Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Beastmaker - Windows of Evil (2018)

If you thought Trevor William Church's output with the heavy metal throwback Haunt has become prolific, you haven't experienced his purely doom metal outlet Beastmaker, which has released over a dozen EPs and several full-length efforts in the last half-decade. To his credit, while I've always gotten the impression that slowing down the level of productivity might result in more memorable recordings, nothing has ever felt lazy or mediocre. Most of the Beastmaker EPs, simply titled with the number of their chronological release, have been digital releases with a limited cassette run, but lately the band has taken to putting out compilations, generally merging two of these short format efforts into an album length, and Windows of Evil represents the first two such numbered EPs from 2018. Not necessarily their formative material, since the full-lengths Lusus Naturae and Inside the Skull predate this, as well as a few other recordings, but certainly a preview of what this EP series was about.

The style here is Sabbath-driven, chunky traditional power trio doom metal with the guitars bold and up front, and a strong emphasis on lead placement and building up a cool chorus. Not cool as in you're going to remember it 20 years later, but certainly a payoff to the verses leading up to it all. The songs are quite taut for the genre, generally no more than 3-3/12 minutes long, and for that reason they tend to lose a little of their potential power and structure. Not that I'm expecting ten minutes or more per track, but here you're only getting a few requisite riffs, usually just one to set up the chorus, and Beastmaker is good enough to earn more of our attention. Granted, that might have been the point of the constant barrage of 2018 EPs, to go with brevity and consistency, but it does give the music a bit of a 'doom assembly line' vibe to it which makes it little better than competent and passable. In their defense, the riffs on exhibit here do show enough variation that they don't end up sounding too samey apart from some of Church's vocal payloads.

I guess you could sort of imagine this as a St. Vitus or Pentagram with a more contemporary production, a real love letter to the niche without ever eclipsing its influences. Church has a decent voice, clearly inspired by the usual suspects like Ozzy but with far less of an interesting range or distinctive personality. He's good enough at what he does, but never reaches for the sky, and that's alright, because by and large Windows of Evil is a fun listen if you're the type that enjoys this traditional 70s-based doom metal template. The bass sounds voluminous, the drums are decent, the lyrics are one of the strongest components, samples are well used, and it's quite clear that Church and friends are inspired by all manner of cool horror films from classic black & white/Gothic horror flicks to eerie Italian giallos. In fact, the music does just as much of a service to those as it does to its inherent style. Again, this is restrained, almost like a pop mentality approach but within the doom metal parameters, but Beastmaker knows how to entertain you by reaching deep into your nostalgia and pulling out a few old ghosts, and the material off these two EPs is streamlined together into a consistent-sounding album.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Exhumed - Horror (2019)

Much like its simplified, stripped down title, Horror sees a stripped down version of Exhumed which is reaching back to its earlier turn-of-the-century roots as a proper post-Carcass death grind. In fact, it almost one-ups their debut Gore Metal in how it so rapidly executes the stylistic decision. That's not to say that all of the band's recordings in the interim lacked these aesthetics, in fact they were always present to an extent, but the band had focused on a lot of thrashier, even more melodic elements, and frankly it often ended up with some pretty great songwriting. Now, to be fair, this is no record of absolutes, there are some mid-paced thrash breakouts, and the same entertaining and frantic lead guitars they have been spewing forth the last decade or so, but it's certainly one of their fastest if not the single fastest album of their career.

For death & grind diehards who probably dropped the band after Slaughtercult, or staunch fanatics for earlier Carcass, Napalm Death and Repulsion, this is probably a godse....goresend?! They're getting all of that primal energy, short tracks that almost all fall between the 1-2 minute duration, the mix of snarls and gory guttural vocals that the band has always championed in the Carcass tradition, and if they're also gore/horror fans, a very sweet retro artstyle on the cover which is nearly as cool looking as the last album Death Revenge. The chainsaw guitars and buzzing bass lines come fast and furious, the drumming is intense, and the core of the group's sound is all present. The energy is palpable, Exhumed show no signs whatsoever of slowing down or experimenting beyond what is expected of them, and the lyrical topics are a pretty stock selection of paeans to horror tropes like slashers and zombie flicks. Horror checks off almost all the boxes that it should, but if I'm being honest, as much of a fan of this band as I've become through the years, I found this one solid, but also lacking...not in kills, but in thrills beyond a few select riffs and leads.

To me, lot of grind music falls into the trap of constructing a string of average, derivative punk, thrash or death metal guitar riffs and accelerating them to the degree that their momentum alone can seem to obfuscate the fact that they're quite dull when dissected. The better albums of the genre are the ones that rise to this challenge and manage to offer a new spin, a new sound into the pummeling velocity. Take bands like Antigama, or some of the recent Napalm Death albums, as examples of how this can be kept fresh and alive; but for every one of those, there are scores of others which simply exist like an echo chamber of aggression. Granted, you could say this same thing about any other metal sub-genre, sure, but with grind and deathgrind it always stood out more, since the music was just so spastic and frenzied that I felt I should be more engaged. A lot of the tunes go in one ear and out the other, with the only reaction being 'that was fast' or 'that was angry'. A very temporal visceral response. Horror suffers from this to an extent, but it maintains just enough of Exhumed's charm, production standards and competence over its 15 tracks that 26 minutes that it gets a pass. But there's simply no way I'd break this out over Death Revenge, Necrocacy, Anatomy is Destiny, or their first two, Gore Metal and Slaughtercult, which already gave me what I'd want out of this one, only with better songs.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Fulci - Tropical Sun (2019)

When you're taking on the mantle of one of the grand masters of Italian horror, and you yourselves ARE an Italian band, I think that shoots the expectations for your music through the roof. Thankfully, while they can hardly be deemed a unique voice among the death metal hordes, Fulci delivers on most fronts an entertaining sophomore effort which taps back into the birth-throes of the brutal death metal genre, when it was more about ugly, knuckle-dragging primitive aggression than technical flash and inhuman instrumental exercises. Not to say that Tropical Sun ignores all the little quirks of its medium that have arrived since the mid 90s, but this is definitely not some New Standard Elite or contemporary Unique Leader style of release, it sounds like it's directly influenced by earlier Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation with a couple add-ons like the occasional deeper pig-squeal variant on the vocals.

If it's not obvious, this album is based on the 1979 film Zombi 2, and the excellent cover artwork via Chris 'Misanthropic Art' Kiesling perfectly captures that feel, an island vibe with the old school rotters lurching about. Steady wins the race, steady feeds your face. I remember being freaked out by the film for any of its flaws, and really appreciated the atmosphere its setting created since it just felt so different than the Romero zombie flicks I was accustomed to. These days we've had stuff like the Dead Island video game franchise to honor it, and I'm positive it's been lauded by a number of other death metal or goregrind bands in the past, but to have it as a central theme is really cool and earns the record some extra flesh-stripes. The theme is really only present through the lyrics, samples and synth pieces like the intro "Voodoo Gore Ritual", but it dresses up the brutality just enough to create a more fulfilling type of experience than your average, insanely illustrated BDM effort, and the overall package just stands out.

Musically, this is pummeling, groove-reliant death metal which is almost wholly pit-ready, with a lot of evil little trill riffs and zipping leads redolent of the Cannibal Corpse era I hinted at above, the first four records with possibly a bit more Corpsegrinder to some of the vocal patterns than Barnes. Though the riff construction largely feels as if you've heard it before, they manage to string enough catchy chops together that you feel like your back in the early days of the style. Chugging, bludgeoning, and lumbering forward at a generally casual pace, with an occasional death/thrash or OSDM outbreak that reminds me again of that aforementioned act in their younger years. You'll get some sparse surprises like the eerie clean guitars they toss onto "Splatter Fatality", or a bleak yet melodic guitar harmony in something like "Legion of the Resurrected" which had me thinking of vintage Bolt Thrower, or some un-intrusive synths, but on the whole the style between the tracks doesn't deviate all that much from its crushing, confident formula.

Production here is quite clean, but still packs a lot of punch because of the guitar tone. The beats are programmed to be effective and workmanlike, but they don't try to bite off more than they can chew and just do their job. The bass has a good volume and adds a little chunkiness to the rich saturation on the rhythm guitars, while the vocals are all broad, burly and well mixed whether they're switching or matching up the growls and snarls or the borderline toilet bowl gutturals they use sparsely. None of the tracks ever wear out their welcomes, and although they don't really experiment that much, there's just enough variety provided as they trade off between more melodic chords and chugging. It's a fun album, it'll take you right back, the lyrics are solid, the packaging awesome. As I'm pretty sure these guys' debut was at least partly devoted to Lucio Fulci's "Gates of Hell" movies like City of the Living Dead, I actually hope these guys will continue the trend going forward. Can you imagine a cool death metal record based solely on The New York Ripper? The Cat in the Brain? Don't Torture a Duckling? Hell, they wouldn't even have to stick with Fulci, numerous other cult directors could be visited.

Verdict: Win [8/10]