Saturday, November 10, 2018

Wombripper - From the Depths of Flesh

SEWER RAZORS IN UTERO

I've sat here with a blank document open for like two hours because I just can't figure out where to fucking start with Wombripper, and I mean that in the best way.  I want to devolve into some Navy Blue Vicar nonsense and blurt out SHREDDED FETII BELCHED FROM TSATHOGGUA or some shit to express what From the Depths of Flesh is to me.  I have this niggling little hobgoblin in the back of my mind telling me to stay professional and talk about the riffs, the guitar tone, general tempo, song construction, vocals, et cetera but I just don't fucking care.  From the Depths of Flesh sounds like POPEYE SQUEEZING A CAN OF ROLLERCOASTERS DOWN YOUR THROAT and that's all that really needs to be said!  This is one of the most relentlessly intense albums I've heard all year and with every listen it becomes more and more obvious that this is one of the best damn things I've come across in 2018.

While Russia's death metal scene may be more immediately known for dumbass gurgleslam, Wombripper here takes a decidedly more Scandinavian approach to their craft, channeling the power-tool-shreddery of Entombed, Dismember, and Carnage, while drifting from Sweden by throwing in occasionally slower and more morbidly twisted sections reminiscent of Autopsy or Asphyx.  The diversity in the back end is welcome because the album's sole flaw is simply that it's a bit too long if you're listening to the Redefining Darkness release (like I am).  Twelve tracks at 45 minutes just gets to be tiring when it's this raw and frantic.  The album could probably stand to shave off about three songs and ten minutes, and hey whaddaya know the original release is exactly that!  So the album's one and only drawback is actually a later addition, as its virgin form omits the last three tracks, and as a result makes the album much more palatable and less of an endurance test.  Keep in mind it's a pretty enjoyably brutal endurance test, but I'd much rather a band show up, kick ass, and then carry on with life than to overstay their welcome, even if "Morbid Aberration" is notable in that it seems to have cropped up on every prior release.  The band must be mega proud of this one.

But with that out of the way, there's really nothing else to complain about.  There's one tiny flaw that can be safely ignored and the rest of the album is THE OFFICIAL INSTAGRAM OF CHAINSAWS.  Even after all of these listens I struggle to find songs to point out as particular highlights but it's because the entire damn album is so consistently reckless.  "Godless Slaughter" and "Locked in Iced Coffin" stand out a bit for being more developed and containing those gruesome crawly slow parts, but the main attraction is just how fuckin EATEN BY AN ON FIRE SHARK the rest of the album is.  From the opening notes your entire skeletal structure gets vaporized by a veritable onslaught of caustic riffery.  This shit is fuckin' loud.  It feels like my speakers can hardly keep up with the filthy mach-speed morbidity on display.  The drumming sounds like an avalanche, the vocals sound like the logical midpoint between an extremely pissed off Yeti and Tom Waits in a coughing fit, everything is so distorted and manic that it doesn't sound like anything resembling a mistake or careless mastering.  It's just vicious in every form.  Pure, undiluted death metal malice with no frills to distract from the bludgeoning.  Normally there wouldn't be any logical reason for this to stand out since it's just Swedeath worship at its core but ECHOING BOWELS AS MINOTAUR COMBUSTS. 

I can't go on at length about From the Depths of Flesh because nonsense ejaculations of mad-lib gibberish is about all that my brain can comprehend after a few tracks.  This is thunderous, pulverizing Grave-esque death metal with enough added zeal to shatter the skulls of anybody in earshot.  I apologize for all the JAW-CAUGHT IN A PITCHING MACHINE stuff but when I'm faced with something that delivers so many Joe Frazier-style gut punches that my number two starts to resemble number one point three, that's all that makes sense.  I'd say give "Locked in Iced Coffin" a shot for being one of the few to rein in the intensity a bit and focus on just damn strong mid-paced riffs, but really the first five or six tracks hit the hardest with their boundless ferocity so choose the form of your destructor really. 


RATING: 91%

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Dynazty - Firesign

Actually pretty de-fec-tive

Without actually looking at any stats, I'm willing to bet with a pretty major degree of certainty that this is my most listened-to album of the last month, hell maybe even over the course of the entire year.  I've been listening to Dynazty's third album (actually their sixth but to my knowledge they've pretty much retconned everything prior to Renatus out of existence), Firesign, on a nearly constant loop for an embarassingly long time now.  I've been passing up other assuredly great releases that have the potential to completely blow me away because I keep coming back to this.  The reason this is notable is because I'm not actually listening to it because I love it so much.  No, I can't kill this album because for the fucking life of me I can't decide whether I love or hate it, because I'm pretty sure I feel both with equal intensity.

See, Dynazty's last album, Titanic Mass, was exactly as the title indicated.  It was a huge album, with skyscraper sized hooks being thrown at you from all directions.  It was a shallow and basic album but these Swedes were just really god damned good at focusing all of their energy into these gargantuan anthems with rousing choruses, incredible vocals, and surprisingly meaty riffage.  The whole thing took on this form of a dumb arena metal band if all of the members were sentient guitars made of pure Kobe beef.  I loved it, I still love it, I spin it just as much now as I did two years ago, "Untamer of Your Soul" is one of the most finely-tuned expressions of pure triumphant uplifting glory I've heard in years.  That song is what plays during my training montage before the big karate tournament.  FILL YOUR HEEEEART WITH GASOLIIIINE!

And now here's Firesign, and it really sounds like three different bands, none of whom put out the previous two goliaths of modern melodic metal.  And that's not exactly a bad thing either.  Evolution is inevitable and encouraged as far as I'm concerned as long as a band continually plays to their strengths, and there's no denying that this album focuses on great hooks just as much as the previous two, so I don't hate it on principle.  The problem is that this feels... lazy?  Safe?  I'm not sure, and even then I don't really think that at all.  This is a fucking confusing album for me.

Let's get the positives out of the way first, because there are a lot of them.  Nils still sounds like an impeccable Adonis belting out completely banging vocal hooks every single time he opens his gorgeous mouth.  Listen to something like "Ascension" or especially the title track.  It's like he's on top of Mount Olympus and we're all in the palm of his hand, and he's belting his heart out with a powerful tenor about how we're all amazing people who can accomplish great things.  I'm completely in love with this man, and he's still the highlight here.  There's also a heightened keyboard presence here, which is welcome enough considering some of the negatives I'll get to later.  They give the songs a lot of forward momentum and carry many of them on their own (outside of Nils, obviously), which is different, but neat.  Really the main positive is just how strong a good amount of the hooks are.  "In the Arms of the Devil" sounds like some lost Hellfire Club era Edguy track, and the title track is seriously phenomenal.  The chorus on that one is such an incessant ohrwurm that it's almost insulting.  It's dumb but holy hell does it stick, and I can't adequately express how much I adore the corny "whoa-oh" part that shows up for half a second in the background.  It's little details like that that turn this stupid thing into something special.  The band is barely power metal anymore, but on tracks like "Firesign" they prove that it doesn't really matter.  They don't need to be playing fast, they just need to be playing loud, and dammit they'll leave their mark.

The problem is that when they stripped away the hard hitting power metal from their sound, they sorta... forgot to replace it with something else.  There are a few noticeable filler tracks here ("Closing Doors", "My Darkest Hour", "Let Me Dream Forever"), which wasn't really a problem on their previous albums, but here even the good songs feel somewhat unfinished.  There is barely a riff to be found here, honestly.  Those lightspeed palm mutes that were an obvious signature on Renatus and Titanic Mass are almost nowhere nowhere to be found here (there are some slowed down versions of what I'm talking about on "Starfall"), instead the guitarist finds himself playing exclusively dumbass chugs and sustained power chords for the entire duration.  One cool Running Wild style triplet melody on "Ascension" can't cover up how empty "The Grey" is in the riffing department.  And I mean, maybe I shouldn't be too hard on them for this, because they obviously weren't going for riffs on this one.  There are some new hints of darkness on "Follow Me" which helps it stand out, but overall this is a very light, sugary album with absolutely no teeth whatsoever.  I can't really let "The Grey" go,-

Okay, I have to admit something here.  I don't plot out my reviews before I start writing, I just whip everything out as a first draft, and it was at exactly that point up there that I decided to go double check the Metal Archives page for the band to learn the guitarist's name (It's Mike, by the way), since I was gonna point out how fucking bored he must be during that song.  And what do I see on their artist page?  Nils Molin is active in one other band.  What band?

Amaranthe.

That is exactly who I was going to compare them to.  The line in my head was something like "Mike must be so bored with this song, 'The Grey' sounds like something post-Tarja Nightwish ghost wrote for Amaranthe".  And then I fucking learn that the vocalist is actually in Amaranthe now.  Suddenly every negative thing I was going to say about Firesign makes complete fucking sense.  The complete lack of riffs, the focus on vocals and keys at the expense of the now-unimportant rhythm section, the hooks being great but everything around them being so wholly unexciting, the few songs outside of the four or five that I really like sounding like they were written in a day, everything perfectly mirrors Amaranthe.  I was gonna call this "corsetcore with a dude" and it turns out that's exactly what it is.  There is absolutely no way that influence from them hasn't snuck in.  Whether it was a deliberate attempt to become a bit more palatable or just happenstance by the virtue of creative osmosis, it's there, and it's completely impossible to brush from my mind now that I know it for a fact.  The overt pop influence isn't necessarily a band thing in itself, and it's precisely why I like the title track so much, but it's so much more prominent now because the band decided to focus entirely on one strength when really they had a bunch of others as well, so a lot of cool elements were dropped.  Titanic Mass powers forward, Firesign bounces around.  And while the bounciness totally works for the title track or "Follow Me", it makes dull crap like "The Grey" just annoying.  God dammit god dammit all.

Well I guess that sorta shortens the rest of this review doesn't it?  There we have it, listen to corsetcore like that band Annette formed after leaving Nightwish or any random band Nuclear Blast pumps out with zero concern for quality simply because big tits in a corset are guaranteed Youtube views, that's exactly what half of this album sounds like.  There are great songs here, no doubt, I can't get enough of the title track, "Ascension", "In the Arms of the Devil", and "Follow Me", but the rest of it is either filler or just plain stupid.  That's why I'm so torn.  Do I want to recommend an album that I openly don't like half of because there are some great songs?  Do I want to tell you to pass because the good songs are great but the rest of the album is forgettable nonsense?  I still don't know!  This is a frustrating album for exactly that reason.  I feel kind of duped by the Amaranthe-isms being so prevalent immediately after the singer joined that band, but I kind of like the new direction when they hit the mark.  I don't know, I'd leave the rating blank or just rate the good and bad parts of the album differently if I could... so I will!


RATING: 84% when it's good, 39% when it's lame

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Revocation - The Outer Ones

There's a reason nobody runs Noctis anymore

Revocation is the absolute best band I never, ever want to listen to again.

I should've known going into it that I wouldn't care much for The Outer Ones.  Revocation is hot shit in the metal world right now and they have been for years, but I've given everything a listen whenever it dropped as far back as as their debut a decade ago.  Every last album has been technically mesmerizing but completely lacking in staying power.  Each new release is greeted with mountainous ejaculations of praise, almost always talking about how this is The Next Big Thing in metal, they're just too good to not become The Next Big Thing.  But like clockwork, every few years they'll release a new one and the cycle begins anew, people seemingly forgetting that they were supposed to be The Next Big Thing years ago and this is gonna be the one to finally fulfill that prophecy.  It's so weird, they're a very consistent band and they have loads of fans in the semi-underground constantly giving them Roman Reigns-level pushes, and yet every single time they're supposed to break through to the level of success they've already been at for a decade.

So enter The Outer Ones, an album so dull that I had to double check the name of the album before writing the previous paragraph despite giving this like ten full spins over the last week.  Once again, Revocation knocks it out of the park and once again they're consistently great and on top of the world but somehow poised to make that big push towards superstardom, and once again they're just the Lucy to my Charlie Brown and they yanked the football away for the seventh time.

I can't stress this enough, Revocation is a good band.  They play some very exciting high octane death/thrash with loads of hooks and head spinning riffery, David Davidson's guitarwork is astounding, from his thunderstorm riffage to soaring leads, everything about them is well above competent and sits firmly at "quite good", but for the fucking life of them they can't seem to write a song with any lasting hooks or memorable moments.  Every time I give them a spin I find myself thinking "Holy shit this is awesome" and then I get bored no less than a minute after I think that. Like, the hooks are there, but they don't really connect.  The solos are dizzying and rhythm section is absolutely thunderous, but they don't really stick in your mind even after several listens. 

This new album does stand out a bit from their previous output, mostly because the thrash influence has been almost entirely excised, leaving a fully focused death metal album.  Admittedly this is a good thing, because being sort of unfocused and all over the place was part of the reason I never cared for the band in the first place, but it doesn't really do enough to salvage the record from the memory hole.  There are some solid moments here for sure, but every single time I think "Oh this part is cool" and I go check to see what song is playing, it's always "Blood Atonement" or "Ex Nihilo".  And the weird thing is that I can't even tell you what those songs do differently from the rest!  The whole thing is a faceless blur of blastbeats and tech death noodlery, with decent-but-forgettable bellowing over the top of it.  Sometimes they slow down and take on an almost quasi-djenty quality (check the outro of the title track to see what I mean) or a more menacingly atmospheric take on the frantic death metal they stick to throughout most of the album (like "Vanitas"), and sometimes the soloing sections go full prog and shred your face off with inhuman fretwork, but at the end of the day none of it seems to resonate.  It's a very frustrating album because, on the surface, all of the elements that make a great album are here.  I have no complaints with the songwriting or riffs themselves, but it's just less than the sum of its parts by a startlingly wide margin and I can't help but feel disappointed. 

I guess it all comes down to the songwriting, and even then that doesn't really feel fair.  The songs never go on for too long or repeat themselves too much, nor do they sacrifice great moments by schizophrenically jumping all over the place, (these guys aren't afraid of riding out a good groove), they're neither dissonant to the point of nauseating gimmickry, nor are they melodic to the point of being saccharine and sapping the pummeling morbidity of their host genre away from the songs.  Everything that makes a great death metal album is here, but it's... I dunno, just missing that X Factor.  It's not that the style just isn't for me or something, I'm obviously a fan of what they're doing in a broader sense, but Revocation themselves just never managed to hit that sweet spot and deliver something truly outstanding.  Maybe it's the fact that they never really go full speed ahead with anything that kills them for me.  Maybe if they did really lean into the dissonant jangledeath they're teasing or went straight prog-death like they sometimes flirt with, maybe if they did anything with some real conviction and purpose they'd finally be the great band I know they're capable of being.  That's what The Outer Ones is, and it's what all of their albums have always been, they're a tease.  They're always almost great, because they're almost so many different things, and instead of all of that adding up to being a jack of all trades, they end up being disappointing in like six different facets at once. 

Yeah, I think that's the best way I can describe it.  The Outer Ones is almost four different great albums that are all similar enough to one another, but none of them ever truly become great.  The guitarists can dazzle me with freakish celerity, the heaviest moments can absolutely crush my skull, but at no point do I ever wreck my fucking neck.  At no point do I ever truly stand in awe at their craftsmanship.  At every turn, Revocation showcases the undeniable fact that they've got skills out the wazoo, but they're in dire need of a re-spec.  What they need most of all, in my eyes, is to give themselves a real role.  Because as it stands they'll never get a slot in my party.  They're all-around balanced but can't break past the level cap in any statistical category.  You'll probably like this, everybody else seems to, but I maintain what I said at the start: Revocation is the best band I absolutely never want to listen to again.


RATING: 49%

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Archspire - Relentless Mutation

Omae wa mou shindeiru...

Like many fans of unabashed extremity, I bought into the tech death craze of the late 2000s really hard.  And like 99% of the people who bought into it, I fell out of it fairly quickly.  There's only so much brain-warping technicality you can come across before it stops being impressive and starts being the norm.  The problem is that the highest bars were all set fairly early and most bands were always chasing a few gargantuan shadows.  Early on there were basically only three bands to choose from, and they all one-upped each other super quickly and that was that.  Deeds of Flesh is one of the earliest examples to take the Suffocation/Dying Fetus style of brutal death metal with loads of technicality and amp it up to an almost inhuman level of musicianship, Necrophagist pretty definitively laid the foundation for what tech death would become shortly afterwards with Onset of Putrefaction in 1999 (it's easy to forget just how ahead of their time they were) with the insane speed finding itself coupled with highly melodic passages and nutso soloing, and then the following year Origin released their self titled debut and more or less set the standard with their style of what I affectionately call "salad shooter" tech death.  For a time, if you liked this style those were really the only three bands worth a damn to choose from, until sometime around 2007ish it just fucking exploded and all of the sudden seemingly everybody was signed to Unique Leader or Willowtip and had Par Olofsson doing their album covers.  And despite that, Origin were still the kings of the genre, with their 2008 masterpiece, Antithesis, setting the absolute gold standard of what human limits could achieve within the genre while still crafting memorable and worthwhile songs.  Nothing else was that fast, that impressive, and that catchy.  For nearly a decade, the entire scene was trying and failing to surpass Antithesis, which is probably a big reason why it fell out of favor so quickly.  The apex had already been achieved, and nobody was able to match it.

That lengthy preamble really only serves to provide context for why Archspire has brought the genre back into the spotlight for a time.  Despite the fact that a few phenomenal bands managed to flourish in the wake of Antithesis (Hour of Penance, pre-Agony Fleshgod Apocalypse, Spawn of Possession, Decrepit Birth, Hideous Divinity, etc), Archspire was the first band to really hint at having the potential to, on a technical and objective level, finally usurp that thundering monolith of modern metal.  The pieces were all there on The Lucid Collective, but the songs themselves hadn't quite reached the level of incessant infectiousness yet to truly push them over the edge.  But the writing was on the wall, these guys had the chops to make it happen.  And with Relentless Mutation they finally, finally did it.

What makes this album stand out, to me at least, is that it's probably the most unabashedly unrestrained album in the genre.  It pushes the limits of human dexterity and lung capacity to levels several parsecs past the last established extreme. Prewett's feet move so fucking fast that it sounds like the bass drum is a god damned ziptie, and Oli Peters can growl and rasp at speeds comparable to a tape on fast forward.  It's probably cliche to point out how fast Archspire is, but it is their most notable quality regardless.  I think the reason Oli and Spencer have become such superstars in the scene is because they're probably the first at their respective instruments to truly ascend to a higher plane of skill.  Speedy and precise drummers have been commonplace in tech death forever now, but Prewett's sheer relentlessness is something you don't really get all that often.  Despite the mechanically precise drumming on display, he still feels human.  The first time I heard John Longstreth or Lord Marco drum, I felt like I was hearing somebody who was let loose on a drum machine and just went overboard.  The first time I heard Prewett, even though it was on an album much less memorable than this one, I felt like how I felt the first time I heard Pete Sandoval or Flo Mournier.  All you need to do is listen to pretty much any song here, or watch a drum playthrough or something, and you'll understand just how special he is.  Playing this insane doesn't usually come with such feeling, but somehow he manages it.  There's a lot of passion and feeling in his spastic drum performance, it's a very emotionally charged blast of aggression, as laser-guided and pinpoint as it is.  Oli needs less explaining, because all I can think to say is "Think about how impressed scene veterans are with Corpsegrinder's rate of delivery.  Now imagine him on a coke bender."  He sounds like a rabid wolverine, with each syllable punctuated for emphasis, so he rattles off these ridiculously verbose lyrics with a fine tuned breathless staccato roar.  It's like getting punched a thousand times in a few seconds.

The other guys are obviously great as well, but the drums and vocals are indisputably what gave Archspire their push towards fame.  However, all of these standout technical performances would mean something between "jack" and "shit" if the songs themselves weren't great as well.  That is where The Lucid Collective failed, but it is where Relentless Mutation excels.  This album has hooks out the fucking wazoo, and since it keeps itself contained to a mere thirty minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome, deftly maneuvering through a few million notes with such glitter-tossing flair that you're sure to remember the multitude vocal lines and bass breaks.  "Involuntary Doppelganger" has become an instant hit for good reason, as it manages to perfectly blend the frenzied speed with well crafted hooks in a way that nobody has been able to replicate since Origin a decade prior.  "Remote Tumour Seeker" and the title track are highlights in this regard as well, with the latter throwing in some spacey prog sections as well.  Usually that shit would annoy me, but it's a welcome break from the overwhelming deluge of riffery that the rest of the album giddily rejoices in.  Even the occasional proggy sections like this still see the bass noodling around with bloopy arpeggios and the drums never stop pummeling away with inhumanly fast skinwork.  There's even a nice vocal intro for "Calamus Will Animate", coupled with a handful of absolutely devastating breakdowns across a few tracks.  If nothing else, these guys understand the value of throwing a few curveballs now and then, because tech death can tend to be too much of the same at times.  There are samey moments here and there of course, it's unavoidable with the style, but there are enough neat little oddities here and there that it winds up being an ultimately small issue.

The album artwork is a pretty good visualization of what Relentless Mutation sounds like.  It's completely overwhelming, seeing the listener frantically clawing at their own face while they drown, begging for some sort of release from this fast-expanding virus that eats your flesh and sprouts cancerous growths and parasitic leeches.  Thankfully, the band revels in this utter batshittery and winds up being very enjoyable in their mania.  The album has been out for a little over a year now, and I still find myself coming back to it for the occasional maiming.  One of my biggest regrets is snubbing this for my year end list last year in favor of Hideous Divinity.  They're still great, don't get me wrong, but Archspire is on a whole other level, and something this exceptional deserves all the love it can get.


RATING: 91%

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Deicide - Overtures of Blasphemy

Holy Hell

I'm a vocal proponent of the idea that old metal bands should roll over and die already.  Classic bands were classic because of their early work 100% of the time.  How many truly essential albums have really been released late in a band's career?  Dehumanizer?  Debatable (I personally think it's only half good myself), but Sabbath finally put their career to rest a while back so they're out of the picture for the current meta.  Painkiller?  Yeah it was a late career fluke in its time but Judas Priest has been active for 28 years since then and produced nothing but mediocrity since, it's weird to think about it this way but it sits squarely in the first half of their career at this point.  Anything Iron Maiden has released since the 80s ended?  lol get the fuck outta here you no-standards-having scrub.  There are exceptions to every rule of course; Cannibal Corpse has been consistently great throughout their career and, while I don't care for them, Amorphis fans seem to uniformly hold their old and new stuff in equal regard, but on the whole this is a pretty solid standard for me.

So with my eternal frustration with dinosaurs consistently hogging all of the limelight with samey mediocre garbage in mind, I approached Overtures of Blasphemy with a lot of trepidation.  Deicide may have arguably set the standard for American death metal early on, with both the self titled debut and Legion boasting roughly infinity riffs between them and Serpents of the Light being a flawed but entertaining and catchy late 90s death metal release, but their best years are clearly behind them.  Leaving out the amazing fluke that was The Stench of Redemption (many thanks to Ralph Santolla for injecting some fresh life into those fast-decaying veins), six out of their last seven albums over the last twenty years have ranged from forgettable to awful.  Their slide into total irrelevance is tragic considering how brilliant they once were and how much of an unsung death metal MVP Steve Asheim still is.  They shouldn't've even bothered releasing anything else at this point.  Just play fests and go bowling or something.

However, I'm wrong a lot, and Overtures of Blasphemy is proof of that, because holy fuck does this album smoke.

Right from the opening notes of "One with Satan", you can feel this sort of immense pressure building up behind the sustained chords of that monstrously huge opening riff, and when it all finally releases into a thrashy retrodeath throwback about forty seconds in, the walls just start crumbling down and all fucking hell breaks loose.  It just keeps picking up steam as it goes, eventually breaking into a hellish whirlwind of insane blasting and harmonized soloing.  I'm not even kidding when I say all twelve tracks on display somehow manage to keep this manic intensity at a suitably batshit plateau.  The album is sort of front loaded ("Crawled from the Shadows" and "Seal the Tomb Below" are possibly the best tracks on display) but I feel like that's sort of just by nature of them being the first few songs and therefore the ones you're most likely to hear.  Everything is pretty much equally as good, you could've restructured these tracks in any order and you'd be smacked in the gob with a bloody explosion of fury.

One of the more noticeable things about the album is Glen Benton's vocals, because this is the first time I can remember (though it may have been this way on the last album as well, but I don't quite remember because it was five years ago and quite boring) where he's totally abandoned his trademark of layering his deep bellows with his high gravelly rasps.  His high register isn't utilized at all here, it's just bassy gutturals the entire time, and you'd think that removing one of the most quintessentially Deicide elements would produce a very un-Deicide Deicide album, but dammit here we are with arguably their best album in 25+ years.  Maybe it's the injection of fresh blood again after the departure of Jack Owen (though English and Quiron are by no means virile youngsters), but Overtures of Blasphemy has an unarguable sense of renewed vigor.  While this album does fly in the face of most of my beliefs for how and why old bands are so consistently lame in their later years, I do feel somewhat vindicated because even though the band is over 30 years old at this point and Glen is well into his fifties, this sounds young and hungry.  This sounds like it could've been released in 1992, it's a nearly mythical blend of adolescent energy mixed with the tightness that comes with decades of being a touring metal band.  These fuckers haven't slowed down one bit.  Glen sounds as vicious as he's ever sounded, Steve is playing with a level of speed and passion that the new breed of laser guided tech death kids can only dream of reaching, the riffs are up to par and even surpass what the Hoffman brothers produced in their prime, everything about this feels like a band that has everything to prove and everything to lose.  They went for broke here and cashed out big time.

The true strength of this album lies in its hooks, because this is one of the catchiest death metal albums released in some years, it's like some sort of lost Vader album.  Despite the rabid ferocity of the music, there are no shortage of damn near anthemic riffs and choruses.  "Crawled from the Shadows" and "Crucified Soul of Salvation" stand out in this regard, but none of the other tracks really fall flat.  Not a single second is wasted, everything is massive in some way.  The whole album sounds like one relentless monsoon of riffage that drowns everything with an infectious flair.  I'm stunned, they haven't showcased this level of deft songwriting in eons. There's a sort of primal simplicity in what they're doing here, and that sort of feral tunnel vision is a huge boon to the album's memorability.  The solos may be flashy and excessive but it sounds like a stylish bludgeoning more than the dudes showing off how good they are at arpeggios or something, and the rhythm section has such a dedicated single-minded focus on tearing your throat out and making you swallow it without chewing that I'm finding it almost impossible to get these songs out of my head.  Sometimes you just need to pick something simple and be the best at it, and Deicide is proving that even after all these years, they've still got some fuel in their tank.  Why the hell they waited so damn long to showcase it is something I'll never understand, but I'd be lying to you if I said this wasn't some top-tier shit in 2018.

Overtures of Blasphemy has no business being as good as it is, and it's forcing me to eat my hat in the bloodiest way possible.  For the first time in decades, Deicide sounds dangerous, and man is that refreshing to say.  It's a concise blast of explosive riffage from guys who were there when it all started, and somehow, against all odds, they've re-lit the fire and burned down most of their peers.


RATING: 93%

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Powerolf - The Sacrament of Sin

The most evil propulsion system ever conceived!

Powerwolf is getting to be real fuckin' frustrating, let me tell ya what.  I can explain precisely what their biggest problem is right now, and it's obvious to everybody who has ever heard more than one song of theirs at this point.  Clearly, their problem is that they sound too much like Running Wild and ergo you're always going to be thinking of a better band while listening to Powerwolf.  Simple!

Alright it's actually a little bit more obvious than that (though I'm not wrong).  The obvious problem is that they're milking their signature formula so hard that there are pretty much guaranteed to be no challenges or surprises on each subsequent album.  Have you heard Lupus Dei?  Well if so, you've heard The Sacrament of Sin.  It starts with a maddeningly epic barnburner and album highlight ("Fire and Forgive"), there's a speedy Europower cliche-fest either in the back half or as the second track (it's the former this time, with the title track), it closes on a track with a parenthetical title and switches tempos between verse and chorus and stands as one of the most overtly singalong songs in an album full of singalong songs ("Fist by Fist (Sacrilize or Strike)"), there's a track sung in some non-English language ("Stossgebet"), there's a giant arena-rousing mid paced anthem guaranteed to be a hit single ("Demons are a Girl's Best Friend"), and every song interjects superfluous Latin and is guaranteed to say "Hallelujah" more often than Manowar says "metal".  It's almost insulting how so many tiny details are completely identical for like the sixth album in a row now.

However, most readers should be shouting at their screen that I'm a dumbass hypocrite because most of my favorite metal bands do this exact same thing all the time.  Gargoyle, Motorhead, and Running Wild (obviously one of the main influences on Powerwolf here) are notorious for reusing song/album/riff structures over and over again, and they're some of my favorite bands of all time.  And well... yeah, you got me there.  Bands that do this tend to wind up in a pretty familiar place with each album, with fans generally being devoted and not caring because their formula scratches a particular itch.  Frankly, Powerwolf is no different.  I like this niche they fill, and if I seem disappointed with The Sacrament of Sin, it's entirely because most of this album's sister songs on other albums are simply better, so what we're getting here are mostly reheated leftovers of previous ideas.  Some of them work amazingly, "Fire and Forgive" continues their tradition of having incredibly bombastic and rousing openers, with this one being every bit as good as the openers on every previous album.  "Fist by Fist" is by far the best closing track they've managed in a decade, specifically because it's the first one in forever to just get to the fucking point.  "Venom of Venus" isn't quite as good as its counterpart on the previous album ("Army of the Night") but it's still a highlight here, and I'd say the title track is better than "Dead Boys Don't Cry" but doesn't hold a candle to "Secrets of the Sacristy" or "Dead Until Dark".  I'd describe them further but they can all really just be summed up in one sentence.  "This is the Gamma Ray soundalike" or "This is the stompy one" or whatever, they're all very shallow but they usually have enough style and flair to not matter.

The problem is simply that most of the songs here have been done better, which I know isn't fair but it's true.  You can hear an improved version of "Demons are a Girl's Best Friend" by just listening to "We Drink Your Blood" or "Sacred and Wild" instead.  You could rock out to "Killers with the Cross" or you could check out "Catholic in the Morning... Satanist at Night" or "When the Moon Shines Red" instead.  About the only truly different songs here are "Incense and Iron" and "Where the Wild Wolves have Gone", the former for being a very oddly folky song with tons of bounce and great hooks, while the latter is just a full on ballad at every turn and it just pulls the fucking dragchute on the album's momentum when it shows up (it doesn't help that it's followed by "Stossgebet" which also succeeds in going absolutely fucking nowhere).  Nobody listens to Powerwolf because they don't want to hear booming choirs and adrenaline pumping excitement.

The thematic elements integral to Powerwolf's image are still intact and still fine I suppose, but I find myself wishing they'd go more full out with it.  It's starting to sound a bit like a half-hearted parody at this point with how often they invoke the random Latin choirs.  I mean, they've always done that but it sounds so obligatory nowadays.  Contrast even the best moments of The Sacrament of Sin with what they sounded like on Bible of the Beast and it's night and day with how much more inspired and energetic they were almost ten years ago.  It feels like the curtain has been pulled back a bit and we can see that instead of the image of a decaying corpse-preacher standing behind a marble pulpit, belching sulfur while delivering fiery sermons amidst a backdrop of a black-cloaked choir of revenants perverting the outwardly Catholic themes, it's just five dorky dudes in costumes playing Disney metal with a dark theme.  It's basically Sabaton with generally better songwriting, but it's stagnating to a point of noxiousness.  Which is silly because I said this same thing about Preachers of the Night and then they turned around and followed it up with Blessed and Possessed, which was basically the exact same album but 10000x more entertaining.  So who knows what the future holds at this point?

So to sum it up, basically it's a Powerwolf album.  It's not one of their better ones despite there being some absolutely rousing bangers here with "Fire and Forgive", "Venom of Venus", "Incense and Iron", and "Fist by Fist".  That's about it.  They're on top of the world right now but they aren't really living up to their own hype anymore.  There are good moments here and I'd say this is still worth listening to just to hear how great the good songs are, but they've done better, so it's hard to tell fans to rush out and grab it.

Two random points that I couldn't fit in the review proper but wanted to address anyway: 1) I love how fond Powerwolf is of cover songs.  I honestly get a kick out of hearing them reinterpret classics that inspired them and I love the twist they put on it this time, with the bonus disc being full of other bands covering their classic songs.  Most of them aren't that good (with the exceptions of Epica and Saltatio Mortis killing their tracks, and Kreator's blistering thrash interpretation of "Amen and Attack" is fucking nuts) but it's a nice gesture.  2) The main riff of "Nightside in Siberia" sounds exactly like Amon Amarth's "Pursuit of Vikings" and now you'll never un-notice it.  You're welcome.


RATING: 67%

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%