Friday, November 28, 2014

JERKING THE CIRCLE Vol V: Megadeth - Endgame

A Tale of Two Songs

One of the more visible falls from grace in metal history undoubtedly has to be that of Megadeth.  Everybody knows their history, everybody knows the relation to Metallica, everybody knows what I think of them (first five albums are great, Youthanasia is a decent hard rock album, everything else sucks), and everybody for the most part seems to agree.  It's just generally accepted that Megadeth has been shit since at least 1992.  It's really not even worth talking about, because it's all been talked to death.  That's why I'm sitting here, rocking out to Rust in Peace, with a blank document on my computer screen.  God dammit, I love their 1990 album more than almost everything, but it's so hard to review at this point.  Everybody has the same opinion!  Part of me wished they had at least one good album after Countdown to Extinction because then it'd at least make their career somewhat interesting instead of predictable and sad.

But BH!  There is a good album in the last two thirds of their career!  You're completely forgetting about Endgame!

*sigh*

No I'm not.  Endgame sucks, and you're all insane for not realizing it.  Really, this album is just an exercise is the exact kind of subliminal manipulation that Dave spends so much time ironically shouting at the top of his lungs about.  The only thing Endgame does well is order the tracklisting in such a way that you get tricked into thinking it's great. 

What do I mean?  Well, ask anybody what their favorite song on this album is.  90% of the time it's "This Day We Fight", the other 10% says "Headcrusher".  There's a reason for this, because they're positioned in such a way, surrounded by exactly the right amounts of boring, half hearted bullshit, that they managed to stand above the crowd.  They're very good songs, the former of which is legitimately probably one of my top ten favorite Megadeth songs.  It's just does everything right, it's the exact kind of violent aggression intertwined with masterful guitar playing that made Rust in Peace such a timeless classic.  It never lets up, it starts with its foot on the gas and just plows through the listeners like zombies in a shopping mall.  The chorus deserves special mention for being so bloody ear catching.  The whole song is a rallying cry, a huge, pissed off anthem to remind everybody why Megadeth is a band worth listening to.  "Headcrusher" is no different, with a pummeling main riff and ferocious vocal patterns that just emanate bile and fire.  It's hard not to pump your fist and bang your head during "DEEEEATH BY THE HEEEEEADCRUSHA".  Both of these songs are exactly what made the band so fucking good in the 80s (yes Rust in Peace is an 80s album, the 80s ended in 1992).

But here's the secret, they're the -only- two good songs on the entire album.  It's so easy to miss because the beginning is so good that you find yourself just riding a high until "Headcrusher" comes in late, but it's true.  You see, Dave, for all the cross eyed tongue waggling lunacy, really can manage to be smart sometimes.  This is an example of his brilliance, because the beginning of the album emulates a previous classic in So Far, So Good, So What?, with "Dialectic Chaos" and "This Day We Fight" perfectly mirroring "Into the Lungs of Hell" and "Set the World Afire".  The intro tracks are both hugely melodic and triumphant sounding shredfests, with only basic riffs being made up for with instantly memorable Van Halen leads and mindbending fretboard theatrics.  The following songs are both big crowd rousing numbers with massive choruses and infectious-yet-punishing riffage.  At this point, after you just sat through albums with such timeless classics as "A Tout le Monde", "Of Mice and Men" and "Moto Psycho", you'll hear that one-two punch of an introduction and promptly pass out due to all of the blood rushing to your reproductive organs.  It's easy to forget that "44 Minutes" is the exact same awkward radio rock bullshit that plagued their 90s era, and it's forgivable to not notice that "Bite the Hand that Feeds" is almost a total rewrite of "Skin O' My Teeth" and "Bodies" is just "Symphony of Destruction" again.  It's okay to immediately erase the embarassingly terrible half-ballad of "The Hardest Part of Letting Go... Sealed with a Kiss" from your memory because just as soon as you start wondering what the fuck it was, "Headcrusher" starts and makes you headbang yourself into a concussive state of amnesia.

That's really what makes up the entire album.  Everything is either a blatant copying of a previous song that people already liked or it's just a new terrible idea that Dave has been unsuccessfully trying so fucking hard to make us like for a decade at the time of release.  I mean let's be real here, who really enjoys the spoken word crap and tinfoil chewing nonsense that Dave spends half of the title track shouting about?  Who really likes the awkward vocal cadences that have plagued the band ever since the early 90s?  Who thought "Captive Honour" was so good that we needed to hear it again with a new title?  I realize that a lot of the copied songs are songs from Countdown to Extinction, an album I openly enjoy the everloving shit out of despite its very obvious flaws.  The difference really comes down to how fresh the songs feel, and Endgame just can't even compare outside of the two obvious songs.  Countdown may have been an obvious attempt at cashing in on Metallica's new direction (and let's not pretend that "This Day We Fight" and "Headcrusher" aren't direct responses to the heavy throwback songs on Death Magnetic, but I really just can't bear to preach that obvious storyline any longer), but it was fun and exciting.  "The Right to Go Insane" just feels like a reheated leftover, and "1,320" sounds like a paint-by-numbers how-to guide in regards to being just mediocre enough to carry the momentum that a previously great track can generate.  Dave's snarl is just as lazy and tired as it has been for nearly two decades, excepting the two I keep namedropping.  In fact, I'm really beginning to suspect that a different, better band actually wrote those two, because holy shit it just makes no sense that he can crap out those two masterpieces in the middle of an album full of rehashed speed rock in the middle of a streak of albums that range from hilariously bad to painfully mediocre. 

There are just only so many times I can say the same thing, so I'll wrap it up here.  "This Day We Fight" and "Headcrusher" are two phenomenal songs that absolutely deserve all the praise they've been getting, but the rest of the album contains nothing but bad reimaginings of better songs from their divisive transitional era.  I'm aware that everybody's taste is different, and maybe the majority of people really do just think "1,320" is really just that much better than "High Speed Dirt", but personally I'll never buy it.  Dave got a few things right by recognizing the best tracks and releasing one as a single and the other as the opening song, and also only focusing on politics for about half the songs instead of all of them.  But that's it, everything else is just as bad as they've always been and I feel like I'm the one sober guy staring at the Emperor's naked asshole.


RATING: 40%

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Job for a Cowboy - Sun Eater

Fvn Eater

I find it so odd that a band that pretty much accidentally helped invent an entire subgenre of metal managed to then follow up that monumentally influential EP (Doom, for the younger than young of you out there) with release after release of blatant trend hopping.  I'm gonna come clean here, I can fairly safely say that I actually do like Job for a Cowboy, but I say that with the caveat that it's mostly due to their 2009 effort, Ruination.  To me, that's the one time where the trend they landed on managed to be one they were really, really good at.  Doom helped deathcore get its start, and it's mostly below average with a couple cool spots here and there, while Genesis saw them plunge headlong into complete, 100% unambiguous death metal, but at the same time saw them completely hollow and bland and not at all worth listening to.  Ruination is when they decided to get on the tech death bandwagon, and somehow they surprised the shit out of me by actually doing it quite well.  That whole album is full of riff after riff, constantly pummeling you from all directions, coupled with great songwriting and impressive instrumental performances all around.  Demonocracy was more of the same, but with weaker songwriting, but overall it's a decent, listenable album.

I ran through that to illustrate why 2014's Sun Eater was met with a collective eyeroll by so many people who are either non-fans or moderate fence sitters like me.  Once again, for the fourth time, they've undergone a drastic shift in style, and for the fourth time, it didn't seem natural.  There's almost never any flickers of what's to come to be found on any given Job for a Cowboy album, it's always just a really jarring transition to whatever happens to be popular at the time.  One time, sure.  Two times, okay, coincidence, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.  But three or four times?  Come on man, how often do you expect to fool me?

In the end, that's really not all that important.  The end result is all that matters, right?  Well sure, but it's undoubtedly frustrating and is always a big black cloud looming over everything they touch.  I listen to Sun Eater and I just know in the back of my mind that this was done with scientific precision instead of artistic passion, and that's worrisome.  But again, let's try to push that aside, what does the music itself offer us?

*headdesk*

Fucking dammit the style they tried to emulate this time is wanky prog death in the vein of Beyond Creation and The Faceless's newest direction, with touches of Between the Buried and Me for good measure.  Job for a Cowboy got the songwriting prowess down pat when they were trying to cram as many notes into any given song as possible, and Sun Eater proves that when they give songs space and try to go for more ethereal, twisted atmosphere, they just fall flat.  It's weird, because they're clearly still trying to throw in a bazillion notes, but it comes of as awkward and confused this time around.  The rhythm section is basically tweaking on meth, as the drums never slow down, even during the atmospheric parts, and the bass is... *ugh*, the bass is identical to what you'd find on a Beyond Creation album.  It's Overkill-level loud, very clear and broowwwdowdwooow.  Just like the Quebecois noodlers, the bass is super distracting and instead of complementing the guitars in any way, whether it be through syncopation or counterpoint or whatever, it just feels like it's desperately trying to elbow its way past the rest of the band into the spotlight.

I can give the album some credit for getting better as it goes along, since the first side is utterly forgettable before giving way to some shining moments in the back stretch.  "Encircled by Mirrors" and "Buried Monuments" both have some very standout guitar theatrics, to the point where they manage to overshadow the directionless noodling that fills the rest of the runtime.  "A Global Shift" definitely deserves a mention as well for being the only song not to fuck around with long instrumental passages where the drummer goes apeshit everywhere except for the snare and cymbals, giving the illusion that the pace is slower and more open.  Nah, that song throws all that progressive bullshit to the wind and just shreds the fuck out like Ruination did five years prior.  This is what Job for a Cowboy has already proven to be their strength, and they absolutely should just stick to songs like this.  Because "A Global Shift"?  This song works.  Absolutely worth listening to.

But of course, the rest of the album doesn't do that.  They're following in the footsteps of The Faceless with this one, as the longer, spacier passages ring several bells that ring strikingly similar to the likes of Opeth, albeit without the clean guitars or vocals.  Yeah, Sun Eater keeps it dirty and gritty, never succumbing to the allure of pleasant clean vocals or haunting acoustic passages.  Normally I'd praise a band for that, especially this one, since that illustrates that they're not trying to step outside of their bounds and they know exactly what they can and can't do.  But hell, I wish they'd just gone for it.  I mean why not, right?  That's the direction they're leaning, and we all know that by the next album they'll be playing straight up Dark Descent style dissonant gurgly jangledeath so it's not like they're ever going to expand upon this idea.  But really, the frustrating part isn't that the band didn't explore the ideas they were flirting with, it's mostly that they bothered with it at all.  I can compare this to plenty of bands but all roads lead to Beyond Creation.  I feel like The Aura was playing in constant loop in their rehearsal room, because it's such a dead ringer for that album.  It's a faceless clone of an album in a style that's been gaining traction, and once again Job for a Cowboy cements themselves firmly in the middle of the pack, not doing anything to stand out.

I've used a lot of words to basically say the same thing over and over (which in a way is kind of indicative of this album in the first place), but it's really the truth.  When you think of wanky prog death with Jaco Pastorious's zombie on bass, this is the exact thing you think of.  The songwriting never brings the songs over the edge, everything lurks right on the surface but never actually breaks through and makes itself known.  It's just anther fish in a school, another faceless nothing that wouldn't stand out at all if it weren't for the name attached to it.  For fans of Beyond Creation and The Faceless, this is right up your alley, you'll love it.  The rest of us?  Not so much.  A bunch of samey sounding proggy doodles doesn't make for a good time.  You know how whenever you see a band live, there's almost always at least one song that you just tune out for?  Somewhere in the middle of apparently every death metal band ever's set, there will be a song that the crowd just kinda checks out for.  Maybe the band likes it because it's a break from more demanding stuff, or they had a lot of fun writing/playing it, but it just doesn't connect with anybody in the audience.  This album is that song eight times.


RATING - 33%

Sunday, November 9, 2014

JERKING THE CIRCLE Vol IV: Heaven and Hell - The Devil You Know

Yeah I can't think of a title

This is a review I've been both dreading and dying to write.  It's weird to think that this album five years old at this point and I could very well be writing this for people who weren't metal fans when it was released, so if you fall into that category, please make sure you understand: this was the absolute biggest fucking deal in the universe when it dropped in 2009.  Not only was there all the drama surrounding the band's mere name at the time (I saw this lineup twice and still steadfastly refer to them as "Black Sabbath concerts" and I'll never, ever, ever back down from that), but pretty much all four guys in the band had done precisely nothing of note in eons.  This situation would stick most bands under these circumstances as "has beens", and no matter how true that may have been, Dio and Iommi are special.  They're both grandfathers of heavy metal, elder statesmen of an entire genre of music that had grown so much since they were young.  I don't mean to leave Geezer out of the equation since he's a massive part of Sabbath's sound, and believe me when I say that he and Vinny were just as hyped up as the two main men, but the thought of Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi collaborating again for the first time in nearly two decades just sent generations of metal fans slipping off their chairs.

And this is where the deification stops from me, and where the inspiration for picking up the Jerking the Circle series again begins.  I'm sorry guys, The Devil You Know is lame and boring.

This is an album that's more... I dunno, inspirational or admirable than actually any good.  See, it was great to see these shambling geriatrics wheelchair themselves on stage and then just rock the fuck out like they were in their 30s again, and it was so refreshing to see that the classic icons of the genre still gave enough of a shit about the music they helped create to continue performing and writing it.  The problem lies in the fact that, barring the flukey Dehumanizer (which in itself is only half great anyway, but I'll explain that in time here), nobody in the band had really made anything worth listening to since the early 80s.  Dio started on an incredible streak, farting out classic albums left and right with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and his solo band in the 70s and 80s, and Sabbath was phenomenal in the 70s before a slight dip and resurfacing in the early 80s when Dio joined the fold, but after The Mob Rules, they just turned to churning out dull, skippable albums that weird people will swear up and down are among their best (you will never, ever convince me that Tony Martin is better than Dio or that The Headless Cross is better than Sabbath Bloody Sabbath). 

Basically all that history lesson was meant for was to illustrate something that most people never seem to acknowledge; Iommi/Dio hadn't touched anything other than skippable crap for almost 25 solid years before The Devil You Know. So in all honesty, I really shouldn't have been surprised that this album does next to nothing for me.  It's almost 54 minutes long but it feels like it's almost two hours before the album ends.  Most of Tony's good riffs had been used up by The Mob Rules, and no matter how good he was in his prime, this is an everlasting testament to the fact that he's just not as creative or fresh with his songwriting as he used to be.  The album is inspirational in its attitude, but not in its execution, and as a result there are a whopping six plodding snoozefests to start the album off on the worst foot possible.  I can concede that "Bible Black" has a good chorus and the verse riff of "Double the Pain" manages to get the blood moving, and I adore the main riff to "Fear", but that's three riffs across six songs that elicit any emotion out of me other than overwhelming apathy.  That's a frickin' terrible batting average.  It's sort of like Sammy Sosa coming out of retirement and leading the league in strikeouts while everybody showers him in awards and adulation because once upon a time he was super good and now here he is doing that thing again (let's just pretend the cork and the steroids never happened for the sake of argument, I'm not good at baseball dammit).

I think the biggest problem stems from the fact that the album's single focus is skull squeezing heaviness, which it does admittedly achieve to an extent with an absolutely monstrous guitar tone, but it's overall ineffective because the riffs just never go anywhere.  It's so clearly the result of four old men gathering around and trying to be all wise and weathered and whatever other positive synonyms you can think of for "so old you can see through their skin", and it just comes off like there's no vigor anywhere to be found.  Like 85% of the album lumbers around at this leisurely lurch, like an ice giant out for a stroll.  There's so little energy here, songs like "Breaking Into Heaven" and "Rock and Roll Angel" meander around for upwards of seventy six minutes with no fire or passion behind them.  Almost the entire album is full of these dull chugging exercises that have to be unbelievably boring to play on stage.  I know what they're going for, this is supposed to be pure, oppressive doom metal, full of apocalyptic dread and bone shattering crunch, and I suppose they achieve that if you really think about it.

The problem with that is that that's not what Dio does.  Absolutely not, Dio has always been at his best when he's carrying a sense of wonder and grandeur.  Really, think of all the best songs he ever sang on.  "Man on the Silver Mountain", "Die Young", "Falling Off the Edge of the World", "The Last in Line", "Rainbow in the Dark", fuckin' "Stargazer", "Kill the King".  All of those songs have one thing in common, they feel like they're showing you something greater than yourself.  They all have this indescribable sense of magic surrounding them, and they're all  just these huge sounding songs with an almost childlike sense of wonder.  Precisely zero of the best Dio songs (barring the exception in "Heaven and Hell" (and I guess "Sign of the Southern Cross" is really popular too but personally it bores me) are slow and doomy.  None of them feel like a hungover titan sleepily pawing at his alarm clock like "Atom and Evil" does.  Dio doesn't do doom, and that's why the heavier Dio albums suck and the best song on Dehumanizer is "TV Crimes".  You know, the fast one.  He's woefully miscast in this role simply because he's essentially this ancient wizard at this point in time, but his voice was still as powerful as it was during his classic era.  He didn't need to tone down his performance, but the rest of the band did, and so Dio's always immaculate voice rides dull melodies over boring, go-nowhere plod riffs.

That's not to say the whole album is bad, it's just fundamentally flawed.  There are two uptempo songs to be found in "Eating the Cannibals" and "Neverwhere", and unsurprisingly they're the best songs on the album by a long shot.  That's what Dio does best, he requires some semblance of energy behind him in order for him to reach his full potential.  "Bible Black" may be heavy and dark, but it's not energetic, and that's why the vocals fall flat when put into the whole unit.  It's so sad to say but really every member of the band brings largely an inconsequential performance to the table.  Vinny Appice plays the most standard timekeeping beats imaginable with almost no fills to speak of, Geezer has very few of his famous runs (oddly enough, the two do get some brief moments of entertaining  showboating in the background during "Bible Black" and essentially nowhere else), Iommi pens a whopping seven or eight good riffs across ten songs, and Dio stands out purely because his voice is so recognizable.  If there was a different personnel behind this album, I feel like the metal fandom as a whole would give less than a single shit about it.  The songs themselves have moments of past brilliance scattered here and there but for the most part they're devoid of enjoyment, replaced instead with an abundance of fillery non-riffs that go nowhere.

Maybe I'm wrong for wishing this album is something that it wasn't, but to be fair, isn't that the reason we don't like... well, anything?  How many times are you caught telling yourself "Well this album does exactly what I want it to do, it ticks all the boxes, buuuuuut it's lame"?  Never.  That's why the only songs worth listening to are "Eating the Cannibals" and "Neverwhere" for the heightened pace and thus thicker groove, and "Bible Black" for just being the only song to really get the formula they're going for right.  I still recommend listening to it because it's a curious little oddity at the tail end of a couple legendary careers, and the swansong of one of metal's greatest faces, and also because everybody but me seems to love it so chances are you will too.  For me?  It just reinforces my belief that Dio/Iommi/Geezer all have about thirty solid years of forgettable crap going on right now as long as you grant an exception to Dehumanizer


RATING: 29%

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletal Domain

FIRE UP THE yeah you get it by now

Fucking hell I'm gonna keep this one short because god damn.  Really, there's only so much to be said about Cannibal Corpse at this point, this is just all in a days work for these guys.  I'm of the persuasion that they've been at their creative peak ever since Jack left and the lineup of Corpsegrinder, Pat, Rob, Alex, and Paul was solidified back around 2005, releasing the monumental Kill the next year.  Rolling on eight years with that lineup, they've given us their fourth offering to show what the chemistry between these five guys can produce.  And surprise, surprise, it's really god damned good.

Everybody knows what Cannibal sounds like nowadays, they've been pretty consistent since Butchered at Birth twenty three years ago, with only a few dips in songwriting here and there.  Their style itself has been steadfast in it's execution since then, primarily being described best as "bludgeoning".  The more I think about it, that term really does describe everything they do perfectly.  The fast thrashy songs that Rob writes like "Shatter Their Bones", the obscenely technical stuff that Pat lays down like "Frantic Disembowelment", the groovy crushers like "Decency Defied" and "Death Walking Terror", all of them are just brutish, neanderthalic clubbings to the dome.  No matter the tempo, no matter the angle, Cannibal just approaches with a sinister malice and a vicious intensity.

A Skeletal Domain changes none of that.  The album begins on a high note with the greatest CC song title of all time with "High Velocity Impact Spatter", and the song itself lives up to the standard the title sets for itself.  I wish I could sit here and tell you about how this is Cannibal Corpse stepping up to the next level and being more technical or more brutal than ever before, but really that'd be lying.  This is all exactly what you expect it to be, which makes it pretty much as great as you were expecting as well.  In all honesty, this is actually probably a small step down from Torture, considering the fact that it has far fewer clear highlights.  It's just a very solid slab of primitive-yet-technical death metal from start to finish, excepting one track.  "Kill or Become" is probably the best fucking song they've written since Bloodthirst.  It's one of those magical tracks that just reaches a perfect nexus between the prominent facets of their identity.  It's blisteringly fast, it's crazy technical, and it's infectiously groovy.  The vocal pattern in the chorus is so ear catching, I can't even think of a stupid analogy to describe it.  There's a reason so many reviewers and fans have been quoting it since the release, it really is far and away the best thing they've laid to tape in ages.

FIRE UP THE CHAINSAAAAAW
HACK THEIR FUCKING HEADS OOOOOFF

There are scattered high points like "Icepick Lobotomy" and "Bloodstained Cement" here and there, but I can't really tell you what sets them apart from the rest.  The album rests on a very high plateau for the whole runtime and the songs are all basically just indistinguishable but all awesome.  Actually, if there's any reason A Skeletal Domain deserves less acclaim than its predecessors, it's that it's actually the first time a Cannibal Corpse album is finally too homogenous.  I mean, there aren't any thrashmelting blastfests under two minutes like "Scalding Hail" or "Savage Butchery", nor are there any really obvious mid tempo stompy mosh numbers like "Evisceration Plague" or "Scourge of Iron", nor even the really slow, twisting eerie tracks they'd sometimes do like "From Skin to Liquid" or "Festering in the Crypt" (though admittedly "Funeral Cremation" does sort of flirt with the idea early on before going into the technical riff frenzy the band is known for).  This album instead is full of that standard song that noobs and idiots accuse them of writing a thousand times in a row, so in a way it's actually the first album of theirs where people can accurately make that criticism of how they have no variety and just rip themselves off.

But with that said, it doesn't bother this reviewer in the slightest because I've always loved what Cannibal Corpse does.  I think they do it brilliantly well and I wouldn't change a thing about them.  For once, it's a valid criticism (even though I could also turn around and say that this is also an album where Pat's writing is really obvious, as there are a lot of dissonant banging parts that don't sound too dissimilar from Nevermore's The Politics of Ecstacy, if you imagine the tone and context being different), but it's one that doesn't affect me at all, regardless of the fact that I acknowledge it.  This is just another in a steady stream of strong Cannibal Corpse albums and I really wouldn't ask for anything else.  It's still not as good as Kill, Torture, or Bloodthirst, but I'd feel confident at least putting it on par with Evisceration Plague.


RATING - 83%

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tengger Cavalry - Ancient Call

They call me Guan Yinping, The Shit Wrecker

So China is pretty underrepresented in the grand scheme of things when it comes to the wonderful world of heavy metal.  I'm not even kidding when I say that the only two bands I can think of right now are The Nine Treasures and the subject of today's rambling, Tengger Cavalry.  Lord knows why, but I do know that traditional Chinese music is god damned gorgeous and I could listen to those silly horsey fiddles all day and never get tired of them.  And while I'm in the region, you know what else is awesome?  Mongolian throat singing.  You know that thing where you open your throat wide enough to choke on a coffee can and then moan like a mixture of Popeye and one of those guitars you'd make in grade school out of a tissue box, cardboard tube, and rubber band?  Yeah, that shit sounds awesomely ethereal.

Boy oh boy do I wish that these three things were all somehow related!

Okay, that's the most hamfisted intro I've ever fisted, but I've got not other way to lead into the thesis of this review; that being that Tengger Cavalry is probably the freshest and most interesting band out there right now.  And really and truly, all they're doing is just writing songs for the Dynasty Warriors games.  Really, longtime readers of mine have probably noticed that I've namedropped the DW4 soundtrack more than a few times, and that's because it's full of legitimately great heavy metal and hard rock songs with smatterings of traditional Chinese instrumentation over them, and it becomes instantly memorable with those twangy, flittery melodies permeating through your skull.  Tengger Cavalry does that exact same thing, except they push every limit while doing it.  All the songs are faster, heavier, catchier, or more endlessly hummable.  Nature Zhang is kind of an oddball character (follow the band on Facebook and you'll see as many pictures of him dressing up in traditional Mongolian garb, hanging out with sheep, and talking about My Little Pony as you will actual updates regarding the band), but he filters his mad genius through the lens of simplistic extreme metal adorned with the cultural acoustic instruments that are clearly so important to him.

Folk metal in general tends to either put the folk elements at the forefront and just back it with distorted guitars (like Korpiklaani or Finntroll), or just be regular metal with some folky keyboard patch accentuating some melody (like Northland or certain Ensiferum songs), and if Tengger Cavalry here leaned to either side, it's definitely the former, but don't be alarmed, there's clearly a shitload more thought put into "Battle Song from Far Away" than "Trollhammaren".  The strength in Tengger's songs is most definitely the interplay between the guitars and the folk instruments (mainly the dombra and the horse head fiddle).  At any given time, all three of these instruments will be playing, and they will all be playing off each other brilliantly.  Nothing is used as a gimmick, there's a huge amount of restraint when it comes to flaunting the folky side of the band.  The throat singing and the acoustic twanging you'll hear over the deep chugs and double bass all work together as one cohesive beast in a way that still stuns me to this day.

One thing about Ancient Call that kind of put me off was the fact that it really didn't grab me on first listen like The Expedition did last year.  My first run through this ended with me saying "Well that was more of the same.  I guess 'Hymn of the Earth' had a really cool melody but the rest of it didn't do much for me".  Then a month later it became "Well 'Brave' was really high octane and energetic, and 'Summon the Warrior' was just crushing and epic as fuck, so they've got a couple song stretch in the middle that's really good but the rest of it is disappointing".  Which later became "Okay dammit just this whole thing rules".  I hate it when people try to sell an album as it being a grower.  No, damn you, I shouldn't have to listen to something I don't like several times before I like it, that's just like winning a battle via sheer attrition, but Tengger pulled it off somehow with Ancient Call.  Remember how I mentioned that Powerwolf kept making the same album over and over again and I was cool with it because I really liked their sound before I finally got sick of it on Preachers of the Night?  Tengger Cavalry is basically still in the middle of that slack zone, because this is essentially a carbon copy of The Expedition, but I couldn't care less.  I fell absurdly in love with that album, naming it my AOTY for 2013, so of course I wanted more of it.  Nature Zhang delivered exactly that, and I couldn't be happier for that.

There's a surprising amount of variety here too, with "Galloping Towards the Great Land" and "Brave" being absolute rippers that you'd need to be physically restrained to keep from headbanging to, and "Summon the Warrior" just rides on this low, pummeling groove that sounds like the musical manifestation of a Mongol war march.  If I think about it, actually every single song utilizes a classic galloping riff in some incarnation.  It makes complete sense with the theme of mother earth and horses and whatever the hell else Nature goes on about most of the time, but there's a very earthen, animal spirit vibe going throughout everything, so the fact that the music itself tries to manifest itself as such is only natural.  The closing track, "Legend on Horseback" is also this monstrous epic, with grand sweeping atmosphere over extremely grounded riffing and lively melodies.  That really could sum up every song if you wanted to get super simplistic about it.  I'll be the first to admit that you could trade half of the songs on this album and the previous and it'd be very hard to tell which ones were moved, but it ends up not mattering much because the quality of these songs are so staggeringly high, regardless of the fact that we've already heard them before.

Basically I'm just completely in love with this fucking band.  Every single melody hits bullseye, they're all very lively and flowing across very simple (yet effective) riffing.  The simplicity is part of the reason I fell for the previous album so hard, and Ancient Call just carries that tradition flawlessly.  There's no need for showboating or flashy bombast, Tengger Cavalry instead just keeps everything where it needs to be.  If you watch Kitchen Nightmares, you'll surely see that every episode involves Gordon Ramsay saying that the restaurant's menu is too complicated, so he always shaves it down to just a handful of items, and that's what Tengger Cavalry does.  They walked into folk metal, saw all these twangy instruments and bands with twenty fiddle players and said "Guys what are you doing?  Just get a metal band and supplement it with one or two folk instruments and keep your songs focused on what's important: good songwriting".  Then they set up shop (well, Nature set up shop, this didn't become a full band until a few albums in) and just proceeded to show every single shitty band how it's done.


RATING - 94%

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hoth - Oathbreaker

I look for love in Alderaan places

Hey BH! Your ragepost about Jari Maenpaa got a lot of circulation around the internet! It showed up on Reddit and MetalSucks even wrote about it! It became the most viewed page on your blog by a longshot within one day! How are you gonna follow that up? Another response to Jari's second cry?

Nah fuck it, let's talk about Star Wars.

Hoth here is a band I checked out for all the most obvious reasons.  I mean come on, look at their logo!  Clearly, these dudes didn't give a fuck about taking themselves too particularly seriously.  If you wanted to name your band something that brought to mind dead, frigid landscapes, Hoth isn't a bad choice.  It's an icy wasteland from a well known fantasy universe, it's not uncommon for metal.  But then shaping your logo like a fucking Tie-Fighter??  Oh hell yeah, let's rock this shit.  Let's have some fun and play some god damned metal, yo!

And that's where I was wrong, because this is played straight as an arrow, with all the dead eyed seriousness of a veteran soldier.  And you know what?  It fits fucking perfectly.  I suppose the darkness of the Star Wars universe has kind of been downplayed in my memory, because for some reason I couldn't possibly imagine this theme being anything other than bombastic and silly.  Apparently The Phantom Menace is all I can recall on a whim.  Fucking trash tainting the classics and yadda yadda this isn't about that.  The point is that Oathbreaker is an incredibly mature album for having such a massive scale to it.

What I mean is that there's a stunning amount of tastefulness and craftsmanship to be found in the songwriting.  The music is put against the backdrop of fighting Robot Jesus, Lord of the Space Gestapo and all of the songs are pretty long (nothing is shorter than five and a half minutes), but the two dudes in the band manage to do the same thing that Gotsu Totsu Kotsu does so well; they keep the songs simple and let them grow organically rather than meticulously structure and orchestrate their direction.  They keep everything grounded and focused instead of just throwing a bunch of shit at the listener in some futile hope of conveying some epic atmosphere.  It's hard to explain but it's something that seems so obvious to me when I hear it.  There are actually a fairly wide variety of styles on display, and none of them ever feel forced or awkward.  You're gonna think I'm crazy, but hear me out on this... Hoth reminds me a lot of Ensiferum.

Stop laughing, I can explain.  Yes, the band is listed everywhere as "melodic death/black metal", and that's not wrong, but the melodies that permeate the foreground of the whole record sound straight out of Markus Toivenen's book.  Ensiferum helped make folk metal popular by blending it with power metal instead of black metal like most bands at the time did (and still do), which gave it a hugely bombastic nature that few bands were really championing back in 2001.  Hoth take that folk/power metal blend of Ensiferum and put it back in a black metal template, if that makes any sense.  Melodic black metal is probably the easiest way to describe what's happening on Oathbreaker, but if you wanted to touch on every genre that makes a prominent appearance, you'd have to say something ridiculous like "Epic Melodic Technical Progressive Atmospheric Black/Death/Thrash/Folk Metal".  There are a shitload of ideas at play here, and they almost all hit bullseye.  Each track seems to have at least one lead melody that carries the song throughout most of the duration, and each and every last one of them runs the risk of getting stuck on loop in your head for days at a time.  And underneath that melodic forefront, you can have songs like "A Blighted Hope" that take a merry melody and twist it into something sorrowful and depressing before throwing it over a very bouncy and triumphant rhythm, completely changing the mood and theme of that melody without changing a note of it.  Contrast that with songs like "Unending Power" that are so visceral and punishing that it could easily be mistaken for a Skeletonwitch song.

The smorgasbord of stylings on display would mean nothing if the songwriting itself didn't also rule, and of course, it does.  It's hard to really put into words, but I touched on it a bit earlier.  Everything about this just feels organic and well thought out.  The songs are all structurally interesting, never falling into trenches of repetition, and even though every song has at least one extended clean section, they never feel obligatory or needless.  It's just... this is the only place the song could have logically gone from here, so that's where it went.  There's really not a whole lot to complain about here, Oathbreaker is a very solid album that takes vast swaths of several different styles of extreme metal and manages to tie them all coherently together with strong melodies.  I mean, the riffing is pretty decent and the drumming is excellent, but it's really the melodies that make the album worth listening to.  It's impressive how they manage to make it seem like so much is going on while keeping everything simple and never overdoing layers upon layers of bullshit like many bands are prone to doing.  Just listen to the fucking thing already, I pinky promise it's super good.

Also fuck Star Trek, I'm glad Kirk got crushed by a bridge.  Screw you, Tailgunner!


RATING - 89%

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jari Maenpaa - His Stupid Fucking Face and the Crybaby Bullshit that Comes Out of It

WHERE ARE ALL OF THE ASSHOLES WHO ARE NOT EATING MY MOUSSAKA

I apologize in advance for writing what is basically a MetalSucks article, but I just can't keep doing this shit.  I can't keep seeing and hearing Jari Maenpaa make shitty excuses for his shitty music while all his good little minions lap it up like ignorant gobshites.  My frustration boiled over today after he posted an announcement on Facebook (you can read it here if you'd like).  Ostensibly, it's just an update for fans.  But when you think about it even medium-hard, it really just exposes him for the narcissistic fraud he really is.  I've gotta rip him apart somehow, and I've already reviewed everything he's touched, so I'm just gonna lash the fuck out and not give the minutest shit how unprofessional it is.  Nobody makes my blood boil like this guy.  So here, an open letter will have to sate my bloodlust for the moment.


Darling Fascist Bully Boy,

Basically, what this statement does is show us where your priorities truly lie.  You want to be a rockstar.  That's the long and short of it.  You seem to believe that your genius is worth more money than Nuclear Blast is willing to give you and is so precious that you doesn't even want them to get a cut of the potential crowd funding pie.  Which, in your defense, you do say that Nuclear Blast straight up forbade you from going the Kickstarter route, but at the same time I really don't blame them.  They've done everything they're supposed to do as a record label, the onus to create lies solely on you at this point.

To start the whole rant off, you complain about your living situation and how that affects your ability to practice and record.  You live in a rinky dink apartment with neighbors, so you can't practice or record vocals or anything of the sort in your apartment.  As such, to avoid bothering them, you work at odd times and yadda yadda.  That's all well and good, but you know what?  Fucking zero other metal bands can record in their apartments.  You think that when it's time for a new Dying Fetus album, they all just get together at John's place, drop trou, and start ripping out some death metal loud enough to piss off everybody in earshot?  What the fuck makes you so goddamn special?  Get in the fucking studio like every other band worth a damn in the history of the universe.  I understand that you want full creative freedom and you feel constricted in a studio, plus I can assume you've had some bad experiences with them.  I understand, every artist should have full control of their work, but the way the cards are falling now, you're in absolutely no position to be making demands.  You work slower than a three legged tortoise, you don't have the ground to start demanding more money for studio time from your label.

I've got to give you credit for something though, this is probably the first time I've ever felt sorry for a major record label.  Nuclear Blast is huge and can absolutely survive without you, but as it stands, you owe them money.  You are in debt to them and I don't feel the tiniest drop of sympathy for you.  You say that in order to craft Time II as you intend, you require more time and money to accomplish it all.  The thing is, you knew the score, they gave you your advance with the full expectation of recuperating that cost with album sales.  The label is refusing to give you more money because they already loaned it to you.  They gave you the money to make an album that you never made, now they're out however much until you get off your ass and fucking make that album.  They're not holding your art hostage here, you are.  Remember when you announced that Time II would come out in early 2014?  Yeah, I laughed about that too, because I knew that was bullshit.  And here, rolling into August, I'm smug as a peach because I was 100% goddamn right.  I kept my mouth shut until May, which is around the time I started reminding everybody "Hey, remember that Wintersun album we were supposed to be enjoying right now?"  Do you know how ridiculous this is?  It's already August in Finland and you haven't even fucking started this new album.  I am utterly floored that your fans put up with this much shit from you.  I don't even fucking LIKE Wintersun and I'm appalled!

The thing is, you can't go crying about the business being against you right now.  Since day one, since the instant you left the starbound Ensiferum to work on your pet project here, the one your heart was truly in line with, you've been consistently failing at doing your goddamned job.  If you turned in your completed work, and Nuclear Blast had said "No, this isn't want we were looking for.  We wanted an album that sounded more like [this]", then I'd be right behind you here.  As much as your unfailing inability to recognize and write to your strengths drives me up the wall, I am 100% in favor of artistic freedom and you should be able to make this album sound however you want it to sound.  But the issue here is that Nuclear Blast hasn't done that.  They've refused to loan you more money and shot down the idea of a Kickstarter campaign because you're the cause of a gushing hemorrhage.  They've put money down on you, and you've given them jack shit in return.  You absolutely can not sit here and cry about the business being unfair when you've proven yourself completely incapable of fulfilling your end of said business agreement.

I'm also not buying your crocodile tears about how you have five albums worth of material written that's just sitting unused because the big bad label is causing issues with Time II.  Ignoring the fact that the only person causing issues here is you, I don't believe for one second that you have five fillerless albums penned.  No you fucking don't.  The first batch of songs for Wintersun's debut were written in 1996, and the album didn't come to fruition until 2004.  I understand you were working with Ensiferum at the time, but Ensiferum has always been Toivenen's band, not yours (as evidenced by the fact that the music sounds pretty much exactly the same regardless of your involvement), and it really just shows that you've always taken eons to write anything.  Five albums have been written since 2006, when you claimed to have written Time?  Yeah okay, I believe that about as much as I believe in the legend of the toilet fairies.  And you claim no filler?  Well okay, no artist is ever gonna say they've got filler songs, so I can't knock you too hard for that, but man you've always been prone to shitty filler songs.  You're good at one style and bad at everything else, Wintersun has a whopping three good songs ("Beyond the Dark Sun", "Winter Madness", and "Sons of Winter and Stars"), and your work with Ensiferum was pretty much half and half.  Hell, the only Ensiferum  album that ever managed to have no filler was the first one they made without you.  You haven't written shit, that's a bold faced lie and I actually feel fucking insulted that you'd even try to pass that one by me.

The bottom line of all this is that you need a studio.  The thing is, fucking book some god damned time at one and finish your shit.  You don't get to own a studio simply because you want it, and no amount of caterwauling is going to change that.  You don't get to complain about the label making money off what you do because, ya know, that's precisely what a fucking label does.  It's almost like you expect to live entirely off your music despite the fact that no metal bands can do that unless you're famous on a level akin to Metallica or Iron Maiden.

Oh wait, there's a post script, I wonder what it says...

"p.s. Should have stayed working in the post office!"

Wait...

You mean...

You're actually not working?

WELL NO FUCKING SHIT YOU'RE BROKE YOU DUMB, EGOTISTICAL BASTARD.  What kind of maniac quits his job before knowing whether or not it's totally feasible?  I'm blown away, struggling to comprehend the thought process here.  Okay, so you quit your job at some point to work on the band, sure.  But surely you didn't just recently quit, surely at some point over the last ten fucking years you've noticed that you're not going to be able to afford the studio time and everything else necessary to complete an album since you don't have steady income.  At no point did it dawn on you that you should probably get a fucking job?  How old are you?  Even I have a job and I'm a fucking idiot.  No wonder you can't afford anything and need to beg the label for more handouts to finish an album you haven't gotten close to finishing after god knows how many years and dollars have been sunk into it.  Ross Dolan and Bob Vigna of Immolation work construction jobs and just take time off when it's tour time, and they're one of the most consistently respected death metal bands still active today.  Hell, Eric Adams (I remind you, the singer for fucking MANOWAR) works a day job.  You do not get to act like you are above Manowar.  You do not get to pretend that you or your band is or has ever been more popular or important than Manowar.  That's just fucking astounding, you want to be a rockstar, seemingly blissfully unware that you simply will not ever be one in the genre you're in.  

There are hundreds, thousands even, just a metric crapload of bands who have less money and prestige than you do that still manage to book studio time and churn out several albums in a decade's time.  This perfectionism of yours is completely killing your band, you're turning this whole charade into a metal version of Chinese Democracy.  I'm not telling you to settle for less, I understand that you want your artistic vision to reach its full potential, and as much as your art disgusts me, I support the notion.  The problem is that you're completely unwilling to work things out for your fans.  Instead you continually drag out this woe-is-me bullshit for years at a time, passing deadlines with no updates and constantly throwing out empty promises.  

And the saddest part is that, come 2020, when Time II is finally released, it'll surely just be another half hearted turd you squeezed out for all your adoring fans to gather around and lick rapturously.

In short, you kind of annoy me.


May the seed of your loin be fruitful in the belly of your woman,
~BH

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Game Over - Burst Into the Quiet

Shattering the silence

It's been two months since I've written... well, anything at all.  Lately I've been finding myself unable to review unless I'm making some huge grandstand or a big sweeping statement about something.  It's lame, I know, but it's just kinda where my mind has been at.  Blend that with a waning interest in most new releases I stumble across, and I just find myself at a loss for words.

That is, until I came across this random Italian band by the name of Game Over.  The bright green logo and hackneyed rethrash font already tell you exactly what to expect before you even listen to their 2014 album, Burst Into the Quiet.  The artwork is a lame throwback to 80s horror (I'll give them credit for not taking the quadrillionth Ed Repka ripoff, at the very least), the band logo is a lame throwback, the name is yet another throwback to a classic 80s movie, everything about this band is aesthetically wrong.  I couldn't have been less interested to give this a listen, but I decided to soldier on and see what they could actually offer before writing them off completely like I did for the last two dozen no-name bands I had recently seen.  Don't wanna be a grouchy old curmudgeon forever, ya know?  Oldnoobs are the worst.

And... well, it's exactly what you're imagining it is.  But, and I can't really explain why without going off on a huge tangent, but it's really good.  I'm sitting here stupefied, belching and scratching myself as I am wont to do, but in between the grotesque, cyclical bodily expulsions of mine, I'm finding myself banging my fucking head in a way I haven't done in years.  Hell, in a way that precisely zero thrash bands have managed to do in the last five years outside of Vektor and Gargoyle.  Even stuff I liked (like Pripjat and Essence) have completely lacked in staying power and even the initial burst of energy that makes thrash so enjoyable has just seemed... I dunno, weak lately.  Here I am, completely rocking out to Game Over despite it sounding exactly like the parenthetically aforementioned bands, and I find myself asking an eternally relevant question for metal fans the world over:

Have we actually forgotten how to enjoy thrash metal?

This is gonna be less of a review and more of a stream of consciousness essay, but I think the only thing that's really changed between the last pure thrash album I checked out months ago (which I honestly can barely remember, I think it was Sons of Tschernobyl by Pripjat (which I must reiterate is a good album despite what I may be implying)) and this one here has been myself.  I need to go off on a bit of a history lesson to fully explain myself here.  So please, hold my hand, look both ways, and let's cross memory lane together.

Stardate - Some time in the fall of 2004: A 14 year old BastardHead is rehearsing with his two friends for their first ever "band".  "Band" is in quotes because we weren't very "good".  We were three kids who'd collectively been playing for like two years apiece at that point.  During a break, the guitarist and I were probably trying to see who could say "fuck" the most amount of times in a sentence while the drummer was trying to preach the gospel of power metal to us two thrash freaks.  In trying to explain something, he slammed down his can of apricot juice (because there needed to be at least one drink that was exclusively for insane people) and strode to the computer to show us a band.  He loaded up Encyclopaedia Metallum, and one look at the website was all it took for me to fall in love.  A website with every metal band in the history of ever all cataloged in one place PLUS reviews and shit like that?  Guh law, that was exactly what somebody like me, who was intent on exploring the genre but not entirely sure how to go about it, needed.  The site was still young, so browsing bands by genre and randomly picking them rarely left you with hordes of inconsequential bullshit.  I would sit there for hours, just lost in a haze of fascinating clicking.  Learning.  Discovering.  Absorbing.

During this time, most oldfags probably remember who ruled the roost when it came to reviews.  Two guys you could find on almost any reviewed album you could find on the site.  Big or small, old or new, chances are you could find out what either UltraBoris or Gabometal86 thought of it.  And what were those two dudes best at, genre-wise?  Thrash.  Fucking thrash, that was the shit back then.  Thrash was cool, thrash was the subgenre.  Fuck mindless brutality, fuck flittery synths, fuck everything that wasn't based around the riff.

It's hard to imagine now, but back in that time, everything was about riffs and how fucking powerful or headbangable they could be.  Obviously every subgenre had its niche, but the biggest and most visible was riff worship, which obviously lent itself well to thrash, trad, and USPM.  Thrash was seen as basically the holy grail of heavy metal, it was the purest form of sheer aggression you could possibly attain while still working within the framework of the classic bands.  Death and black metal are their own things, but thrash is just classic metal combined with classic hardcore punk to create a completely new classic sound, and that was fucking admirable.  We worshiped at the altars of Overkill, Dark Fucking Angel, Sodom, Kreator, and even bands that weren't thrash, as long as they had balls (WASP, Virgin Steele, Grave Digger).  Balls, riffs, heavy fucking metal.

Now, imagine being wholly entrenched in that mindset when classic bands like Exodus and Destruction started releasing honest to goodness thrash albums again.  Imagine being there when Merciless Death, Fueled By Fire, Evile, Bonded by Blood, Municipal Waste, and all these other revival acts started cropping up.  People like me were fucking STOKED.  Man, thrash is fucking BACK!  This is what I and so many others wanted.  New bands, new songs, new riffs, a fresh take on the classic 80s attitude.  That unbridled fury and pompous swagger of thrash with a new injection of youth.  Yeah, it's cool the old bands were being awesome again, but they were undeniably old, it's time for the kids to retake the thrones.  Inherit that which was left to them.  THRASH CAN NEVER DIE!

And then... thrash promptly died.

I think a lot of people lacked the foresight to realize that thrash reached it's logical end around 1992 for a reason.  Most of the ideas were just completely used up.  The only way to keep the style fresh was to add new elements or change existing ones to the point where they were no longer recognizable as an inherently "thrash" trait.  Make the riffs more atonal, the vocals deeper, the drumming more frantic, and bam you have death metal.  Make it more melodic, increase the amount of skill needed for the vocal lines, and bam you've got USPM.  Make it simpler and bam you've got punk.  You can't change thrash too much or it becomes something unthrash, and that's why it all but disappeared in the early 90s, and it's the exact same reason why all the new revival bands (called "neo thrash" at the time) soured the metal fandom's opinion on thrash so quickly in the mid to late 00s.  So many of these bands found themselves trying to be either Exodus, Slayer, or Kreator, and that was the extent of their goal.  Nobody wanted to explore, nobody wanted to push boundaries anymore (ya know, the thing that made thrash a thing in the first place).  It's the same shit over and over again, dozens upon dozens of bands stuck to a formula that worked twenty years ago and steadfastly refused to mix it up in any way.

And I feel like it's because the sour taste of rethrash is still in the back of the collective metal fandom's throats that thrash as a whole is kind of looked down upon nowadays.  Perhaps I just hang with a shitty crowd, but thrash is seen as a poison to metal it seems.  Somebody recommends a band, "it sounds like riffier melodeath with a healthy dose of thrash", and somebody will respond with "a dose of thrash is the opposite of healthy".  I remember a time when that was the most backwards statement in the universe, but nowadays it seems to be the accepted position.  Thrash is for dumb neanderthals with no creativity, it's an artistic dead end and the only bands that seem to get universal love from the metal fandom at large aren't even fully by-the-numbers thrash bands anyway (like Vektor or Skeletonwitch).  It's always kinda perplexed me, because there's definitely acceptance for big, stupid caveman metal.  It's why Jungle Rot and Mortician have such a strong contingent of fans, why can't thrash metal get a pass?

Well, frankly, I agree with the assessment.  Thrash is essentially creatively bankrupt.  I outlined it up two paragraphs ago, you really can't change it much without making it un-thrash.  So this genre made a resurgence, presented very few new ideas, and fell out of favor in half the amount of time it took for thrash's initial run to become uncool.  So does that mean ten years from now we're gonna have another groundswell of thrash bands that'll stick around for three years and then disappear again?  Who knows?  The point is that rethrash died extra quickly, and it was very likely because of how few new ideas were presented, how lazy the songwriting was for most of the band, how obnoxious the aesthetics were, and just an overall changing of what we as fans expected out of a new band playing thrash.

But, here I sit, listening and rocking out to Game Over, and I can't help but ask why did we move the goalposts?  See, thrash in the 80s was consistently breaking new ground, but that's not why it was good.  It was good because it fucking sounded good.  It was fun and/or cathartic to listen to, that's really the be all end all of it.  The best things are enjoyed when context isn't needed.  You don't have to know how ahead of the game Judas Priest was to know why Stained Class is a great album.  You don't have to know how impressive it is that Iron Maiden released seven genre defining classics in a row to understand why Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is so good, and thrash is no different.  Do you really need to know how much faster and heavier Pleasure to Kill was than all but a handful of albums at the time to understand why it's so fucking good?  Do you really need the context of where metal was in 1983 to know that Show No Mercy is a phenomenal album?  Fuck no, you just need to listen to them and rock the fuck out.  The riffs do the talking, the energy propels it all forwards, the attitude makes it stick with you, that's all you needed.  Why now do we start asking people to be all high minded and make their neck wrecking riffs smarter?  Why are we no longer satisfied with sheer energy and riffing prowess?  When we start turning on a genre simply because we began expecting to be something they're not aiming to be, and generally never aimed to be, that's not thrash getting shitty, that's the scene getting shitty.

Now, I'm not saying we should have accepted mediocrity and let rethrash multiply like it was in a petri dish, there were definitely throngs of shitty bands that weren't even trying to be entertaining.  There were fashion bands like Fueled By Fire and Merciless Death, but we also had bands that were just bursting with youthful exuberance and let hard and heavy riffs just shine through, like Diamond Plate.  ACTUALLY NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT DIAMOND PLATE COMPLETELY FUCKING PROVES MY POINT.  They started off writing simple thrash songs with tons of energy, check out something like "Criminal Justice" or "Maelstrom".  Were they overly complicated?  No, not at all.  What happened when they started to get more proggy and technical?  We got Pulse.  When we start asking thrash bands to stop being thrash bands, we get even shittier hybrids that nobody really wants.  It took this random Italian band to write riffs so simple and so goddamn effective to remind me why thrash was so fucking awesome in the first place.  I feel like we stopped wanting riffs.  We wanted something smarter.  Man fuck that with dynamite, I'd take Sadus over Queensryche any day of the week.  Fuck off with that intelligent bullshit, we need to go back to understanding that masterful riff writing backed with boundless enthusiasm and/or sheer anger is what made thrash such a force to be reckoned with in its heyday.  It wasn't just that it was fresh and pushing boundaries, otherwise we wouldn't still have love for Slayer and Znowhite today. 

Basically, thrash got shitty because we got complacent and wanted growth.  Growth isn't a bad thing, not in the slightest, but we shouldn't try throwing out or discrediting an entire genre simply because it doesn't lend itself to such a thing.  We, as a fandom, need to remember what it was that made the genre so fucking powerful, and we should accept the bands that still carry that flag.  I love Vektor as much as the next guy, but Game Over is carrying the more traditional torch in a way that we've all forgotten how to appreciate.  I'm not saying ask for less, merely we should ask for something more specificBurst Into the Quiet is chock full of everything that made an album like, say, By Inheritance or Taking Over or Among the Living so good, and Game Over understood this so well that it actually managed to snap me out of my trance that saw me drifting away from a style that can scratch a very particular itch like no other. 

No gods, no masters.  We've forgotten what it was that made thrash worth listening to, and Game Over fucking reminded me.  Maybe they'll remind the rest of you as well.

No I'm not going to actually review the album.  It's good, that's all you need.


RATING - 83%

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Arch Enemy - War Eternal

I tried thinking of a title, but I farted instead

Show of hands, who listened to Khaos Legions

*crickets*

See, 2011 marked a strange time for Arch Enemy.  For the first time since the turn of the millennium, nobody gave a shit about the band or the fact that they had a hot blonde growling like a demon.  People had finally gotten tired of their shtick, and the grrl power fangirls and horny zitfaced dorks that helped propel them to superstardom in the early 2000s had presumably finally grown up and become a cog in the machine or touched a boob for the first time.  Arch Enemy is one of the safest bands in the universe, and Khaos Legions was their wake up call that they needed to do something different, challenge themselves, or even just fucking give a minute amount of effort in order to regain all the fans they'd apparently lost over the course of the decade.

Enter War Eternal, the heaviest, most aggressive, and most creative album they've presented fans with since Black Earth all the way back in 1996.  Those soaring melodies are now unlike almost anything I've ever heard, creating soundscapes that elicit haunting imagery and empowering violence.  The vocals have been amped up and given a huge amount of diversity, ranging from really deep, Immolation-esque bellows and high pitched shrieky insanity like Nattramn or Maniac.  There are little touches of brilliance scattered throughout the runtime that they'd never have dared to touch on before, like much more aggressive drumming, dissonant, twisted riffing, and a new focus on atmosphere above all the straightforward rocking.  It's so different from the uninspi-

PSYCHE! You didn't buy that shit for a second, did you?  Of course they didn't do anything new, they just replaced Angela with a younger and hotter girl and then wrote Wages of Sin for the sixth time.  Because of course they fucking did.

I gotta say, I may have thought their music sucked for the past fifteen years, but I did actually respect Arch Enemy for never overtly sexualizing Gossgow.  Amott kicked out Liiva because he was an awful vocalist (and if you disagree you're in denial), Gossgow got the job because she was a fan who loved those old songs, had a much better voice, and great stage presence and chemistry with the rest of the guys.  She dressed like a metal fan, she acted like a metal fan, she just simply was a metal fan and the fact that she was thin and attractive was just a peripheral thing that she and the rest of the guys never put much stock into.  When Angela decided to step down from performing, Amott could have hired anybody to fill her shoes, and the fact that he chose Alissa White-Gluz shows that I was wrong all these years and the band really does just want to milk the "hot frontwoman" card.  I gave the band the benefit of the doubt and now I look like a fucking idiot.  Take one look at the music video for the title track here and you'll see how unashamedly shallow the band has gotten with their image, with Alissa in this sexy skintight outfit with strategically placed rips and tears, moving her hips seductively and pointing at the camera.  Gossgow put on war paint and combat boots and raised her fist, White-Gluz gives fuck-me eyes and dances like a stripper.  Fuck all of you talentless hacks.  You wanted attention?  Well fuck you, I'll give it to you, it just won't be anything remotely positive.

War Eternal is, at its core, just another bland and faceless Swedish melodeath album.  If you couldn't see this band, you would never care about them; I feel like the band has come to realize this, so they put minimal effort into the musical aspects of their business, instead making damn sure they look good enough to sell tickets and VIP meet and greet packages.  The album tries to fake you out a few times, like with legitimately very aggressive verse riffs in "Never Forgive, Never Forget" and "Down to Nothing", and a few melancholic acoustic intros in the middle of the album, implying that they might let the vocals showcase their talents (I mean the girl sang with Kamelot and filled in for Nightwish, she obviously has to have some pipes) by moving the songs into completely unknown territory.  But no, there are just three songs in a row with a fakeout intro before going straight back into the old "Iron Maiden with growls" thing the band always does.  Alissa is relegated to hitting one note the whole album, and I guess I get it since that's the same note the band has always hit for the past several years and they clearly didn't want to try anything different, but it just hammers home how terrible of a choice she was for the part.  She has range, she has diversity, she has talent, but she's pretty and can growl, so just stand there and look pretty and growl.

I realize it seems like I'm letting the outside aspects of the band influence my opinion of this album, and maybe I am, but this is a rare case where such a thing wouldn't be unfair.  It all just coalesces into this giant statement that hammers home how hollow the record truly is.  There's no passion here, it's just eleven cookie-cutter melodeath songs with two pointless interludes and that's it.  It feels like nothing more than a necessary prerequisite for promotional photos and touring.  I wish I could explain in more detail precisely why War Eternal is so inconsequential, but really you could just listen to any of the last six albums and understand exactly why.  The whole album is full of passionless non-riffs and harmonized leads while a rhythm section exists in the background and some vocals function as white noise in the foreground, that's it.  That's the whole album in one sentence.  Potentially the worst part is that, like always, the leads are very, very good.  This is the first time they've released an album without the greater Amott, but Michael and the dude from Arsis do a fine job of playing off each other, widdly weeing away very frequently and almost always with exciting results.  It's such a shame that a talented player can be such an atrocious writer, because as soon as he sits down to write anything that doesn't sound like it could be played on a breezy mountaintop complete with sweeping crane shots of his hair blowing in the wind, he presents one of three inconsequential riffs and seven of nine Iron Maiden melodies layered on top.  With the exception of some (admittedly pretty neat) synths in "Time is Black" and "Avalanche", every single song follows the same template with the same key and same tempo and same theme and same everything.

War Eternal is just uncreative and uninteresting and that's really the beginning and end of it.  One aggressive riff and one synth line don't make up for the other nine songs of pointless filler, recycled melodies, and uninspired vocal lines.  It's melodeath-by-numbers and I can guaran-goddamn-tee you that once I press the "publish" button, I'm never going to listen to this again.  It's a pointless nothing-album that inspires no emotion other than all encompassing boredom.  There's nothing worthwhile to be found here and all but the most diehard fans of the band are going to find nothing to warrant more than one curious listen.  And the band has shown time and time again that they really have no intention of injecting these new hook focused songs with the dark splendor of the older songs, despite that being essentially the only thing the band could logically do at this juncture to make themselves interesting again from a musical standpoint. 


RATING - 15%

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Destrose - Destrose

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ

I am a man who likes manly things.  In my free time, I like to chop down trees and oil my beard (which is approaching three feet in length).  I chew on car tires because it helps strengthen  my jaws, which is imperative when I participate in my bi-weekly bear wrestling matches.  Those fuckers may be strong and fierce, but it doesn't matter what species you are, a bite to the nipple is a bite to the nipple regardless.  There are no real rules in underground bear wrestling circuits, it may seem like a dirty tactic, but there's no honor where your opponents are concerned, believe me.

And amidst all the grime and bear blood and Motorhead, there's Destrose, the cutest fucking thing I've ever seen.

I've long stopped caring about the outside perspective on my taste in music, and it's that kind of detached apathy that is almost required before delving into a group like Destrose.  I've voiced my love of sugary Japanese power metal in the past, and Destrose's self titled first album is no exception, but unlike... say, Light Bringer, this is more than just sugary or light.  This shit is... just... fucking cute.  I don't know any other way to describe it, just look at the band members!  They're all dressed like Rozen Maiden characters and have the most innocent faces I've ever seen, I had no choice but to fall in love at first sight.  I want to buy all of them ice cream.

But pushing the obvious gimmick aside, this is an alleged metal album, right?  Therefore, the music should be the focus, and it's clear from looking at the album cover that the aesthetics definitely came first with Destrose.  Well... actually, I don't know how true that is, because the music contained is actually really, really good.  I don't mean solely in the realm of giggly J-pop, because of course anything with heavy guitars would stand out (why do you think Baby Metal has been making such waves lately?), I mean standing alone as a heavy metal album, Destrose does an extraordinarily great job of letting the music stand on its own merits.  You're not going to find any riffs as brilliant as on Don't Break the Oath or something, but everything here ranges from serviceable to great, and then amps everything up with a massive jolt of energy.  For a band so clearly designed as a marketing gimmick, it really shouldn't even be allowed to be this strong.

Like most heavy/power metal, the melodies are the main attraction here.  That's not to say the rhythm section isn't impressive, but they don't stand out nearly as much as the subtle keys and soaring guitar lines.  The vocals are a huge draw as well, but if you take them away, there's nothing that would clue you in to the band's image or country of origin.  Really, these riffs can get surprisingly dirty (check "Sword of Avenger", "Lifer 13" or "Hakai no Bara"), and there are big heaps of punkish aggression peeking through select songs, especially near the end of the album.  Overall the band leans more towards the "heavy" side of "heavy/power metal", and it helps set them apart from the countless Nightwish clones of the world who think that a pretty voice can only be accompanied with light, easy to listen to music.  The shredding solos sprinkled liberally across the duration are another huge plus for any fan of metal in general, as it keeps any given section from growing dull and shows that Mina has got some chops to go alone with that adorable visage.

I'm doing my damnedest not to keep mentioning the band's image or stereotypes associated with their country of origin, but dammit it's just too much of an elephant in the room to avoid.  The vocals are very much that style of saccharine-smooth giggliness you would normally associate with J-pop, so even though the music is 100% hard and heavy, her voice will almost always be involuntarily knocking your mind back into that sparkly mindset that you really should do everything in your power to avoid.  Despite that, she's still a damn good vocalist, with some killer range and a totally wicked vibrato.  She has a shitload of control over such a powerful wail, and it's very impressive.  It helps that her technical skill meshes so brilliantly with the music on hand.  In another universe, Doro Pesch could be behind this album with very little changes (maybe a little less keys and a dirtier tone), but this girl instead commands your attention with a very clean, precise, and voluminous wail.  Hell, she even gets in some Doro-esque snarliness on the "Hakai no Bara", so she's not only impressive and ear catching, but sports some unexpected variety as well.

Overall Destrose is an album that could (and likely will) be defined by western audiences by its gimmick of populating the band with the five most adorable women in Japan, but in a just world, the sharp hooks and catchy choruses would propel the music past the far too easy to criticize image.  Alas, it's a very solid heavy metal album with a thin veneer of melodic power metal looming over the traditional riffage.  It's admittedly a very niche sound it's catering to, but apparently I have just enough of the spirit of a little girl to be totally into it.

Also the bassist and drummer are so fucking cute I just wanna hug them and aaaaaaahhhhhh!


RATING - 85%