Thursday, August 16, 2018

10 YEAR REUNION: Sinergy - Suicide by My Side

Power Bodom seeking fit top

It's well known that early Children of Bodom was more or less just insanely shreddy power metal with harsh vocals since Alexi Laiho's vocal talent in inversely proportional to his guitar skills, and so there was always a hypothetical "what if?" scenario floating around with regards to how they'd sound if he had just actually hired a real singer and embraced the flower power present on Hatebreeder.  The closest we're probably ever going to get is Sinergy, the band he had started in the late 90s with his then-girlfriend/wife Kimberly Goss.  And while Sinergy isn't a perfect representation of what that hypothetical Power Bodom would've sounded like (there are no keyboards and the tempo tends to be a bit more reasonably human), it's still an inescapable point of comparison.

I'm being a bit facetious here, because while Laiho is the obvious "superstar" here who has arguably gone on to have the most success (it's somewhat of a supergroup so Marco Heitala is here too), the true brains, heart, soul, and star of the band is Goss.  She was the chief lyricist and songwriter, front and center at all times, and commanded the absolute fuck out of these guys with her brazen, combustive voice.  Suicide by My Side is their best and most well known album, and while it has a lot of flaws, her voice in particular is not one of them.  She's the obvious highlight, with a very Doro-esque approach to her mad aggressive bellowing.  That's not to say she can't be sweet and emotive when the song calls for it, but her strength very clearly lies behind her explosive lungpower.  The album opens with "I Spit on Your Grave", which wastes precisely zero seconds before careening into a whirlwind of excitement with her forceful mania pushed to the forefront.  When Suicide by My Side is going full throttle like this song, it's at its best.  The title track is the other clear highlight, with Laiho's signature guitar theatrics leading a frantic rhythm section through an adrenaline fueled romp, all with Goss's sublime power carrying everything even further. 

The reason that this album has soured so much for me over the years is that, unfortunately, for how great the opener and closer are, the handful of problems the album has are all pretty unavoidable and all tie back to the same root cause: this album, frankly, does not sound like it was written by adults.

What I mean by that is that it's just super amateurish on all fronts.  As amazing of a vocalist that Goss is, lyrics are really not her forte.  The two main themes that constantly pop up are those of empowerment/revenge and despair/suicide.  It's bad enough that those two ideas are diametrically opposed to one another and give the album a serious case of tonal schizophrenia, but even beyond that they just sound like they were written by a 14 year old.  The theme of suicide is constantly presented through a filter less like a desperate soul who can't push on anymore and more like an insincere cry for attention.  There are references to "not being noticed" in a few places, which is just the most teenage reason to want to end it all that I can think of.  There's a short snippet that prefaces the music video for the title track where Goss sits around playfully talking about how suicide isn't a big deal and she would love to try it again, and it comes off as so damn phony that it really taints the whole experience.  As somebody who has been there and still struggles from time to time, it's not that it offends me per se, it just feels like she doesn't get it, and is instead toying with these ideas as some sort of ill-conceived marketing plan to appeal to early adolescents who bought Cradle of Filth shirts at Hot Topic en masse around this time in history.  I don't normally focus on lyrics, but they're really shit here.  The whole album is loaded with really shallow, basic lyrics about two ideas that don't coalesce in any way and feel like a first draft.

Musically the album sort of falls into the same pitfall of sounding like a first draft presented as a final product.  There are awesome moments here and there, "I Spit on Your Grave" and the title track sound like lost Follow the Reaper tracks with a massive boost vocally (worth noting that those are the only two tracks credited solely to Goss and Laiho), "Me, Myself, My Enemy" has a great chorus, and even though "Written in Stone" is probably the most egregious offender in terms of lyrical deficiency, the total simplicity of the riffs work on that one, since an "Unforgiven" style ballad doesn't need any real theatrics.  Everything else?  Nah, it sounds like the rest of the band wasn't even trying.  Goss kills it throughout but riffs as brain dead basic as "The Sin Trade", "Passage to the Fourth World" and "Nowhere for No One" sound like warmup exercises more than a finished product.  There is so much instrumental talent in the band, it stuns me that the best they could come up with to showcase their skill is shit like this.  It's baby's first heavy/power metal in a lot of instances, and the few truly phenomenal songs are so damn frustrating because obviously they can do better than that lame ass main riff on "The Sin Trade". 

Despite the startling amount of filler and the awkward lyrics, I'd actually still recommend giving this a spin if you get the chance.  I'm not 17 anymore so I may not identify with how shallow and basic the album is at its core anymore, but tracks like "Suicide by My Side" and "I Spit on Your Grave" are still certified bangers, and the more explosive and exciting tracks are more than worthwhile for fans of the style.  Suicide by My Side is a very hit or miss album, but the hits are so strong that I still listen to this even fifteen years after first hearing it.  It's concise and punchy, and while it doesn't always make its point effectively, when it is effective, it's just as strong as anything else to be found in the genre. 

Before writing this review, I did some googling to see what Kimberly Goss has been up to lately since she's been more or less absent from the metal scene ever since this album way back in 2002.  I found an interview she did with Noisecreep back in 2012 where she revealed that she's been happily living a quiet life as a mother, working at a music school.  Here's the thing though, that particular music school just so happens to be like a twenty minute drive from where I live.  This means I now have a plan for what to do in my spare time.

1) See if she still works there.
2) Throw pies at her until she agrees to reform Sinergy.


RATING: 68%

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Children of Bodom - I Worship Chaos

JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP

I've had a tumultuous relationship with Bodom over the years.  They're another band I've wound up consistently covering throughout my reviewing career without really doing so intentionally, mostly because they were just simply one of my favorite bands in high school, and due to my listening habits at the time, I binged so much of their material from 03-07 that I could probably play every song on every instrument from memory at this point, and I have fat sausage fingers and have never even seen a drumset in real life.  We all know how magical they were back when they were basically just Nightwish on fast forward with a vocalist who had no idea how to sing/scream/breathe and the worst lyrics ever written, floating by almost entirely on insane shredding and unmatched charisma.  We all know how bad they were when they dropped the melodic power metalisms more and more and started just becoming bland ass melodeath with occasional keys and nutso soloing.  We all know everything about them at this point, they're one of the more popular metal bands in the mainstream and anybody with the slightest awareness of where metal is currently knows who they are and what they're about.  So how are they faring nowadays after the surprisingly decent Halo of Blood in 2013?

Ehhhhh.

I Worship Chaos is basically just a slightly better counterpart to the totally irrelevant Relentless Reckless Forever, just with some much needed aggression that that release was sorely lacking.  Halo of Blood was a distinct and obvious throwback to their more melodic beginnings, acting as something of a hypothetical midpoint between Follow the Reaper (one of my all time favorite albums, if you recall) and Hate Crew DeathrollI Worship Chaos finds itself positioned one black key further down the piano of their release history, nestled neatly between Hate Crew and Are You Dead Yet?, being a more heavily melodeath influenced album than the former but still retaining some of the overt melodicism that the latter had excised in 2005. 

Now, I don't necessarily hate either of those two albums.  I think Hate Crew is great and AYDY at the very least starts strong with three fun songs before becoming a boring slog, and I think this one's thematic counterparts translate basically 1:1 in terms of quality.  It's got three great songs hidden among a bunch of inconsequential, effortless nonsense.  "I Hurt" is a fine opener, with some nice hooks and a damn catchy chorus riff (that "I AM DOMINANT" part is one of the most entertaining things they've done in ages), "Horns" is mad aggressive and sounds straight out of 2003, replete with some mindbending fret/keyboard acrobatics, and the title track is one of the best songs they've written in years, again sounding like something that would've been right at home on Hate Crew with how pummeling and insane it is.  The keys remain prominent and the hooks are strong as hell, even the chorus is awesome, sounding like it was tailor made for the live arena.  I can't stress enough that this is exactly what Bodom is so fucking good at.  Clearly their power metal based beginnings are long gone, but when they fully embrace the melodeath style and filter it through the songwriting lens of a rabid wolf who happens to have human fingers and be really good at guitar, they can craft some seriously excellent stuff.

The problem arises with the rest of the album, as it flip flops between those god awful slow songs they insist on shoehorning into every album ever since "Angels Don't Kill" somehow became a fan favorite (see: "Prayer for the Afflicted" and "All for Nothing") and near-totally irrelevant white noise that sounds like it was written in an afternoon ("Hold Your Tongue", "Morrigan", "Suicide Bomber", etc).  "All for Nothing" stands out in the worst way, potentially being the most teeth-grittingly terrible song the band ever released, attempting to be some sort of unholy power ballad that awkwardly transitions between quiet piano parts with Alexi just whispering like Jonathon Davis since he can't sing and bland plodding non-riffs that go nowhere at all.  Not even the wind-in-your-hair epic dueling solos that carry the song out can save this trainwreck, it's such an awful attempt at saccharine emotion that falls so flat that it's practically invisible when viewed from the side.  I hate this song and I hate anybody who likes it.  Even the otherwise solid "Widdershins" tends to be forgotten by me simply because it follows this disaster and I just want the fucking album to end already.

There aren't a whole lot of stylistic differences between the good songs and the lame ones, so it really just showcases the difference in level of songwriting.  "I Worship Chaos" is a total mess of unconnected ideas but they're all good ideas so it winds up being a somewhat anarchic whizbang avalanche of raditude, while "Suicide Bomber" is singularly focused in being keyboard heavy melodeath but manages to limp through the entire runtime without one single memorable riff or melody.  Bodom is showing themselves to be an odd enigma who routinely excels when they don't really know what they're doing.  The more they focus on crafting songs around a unified whole, the more they find themselves following the rules and releasing inconsequential boredom.  When they just sorta say "fuck it" and go balls to the wall with no restraint or clear direction, they wind up gutting out memorable confetti farts of glitter and shrapnel.  That's what made the first four albums so special, they were just terminal alcoholics who were really good at their instruments so they flailed around aimlessly and wound up wrecking everything in their path with flair and aplomb. 

The problem with Bodom nowadays isn't that they used to be great, because that would be unfair to hold I Worship Chaos in lower regard simply because Hatebreeder is so much better.  The problem is that an album like this showcases the difference between a good example of the style (specifically Hate Crew Deathroll since it adds so much heaviness to their original sound and has always sort of been the template for everything afterwards) and a mediocre example of the style (this album and most of the ones preceding it, with the exception of its immediate predecessor, which still holds up).  The elements are there, but the final product is just... wrong somehow.  I don't want to say it's undercooked, because they've definitely been around long enough to know what they're doing and have a solid idea of what they want to do, and I don't want to say it's overcooked because it's somehow still unrefined and it doesn't suffer from overproduction or too many ideas or anything.  It's a very "medium" album.  It's not rare and it's certainly not well done.


RATING: 48%

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Ensiferum - Two Paths

Autopilot Engaged

Man this is a frustrating one.  I've covered every Ensiferum album up to this point, I'm obviously a huge fan, but it's just becoming clearer and clearer that they are just woefully inconsistent.  We all know how legendary the first two albums are (even though the debut is truly split in half between good and bad songs, but the good songs are so good that it barely matters), and ever since Jari Maenpaa left to "focus" on Wintersun full time and Petri Lindroos stepped in to fill the vocalist/guitarist spot, they've been sort of all over the place.  Victory Songs is phenomenal and still to this day my favorite album of theirs, From Afar and One Man Army are both kinda wonky and unfocused at times but overall have enough great moments to make them worthwhile, and Unsung Heroes is lame as shit.  There's really no clear trajectory to their career nowadays, and admittedly they do at least try something new with each album so I can't fault them too much for not always hitting bullseye. 

So along comes 2017 and with it comes their seventh album, Two Paths, and the new idea this time is "let's let members who can't sing handle the vocals this time."  We all know that ever since Jari left, the harsh vocals have been covered by Petri and the cleans are mostly Markus Toivonen, with Sami Hinkka allegedly contributing as well but admittedly it's always just sounded like the same deep voiced dude layering over himself so I never noticed.  But here?  Nah man apparently everybody gets a turn!  Sometimes it works out fine, Netta Skog handles lead vocals on "Feast with Valkyries" and she does a good job, and a couple tracks keep the old dichotomy up and running without any changes.  But then there are songs like "God is Dead", "Don't You Say", and the title track, which for some godforsaken reason I'll never understand allow... I dunno somebody who isn't Markus to do clean vocals, and man these other dudes suuuuuuuck.  There's really no way to describe these vocals other than "somebody who can't sing", because that's all it really is.  I wish there was a better way to describe it but there really isn't.  It's just somebody who isn't a good singer, who struggles to carry a tune, can't really emote, and clearly doesn't have much experience doing this sort of thing. 

I should harp on the bad vocals more, but that's really all there is to say about them.  They're just "bad" and that's the only way that I, somebody well versed in trashing bad music, can say about them.  I've always been more of a music guy than a vocals guy anyway, so I suppose the most important part of the album is simply whether or not the songs are any good, and that answer is a bit more complicated.  In a way, kinda.  Tracks like "For Those About to Fight for Metal", "Way of the Warrior", and especially "King of Storms" are absolute scorchers.  Those three tracks exemplify everything that makes Ensiferum so great, and they showcase an absolute mastery of this battle metal subsect of folk metal.  Folk melodies interspersed with gigantically bombastic power metal is such a fucking cool thing and Ensiferum are basically the Grand Poobah of the style, and on these tracks they solidify their stranglehold on the dying scene.  "King of Storms" in particular stands out for being a sort of hybrid between "Slayer of Light" and "Axe of Judgment" with how intense and thrashy it is.  I've always loved it when the band would churn out mega aggressive songs like that.

The rest of the songs range from "really dull" to "really stupid".  "Feast with Valkyries", "Hail to the Victor" and "I Will Never Kneel" just sullenly plod on by with nothing exciting happening, keeping up the age old problem of Ensiferum's fast songs being awesome and their slow songs being tame.  Then there are the ones with the bad clean vocals, and even beyond the baffling choice to fill them with terrible voices, they also stand out for being musical departures from their usual fare.  More specifically, they sound like different bands entirely.  "Don't You Say" is a really simple, almost vaguely punky rock song with brain-dead simple chord progressions and lazy melodies, and "God is Dead" sounds like there was a mixup in the studio and Alestorm or Korpiklaani accidentally stepped in to record a song.  Really, "God is Dead" is the exact kind of folk metal that Ensiferum always managed to avoid; the sort of doinky accordion jig that feels like a joke more than anything else.  It's almost offensive in how fucking stupid it is.  And yet I... kinda love it?  I wish I didn't, because it is dumb as shit.  It sounds like they were aiming for recreating "One More Magic Potion" and instead landed somewhere near "Wooden Pints", but the chorus is so brazenly rousing and the solo is surprising shreddy, the buildup in the intro sounds like the world's most radical party is about to let loose, it all just somehow comes together masterfully, despite how dorky it is.

Despite mostly having good things to say about the album so far (awful vocals aside), this still lands as a disappointment, and it's simply because even the best songs here pale in comparison to the best songs they've done before.  I'm not intending to hold Two Paths in the shadow of Iron or something, because I know that's unfair, I just mean that despite "Way of the Warrior" being a good song, it's still on the whole pretty average for the style.  Ensiferum likes to throw new ideas around all the time, and somehow they're still on autopilot.  There is very little fundamental difference between the more traditional songs here and the stuff they used to do in the early 2000s when they were on top of the world, but what was once invigorating and exhilarating is now rote and played out.  These songs sound like they wrote themselves, and that's not a compliment.

I find myself at something of a loss for words when it comes to this album, because most of my criticisms can just be accurately summed up by gesturing towards the speakers and saying "you see what I mean?"  Two Paths isn't necessarily a bad album, but it is an unnecessary one on the whole.  There are three classic sounding Ensiferum tracks and one surprisingly good Alestorm track and the rest is just totally forgettable.  The band is so frustrating at this juncture because I don't really know what I want them to do in order to make them as good as they were on the first three albums again.  Just... I dunno, be great again.  The reason "King of Storms" sounds so great is because it sounds hungry and driven, whereas "I Will Never Kneel" sounds obligatory.  If they can get back to writing full albums' worth of "King of Storms"-level excellent tracks, they'll find themselves back at their rightful place at the top, but as of right now, they're has-beens.  And it's a real damn shame because almost nobody could touch them in their prime.


RATING: 53%

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Skeletonwitch - Devouring Radiant Light

This does not eat some fucking pussy

I'm gonna skip the customary introductory history lesson here and just say flat out why Devouring Radiant Light is so disappointing.  It's not that it's a bad album, because on purely musical terms it's just fine, even pretty solidly good most of the time.  No, the problem is that it's just... not Skeletonwitch anymore.

That sounds petty, and maybe it is, but the fact of the matter is that circa 2007, not a whole lot of bands sounded like Skeletonwitch.  They were fucking furious, with an immaculate ear for melody and the ability to weave riffs that were zippy and crunchy, basing themselves in simplistic thrash while taking cues from all over the metal spectrum.  Beyond the Permafrost was special, it was so varied and so loaded with hooks and so just... unlike anything else at the time.  It was a weird beautiful album that didn't take kindly to the idea of "rules" and just became some weird haven for badassery in all of its forms.  The band was a bunch of wildmen just throwing stuff at the wall and running with whatever stuck.  But everything stuck, so they charged forward holding a wall stuck with hundreds of knives and powered forward like a jet powered Spartan phalanx.

Devouring Radiant Light is, well, not that.  This new incarnation of the band is Serious.  They focus on atmosphere and that dreaded fucking Maturity shit I hate so much.  No guys, you rule at kicking ass with relentless ferocity, nobody heard "Within My Blood" and said "oh yeah this would be way better if they got a more generic vocalist and just made plain ass USBM". 

It's stupid but that really is my biggest problem with this album.  Check out tracks like "Fen of Shadows" or the title track, or most especially "The Vault".  These tracks are just... normal.  It's run of the mill USBM with none of the leftover fire the band used to carry.  These tracks are loaded with atmosphere, which in normal circumstances would be a good thing, and it's honestly not even necessarily a bad thing here either, but it's just fucking lame okay?  The band never shied away from their black metal influence, so why does this bother me so much?  Well look at it this way, albums like Forever Abomination or the test run with this new vocalist, The Apothic Gloom, were controlled drifts.  They were expert maneuvers, deftly weaving around a tight curve and exploring new territory without losing the course.  The propulsive momentum never slowed down, the band was still powering forwards with so much kinetic energy that the skidding vehicle never once seemed like it was in danger of losing control.  Those experiments worked, and they kicked just as much ass as the previous albums.  Devouring Radiant Light, on the other hand, is a total oversteer that sees the band careening into the curb and tearing off the front bumper.  These songs are content to sit in one place and meander around a handful of melodies instead of blasting forwards like the band is so good at doing.  The little ricer that zipped circles around unsuspecting headbangers is instead whirling in a demented double helix of smoke and skid marks with no clear direction beyond "wherever this inevitable wreck takes us." 

The new vocals are a bit of a problem too, despite also being totally fine on the surface.  Really it all just once again comes down to the band toying with unfamiliar elements that just makes them so much less unique.  Adam Clemans is a good vocalist, but he has a much more normal black metallish rasp than the firehose-of-gravel approach that Chance Garnette had.  He was an instantly recognizable feature of the band, and his ousting (make no mistake, the original story of him bailing mid tour to deal with "personal issues" while the band heroically soldiered on as an instrumental group was hokey, he was booted out due to his alcoholism (which he has totally owned and since gotten help for) and the band spun it to paint themselves in a better light when I'm sure everybody would've understood the truth anyway) left a huge hole that they only sort of adequately filled.  Clemans sounds fine, and he works for this new direction, but that just makes it all the sadder.  It's not the same band fans fell in love with anymore, and maybe that's a dumb reason to dislike the album but come on.  Why did we have to sacrifice Skeletonwitch to get another Nachtmystium?  Exmortus sucks now and Vektor is too far up their own asses to consistently write great songs anymore, if we had to lose the last bastion of creative thrash from the late 2000s, I didn't want it to be because they just became another dime-a-dozen meloblack band.

There are, admittedly, things for old fans to like here though.  "When Paradise Fades" and "Carnium Eternal" sound straight out of Forever Abomination, with their explosive energy pounding out some absolutely fucking vicious thrashy-blacky-melodeathy-fistfuckery.  "The Luminous Sky" also goes hard as fuck and contains some of the best riffs the band ever wrote.  This is what they should have been doing, if you ask me.  This is that controlled drift I was talking about, this is the absolute chaos that was just reined in enough to have a solid foundation of meaty riffs and ferocious intensity.  If you slapped these three songs onto The Apothic Gloom, you'd have an amazing experience that showcased a new direction without totally abandoning their previous strengths.  Instead we have them coupled with "Temple of the Sun" and "Sacred Soil" and therefore stand out as the most blistering assaults on an otherwise comparatively tame album. 

I hate to do the iconoclastic Boris thing here, but I just can't say in good faith that the music decency makes up for the massive disappointment with the band all but abandoning what made them so great in the first place.  If you're the type who gets pissy about the score, just pretend I gave this a 72%, because if I was totally professional and only judged this on musical merits, that's what it'd get.  But I'm not professional.  I do this shit for free as a hobby, I'm currently writing this while buck naked and waiting for a pizza to finish baking.  The Serious Critic in me knows that there's nothing exactly wrong with Devouring Radiant Light on a surface level, but the Naked Hairy Hungry Guy in me knows that I don't want to listen to this anymore.  In 2007, Skeletonwitch sounded like almost nobody, and now in 2018, Skeletonwitch sound like almost everybody.

I caught the band live a few years ago, opening for (I think?) Cannibal Corpse, and during the climactic outro of "Within My Blood", Chance addressed the crowd with "Thank you all so much for coming out!  Drink some beer, smoke some weed, and most of all..." and then switched to his raspy snarl and belted out "EAT SOME FUCKING PUSSYYYYYY!"  The band that wrote "The Vault" would never close with that.  This does not eat some fucking pussy.  I'm not even remotely surprised that this got a positive review on Pitchfork.  Fuck Maturity.


RATING: 41%

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Pious Levus - Beast of the Foulest Depths

Two choooooooords two chooooooords

I don't normally do promo reviews simply because I feel like there's an unspoken expectation to, ya know, promote.  I don't like doing that simply because most bands sending out mass promos through an incessant PR company frankly aren't all that good.  There are exceptions of course but in my experience my inbox has been flooded with literally dozens of albums per week from bands that are just flat out mediocre in every way.  Lately I decided fuck it, I'll check a handful, what's the worst that could happen?  That's how I came across Pious Levus here, and I can say with 100% certainty that I never would have otherwise and neither would anybody else because fuck this is boring.

I brought up the whole promo thing because the band is halfway made up of members of Hod, another band I checked out thanks to promo spamming when I wrote for Metal Crypt (a site positively swimming in low-tier promo trash) some eight years ago.  Hod was pretty nondescript black/death back then and Pious Levus is pretty nondescript black/death now.  Beast of the Foulest Depths sounds a lot like what I remember Serpent sounding like years ago, although maybe a bit further on the evil atmosphere side than the straight ahead Goatwhore-styled riffery that it shoved in your face.  And "in your face" is a good descriptor for Pious Levus, and it's only halfway a good thing.  I like bands that are intense and dangerous sounding, and that's certainly the case here, but it's backed up with precisely zero interesting songwriting.  It's all very green, paint-by-numbers demon worshipping extreme metal made up of blast beats, tremolo riffs, and extremely lazy grunt-yells.  The album throws no curveballs, no expertly written riffs, no standout performances, it's just white noise of shouting and blasting with nothing of note happening within the cacophony.  This is a band made up of scene veterans, which is sort of tragic because it simply showcases why they never broke out beyond their local Texan scene in the first place, they're... just not very good.  No songwriting skill, no instrumental/vocal standouts, it's low effort black metal about Satan in a world that already has like 100,000 bands exactly like that. 

Special shoutout has to go to the ninth track, "Demon Xusha's Invocation".  I get that it's supposed to sound like a ritual, but I'm not even kidding when I say it's almost three minutes of the same two chords repeated over and over and over and over and over and over again.  Every eight cycles or so the second chord will ascend instead of descend with a dissonant tremolo thing behind it and sometimes the drums keep pace with the ride instead of the hi-hat/splash/whatever it is.  But that's it!  It's so fucking lazy.  I can't even begin to comprehend how the band thought this passed muster.  How the fuck can these dudes have been making music since the late 80s/early 90s and somehow decide a three minute duh-duhhhhhhhh duh-duhhhhhhh duh-duhhhhhhh song was worth not only writing, but going through the effort of recording and ultimately making the cut for the band's debut fucking album?  A ten year old could play this song.  A ten year old could write this song.  "Demon Xusha's Invocation" is bad and so is Pious Levus.  Don't listen to this.


RATING - 20%

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dragonauta - CabraMacabra

Is Satan really a secret anymore?

The World Cup starts in a few days, and as an Amerocentric white boy who grew up with football and hockey, I know jack shit about soccer.  As such, I adopted a totally random National Team to support every four years when I was a kid, and that random country was Argentina.  In that spirit, let's take a look at an equally random Argentinian metal band.  Straight outta Buenos Aires, I present to you, Dragonauta.

I have no history with Dragonauta, I was only introduced to them last week.  In this last week, I've probably spun CabraMacabra twenty times.  This isn't something that should have set the world on fire back in 2006 and was unfairly forgotten or anything, but it's undeniably an addictive album, and I just can't help but go back to it quite frequently.  The best laconic review I can muster would be "The Melvins if they bought laced weed from Satan."  The genre tag on MA lists them as "Psychedelic Stoner/Doom Metal" but I'm not sure I'd agree with that on this album.  It's very sludgy, which tends to go hand in hand with stoner and doom metal, sure, but the pace tends to stay surprisingly high, taking the punky elements of sludge classics and replacing them more with straight ahead thrash metal.  I'd also say it's less "psychedelic" and more accurately "schizophrenic", as the band tends to take on an almost frenzied approach to everything, like they're just confused and angry and want to lash out at something.  As a result the music is simultaneously hazy and sluggish while being focused and ferocious.  There are some out-of-left-field progressive moments as well, with the first half of "Funeral magico" being a quiet, almost Pink Floydian section.  "Abducido" and "En el futuro ya no habra piedad" toy around with these sections as well but it's definitely most prominent on "Funeral magico". 

CabraMacabra tends to err away from the "Honey Bucket" style of sludge/thrash and lands closer to classic Sabbathian stoner metal as the album goes on (check out "Experienciar"), which is also pretty Melvins-y in its own right.  But honestly, the main reason I keep comparing this to those Seattle weirdos is because the vocalist here sounds like a methed out King Buzzo who is perpetually stubbing his toe and invoking Satan about it.  There's a culpable sense of malice absolutely smothering his voice, and it helps the music itself sound so much more evil than it would have with any other vocal style.  It definitely works better with the more manic first half of the album but it sounds awesome when the band gets doomier as well.  He really is the highlight for me.

If there's any real flaw with the album it's simply that it gets to be a bit much to get through in one sitting.  It's not a super long album, clocking in at 51 minutes, but with how in-your-face it is for most of the runtime it gets to be pretty exhausting, despite the variance in tempo and continuously high level of excitement.  The tracks tend to run together as the album grinds along, so the more ripping tracks like "Transmutado" and "Dioses del submundo" stand out more once it's over and you recall the album from memory.  Overall it's not really a big deal though, because on the whole it's a very dangerous and feral sounding album that spans across a few different subgenres and ties itself together with those completely insane vocals.  It's a fun romp, and I'll definitely be coming back to this.  After all, I haven't been able to stop listening to it for a week now, and that's a pretty rare quality for me nowadays.


RATING: 85%

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Ghost - Prequelle

THROUGH! THE! PREQUELLE!

For years now, I've always seen Ghost to be "that stupid Scooby-Doo chase scene organ rock band with the dumb gimmick and wimpiest vocalist on the planet", and just sorta let their albums pass me by.  It really was mostly Papa Emeritus's voice that kept me away more than the light music, because believe me when I say that I can dig anything with a strong enough hook (trash talk Madonna in front of me, I dare you).  I never cared that the songs were light, poppy, and catchy necessarily.  The problem has always been those fucking weak ass vocals.  Seriously, there's zero oomph whatsoever!  He sounds like fucking Passenger, he's so spindly and brittle sounding, I could never, ever, ever get behind it.  Oddly enough, what broke me from this roadblock was actually just... ya know, talking to a Ghost fan.  I'm friends with a really normie dude (two of his all time favorite metal bands are Ghost and Babymetal) and I asked him how he can possibly stand Papa's vocals.  He described it as such:

"Well look at it from a different angle.  He's not supposed to be this big imposing creature, the whole point of Ghost is to be welcoming and inviting, it's really easy and catchy music that can suck anybody in.  He's more of a cult leader than a 'fire and brimstone' preacher, much more of a David Koresh than a Jim Jones.  He's soft spoken and harmless because that's how he gets you.  That's how all that Satanist stuff comes into play, nobody would join his 'church' if they knew how evil it was.  He's a friendly, charismatic leader who gets his 'ghouls' to do his dirty work once they've been converted."

I initially brushed it off as a scrambling rationalization, like the people who explain away how bad Final Fantasy VIII is by saying Squall died at the end of Disc 1... but I'll be damned if Ghost's first three albums didn't start making a whole lot more sense once I looked at it that way.

I explained all that to illustrate that I'm a new fan of the band, and a lot of my old prejudices have been thoroughly washed away as I sit here proudly jamming Meliora for a few weeks.  So when I tell you all that Prequelle is really fucking boring, I'm not coming from a place of long-entrenched hate anymore.

To get it out of the way, there are good tracks here.  "Rats" and "Dance Macabre" were the two advance singles and god dammit they are exactly what I want out of Ghost.  Those two songs showcase their strengths incredibly well, being larger-than-life fist pumping arena metal anthems, leaning closer to glam than any sort of neck wrecking heaviness.  These songs are basically two peas in a pod, and I can't help but see them as companion pieces to one another for how similarly they approach themselves.  They're both really upbeat poppy songs that have slightly sinister undertones lyrically but present themselves as completely harmless pop tunes musically, written specifically to be played with gusto at huge arenas and open air festivals with thousands of fans singing along.  You know, the same things that made tracks like "Year Zero" and "Square Hammer" so cool.  "Faith" is a bit more of a grower, being a much less immediate but also more riff-reliant track with more of a slow burning chorus.  Bonus points to the bridge for sounding fucking exactly like the bridge in Metallica's "Through the Never".  Rounding out the good tracks is "Witch Image", which sounds like a half-ballad reimagining of "Dance Macabre" a mere two tracks earlier, but the chorus is a stunner with some super simplistic guitar licks in the background that keep the soothing (but kinda dull) verses from dragging the song down.  Even more bonus points to the guitarists for the solos following the 80s glam template of being epic as shit and always a huge, melodic highlight of every track.

The problem arises with every other track being lame as shit.  When Prequelle is taken as a whole, it's really disjointed and poorly paced, with far too many weak tracks to justify the runtime.  Broken down, you've got ten tracks, two of which are upbeat pop rock, one strong arena metal track, two half/power ballads, two ballads, and three instrumentals, one of which is a mostly atmospheric intro.  That's not goodPrequelle has absolutely no sense of momentum after "Faith" wraps up, as it spends the rest of the time sputtering up and down, stopping and starting, never really moving forwards with any real urgency or thought.  At that point it becomes merely a collection of songs, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but when most of the songs aren't interesting it becomes a huge problem.  In this regard, Ghost shows themselves to be more of a pop act than a rock one, because Prequelle is structured quite poppy in the sense that it's clearly centered around the two singles with a bunch of filler surrounding it, save one or two deep cuts that work out fairly well.  Shit like "Pro Memoria" has no place on any album being released to the general public, nobody wants to hear a weak acoustic ballad that doesn't actually progress. 

The instrumentals fare a bit better than the ballads, but really it's just "Miasma" that works.  That one is festooned with numerous flashy solos, spanning guitar, keys, and elephant, and it's just a fun driving track that keeps the pace up and doesn't get old.  "Helvetesfönster" on the other hand is a corny waltz that goes on for way too long and is sandwiched between a half ballad and a full on ballad to close the album.  Even though "Witch Image" is one of the good songs, it does contribute to the album skidding to a halt across three tracks, which really is my biggest problem overall.  The excitement isn't consistent, and the other moods they try to evoke just fall flat and aren't enjoyable in any real way.  It's not fun to sit through, and that's why it functions best as a pop album meant to have a few standout tracks to throw in a playlist and throw the rest out. 

There's no real place to put this, but I love how the cover is an obvious tribute to Sepultura's Bestial Devastation (look closely, even the background details are identical) despite Ghost being about the furthest fucking thing on the planet from Sepultura besides, I dunno, elevator muzak?

So it's unfortunate that I got around to understanding Ghost right when they released an extraordinarily mediocre album.  Prequelle has some excellent high points with "Rats" and "Dance Macabre" and I can't recommend them enough.  Huge choruses and big dumb hooks are abound on those tracks, and really that's what Ghost excels with.  These more somber and "serious" pieces are just weak and meandering, and the instrumental interludes are torturously long this time around.  I wouldn't call this a terrible album, but it's certainly not a good one either.  The few moments of heavy riffage found early on don't do nearly enough to ground the floaty pop melodies and those melodies themselves really only work when there's a driving force behind them.


RATING: 44%

Thursday, May 31, 2018

10 YEAR REUNION: Kiuas - The Spirit of Ukko

A bitter man, a void embraced

The benefit of hindsight has really made this album significantly better, hasn't it?  For the time travelers amongst us, we should have known that this couldn't last.  Kiuas started off as some sort of blasphemous creation that has no business existing on this plane of reality, so it was only a matter of time before they had to shed their extra layers to eventually pass as human.  In plain English, what I mean is that The Spirit of Ukko and Reformation saw Kiuas step onto the scene as something truly unique, taking influence from so many different branches of the metal family tree while still somehow remaining unified and cohesive, and it made them almost defy classification.  By the time The New Dark Age rolled around, they had dropped pretty much everything except punchy mid paced power metal from their sound, and I couldn't even tell you what Lustdriven sounded like because nobody actually listened to it, since the whole reason everybody fell in love with them in the first place is because they were so creative and unlike anything else, so who the fuck wants to hear them drop all of the cool parts?

So what this means is that their debut here marked a very special point in time, when they were young and hungry and completely unafraid to take any risks, because The Spirit of Ukko is quite a risky album, particularly in comparison to the humdrum safety of the second half of their career.  To understand the sheer eccentricity displayed here, consider that the most accurate description of this album would be "Epic Melodic Power/Death/Black/Thrash/Heavy/Folk Metal", and I'm not even kidding when I say that apart from power metal being the obvious base of the music, all of the outside oddities are displayed with equal strength, oftentimes within the course of one single song.  Take a gander at the opener, the title track.  It opens with straight meloblack tremolo picking and crazy fast blasting, but the melody is a bit more on the epic power metal side, with stinging keys accenting the note changes.  And then with a simple change in rhythm, without losing pace at all, it morphs into a more overtly melodeath riff, with the synth stings hitting even harder than they were previously.  That slows itself even further into a midpaced heavy/power metal groove, and all the while the main theme has stayed consistent.  After a short segue, it starts rocketing through a pinch harmonic laden thrash riff with subtle smatterings of melodeath, building upon itself larger and larger until the guitars start shredding and give way to Ilja Jalkanen's iconic voice, a lower tenor with enough oomph to launch a cannonball with just enough grit to sand it clean on the way out.  His full on cleans simulate the majestic soaring of... well, a god damned cannonball, and the harsh vocals that he doesn't utilize quite as often but still often enough to keep the variety unpredictable hit like a... fucking cannonball.  In between his vocal lines in this first verse, the riffs switch from beefy melodeath with a titanium backbone to equally strong power metal keyboard melodies, which eventually overtake the song and deliver a chorus that's just straight ahead crunchy power metal.  And that's just the first two minutes of the first song.  The fact that the band somehow managed to take this completely fucked-out mishmash of genres on paper and turn it into something that sounds like the most natural progression on the planet is nothing short of stunning.

Despite all of the genre hopping, the songs are all more or less recognizable as straight ahead power metal with little room for debate.  "Warrior Soul" showcases this the best, as it's probably the most "normal" of the good songs on display, and even then Jalkanen flails all over the place, utilizing his amazingly versatile voice in as many interesting ways he can think of while simultaneously giving us the best chorus on the album.  Seriously that hook is unreal, it's stuck in my head right now and I'm not even listening to that song.  "On Winds of Death We Ride" is potentially my favorite song on the record thanks to the pure thrash of the verses and the most venomous delivery the dudes can muster.  For real, the "Like beasts we now just SEEK OUR PREeEeEYyY" part makes me want to rip my own head off in an adrenaline fueled fugue, and that first natural harmonic run that explodes into furious blasting death is just head-spinningly masterful.  Special shoutout goes to "Across the Snows" as well for exploring the folkier side of the band, featuring a cool cleanly sung Finnish section and one of the hypest fucking build-and-release intros of 2005.

"Awesome!  What about the rest of the songs?"

The production on the album is excellently meaty, letting the riffs tear chunks of flesh off of every nearby flesh-having entity.  The drumming in particular stands out purely for how hard they pound despite the patterns themselves not being nearly as creative as the overall songwriting and riffing.  The Spirit of Ukko is very thunderous in this regard, and it's a huge boon to the album's overall enjoyment.

"Um, that's cool and all but didn't answer my question.  How are the rest of the songs?"

The uhh, did I talk about the vocals enough?  I feel like it's not mentioned often enough, but I can sense an almost grungy tone to his more snarly and theatrical vocals.  I think that's a neat feature, his voice is unique enough on its own but that inflection he has on the mid range croons are really cool and something I really haven't heard before or afterwards in the context of power metal.

"BH, how are the rest of the s-"

THE REST OF THE ALBUM SUCKS, OKAY??  Fuck I hate this part so much but it's true, apart from the four songs I namedropped up there earlier there is nothing at all worth listening to here.  All that eclectic fire finds itself conspicuously absent throughout half of the album, and even when the band does stray into more interesting territory, it's always too little too late.  "Until We Reach the Shore" has a wicked keyboard solo but it's only after several minutes of plodding chug riffs that go fucking nowhere on their own.  "And the North Star Cried" has a cool breakdown to round out its intro but the rest of the song is so lame and pointless that I don't care to sit through it.  The remaining two tracks have no redeeming features whatsoever, being quasi-ballady chugpower dullardry.  It's hard to even spend time on this part of the review because seriously, I said it all already.  So little happens during these songs.  It's baffling to me how a band who can so effortlessly exude such boundless creativity and tie it all together in such a concise and powerful package can also be responsible for such maddeningly inconsequential crap.  This is sort of a harbinger of what would eventually signal the band's precipitous fall, and it's why I'll never bother to review their other albums.  These four songs will soon stretch the runtimes of full albums, and god dammit nobody wants to listen to the sixteen squintillionth generic hookless chuggy midpaced "power" metal band.  There's a reason "Warrior Soul" is such a celebrated monument of eccentric power metal and why most fans of the band forgot "Thorns of a Black Rose" existed until this sentence.

This is a really difficult album to score, because the high points are so high and the low points are so frustrating and disappointing.  The album's momentum is inconsistent thanks to almost every weak track falling between two good ones, so it's constantly starting and stopping and just lurching forwards on a hobbled foot.  The excellent vocals can't save the lame songs, the badass riffs only exist on the great songs, it's almost like The Spirit of Ukko is truly a split album between Kiuas and Nega-Kiuas.  The songs that sound like power metal getting super combo'd with a Wabbajack kick total ass, but the songs that just sound like normal old songs but without any hooks or emotion fall so flat that they leave Kiuas-shaped holes in the dirt.  I think overall, the album deserves a positive score simply because of how much I love the good songs, because this outside-the-box anarchism was pure lightning in a bottle that they only managed to recapture a handful of times.  Just go into it knowing that you're gonna have to keep a trained finger over the skip button.


RATING: 70%

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

10 YEAR REUNION: Persuader - Evolution Purgatory

BALL CHEESE! THE MOANING SON!

FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF-

I love this fucking album, really I do.  But because I love Evolution Purgatory so much, I have to admit its faults, so I'm just gonna knock those out of the way before I even get to the rest of it because I'm going to coat it in so much fanboy goo that it's probably insulting to the infertile.  The mix is kinda off, with the vocals and leads being WAY louder than anything else, which is kinda disappointing when the album is so jam packed full of excellent riffage.  Also the album does hit sort of a dead patch because the only two songs that are less than perfect are immediately one after the other in the tracklisting (those being "Passion/Pain" and "Raise Hell").

That's it!  Everything else is flawless so let's get on with it.

Persuader is a Swedish power metal band that got a lot of hype in the mid 2000s for reasons that are admittedly kind of untrue once you become more familiar with the band and style as a whole.  One of their big claims to fame is that the vocalist, Jens Carlsson, is an absolute dead ringer for the inimitable Hansi Kursch.  I'll touch on it more in detail later, but that's only half true.  Their other big hype generator is that they were heavy.  This was the power metal album to shove in people's faces for a long time whenever they'd complain about power metal being a dumb flowery style full of sissy nerds with squeaky voices doinking on about dragons and maidens with loads of slinky keyboards.  Again, this is kind of unfair because people who make that criticism are the same types of people who say all black metal is fuzzy tremolos and blastbeats with bad shrieking recorded on an answering machine or all death metal is cacophonous noise with talentless gurgling.  If you've ever listened to anything beyond Stratovarius or Nightwish you'd be well aware of that, but 2004 was the era when Blind Guardian and Helloween were putting out A Night at the Opera and Rabbit Don't Come Easy so I guess people just conveniently forgot Black Majesty existed and assumed everybody forgot how to riff.

Now, despite the frequent (incorrect) claim that Persuader was the only band kicking ass in the genre at the time, it does nothing to diminish the fact that it is heavy as shit.  Evolution Purgatory is pure fucking testosterone spraying out of every orifice with the force of a firehose.  These riffs hit so hard that you're in danger of breaking your jaw upon listening.  The vocals are so wild and insane that I'm pretty sure he's chewed off one of my fingers through the speakers.  The album as a whole carries such a hefty fucking set of testicles that the band has to carry them over their shoulder and use them to club everybody wearing a burlap tunic to death.  It's just this behemoth katamari made entirely of nutsacks and fists and its only goal is to punchfuck you until your brain leaks out of your armpits. 

What all that really means is that Persuader isn't afraid to amp up the punchiness and take influence from some of the harder forms of thrash and speed metal without ever losing their touch for the signature power metal strength of melodies.  Listen to something like "Sanity Soiled" or "Godfather", the riffs build around these vaguely-thrashy atom bombs that carry a surprising amount of weight.  The band doesn't often truly kick it into overdrive and fly through crazy high tempos, but that just means that these riffs just hit you even harder.  They don't shred you, they don't tear you apart, they pulverize you instead.  It takes a lot of skill to take a more rhythmic focus in such a melodic genre and not sound lazy.  Not many bands can focus on mid-to-high tempo open string chugging and sound ferocious instead of dull, but Persuader pulls it off effortlessly here.  But with that said, they really run the gamut of all possible influences for this particular subniche of power metal.  Opener "Strike Down" is a more traditional power metal affair, while "Fire at Will" is a thrash-infused murder fiesta, while "Masquerade" stands as probably the most melodic song on the record and still manages to have verse riffs that sound like the band is coming apart at the seams and the drummer completely forgets what to do so he just spazzes out, while "To the End" is just total high speed anarchy from the word go, it just never stops.  Every track has a new surprise for the listener and it perfectly straddles the line between eclectic and pandering, instead becoming the aforementioned abomination of balls and knuckles that rampages through the album like an avalanche run through your barbaric teenage fantasies.  Seriously, I'm sure "Fire at Will" manages to make everybody named Will run for their fucking lives during a live set, because I know I would have to restrain myself from taking the song literally and just letting adrenaline take over while I destroy everybody in the near vicinity.

I said previously that the mix tends to favor Jens a bit too much, but really he's such a highlight of the band that it's only a flaw in a technical sense.  Yes, he sounds like Hansi, but only on a surface level, once you think about it medium-hard he's actually quite unique.  Blind Guardian is obviously the chief influence and I don't think anybody will deny that, but he approaches his vocals in a completely different way.  Hansi is a bard, a crooner.  He could be vicious on the early albums when they were "young, fast, and freaky", in his own words, but ultimately he was a storyteller who simply added the appropriate amount of sinister gravel to his otherwise perfectly smooth voice when the song called for it.  His penchant for layering over himself ten quadrillion times made a great choir effect that added so much to their most epic tracks, especially from 1995 and onwards.  Jens doesn't do that shit.  No, he may have an extremely similar "default" voice and somehow managed to replicate his hilariously heavy German accent perfectly, but he approaches his craft with all the wild-eyed lunacy of a feral maniac.  He lacks some of Hansi's signature baritone, instead sounding like a shrill, cockeyed freak with blood seeping through his teeth.  He is constantly flying off the handle with freakish shrieks and deep growls, throwing harsh vocals into the mix with little restraint.  Take a gander at one of the album's highlights, "Turn to Dust".  Throughout the verses I swear he's cycling through every possible style of vocal inflection he can think of with each new line, going from full throated harsh screaming to scratchy high pitched screeching to deep death metal-esque bellows to almost soulful Hansi styled smoothness to everything in between, all within the course of one twelve second stanza.  When the vocals do layer on top of one another it always has more in common with a thrash gang shout than a power metal choir.  For all the similarities to Hansi that he has, he's has an undeniably more visceral and gritty voice.  He's by no means a better singer than Hansi (nobody is), but he's definitely a more insane one.  If the bridge in "Sanity Soiled" doesn't convince you, then you're beyond saving.  EVOLUSHON PURGATORAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY

The band's greatest strength down the road, as they dropped their manic intensity, is undoubtedly their penchant for great melodies and choruses, and even though they're not the star of the show here, that strength is still showcased with aplomb.  Persuader is not complex art, they aim to rip your limbs off and beat you with them while being as stylish as possible, and they definitely accomplish that, but there's a surprising amount of depth and complexity to how they craft these insanely vicious singalong moments.  "Masquerade", "Turn to Dust", "To the End", "Raise Hell", all of them exemplify their dedication to forward propulsion, because they never rest on a hook and let it carry the chorus into your enduring memory.  Instead they do the vocal equivalent of how James Malone manages to play riffs and solos at the same time with Arsis and wind up smashing three different hooks together to create this unconventionally infectious style of chorus writing that sounds like a pre-chorus and two different choruses all roaring at you at the same time.  I can't get enough of this shit, I don't care if they're better on When Eden Burns, they pound so fucking hard when coupled with the frenetic intensity of the rest of the songs on Evolution Purgatory that they almost actually work better just due to the contrast of the nutso thrashing and vocal trapezery that leads up to the maddeningly catchy refrains.  

There's no real place to put this, but seriously, bonus points to the guys for being a power metal band in the mid 2000s and realizing they aren't Blind Guardian so they don't try to write any ballads.  Power metal bands suck shit at ballads and thankfully Persuader understood that and just stuck to meaty fuckin' riffs the whole time instead.

I feel like I might've just rambled gibbering idiocy the whole time I've been writing this, but if you take anything away from this review, take away that Persuader absolutely fucking smashed with Evolution Purgatory and became semi-underground treasures for a damn good reason.  This is power metal for Slayer fans, for people who would rather crush skulls in a desolate wasteland than be whisked off to magical lands.  I like my prancy fairy metal as much as the next dork, but sometimes this shit just hits the spot, and it's had its hooks in me for over a decade at this point.

(ps: his accent is hilarious, "sword" always sounds like "serd" and "dark" is "dork")


RATING: 96%

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Overkill - Horrorscope

The eulogy he would've wanted

If you've followed my reviews for a while, you know that I've covered Overkill plenty throughout my career.  You'll also know that I've never given them a positive review.  It's true!  Somehow I've just always gravitated towards knocking them down a few pegs because they had so many albums I hated that people seemed to give a pass, and it always bewildered me.  However, I'm not an insane person.  As a thrash fan, I know damn well that Overkill has plenty of great albums too, and I think it's about high time I covered one.  I promised a friend I would do so a long time ago.  And now, in my perpetual lateness, I'm going to fulfill my promise to my now-fallen compatriot, and give an honest review of his all time favorite album (or maybe second place next to some choice albums from Limbonic Art or Kalmah or something), Overkill's fifth and arguably finest album, Horrorscope.

The most obvious and major factor most people should realize when it comes to this album is the not-so-amicable departure of longtime axe-slinger Bobby Gustafson.  Overkill may be most obviously defined by Blitz's signature nasally snarl and D.D. Verni's mega-trebly *dween* bass tone, but Gustafson was a force to be reckoned with in the early days, churning out classic riffs left and right ("Hammerhead" from the debut contains one of my all time favorite riffs ever written) and writing a good chunk of the music, in particular the (frankly undeserving, but hey) classic The Years of Decay.  Him getting the boot should have been a huge blow to the band's sound, but Blitz and D.D. ain't no fuckin' quitters so they just regrouped and hammered out one of the monsters of early 90s thrash in retaliation. 

I've made this point over and over, but thrash was never great necessarily because of Overkill, instead Overkill was great because thrash as a genre was great.  This shows here, because the early 90s was a good era to be a product of the times as a thrash band.  The album I've always seen to be the parallel to Horrorscope is Kreator's seminal Coma of Souls, what with both having a really dry-yet-punchy production and a heightened influence of slower, more crushing moments in conjunction with their customary neck wrecking tempos.  This might seem immediately odd, because one of my biggest complaints with The Years of Decay is that there are too many slow songs that bog down the pace and break the flow, but the big difference here is that the slower tracks here are just flat out fucking excellent.  While something like "Skullkrusher" just sounded slow with little else in mind, something like "Horrorscope" or "New Machine" sounds like there's a clear goal at stake.  For example, something like the title track actually feels like a true marriage of thrash and doom metal, something the band had attempted before and would continue to attempt throughout their career and never quite nail again.  It's slow, but the riffs are menacing and pounding instead of meandering and dull.  It's still a driving force, and the extended one note breakdown just absolutely decimates with the addition of something simple like the haunting guitar melody in the background.  "Nice Day... for a Funeral" utilizes this same trick and it sort of astounds me that they never managed to make this work again, because it turns out this nebulous coagulation of melancholy and malice creates an incredibly neat effect.  "New Machine" may actually be my favorite of these tracks for an entirely different reason.  That one sounds more like a simplified version of "Who Tends the Fire" but works 1000% better simply because it gets to the point quicker and is carried by a super tight groove.  Yeah, this is basically just a groove metal track, something they'd tie their noose to before flailing around for 20 years and failing to write more than a handful good ones despite focusing entirely on them, but damn if their first foray into the style isn't a home run.  That main riff is an absolute banger.

However, this is motherfucking Overkill we're talking about here.  The fact that their constant experimentation with slower tempos finally worked this time is a nice bonus, but it's not what makes Horrorscope such a classic.  Hell no, it's their fervent dedication to punk-infused attitude entwined seamlessly with top-tier thrashing mayhem that made them stand out in the first place, and this is arguably their most consistently vicious offering of tracks in that vein.  "Coma" kicks things off with a nice clean intro to lull you into a false safety, because once the riffs start the band makes extra god damned clear that they mean fucking business.  I've never once heard the section with the double bass in the intro and not immediately sought out the nearest living thing and punched it to death.  The lion's share of the music here follows somewhat in line with The Years of Decay, what with the extremely obvious Metallica influence shining through with the monstrously chunky riffs and decidedly simplistic drumming carrying most of the songs.  It's like if that 1989 album was full of tracks like "Elimination" an "Evil Never Dies" all the way through, because it's just a non stop riff attack and it shows up most of their contemporaries.  Overkill was never the fastest or the heaviest of their peers, but this is one of those times when it didn't matter for them, and through the power of sheer songwriting fortitude they managed to deliver an unreal streak of excellence.  "Thanx for Nothin'" shoves their punk roots in your face without ever sacrificing an ounce of their osmium, and the chorus can whip any crowd into a frenzy effortlessly.  "Live Young, Die Free" and "Bare Bones" rip and tear through listeners as if they were paper, with riffs so simultaneously fast and chunky that they sound like tommy guns that fire raw steaks.  I could be a dick and point out that they both sound an awful lot like "Battery" but if you haven't noticed, the frequent Metallica-isms work to this album's benefit rather than its detriment.  Instead of sounding like a calculated knockoff of Master of Puppets like the previous album did, this sounds like the lost album recorded in lieu of And Justice for All.  It's a logical continuation of what they were doing before, except this time they decided to push further towards the extreme end of the spectrum instead of settling on an easier-to-digest groove.  No, this is one of the gloriously few times that Overkill found themselves truly pushing an envelope, because this is by far the hungriest they've ever sounded.  As a result, Horrorscope is probably the most Overkill album that Overkill ever released.  This is the one where they truly solidified their identity to me, and it's a damn shame that they abandoned it so quickly.

There are nitpicks but they're just that, nitpicks.  Blitz doesn't sound quite as manic as the albums from the Three Bobbys era, and he's really the only musical aspect of the band that didn't make a massive improvement.  There aren't any moments like that insanely tense crescendo in "Evil Never Dies" here, instead he just does his thing in a fairly utilitarian manner.  Fortunately that's not really a big deal because even when he's in pure workman mode and giving the guitars the spotlight, he stands out for his iconic vocal delivery alone.  The solos aren't quite as memorable either, but that's to be expected because even when Overkill finally got their shit together and released another great album 19 years later, they never fully managed to replace Gustafson's absolute wizardry on the fretboard.  "Infectious" is a kind of meh song and the Edgar Winter cover is entirely pointless as well, but overall that's really all the negative things I have to say about this album. 

Feel the Fire will always be the band's finest hour to me, but their first two albums have a pretty different approach than what came afterwards, and if you want to split hairs so finely that you're in danger of nuclear fission, Horrorscope is unquestionably the highlight of the second phase of the band's first era.  This was the sound of a band in lockstep with one another, taking a brutal departure in stride instead of reeling and scrambling to make something work in his absence.  I know Horrorscope is a very well respected album, but it deserves even more than it gets, which is saying a lot.  This is 53 minutes of non stop action that feels like it flies by in 30.  Overkill wouldn't be this exciting and adrenaline-inducing for nearly two solid decades, and it's a great swansong for the classic era of the genre in general.  Everybody should be familiar with it, and if you're not, fucking fix that right the hell now, because this is a stone cold classic.


RIP Diamhea, you were a monster truck that walked like a man.  I'm sorry you aren't here to see me make an attempt to fulfill a dumb promise I made purely out of respect for such an insanely dedicated individual.  Hopefully I made good on my end.  You are the Beef Castle that took a lot of shit in stride and deserve all the credit in the world for making this site run as smoothly as it has for the past five years you were on the team.  Oh, and never forget: !!!FUCK YOU!!!


RATING: 94%