Sunday, October 31, 2021

Count Raven - The Sixth Storm (2021)

Twelve years have passed since the release of Mammons War, the last record from Sabbath-worshipping Swedes Count Raven, and for my money probably the best record they'd ever released. It had a more brazen, bright, slightly modern sound than earlier cult classics like Storm Warning and Destruction of the Void, but the concept was much the same, a quality continuity for a style that sadly the originators hadn't been peddling in quite some time (with the exception of 13). Big, catchy, traditional doom metal riffing, great vocals in that mocking, melodic, demonic Osbourne style that for me is like breathing air at this point; the memorable but mildly flawed execution that will creep me out more than most of the band's potential successors ever have, even the most distinct among them like the late Eric Wagner, or Messiah Marcolin.

In contrast to its predecessor, The Sixth Storm is somewhat of a dingier affair, darker and more evil, a  revitalization of their old style from the first half of the 90s. The guitar tone is certainly bulkier and more modern than it was those 30 years ago, and it's not entirely produced to go full retro, but definitely the vibes being spilled out here are more raw and mournful, a direct descendent to the Black Sabbath debut with a riffing profile that is slightly more airy and melodic, as we hear from the graceful leads in tunes like "The Curse". The tracks churn and groove along and it's all quite leaden and sublime, with laid back vocal lines that fully encapsulate what was so compelling about checking out those old 70s doom gods. The drums lay out strong if simple beats with some nice added fills that help add just a slight dimension of extra business to the solid, dependable rhythm guitars. Another parallel they have to their primary influence the inclusion of a more atmospheric, ambient vocal track in "Heaven's Door", which is clearly a little nod to "Planet Caravan" only with more shimmery organ/synth tones and just gives the listener a great place to trip out or relax in between the more oblique, drudging tracks.

Now for some, I realize that Count Raven might seem a little close to their forebears, but there are some slight instances of adding their own touches which I appreciated, like the creepy little synth lines they add to "The Ending", or the riffing on "The Giver and the Taker" which at some times sounded a little like an old chuggy Alice in Chains number with the difference in vocals, which for the record I really liked in that tune with the higher pitch going. There's also not a stinker among this entire lot, the first track might not be the strongest, and the closer "Goodbye" is a little much; but once you're hitting the titles I've mentioned above, or the epics "Baltic Storm" and "Oden", you'll be in full on appreciation mode for a band that, frankly, I hope we can hear from more often, because they are hands down one of the best to carry this torch forward. I hope that last tune isn't foreshadowing! They were always one of the most natural and familiar successor to the gods of doom, and the absent years haven't done them one ounce of disservice judging by what I hear on The Sixth Storm.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Fluids - Ignorance Exalted EP (2020)

It was somewhere in that 2019-2020 range when word about this band really began to blow up my feeds. Maggot Stomp was a (rightfully) hot new label at the time, known for producing gruesome and catchy old school caveman death metal, and Fluids was one of its most hyped acts, at least in my recollection. So I gave the debut Exploitative Practices a spin, and just wasn't feeling it quite so much as I was Vomit Forth or Sanguisugabogg, but there was at least something tangibly grotesque and repulsive enough about it that I can understand the attraction. As you can already tell from the disgusting collage artwork that you'll not soon (or ever) unsee, there's a bit of a throwback here to vintage Carcass, only what results is more akin to the style that New York butcher squad Mortician popularized through their career.

Ignorance Exalted is pretty much par for that entrails-splatter course. Essentially you've got deathgrind slowed and reduced to its most primal urges...slow, chugging rhythms, hightly distorted over programmed drums that are just as ugly and raw. The vocals are a monotonous blur of gutturals which serve as this massive, ominous shadow over the grime created behind the super distorted blend of beats and chords. There is nowhere near anything resembling a catchy riff on this album, and so once again it begs that Mortician comparison, because for all the fun that band brings, it's not one you listen to for a couple tunes that are going to stick out in your head, but rather that overall effect of crushing sickness which gives you both a genuine feeling of dread and a bellyful of ironic laughter. I think the small difference here is that Fluids uses more of an industrial/electronic influence here on cuts like "Quartered", and they don't stick to the same sample parameters that those Will and Roger are so fond of. So this gets a more bizarrely urban and apocalyptic vibe to it, and sometimes the percussion is even kind of funny by its own right.

It's heavy as fuck, there is no debate on that, but I did find myself getting really bored because of the lack of anything interesting happening in the rhythm guitars. Even if the vocals might come across as generic, they're still very monstrous and effective, and I wish some of the riffs churning along below them would better catch my attention, rather than just seeming like the first patterns that come to mind. If the band transitions into blasting, it feels too stark and sudden and thus doesn't transition too successfully at all other than in the most rigid and modular fashion. There's also a gimmick with the song titling where they just use the past of some verb common to the brutal death metal and grind lexicon..."Capped", "Smothered", "Chunked", "Coerced", you get the drift; it's amusing for the first couple times, but then the commitment to the practice just doesn't seem to yield anything amazing. There are certainly some fun bits, like that messy lead in "Chunked" that I wasn't really expecting, and I think there's a TON of potential if they could keep this immensely oppressive sound and then write some earworm riffs to complement it, but I just don't know that I'm there yet.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

Monday, October 25, 2021

Root - The Temple in the Underworld (1992)

One of the best examples of parallel evolution in the black metal genre I can think of. While the Scandinavians were doing their thing, the Greeks were doing their thing, and Root was doing its thing, an immediately identifiable blend of thrash, heavy metal and occult black aesthetics that has to this day not really been rivaled or emulated. Big Boss and crew have one of the most spotless discographies in the field...perhaps not every album achieving masterpiece status, but there are few that I can't sit through and admire. Coming somewhere near the top of that pile for me is 1992's The Temple in the Underworld, a measured, creepy and ritualistic album which retains its freshness almost three decades after the fact. A band that was always a bit hard to track down in that most productive of eras, but with the Dark Magic of the Internet, none can now escape their gravitational pull...and why would any want to?

Doomy, expressive and inventive, The Temple in the Underworld thrives off its measured paces and big hooks, not to mention the enormous vocals of the incomparable Jiří Valter. Although he possesses some similar characteristics to the other notable black metal frontmen of his age, somewhere between a rasp and a guttural growl, he packs a lot more force behind his intonation, and when he hits the cleaner tones it just has this bombastic, masculine aura which feels like a stone giant howling down from the hillsides. But the guitars on this album are every bit his equal, with unique melodic lines in tracks like "Aposiopesis" and "Casilda's Song" that have a strangely uplifting vibe contrasted against the more freakish, wavy chants and whispers that Valter weaves between his more aggressive barks. Or how about that doomy, weirdo intro riff to "The Wall", swaying along like the morbid candlelight you always imagined this band would use in some ritual jam session. These Czechs sound like they developed their entire schtick in the cellars of some forgotten East European castle ruin, as part of some sonic cult that was hellbent on summoning denizens of the abyss through unique metallic compositions...and they STILL sound that way.

The album is clearer and larger sounding than its predecessors in The Revelation and Hell Symphony, with a richness and brightness to the guitar tone that marries well to the thundering kick drums which throttle along below most of the album's more intense moments. But they also dabble in ambience or their own take on 'dungeon synth' with a cut like "The Solitude" which is beautifully textured and quite unexpected, or the purely choir-based "Voices from..." which starts out timid until Valter just belts out this harrowing harmony that you can just feel humming at you from the dungeons. Acoustics are tastefully used, usually as intros to several of the tunes, but they contrast beautifully against the huge crunch of the guitars in a piece like "Message". This album is simply towering in all areas...maybe the bass doesn't do much of its own adventuring, but it sure sounds good throbbing along beneath the amazing guitars. Even among Root's own catalogue, this one is an anomaly of balanced dread and majesty, and there's not much I'd change about it. Maybe the full acoustic track "My Name..." goes on a little long for what it is...I enjoy some of the Big Boss ballads, but other than the vocals this one doesn't have much going for it. Otherwise, this shit is astonishing, one of the better albums in all of metal in 1992 and hasn't lost an inkling of its potency since.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (the shadows lengthen)

Friday, October 22, 2021

Blue Holocaust - Twitch of the Death Nerve (2004)

I'd like to point out that giallos and other niches within the medium of cult horror films are known for possessing unique, chilling and quirky scores that really tend to stick with the viewer or listener and help them identify nostalgia for that period and style. As well-intentioned as many extreme metal bands are, and there's no questioning their great taste in the underground or the extremes of cinema, I feel that a lot of the basics of a style like grind or goregrind simply do a disservice to such themes since they come across as puerile and spastic bursts of generic riffs that are played fast simply because they can be. Sure, both of these things have 'extremity' in common, but the one doesn't really reproduce the palpitating dread and shock of the other, no matter how many samples you add, or how much your lyrics stick to the script.

The Blue Holocaust full-length debut Twitch of the Death Nerve suffers heavily from this. Basically there is or isn't some sample of distress from a giallo/slasher film, and then a subsequent eruption into about 30-60 additional seconds of insanely noisy chugging, hoarse distorted snarling and growling, and whirring beats that have no musical value whatsoever. And then it happens over, and over again, across 32 tracks in 37 minutes. Sore Throat or Scum without the humor or envelope-pushing of their day. Now I understand that this is a one-man effort, so I'm a fraction more forgiving than if it was a full band equally devoid of any real ideas, but it still sounds pretty awful, even in terms of just seeking a purely caustic and visceral experience. There is not a single riff of any distinction anywhere to be had, and I'm simply not one that can ironically look past that fact and heap empty praises on the material when it has nothing otherwise to compensate. One could very easily write a few hundred tracks like this by plugging in and pressing 'record', offering up some basic programming and just hacking out anything that automatically filters out to your fingers on the guitar strings. I've seen it lauded as 'extreme' or 'sickening', but it's not at all beyond the cover pastiche and the musician's taste in film.

There are single guitar passages off Scream Bloody Gore from 17 years earlier that are more evil and extreme than anything Twitch of the Death Nerve has to offer. Mortician occupies the same style, but at least actually sounds heavy and oppressive. This is only about as menacing as obnoxious radio static. Even the song titles are generally just taken directly from the films to which this album pays homage. "Deep Red", "Black Belly of the Tarantula", "All the Colors of the Dark", "Four Velvet Flies", "A Lizard in a Woman's Skin"...even the title track. I've seen them all, and they all possess a haunting vibe that none of this music does. I will give a little credit that the lyrics themselves, while pretty standard for the brutal death or goregrind niches, are more elaborate than the music, so I think even they get a disservice here. I kind of dig the logo, and that collage of murdered women on the cover gave me the impression this might actually sound evil, but it doesn''s dull distorted noise at high velocity, spastic paeans to themes it doesn't ever earn. That being said, there's a second album which was put out much more recently (2018) called Flesh for the Cannibal God. It's not a far cry from this one in terms of style and substance, but it's considerably more effective and utterly leaves this material in the gutter.

Verdict: Fail [3/10]

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cradle of Filth - Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay (2017)

Hammer of the Witches in 2015 was a pivotal album for Cradle of Filth in that it garnered them a lot of the respect they had been missing since the 90s...for some of the prospective audience, maybe the respect they had always been missing. I enjoyed that one myself, not that it sounded much different than what they had already being steering towards since they 'righted the ship' in 2008 with Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder, but because I've always been a fan of the immense amount of detail and effort they put into the entire 'package' of their albums, and Hammer was no exception. Its successor, Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay furthered all that goodwill, even if it didn't generate quite the same level of buzz, and I'm going to admit that I like this one every bit as much as its predecessor, and appreciate that it's a sliver more atmospheric.

Insanely well-produced, Gothic black metal which is never shy on ambition, the album surges open with the thrilling, operatic "Exquisite Torments Await" and then never lets you free from its talons as you traverse its depths of vampiric myth and horror. In terms of orchestration and melody, I think this one does surpass the 4-5 albums prior to it. They very tastefully implement the choirs here seamlessly alongside blast beats and other bombastic swells of strings, horns, and other aural artifacts that populate their ceaseless Transylvanian/Victorian horror mindset. The guitars blaze along with plenty of riffing and technicality, sometimes bold enough to stand above the rest of the considerable arsenal, but just as often blending into the overall arrangement and structure...the point is, even if you're paying more attention to the eerie, angelic voices off in the distance, there's still a tasty little lick or lead that can impress you if you'll just isolate it, and as with previous albums the riffs themselves blend in a lot of heavy metal which you could trace directly back to NWOBHM gods like Iron Maiden, only sped up and amplified and thrust into the context of the darkness and narrative that this band alone seems to spawn.

It's big budget...lascivious Hammer Horror vibes translated into the cinematography of Dracula Untold or the Underworld series. Only with a little more substance than mere special effects and Gothic posturing by the attractive leads. Dani Filth plays his role as Snarling Laureate with aplomb, spitting out lines like 'She was the game, sublime' or 'The planchette is promissory' with a sanguine vigor between impish black metal rasps and his more death-metal-Martin-Walkyier guttural whispers and barks. There is no weakest link here. Marthus has become insane in his time with the band, just as adept as his formerly predecessors on the kit, and the fact that he's also so much involved in the synthesizers and general orchestration of the disc is critical. Guitarists Ashok and Shaw, who when you think about it sound like a pair of diabolic London occult detectives, work in perfect tandem, even where their tones are slightly thinned against the operatic backdrop. Lindsay might sound a little too committedly corny on a few of her vocal lines, which has long been a slight fault in the band, but she's certainly a little easier to take seriously than some of her own forebears.

It's not always the catchiest affair, and does suffer from a lazier or uninspired section in a couple of the tracks, but the amount of work Cradle put into this is unquestionable, and I'll always admire bands like this, proverbial shock rockers or visual artists who aim for a more imaginative package than your average four guys in black t-shirts at the bar. Not that there's anything wrong with them, mind you, but I've long enjoyed a good spectacle and these Brits rarely squander the opportunity to deliver us one.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Ill Bill/Ghoul EP (2018)

I have not kept up with the horror rap or 'horrorcore' subgenre of hip hop since the concept was introduced to me by groups like Flatlinerz or the Gravediggaz back in the 90s, so artists like Necro or Ill Bill have been entirely off my radar, until I saw this amusing idea for a split between the latter and Creepsylvania's death/thrash champions Ghoul. It's not the sort of team up you experience every day, and the hope for me was that the two acts would integrate one another's styles and make this splattery looking collectible a memorable trip to gory excess and some streetwise badassery, but the fact is that couldn't be further from the truth...this is just two entirely different groups doing their own thing with little regard for how it matches up as a product with the other, and the result is all too lopsided and obviously not in the favor of the rapper...

Ill Bill's track (featuring 'Goretex', and really, every fucking hip hop track these days has to be a 'feature' of some sort) is basically a mix of El-P sounding lyrical flow with beats and atmosphere that sounds a lot like the Wu-Tang Clan. It starts out with a pretty cool sample, and the production also seems like it'll be decent, but after about a moment it loses its luster and the rhyming just feels repetitive. It does sort of give off a horror in tha hood vibe with the synthesizers and effects, but the lyrics don't really hone in on the subject all that much and so one wonders why nobody told him to make it a little scarier. On the other hand, Ghoul's contribution, "Splatterthrash 2: Thrash Damage", is quite an excellent and explosive tune with a lot of energy behind it, a good sense for melody and I'd run it up against any single song on their most recent album Dungeon Bastards. Gang shouts, thrashing, jerking rhythms and the tune utterly beats the rap into a bloody pulp and it's not even funny. You'd might as well thrown a Boyz II Men track on the A-side and it would have the same effect. 

Really, to make this work you'd have needed a pretty sinister sounding rap artist with a heavier cut, and maybe even some samples from Ghoul riffs or whatever. I appreciate that the two acts are friends or just mutual admirers and wanted to show their love for horror and splatter but it just feels like a gimmick. If this was a 7" with two great new Ghoul tracks I would have liked it infinitely more, but as it stands I can really only award most of the points here to the Creepsylvanians and hope that they'll toss this tune on the next full-length as a bonus track so most people can experience it in a superior environment.

Verdict: Fail [4.5/10]

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Necrophagia - Holocausto de la Morte (1998)

Holocausto de la Morte was kind of a big deal since it saw Killjoy and Necrophagia resurrected from the dead, and although it carries many hallmarks from their 80s thrash-tempered material, this was really the dawn of the peculiar, minimalistic and evil death metal style that this band will forever foremost be known for. It's also interesting for me because it's a good example of an album I had little fondness for when I received the promo for an old paper zine back in those late 90s, but as I listen with what I hope to be fresh, well-aged ears, I can garner a little more appreciation for what the guys were trying here. In terms of its place in 'horror metal', while its far from a novel example by this date, I think the almost constant use of samples and themes here makes it one of the first things I think of when those two terms are joined together.

The formula: extremely basic, crisp thrashing rhythms alternated with Hellhammer-style grooves, never sounding they took more than a few minutes to conceive, but slathered with personality due to the guts gargling vocal presence of Mr. Killjoy. I mean this guy literally sounds like he's chewing on a rodent as he intonates these lyrics...a rat or squirrel being gnashed in his teeth, his tongue flicking about it to make sure the words make it to the microphone with somewhat proper pronunciation. It's the kind of comical you might have first experienced with John Tardy or Chris Reifert, only arguably taken to a further extreme. And yet, I admit it's one of the most endearing and compelling components of this band. The riffs are also engaging despite how crude they come across, especially when they're drowned in all the morbid chants and samples and narrative that gives you a drugged out effect. Remember that movie I Drink Your Blood with all the evil hippies? This album sounds like you could layer it in as an alternative soundtrack to that and it would function perfectly. It's got a kitsch quality about it like bad, bloody, cult special effects and styrofoam graveyards and as I type these ridiculous things I realize it's one of the high points for me.

The production is also really loud and easy to follow consider what an evil atmosphere it is attending. The guitars and vocals always stand out, the former shifting between their doomed lopes, My First Thrash Riff 101 or even a little more creative dissonance. The bass sounds good, but doesn't do much other than hold up those rhythm guitars with a plumpness. The drums dwell in a simple rock format, almost like Danzig, but once again that is what this requires...nothing too technical to force its way past the rest. All the eerie segues and chants seem as if they're almost randomly placed into tracks like "The Cross Burns Black", but once you're attuned to what sort of experience you're going to get, they work. The band will also launch into a mid-paced blasting on tunes like "Deep Inside, I Plant the Devil's Seed", and I did feel that some of the riffs there felt like bland grind, but at least its worth it to hear Killjoy go even further over the top of the sepulcher than he normally does. All in all, though, it's fairly catchy, and while it requires a certain frame of mind for me to even want to put this in for a spin, I'll openly admit it's grown into a go-to album when I need my fix of the late Mr. Pucci's morbid hijinks. Whatever you might think of his music, and I don't think too highly of much of it, the guy was a one-of-a-fucking-kind splatter metal icon.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Transilvania - Of Sleep and Death (2021)

I'm a massive whore for blackened speed and thrash metal, and I make no apologies for that, nor should any be necessary, whether we're dealing with the most rudimentary Venom worship or bands that can elevate the sinister vibes of that hybrid to the next level. From all appearances, the Austrian act Transilvania seems to fall into this latter category, with some classical and classy-looking, creepy artwork which doesn't seem too typical for the niche, and a perhaps more varied approach to writing than those who usually blaze along with their (welcome) combinations of Seven Churches, Bathory, Welcome to Hell and Show No Mercy. The actual music here, upon experience, feels a little more like the purely traditional black metal once penned by Quorthon and his Scandinavian peers of the rawer persuasion decades ago, but there are a handful of more overtly thrash inserts here to keep it a fraction more diverse than it might have been.

Of Sleep and Death is certainly one for the conventional fan of vampiric, un-fucks-giving European black metal with its nasty edge and no sense of contrasted warmth or comfort. It's almost as if you devolved a band like Watain back a step to their earlier or mid-career material, but sent their mindset back a few centuries from its shock rock Satanism. And I mean that as a compliment to both parties, but you get the point...brash, dire melodic onslaughts of tremolo picked patterns or slightly dissonant chords that are accompanied by thundering kick-work and blasts that never border on the ridiculous, but ensure that there is this constant, oppressive sensation of being present at some East European war during the 15h century. The vocals are a nice, nasty rasp with some heft to it so it's a little deeper than the snarlier black metal bands, and he'll often throw in some manlier, hoarse shouts that help inflict some further personality. Once in awhile the way the bass roils around and some of the more playful melodies erupt in a tune such as "Hekateion", or the galloping title track, it's almost like a vicious take on a folksy influence, giving me a hint of the great Slovakians Malokarpatan, but this stuff is unremittingly savage in all cases.

Nowhere is this obscenely catchy or distinct, to be honest, since it stands so firm on the vile shoulders of its first wave black and thrash influences, but I think it benefits from the slightly unhinged production which prevents the drumming or the blood-drenched guitars from sounding too neutered or polished. I think fans of those first two Bathory albums who might seek such a style with a slight bit more focus and balanced mix will absolutely devour this one, but the ghoulish sincerity and belligerent mood might also sate fans of the Medieval black metal scene so strong in France, or really anyone who worships old Marduk, Dark Funeral, and their ilk. A keyboard or two is well implemented to help the listener meld into its cold castle walls of torture. There's a timelessness about it, much like some of its lyrical subject matter, which equally rewards with repeated listens, and it's something you could see as a modern cult classic to mirror the days in which this style sounded reckless and dangerous and totally malevolent to whoever it may concern.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Cannibal Corpse - Violence Unimagined (2021)

Cannibal Corpse is one of those acts whose audience seems to always fluctuate between static appreciation and stagnant indifference, so it's curious to see the raised level of buzz concerning their first full-length proper with Erik Rutan on-board as a full-time guitarist and writer. A lot of the chatter revolves around the different sound he brings to the band, and I'll admit that there's one area in which he certainly contributes to a mildly different experience, but I think ultimately Violence Unimagined falls right in line with the style has been exploring since Corpsegrinder joined the band for Vile, and it's one that some might continue to find samey and repetitious in terms of its riffing portfolio, and that others like myself will just continue to admire with each seasoned recording...this is not a band that really ever makes mistakes or half-asses anything, there have been a few albums that don't quite past muster, but Violence Unimagined is not among them.

Yes, you might hear a little bit of the Hate Eternal and Ripping Corpse bleed into Cannibal's forceful, thrash-inspired brutality, but I'd have to say that if not for some of his spurious leads, which bear a degree of distinction in the death metal community, most wouldn't really be able to glean a difference. And that's because, for all the time Erik has spent producing, touring and helping out with this band, he's gotten a complete grasp of what they're all about, and by no means is he out to step on any toes. This is business as usual, with the one exception that you might find a few of the rhythm guitar patterns a little more clinical, and the leads here to just be more epically fleshed and rounded out. He and Barrett remain just as synced as Rob was with Pat, but occasionally you get a dissonant, weirder, bouncier or atmospheric riff that feels more akin to what Erik would insert into his mainstay. But with Alex and Paul plugging and battering along beneath them, and George giving plastering his trademark, agile, syllabic guttural attack on top, you could probably mix and match some of these tunes in with anything from Kill to A Skeletal Domain to Gore Obsessed and be none the wiser, other than  perhaps a few production details.

And I have no problem with that whatsoever, because this band remains the posterchild for the planned, professional death metal assault which I can depend on year in, year out. Vince Locke's gruesome cover artwork is just as edge-worthy as its ever been, and the band supports that with loads of riff-intensive maiming and bludgeoning which I promise will never put you to sleep. There are some slight variations as always within the actual guitar structures, but all fall within a similar lexicon to what you've heard from the band post-The Bleeding, with just enough freshness to keep this one engaging even if you had been a little plagued with redundant feelings for some of its more recent predecessors. Now I'm not going to say this one has a load of absolutely unforgettable riffs; many are just permutations of their predictable, punishing backlog, but the chugging and feral thrashing that has clung with the band since its origins blend into some eerie tremolo picked patterns that will put you in carnage heaven. Paul's performance here is monstrous, the fills intensifying everything around them, and you don't need yet another of my reminders of how Alex is one of the best ever...I don't know that this style works without his swift and malevolent anchoring presence below the hacking higher pitched axes.

Persistence pays off again, and much of this material is set-ready to blend in with their other 100+ choice cuts dating back to the mid-90s. I did find the production a little dry, and like I said there isn't really a particular hit single here which stands out for me far above its surroundings, but rather the whole 43-minute experience had me shit-kicking my office and experiencing daymares of rending flesh, horrifying killers and apocalypses brought to you by the undead. And that earns my money. Every. Single. Time.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Monday, October 4, 2021

Autopsy vs. Bloodbath EP (2017)

Beyond the fact that the Autopsy vs. Bloodbath split automatically warrants attention for featuring a pair of the genre's hottest commodities, gruesome US legends Autopsy and Swedish all-star retro-death masters Bloodbath, there's a bit more of a gimmick to this 7" in than might first appear. The Californians are covering one of their own member's old bands, also called Bloodbath, and the Swedes are covering the opening track "Blood Bath" off the debut album To the Gory End by the UK veteran death metallers Cancer. It's quick, it's silly, and it's more than likely to be soaked in viscera and rack up the cost of more than a few body bags in the process, and to be frank I rather like this kind of 'creative' vision for a collectors' item, rather than just a band pressing a couple tunes off an album onto 7" for shits and giggles...a practice that has thankfully become scarcer now that sales of vinyl are back in full swing.

Danny Coralles had been with Autopsy for pretty much all its full-length albums and the the vast majority of the band's history, so it's cool to them throwing up a cover for one of his early demo bands, and this one is taken from that Bloodbath's initial 1986 demo Fuck Society. As you might guess it's gnarly, fast-paced crossover thrash but now being given that additional splatter effect from Chris's vocals which probably give it a little more personality than it deserves, because the music for "Fuck You!!!" itself is bog standard and predictable in the rhythm department, with a nice, wild lead attached that is its only saving grace. It's also not quite living up to the horror/slasher elements hinted at by the cover, but this is balanced out by the far cooler Cancer cover by the Swedes and 'Old Nick' Holmes, which is meatier, morbid and ominous in a way that the original only brushed upon. In fact I enjoyed the "Blood Bath" cover more than anything off the band's most recent album of originals, The Arrow of Satan is Drawn. It's dumb, bludgeoning, evil with the little synthesizers, and Nick's voice sounds good and ugly and really drives it through the cemetery ditch.

But that's all there is to it...under six minutes of material, pressed by Peaceville and sent out to the rabid legions of fans, who will probably leave it in the sleeves and plastic as a curiosity to rummage through, and rarely will anyone listen to it. What I personally got out of this is that I'd love to hear Bloodbath record an entire album of old death metal covers, especially if they keep them from the lesser tier acts out of Europe and the US. This one sounds great and I'd urge every fan of the band to at least check it out streaming online somewhere. The cover image is pretty cool too, with that retro slasher vibe but I just don't know that Autopsy's choice even tunes into much thematically, and that gives a slight imbalance to the whole product for me, although I understand how it works into the 'joke' of the release.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Friday, October 1, 2021

Mercyful Fate - Time (1994)

While I don't take exception to records like Into the Unknown or 9, which manage to channel most of Mercyful Fate's positive qualities, it's 1994 and Time which delineates the border for me between the Danes' 'timeless' (oh boy, I did not plan that) works, and those that really don't strike much of a chord with me when I'm scanning through the albums I wanna upload to my iPhone or whatnot. While it holds nothing on my unholy trinity of Don't Break the Oath, Melissa and In the Shadows, it is the last album that I can listen to entirely without ever really needing to skip any weaker tracks, the last one chronologically which I feel an urge to actually experience in sum. It just manages to maintain that sinister air of mystery that surrounded the band (and King's solo career) through the 80s, and for all intensive purposes it sounds like a record which belongs to that era...rather than being smack dab in the middle of a decade in which a group like this one only managed to thrive off its legacy rather than any new string of cult classic material.

Structurally, it's not a far cry from In the Shadows, in that it relies so heavily on mid-paced songs and extremely melodic, almost anthemic vocal lines from King, but at the same time it's both smoother and less ambitious. The lyrics still convey the themes of mysticism and horror, from the familiar ground of "Witches' Dance" which wouldn't have felt out of place on King Diamond's The Eye, to "The Mad Arab" which is a direct tribute to H.P. Lovecraft's recurring Abdul Alhazred. Diamond sounds perfect here as he shifts between his ghostly falsettos and impish lower pitches, in fact he throws a lot of the 'character' into his performance that many would probably equate more with his solo band, and I think of the whole Fate canon this is likely the greatest aesthetic 'crossover' between the two. Nary a tune passes without some memorable vocal passage, and it doubles down on how you take a listen to an album like Dead Again, or the pathetic The Graveyard and wonder where all this magic disappeared to in such a short time? Time might not have all the band's hits, but it is surely determined to make itself memorable throughout the 47 minute duration and it largely succeeds.

Another real strength here is how with these largely mid-tempo tunes the Denner/Shermann duo can lay into all manner of their great, groovy riffs, as well as the mildly progressive bent they often take with their riffs, just so that they eclipse the utter simplicity of audience expectations. Lots of great, doomy moments here with the drums shuffling along like graveyard creepers as King emits some exotic and pained vocal narration, and like In the Shadows before it, or the first decade of solo albums, the entire affair seems like its just focused on the listener experiencing this one in some mental moonlight, haunted landscape, tower or manor if the real thing isn't available. The title track with its organs and freakish harmonized lullaby vocals seems like it might have stepped out of a session for Them or Conspiracy, down to how it just sails right into those dreamy guitar melodies and chorus. Synthesizers, wah-wah and other effects are thrown in tastefully, and although I didn't have the same problem with the drums on its predecessor that some seemed to, I think Snow Shaw's beats here might prove a little more durable and evenly mixed to support the guitars and vocals. Sharlee's bass is perfectly supportive and steps away just as often as it needs to, with a great tone that hovers right above the kick.

The contrast between the lucid vocals and dirty riffs of "Mirror", unforgettable anthems like opener "Nightmare Be Thy Name" and "Witches' Dance"...this one just never quits playing to its strengths, and it's still a pleasure to experience 27 years later. Like many of his solo efforts, this one's also a perfect Halloween listen, and was released in that very month upon arrival. It's 'classy' of course, this one isn't about the blood and guts but the evergreen themes of Gothic, occult or even cosmic horror that will still send a chill down your spine at any age, regardless of the melodic breezes on which they are carried. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's great, and it STAYS great. At the risk of broken record status, I have to reiterate how these first four Mercyful Fate full-lengths, along with the first 5-6 King Diamond represent one of the most enduring bodies of work in my whole music collection. Seasonal or otherwise, they don't seem to age a day to when I first came across them from the raw, ripe ages of 10-20 years old. I cannot thank King and both his crews enough for the countless hours of enjoyment and escape they've written. Even my idiosyncratic Country lovin' big city significant other has fallen under these spells.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (prayer in unknown tongue)