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.


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, Country Girl!

RATING - 89%

Thursday, July 31, 2014

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


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!"


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,

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


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


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%

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Iron Reagan - Spoiled Identity

I'm a slow writer

Obviously, this is gonna be a short one, I've only got so much to work with here.

But it's all so goddamned awesome.

Really, Spoiled Identity is the latest EP from the crossover supergroup and contenders for the Best Band Name Ever award, Iron Reagan.  Sporting thirteen tracks and clocking in at a whopping five whole minutes, this whole ordeal just never takes its foot off the gas.  And, in a testament to how blistering and straightfoward and to-the-point the whole album is.  I'm gonna do something a little different, something to give y'all some insight as to how I write reviews.  After this next sentence, I'm going to finish this review in the time it takes for this EP to finish.  In five minutes, the rest of it will be done.


Basically if you were a fan of Municipal Waste's first full length, Waste 'em All, you're gonna find more of the same here, with some added punkiness ala M.O.D. and the other assorted acronyms you all know so well.  Foresta's vocals are at their most vicious here, with the lyrics being as inconsequential as always, if steeped in politics and violence like always.  Really, this is just the logical continuation of Worse than Dead, so if you dug that album as much as I did, you're going to be more than satisfied with Spoiled Identity.  In fact, I'm blown away that what is essentially a collection of throwaway microsongs can still end up being so intense, memorable, and well executed.  I mean really, only three songs are longer than thirty seconds, with one of them (the best one, "Cops Don't Like Me") having a nine second sample to start it off.

There's a surprising amount of variety here, from the hyperblasting one-note insanity of "Your Kid's an Asshole", to the deep death metal vocal stylings of "I Spit on Your Face/Grave", and the punky melody of "Cops Don't Like Me".  It's a five minute burst of thrash/punk insanity and there's only so much that can logically be said about it.

Time's up, album's over, it's great, go get it, it's free.

RATING - 93%

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tuomas Holopainen - The Life and Times of Scrooge

Suck Tales! A-WOO-OO!

This can't be real...

No seriously, this is like, a Simpsons joke come to life, right?  This is shit you'd find in the Achewood Underground.  There exists, in this universe that you and I both occupy, an album, brought to you by the creepy dude from Nightwish who keeps whacking off to Disney movies and kicking pretty cougars out of his band when they won't blow him, an hour long symphonic album based off of motherfucking Scrooge McDuck.  Like... did the guyliner seep into Tuomas's bloodstream and poison him enough to make him completely shit-tits bonkers but not enough to mercifully kill him?  I mean, I just keep stuttering and using far too many commas and run on sentences here because my brain is just still struggling to process the colorful disaster in front of me and I just what.

But do you want to know what the worst part is?  The absolutely, indisputably, irreversably worst part about Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck; Written and Produced by This Really Fucking Unnecessarily Long Title?  This is going to sound crazy, but you know exactly the kind of over-the-top cornball nonsense you imagine when you hear that the MILF Hunter from Nightwish was making an album about the fucking grouchy old codger from Duck Tales?  Yeah, this album has none of that.  I mean come on, are you fucking serious?  With a premise so goddamn ridiculous as Scrooge McDuck and his epic adventures before Donald had to join the navy and leave those three shitty kids in the care of the neglectful dickhead and produce the defining ohrwurm of late 80s/early 90s children, this should be much more stupid.  I know, I can't believe BH is knocking an album for not being as dumb as he expected, but really, this album doesn't even have the balls to be as utterly fucknuts wrong as the premise leads you to believe.

Maybe I just had my mind so set on hating and berating this from the instant I heard about it that the fact that it's actually decent is just pissing me off and my brain is just twisting logic to fit my prejudice?  I wouldn't say so, considering it's bad in just an entirely different way.  Yeah, I fully expected this to be an overly bombastic chili con queso, but instead it's just a goddamn snoozefest.  This is essentially the sound of Nightwish with all of the traditional rock elements removed.  You expected this to sound like the poppy shipwreck of post-Wishmaster stuff?  Not today, homeboy.  You get none of those stupid singalong moments, nor any of the kitchen-sink ballyhoo that you'd expect when Tuomas would get full control of a project.  No, this is just relaxed, symphonic lullaby music through and through.  It's lame as fuck because the mood just never changes.  "Glasgow 1877" starts off with a dreamy, sweeping epicism that brings visions of a magic carpet ride over Agrabah, and then for the next hour you're treated to that exact same theme.  It's just so goddamn dull, who the hell thought an orchestral album with absolutely no progression would be a worthwhile endeavor?  It's why metal songs need bridges, hooks, solos, fucking anything to keep it from sticking to one riff throughout the entire album, otherwise you'll end up with Six Feet Under.

And yeah, pointing out specific tracks for anything is kinda pointless since this whole thing is just one uninteresting blur of calm strings and pleasant piano.  I'm not gonna knock this for not being particularly daring or adventurous in of itself (I mean you should have know that Tuomas wasn't going to break any barriers here), but when the theme, as retarded as it is, is based on the adventures of a specific character, I shouldn't feel like I'm taking a dull sightseeing tour instead of embarking on journeys to ancient lands with the guy.  I guess it's nice lullaby music, but the whole experience is so static and bland that it just ends up being a waste of time to listen to.

On one hand, I know I'm probably being unfair for expecting this album to be something it isn't, and Tuomas clearly put his heart into this, but on the other hand it's just so fucking aggravating and uneventful that I still feel justified in hating it.  Nothing ever seems to move anywhere, each track begins and ends on the same note and everything in between is completely inconsequential.  This is an album full of nothing, just bursting at the seams with dead air.  Nothing on it sounds bad, all the instruments sound just fine and are arranged in ways that aren't confusing or anything, the female vocals are gorgeous and soothing and the male vocals are... well kinda shitty, but that's really the only technical aspect I can say sucks.  Everything else is just... there.  It's ten ballads in a row with no sense of adventure or loss or excitement or sorrow or anything.  It's a completely emotionless hollow of nothing.  And believe me, even if you hate Nightwish, at least something happens with that band.  It might be terrible, but it elicits some sort of emotional response out of you.  I can't see anybody even vehemently hating this, and the only reason it's getting a really low score has more to do with the absence of anything good as opposed to the abundance of anything bad.

There's no real ending to this review.  I could say it's symbolic because there's no real end to the album, since it just kinda putters out as weakly as it starts, but really I can just chalk this one up to laziness and a lack of anything worthwhile to say.  I wrote this purely because I thought my title was funny, fuck you.

RATING - 15%

Saturday, April 5, 2014

An Evening with The Bastard: Jon Macak (ex-Diamond Plate)

Longtime readers of mine know that I shifted from a throne atop the mighty penis of Chicagoan thrashers, Diamond Plate, to a spot in the gutter, silently cursing them as they flew away.  What that basically means is that I was a gigantic fucking fan of the band before they just suddenly started to get worse and worse, with Generation Why? being a huge disappointment to me, and Pulse being so brain numbingly dull/stupid that I've only been able to listen through two or three times.  The apex of my frustration with the band was likely reached when founding member, Jon Macak, was suddenly and mysteriously replaced with the unknown Matt Ares, another young guy with a much worse voice and completely bland delivery.  Recently, it dawned on me that Macak likely didn't hightail it to Istanbul after his time in Diamond Plate finished, so I took it upon myself to track him down.  After a few years, he finally relented and agreed to sit down with me for a spell on the condition that I stop throwing rocks at his car.  What follows is the surprisingly unsexy encounter.

I used the old logo because fuck you that's why

BastardHead: Well I suppose the logical place to start would be: the metal fandom hasn't heard much from you since 2012. What have you been doing since your departure from Diamond Plate? Any new projects on the horizon we can look forward to?

Jon Macak: Well mostly I've been keeping my ear to the ground waiting for the right opportunity to present itself while continuing to get better at what I do. I did not want to jump into anything unless I knew it was worthwhile and unfortunately that took about a year and a half. So I do have something coming up but as of now that information is classified!

BH: You tease! Can you at least throw us a bone in the sense like... is it gonna be along the lines of what we know you for or is it gonna be a different direction than thrash? Or is the answer still "shut up and wait", haha.

JM: Well its a little early to pin it down into any subgenres, but it's heavy and I enjoy what's been done so far. I think that's about as far as I'll go, so shut up and wait! 

BH: I'm a patient man, thankfully. I suppose I should just get the elephant in the room out of the way early. Your departure from Diamond Plate really caught a lot of fans off guard, including myself. Was that a decision that you kind of knew was coming down the pipeline, or was it as much of a shock to you as it was to us? 

JM: Well I certainly do my best to avoid drama, but to me there's nothing wrong with being honest. It was the biggest shock of my life. I pride myself on being very self aware and mindful of what is happening around me and I had absolutely no idea that it was coming.

BH: Any particular reason as to why? The press release had a vague mention of "musical differences", so would it be safe to assume that since Pulse wound up being much more experimental and proggy that the other guys were pushing for that direction and you were aiming to keep it more straightforward and heavy?  

JM: That would be the most obvious thing that you could draw from such a broad statement. In reality I would say "musical differences" is pretty far off from what the problem actually was. I won't get too far into the details but if I had to summarize everything I would chalk it up to a disrespectful lack of communication and understanding on their end in combination with me being a bit too trusting and naïve. 

BH: I can feel ya there, it's never good to have that surprise launched on you. Well working backwards from there, I personally didn't like Generation Why? NEARLY as much as the preceding demo and EP. I felt like the youthful exuberance was traded in for a more calculated precision, and I felt like the music suffered for it. Now obviously you guys were all very proud of the record at the time, but now that a few years have gone by, is there anything you would have changed about the process or the end result if you could do it all again? Or do you still think it holds up to the vision you guys had at the time? 

JM: We worked extremely hard on it, and to me it was our best effort up to that time. Obviously there's no debating it because you (and others) undeniably got things from the EPs that you did not get from the full length. Looking back on it, however, It doesn't excite me the way it did when we were working on it. We absolutely put our all into it and did our best, but the songwriting for the most part just wasn't anything exceptional. Personally I was ok with that because I felt like that was the best we could do while being so young and inexperienced and that the knack for songwriting would be the next step in the progression of the band. In hindsight I always thought, "ok, the first album had some moments but the next one is really going to be on another level". 

And there's another aspect that makes writing music such a delicate process. A lot of people loved the EPs, and they will always have some charm in my opinion, but we were hell bent on what we considered "getting better" but some of the fans didn't perceive it the same way.

BH: I thought you guys already had quite a knack for songwriting myself. "Relativity" is a beast of a track. Was there any one member who was sort of "the leader" when it came to the songwriting process? Or were most of the songs written by committee? Simply jamming on some riffs and letting the songs go naturally or were they planned out ahead of time?

JM: We were always together when we wrote, everyone was free to make suggestions. Based on our history and personalities I usually conceded to Jim and Konrad for quite a few reasons. There were times when we were young that I tried to be more proactive in the creative process and did not get the type of warm responses that I'd hoped for. I think that caused me to be a bit more self conscious and tentative with presenting my ideas. And on top of that it seemed to me that the other guys cared more about being in control than I did so I was comfortable with the fact that my best role would be to let them do most of the talking and contribute with little tweaks here and there when I knew that I had a really good idea. That was with the instrumental side of things, lyrics were a more independent process. I wrote a good amount of them, Konrad wrote a good amount, and Jim wrote some too.   

BH: So I personally first saw you guys open for Destruction in Mokena back five years ago, and your stage presence and energy just blew me away. After that I caught every show I could, and as such I watched you guys grow and mature and move on to bigger shows and stages. Since you have experience with doing a real North American tour, would you say that was more exciting for you than trying to prove yourselves against legends like Overkill and Sanctuary? Or was it more fun for you guys to be the underdog with the hometown crowd on your side? And furthermore, were you guys as warmly received across the country when you traveled? 

JM: That to me is what was always the key to our potential. Even though the songs were never on the same level as some of the bands we toured with, our performance always seemed to get through to people. Whether people like the songs or not they can get into a band that they know is playing their asses off onstage. So my idea was that if we could just get the songs where we wanted them to be that there would be no stopping us because people always seemed to get into our live show. Pretty much every crowd we played for around the world responded positively to our live performances, we always wanted to be the best band on the bill. 

BH: One thing I'm always interested in is an artist's FAVORITE albums/bands/whatnot, as opposed to just their influences. Like, anybody with ears can hear the Megadeth and Overkill and whatnot in the music, but if you've got a quiet night and you're gonna plop down in your comfy chair and light up a cigar, what albums are you reaching for? 

JM: Well being brought up in such a die hard metal scene as Chicago's, heaviness was king growing up. As I've gotten older I've learned to appreciate the bands that were true to themselves but are so immensely talented that they managed to become huge still. It's a very delicate balancing act between trying to make music that will attract as many fans as possible while still writing music that you love to play. A few off the top of my head that might surprise you: Audioslave, Sublime, Alice in Chains, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Avenged Sevenfold. 

BH: Man I grew up on Sublime and still spin that self titled on occasion, no shame!

JM: It's golden.

BH: I've kind of re-gotten into Alice in Chains as well. Black Gives Way to Blue is much, much better than it logically should be.  

JM: That's absolutely true. It was a very pleasant surprise for me.

BH: Haha, well I know I just mentioned that influences are boring to talk about, but I think there's a bit of a difference when it comes to the initial spark. Was there any one record or bassist that kind of delivered a "eureka" moment to you and made you decided that this was what you wanted to do?

JM: Cliff Burton was the first one, and I'm sure that goes for just about any metal musician. After that I got really into Dream Theater so John Myung would be up there as well. But as far as a guy that opened my eyes at just the right time to help me become a better player, I'd say Billy Sheehan. I discovered him at the most perfect stage of my playing and his lessons that I found online gave a me a lot to practice at a time when I was in need of new things to learn.

BH: Cliff was my first one as well, so you got that right, haha. Well that's about all I got for today. Thanks a ton for playing along, any parting words?

JM: Anytime dude, I appreciate that you reached out to me about this. I've been in exile for about two years and it feels good to talk about music again. And for anyone else reading, especially musicians, keep it real. Don't let the music industry turn you into a politician.

Interesting shit there!  I've been speculating internally about what the whole deal with Jon's sudden departure was, and it was definitely great to hear his side of the story for a change.  Since leaving the band, Jon's definitely been quiet, so I'm very pleased with the fact that he was willing to sit down with a professional dick-joke-maker like myself and shed some light on his time with a band that was poised to become kings of the world, but somehow derailed with alarming speed around the time he was replaced.  Massive, MASSIVE thanks to Jon for playing along and answering some stupid questions for me and for y'all.  He genuinely would not let a single detail slip about any upcoming projects other than the fact that there was one, so I'm just as in the dark and excited as the rest of you are.  In the meantime, here's a throwback to when they were all a bunch of adorable little children with no real idea what a vagina looked like:

PS: I saw Diamond Plate open for Vektor and Exmortus three days before Christmas in 2009 at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago.  Before the show, I met Jon outside and attempted to make some small talk.  I asked "Hey, how old were you again?", to which he responded "How old was I?  Well I was four".  My friends still make fun of me for that.