and I still have a slight preference towards We Came for the Dead!!! and Maniaxe, but this album makes for a fine conclusion to the aesthetic pseudo-trilogy that marked the band's earlier years.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Impetigo - Horror of the Zombies (1992)

Horror of the Zombies is not much of an evolution upon its older sibling Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, which is to say that it remains the most basest of death metal songwriting, minimal riffing that would make even Autopsy of this period look more complicated. But as I said with the debut, it was never meant to be. Impetigo celebrated the crudeness of the form to a fault, far more obsessed with how they dress up their tracks with lavish serial killer samples than they are at crafting any sort of nuance within the rhythm progressions, drums or vocals. For a lot of their audience, nothing more was needed, and if I'm being honest, I feel much the same provided that the experience on the whole provides some memorable atmosphere or guitar parts, which Ultimo Mondo Cannibale didn't.

But this album does. Granted, this thing is dumber than a rock. The chord progressions all seem like the emergent British grindcore gods of the late 80s being strung out and slowed to a moderate hustle, or crawling along with the first few notes that come to mind. There's a little more to riffs like the one that opens "I Work for the Streetcleaner", which seems like it could have wound up on the Death or Obituary back-lot, but in general there are painful few here that stand out among others. What gives the record its charm are the frilly, weird leads that almost sound like insects approaching your ears when they appear, because you're just not expecting them. Or the blunt growls and garbled grind snarls of Stevo Dobbins. The bass guitar is thick, and buzzes you like the swill at the bottom of the communal coffee pot when nobody bothered to bring in any new filters for a new batch. The drums clang and thump along like an array of pots and pans in the background, not to say that they don't catch and anchor all the right grooves, which make up well over 50% of the album, these sodden, loping, knuckle-dragging bludgeons that well-represent the gaudy undead crew on the cover.

The samples are pretty good, if you're okay with bands using them so often, and they certainly set the tone that this band loves its cult horror, murder and exploitation, which is in my estimation their most influential aspect. You'll recognize direct film references like "Wizard of Gore" and "Trap Them and Kill Them", all of which would go on later to inspire (and even name) many other bands, so these Midwesterners had their shit together when it came to their taste in the obscene. I like when they go even more over the top with the atmosphere in something like "Cannibale Ballet", where the drums set the stage for some warped, freaky vocals that seem more like some emulation of a soundtrack rather than a metal tune. Frankly I'd listen to an entire album of Impetigo engaging in such absurdity because it suits them well. The lyrics are solid, simplistic but effectively written with some ghoulish imagery, and there are also a lot of grooves on the album that still sound perfectly moshable by today's standards.

Like Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, this is so primal that it just doesn't age, there is some gruesome impulse at the core of all of us which can appreciate how straightforward this is, and certainly if you haven't heard the band but enjoy records like Severed Survival, Cause of Death, To the Gory End or The Dying Truth then this is a decent, if not exceptional gibbet of gore slathered in that old Wild Rages Records cheese. If your battered VHS and DVD collection looks similar to the local butcher block, then its a given. I don't always break out Impetigo's records as much as their peers from that seminal period of death metal, but when I do, I prefer Horror of the Zombies.

Verdict: Win [7/10] (making love to the cadaverous whore)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Cape of Bats - Violent Occultism (2015)

Devil Master's Satan Spits on Children of Light is one of my favorite records to come out in 2019, so I was naturally curious to check out more of what the musicians behind that have released throughout the past, and as it turns out, two of them have been involved in an even longer-lasting project called Cape of Bats, which has tread a similar stylistic path over a wide array of demos and split recordings. Violent Occultism is the one full-length to date from that entity, and I'm surprised it's not spoken of more often, since it's an effective merging of black metal and punk aesthetics. Not quite as evil, and not quiet memorable, but still filthy and formidable enough that fans of the one will almost certainly get a kick out of the other.

Essentially, Violent Occultist is hardcore/punk given a rubdown of raw black metal production, and splatter-sounding punk vocals that at times definitely approach a rasped inflection. Into this they will integrate some more melodic or tremolo picked metallic sequences that help the tunes straddle the line between the genres. For me, riff selection is absolutely critical to punk rock because so little of it sounds more than lazy plagiarism of predictable patterns, and I think Cape of Bats definitely pass that test as they go for progressions that feel a little more like ticked off, antique hardcore (Minor Threat, etc). These chord choices do a great deal to help the band careen off them with the more metallic pluckings, half-wrought sloppy leaps, and evil melodies that ramp up tunes like "Death Kami" to the next level. They're not perfect, I mean I've heard a lot of these riffs in the past, but just unique enough to make it all feel fresh as a sum package. Bass is not a factor, just tinny sounding drums, hissing garage black metal guitar tone and vocals that sound shat straight out of hell.

The songs run a range of very brief to somewhat dense for the style, and there's plenty of variety among the thirteen. Creepy synths, a few watery, spooky goth rock guitar lines and other nuances help break up the material so it just doesn't feel like you're being hammered repeated by the same tricks, and I found myself actually favoring the tracks here that were around three minutes or higher, like "Weeping Daughters of Jerusalem" and "Ultimate Evil", which were genuinely creepy and stick with you about as strongly as most of the Devil Master material. The lyrical subjects here are also really cool, drawing on diverse occult themes from all over the world, almost coming off too brainy and philosophical for the music itself, but then again I really enjoy that contrast. Diego Bureau's cover artwork really seals the deal; colorful, grotesque, and frightening. This is a rather cool surprise and well worth checking out if you're into their other project, or really any sort of black/speed or black/punk hybrid as long as you're cool that they play it really...fucking...raw, not enough to bleed out your eardrums but you may develop a headache at the appropriate volume.

Verdict: Win [8/10]