Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Havok - Conformicide

Wokemon

Well, like Twilight Force's sophomore album last year (I'm still refusing to type that idiotic title as much as possible), Havok's new album, Conformicide, seems to already be 2017's bizarre hill to die on.  Though this time, it's not because the frantic hyperbole is focusing on the music itself and the merits thereof (since Twilight Force is basically bombastic flower metal cranked up to eleven most of the critique from both angles seemed to center on whether the style itself was inherently awesome or shitty), instead the controversy from this one stems mostly from the lyrics, themes, and attitude of the band as a collective and individuals.

I'm just gonna get it out of the way since that's what everybody is talking about.  Yes, the lyrics are awful, blunt force trauma rantings of the tinfoil Infowars variety with no subtlety whatsoever.  Yes, they do detract from the overall package.  Yes, Sanchez has made a name for himself for being a ranting Tea Party following, Gadsden Flag waving zealot with a condescending attitude.  Yes, these are all problems that do keep me from enjoying this album fully, but I'll try not to spend too much time on them since I've always been the type to not take lyrics into account too horribly much when it comes to metal anyway.  The biggest problem is twofold actually, the first thing being that the attitude the album exudes is that it's merely a vehicle to preach.  Havok uses their new album as a bully pulpit to talk down to the "sheep" of the "masses" about all the New World Order shit we've been hearing for decades in thrash.  The second is that they don't actually say anything interesting with this platform.  Like, "F.P.C." is all about how political correctness is stifling free speech and how the "snowflake" type youths are ruining everything, but it provides precisely zero examples of such a thing and just rants aimlessly about how much it sucks to get yelled at for being mean.  "Intention to Deceive" starts with an awful snippet of a news anchor announcing that tonight's news will be trivial nonsense to distract you from what's really happening, but the rest of the song conspicuously fails to mention what the news is distracting you from.  It's like the band is trying to come off as a Dale Gribble type character, espousing all kinds of wacky, out-there theories of what is going on behind the scenes when it comes to the people in power, with all kinds of reasons they want to suppress free thought and how they go about it.  Instead they're more of a Steven Hyde, a burnout loser who sits in the basement all day smoking weed and rambling about how The Man is trying to keep you down, maaan.  It's just empty crap, it's the same content you could get from asking any 14 year old in a Led Zeppelin shirt what he thinks is going on in the world.  Just worthless drivel, and being advertised as a forward-thinking album loaded with "truth bombs" is overselling it to a massive degree.

However, I'd be a total hypocrite if I got so hung up on this that I let it ruin the whole album for me.  It's fine if it does for you, but I'm the guy who gave Arghoslent a free pass simply because I love the music so much, so that's where it's going to end for me.

Musically... well it doesn't actually do a whole lot to excite me.  There are some elements that I flat out adore, namely this completely fucking manic approach to vocals that Sanchez seems to have adopted.  I haven't kept up with Havok since their first album since they were just another face in the crowd of rethrash in the late 00s, but god damn I don't remember his vocals being so ludicrously venomous on Burn.  He seems to alternate between that distorted scream and the more conventional snarl, but the former is what stands out and what seems to be utilized more often.  It honestly makes up for a good chunk of the album's faults in my eyes, there's a lot of passion behind those frenzied shrieks, and it helps amp up the aggression when the riffs are stuck in stock meandering mode.  If the riff writing could improve, I could absolutely see Havok being a true standout in the scene, but as it stands the fiendish screams are merely the one thing that makes this album memorable from a musical perspective for me.

Riffs are the lifeblood that keeps the thrash beast mobile, and I won't lie and say there aren't some cool high octane sections on display, but the bulk of the album seems to fall into the same rethrash tropes we've heard a gorillion times for the last decade now.  Now don't get me wrong, there are certainly parts that are creative.  "F.P.C." has a bizarre verse riff that focuses on a Prong styled bass-driven groove, and there are a lot of extended intros (a neat thing that I actually wish more bands would do well), but overall the album focuses on standard thrash rhythms.  This can work just fine, a unique sound is more of a bonus than a requirement to me, but when the passion and aggression is 100% put behind the vocals, the rest of the music suffers.  Basically the point here is that they needed more songs like "Dogmaniacal", which is just fucking ferocious and propulsive, and a whole lot less songs like "Peace is in Pieces", which chugs along and rips out high speed thrash riffs that sound like they were written on the fly and not tweaked at all after the rough draft stage.  Conformicide is deceptively technical as well, with plenty of neat bass licks and complex sections that appear from time to time, but it's not the band's strength.  They're not the brainiac engineers of Watchtower or Coroner who can get Doom to run on anything with an electrical current, but they're competent enough code monkeys to fix my laptop when I download the wrong porn.  The problem is that they don't weave these angular riffs into instantly recognizable anthems like Megadeth did on Rust in Peace (an album this was compared to during the marketing blitz), instead we get ten run of the mill thrash songs that occasionally surprise you with a highly complicated bass run.  I'd call that a failure of songwriting, personally, because the cool ideas they obviously had are overshadowed by the simpler songs like "Claiming Certainty" and "Dogmaniacal".  The Megadeth influence is certainly there, but Havok are still very clearly imitators more than they are trailblazers.

That's really all there is to say about Conformicide.  All around the internet it's either being praised as the thinking man's answer to the overwhelming wave of progressive left wing ideals in metal or a hackneyed vehicle to condescendingly preach to the choir and willingly alienate everybody else, when really it's just a subpar-to-middling thrash album with notable lyrical themes and shit actual lyrics.  It's not awful, this doesn't pain me to listen to and I'll probably reach back for a song or two every now and again, but it's still very full of itself and presents itself as something much grander than it actually is.  Like with all things, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and I'm not just trying to be a oh-lets-just-please-everybody waffler with that statement.  It's just... kinda there.  If there wasn't so much controversy around the lyrics, it'd likely be quickly lost to time as yet another modern thrash album that isn't as shitnards bonkers as Vektor or viciously brutal as Power Trip, apparently the only other two thrash bands people like nowadays. 


RATING - 43%

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

ONE HUNDRED NATZY SCALPS

Stream of consciousness incoming

Yesterday, A.V. Club, generally a great source of pop culture news with an occasional smartass twist (a natural consequence of being the rare non-satirical entity owned by The Onion), published an article titled "Metal music still has an unaddressed Nazi problem".  It's been making the rounds in my internetical circles for obvious reasons, mainly being that I'm a metalhead who writes and talks about metal all the time and therefore associates with several likeminded people, and it's just gotten me thinking about a couple of things.  So I figured I should impart some of my unearned and unwanted wisdom upon y'all, because there's a lot to address in that article, and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna lose my way and get introspective as it goes (I don't outline anything before I write it, sue me).

The most glaring thing about the article that I noticed is that it is either amazingly poorly researched, or the author is so far up his own ass that he's in danger of choking on his own head.  Now, I'm not going to sit here and defend Nazis.  I fucking hate Nazis.  I can't stand racism or anti-semitism or basically any other sort of -ism you can throw at me, I just generally don't talk about my political views here on Lair of the Bastard because y'all come here for metal reviews and fart jokes, but it's the truth.  So the fact that this article lit a fire in me does not mean anything even remotely approaching that Nazis are alright and we as a listenership should just get over it or anything of that nature.  What I'm really getting at is that if you're going to go after the shitty people in metal, you should at least take on a modicum of journalistic integrity and have something resembling an idea of what you're talking about.

The article begins by talking shit about Disma, which is fair.  I think Disma is an alright band but they're certainly not a Nazi/white supremacist band, but they are led by Craig Pillard, who hasn't done much in the way of distancing himself from any Nazi sympathies he may seem to exude.  His Sturmführer project is really hard to defend, glorifying Hitler and his atrocities with aplomb.  Whether or not it's just tryhard edgelord shock value bullshit, it's still not the kind of thing that society at large is cool with, so his involvement with pretty much anything is going to carry the stink of Sturmführer.  I'm one of those people who can separate art from artist, and I realize that's likely a privilege thing, but the fact is that I think Arghoslent riffs extremely fucking hard so I'm going to listen to them, but I'm also not going to get upset if somebody else is going to see the lyrics recanting tales of how awesome slavery was and decide to not support them.  That's their individual choice, so the author saying Disma should suck out farts and die is fine by me.

Where he starts to go off the rails is immediately afterwards when he accuses Profound Lore of having no moral compass, signing bands full of awful people and indicating that they simply do not give a shit about these types of things.  If there were more examples than just Disma (I remind you, a band that says nothing objectionable other than the typical death and morbidity tropes of death metal and simply happen to have an objectionable member) I might understand, but the next band on Profound Lore's roster they go after is... Cobalt?

Wait seriously, fucking Cobalt?  The band that wrote Gin?  The album with motherfucking Ernest Hemingway on the cover?  Hold on, does David Anthony actually know a fucking thing about Cobalt?  Cobalt generally sticks to topics of loss and misery at the hands of war, and I don't mean like "Aw yeah the Third Reich had the right idea invading Poland" or anything of that nature.  Hell, Cobalt has always had only two official members, and from the band's inception until 2014, Phil McSorley was one of them, and he's a source of controversy, sure, but only if you completely cut off the narrative at a specific point.  He snapped after an interview with Andrew Curtis-Brignell of Caïna, where Andrew talked about how the forced misanthropy of black metal was kinda dumb and why feminism and such was important.  Phil took offense to this sort of "USBM friendship scene" as he called it and started spouting off homophobic remarks in retaliation.  If you stopped there, Cobalt absolutely seems like the kind of band you'd want to distance yourself from.  But the story doesn't stop there.  Phil was kicked out of Cobalt almost immediately.  That's not the kind of message that the other member, Erik Wunder, wants the band to be associated with.  So there was an offending member who spewed hateful shit and he was immediately kicked out of the band.  To hold the words of somebody who was kicked out of the band as a result of those exact words against the band is just insane and unfair.

But really, that's not his issue.  His issue is with McSorley's replacement, Charlie Fell of (the inimitably fucking awesome) Lord Mantis.  Oddly enough, even then his issue isn't necessarily with Cobalt, but with the album art for Lord Mantis' third album, 2014's excellent Death Mask.  Let's take a look at this offending art:


Now, in a vacuum, it's not exactly hard to see why this could be offensive.  It's a sickly green trans person, mutilated and bound with a noose falling out of slit wrists inside some cosmic hellscape.  Now, anybody who has been touched by Rin's path knows the school of thought that "art is meant to be interpreted, not understood", but the fact of the matter is that there is a concrete message behind this.  I'll let Charlie explain this in his own words, via a statement he released after a review at nocleansinging brought attention to the perceived insensitivity of the art (emphasis mine):

“The art work wasn’t meant to offend it was made to be a portrait of myself destructiveness as well as my minds eye view of my humanity and sexuality. The last album also featured a transgendered Christ on it and its been a theme in our cover art through out the bands existence. Im not always the best with words and come off a bit crass and insensitive to some people but I have no problems or prejudices with any race, gender (cis, trans or otherwise) or sexual orientation.

I myself am a jew and work at a gay bar in Boystown Chicago and also was in a relationship with a transgendered woman so I can tell you that the band does not advocate violence towards anyone besides ourselves, hence the noose and the scars and the agony of the figure on the cover. I haven’t had the most privileged life and the bands art is a direct reflection of my own misery and was not intended to be some sort of tasteless shocker"

See how fucking easy that was to explain?  It's not just a shocking "hee hee look at us we're murdering a trans person" shitshow, it's an expression of the vocalist's own hatred of himself and his confused sexuality, a vocalist who is also Jewish, works in a gay bar, and has been in a relationship with a trans woman.  Like, holy shit talk about taking the exact opposite message from something and justifying it with a cherry picked quote from an interview where he's trying to push the mysticism that so many extreme bands inexplicably rely on (this is sort of a side note itch-scratching, but I hate that sort of shit.  Just be like "Oh hey, my name is Steve and I work in a pet store, this next song is about Satanic murder cults", we really don't need to believe you're in a Satanic murder cult in order to enjoy the song).  Throwing Fell under the bus for something he's already explained is fucking inexcusable, and the author and website both owe him an apology.

Keep in mind that very little of what the article has discussed has to do with Nazism up to this point.  It's only been Craig Pillard, who by extension means everybody else in Disma has drawn ire, plus an entirely unfair attack on Cobalt, Lord Mantis, and Charlie Fell for reasons that make absolutely no sense and were already adequately explained.  So this "Nazi problem" apparently has a whole lot to do with... people not actually being Nazis.

From there the article goes on to continue beating the dead horse of Inquisition, based on a story told by a former tour bus driver about the band going gaga over his swazi tattoo.  This one always bugged me because it was a total hearsay report from one guy about a situation from a decade or more prior with no witnesses, initially reported on as total unflinching fact by Metalsucks with the headline "Inquisition are probably Nazis".  Dagon gave an interview later where he explained his rather laissez faire approach towards the hatred of the past and explaining that they initially signed to No Colours Records simply because they were the only underground label of any renown willing to sign them back then, white supremacy be damned.  I'm not going to try to explain away his 88MM project or the association with No Colours, or the promo pics with a Nazi flag (though that one is likely just cheap shock value as opposed to genuine hate, though I can understand somebody not caring about such a distinction) or his defensive interview (which did him no favors by being presented unedited, including all of his pauses and "um"s and "uh"s), but Metalsucks isn't exactly known for being calm, slow, and rational about these things.  Lets not forget the time they went after Destroyer 666 for being racist Nazi pricks based almost entirely on a white wolf being present on a 20 year old album and an after-show anecdote from a fan, running smear pieces for a week before somebody actually had the idea to fucking talk to the band and ended up retracting everything and deleting the articles.  That one is even more confusing considering there are heaps of stories about KK Warslut being a racist dickhead but apparently they decided to focus on something really flimsy and ended up having to eat crow over it.

Next up is the deadest of all dead horses, going after Mayhem for the shit in the early 90s that every metal fan is well aware of.  Yes, the black metal scene had a lot of ugly shit going on, from the church burnings, to Varg Vikernes being a racist neo-Nazi piece of shit who murdered Euronymous (who, by the way, hasn't been in Mayhem for upwards of twenty years now and even gave up on metal entirely (for racist reasons, natch)), to Hellhammer's ugly quotes regarding racism and homophobia (which, again, were eons ago), to Faust stabbing a homosexual man to death (who, again, hasn't been in Emperor since it happened so holding his actions against the band is like me saying Wal Mart is racist because they hired my high school bully as a cart pusher and then fired him after he said something racist), and on and on.  There are tons of great examples of awful, terrible, reprehensible people being involved in classic bands but to trash those bands after dumping members for those exact reasons is nuts.

Lastly, they take on the guitarist of Deafheaven because of Twitter posts from before the band even formed of him using slurs like a regular part of speech.  Yes, he shouldn't have said those things and I'm not going to try to spin it like he did nothing wrong, but the original article that broke that story never asked him for a comment.  It was just "HA HA LOOK AT THIS SOME DUDE FROM A BAND THAT IS POPULAR NOW USED TO CALL PEOPLE FAGGOTS ALL THE TIME BEFORE THE BAND EVEN STARTED AND NOW WE'RE GOING TO AIR IT TO THE WORLD WITHOUT GIVING HIM AN OPPORTUNITY TO APOLOGIZE BECAUSE WE DON'T CARE IF PEOPLE CHANGE HA HA HA!"  And this A.V. Club article presented that article with nothing else, not caring if he had any remorse or even if he tried to defend himself in some sort of terrible way, it was just used as another example of why metal is littered with awful people with no sort of context around it.

What this all amounts to is a ridiculous witch hunt and an exercise in false equivalence.  Kerry McCoy said "faggot" a lot back in the day and Charlie Fell used his art to express self loathing and sexuality in a way that some people misinterpreted, and that somehow makes them equally as bad as literal murderers and people who glorify a regime that facilitated the deaths of millions of innocent people.  Because... they all play black metal?  Because homophobia is synonymous with Nazism now?  I don't even know what Anthony was trying to go for with this article, because it was just a litany of examples of shitty behavior, several of which were presented irresponsibly or flat out incorrectly, with "Nazi" in the title like it somehow tied it all together.  I feel the need to reiterate that Charlie Fell absolutely got shafted in this article and deserves and apology, everything relating to him, Cobalt, and Profound Lore Records is absolutely shameful.


Now, finally moving past the summary of the initial article, I guess what I want to say in response to all of this is that there are a disturbing amount of Nazi sympathizers in metal, the thing is that there are very few, if any, "infiltrators" and people who get away with murder (literally and metaphorically) in metal.  For the most part they're all sequestered into their own little pocket of easily avoidable and hateable niche of NSBM.  Somebody like Craig Pillard helping shape what death metal would later become in Incantation is a huge rarity, and to frame an entire argument around that, sucking in innocent bystanders like Fell into a self-collapsing vortex of nonsense, is crazy and irresponsible.  If the author wanted to make a point about the problem of Nazis in metal, there were tons, tons more rational examples he could have used.  But no, he went for the sensationalist approach of trying to equate Deafheaven with Absurd, and that's preposterous.

Going back into politics, I am personally fairly far on the left side of the spectrum.  I'm all about inclusion and positivity, I just happen to love aggressive, violent music.  I understand there's a cognitive dissonance at play here, and I'd be a total hypocrite if I tried to deny the privilege I have as a straight, white, cis dude who can't possibly be personally offended or attacked by 99.9999999% of the themes present in metal.  But what this article did was irresponsible and inexcusable, and it only makes it harder for people to sympathize with the values its trying to hold up.  I know it's not always black and white, and I'll admit that seeing Richard Spencer get punched in a face was so schadenfreudetastic that I nearly ejaculated hard enough to change the ph level of the atmosphere upon seeing it, but there's something to be said for tone.

What I mean by that is that this way of going about business, attacking anything and everything that could possibly be seen as insensitive without any attempt at actually understanding it, is fucking dangerous and can (and will) easily backfire.  I actually agree with most of the values that sites like Metalsucks stand for but thanks to their sensationalist and oftentimes sloppy reporting, I don't support them.  The general message of Antifa is something I can wholly get behind.  Fascism is awful and needs to be stomped out before it can spread, but shutting down an entire Messes des Mortes festival simply because Graveland is playing or making threats against a venue in Oakland because Marduk is stopping there on tour is fucking nuts.  Marduk uses militaristic imagery but have written precisely zero songs painting Nazis in a positive light, and threatening to attack a fucking venue simply for hosting them and the several other bands on tour and the innocent fans who just want to headbang their troubles away for a night is the exact opposite of what should be done.  That's picking a bad target and utilizing the exact tactics you claim to be fighting against in order to make some idiotic point, and it makes you look bad and undermines the entire message you're trying to spread.  Articles like this aren't going that far, but it's the same idea.  This article picks bad targets and makes a loosely defined point by attacking people who have jack fuck to do with what harmful shit they're trying to highlight, and in turn devastating their own point and turning otherwise rational people against them.  DON'T DO THIS.  IT IS NOT HARD.

You see, I used to be this way.  No, not like the article, but like the bands they're trying to attack.  When I was a kid, I was an outsider.  I was generally a loner who hung out with a bad crowd because at least they accepted me, and when I was a kid I used to say and believe some pretty reprehensible shit.  Sure I became this charismatic stallion later but that was only when I started forging healthy relationships, read a thesaurus, and got really good at dick jokes, but back then I could have been the type of edgelord clownshoe to start a Nazi band because at least I was getting a reaction and wink wink nudge nudge I'd probably totally be okay if we got rid of all the black and gay people.  I wrote an essay when I was 12 about how immigration is bad because soon there will be more brown people than white people in America.  Do you want to know how I broke away from that shit?  I had things explained to me.  My mom saw that paper before I turned it in and said she'd rather I take a zero than raise a white supremacist.  She illustrated why the things I was saying were awful and how I'm illustrating my veiled prejudice without even realizing I had it.  I didn't know I was racist, it all made sense to me, it wasn't until somebody offered a different perspective that I realized that I was actually being a hurtful dickhead to people I had never met.

Am I saying that polite discourse is the truest way to solve the societal ills that plague us?  Not exactly, I know that a lot of people are so far gone that there's really no way to salvage what humanity they previously may have had.  I was saved from being a hateful prick because it was caught and dealt with early.  It wasn't brainwashing or browbeating, it was simply exposing me to a new way of thinking that, ultimately, made a hell of a lot more sense to me once I was introduced to it.  Shit, I wasn't even barred from hanging out with those people anymore, because I was trusted to make the right decisions, and I did.

But, the difference here is that I'm not in the public eye right now.  I'm just some dork on the internet who plays a lot of Final Fantasy and talks about death metal with pointlessly purple prose, so that shit is pretty much protected.  But if somebody had somehow dredged up all that shit I had said more than half my life ago, you bet your ass I'd go on the defensive and probably dig my heels in the dirt.  How dare you try to paint me as a bad person now because I said bad things back then.  How dare you paint me as a bad person because I used to be friends with white supremacist dickholes, despite the fact that I don't associate with them now.  Just like how it doesn't matter that Phil McSorley used to be a major player in Cobalt, because he said awful things and is no longer part of the band as a result.  Just like how Faust went to jail for a reprehensible murder and Emperor did not stand by him, instead forging onwards and creating an identity that had nothing to do with what he did.  Just like how McCoy said awful things in the past but was judged to be a terrible person now without any regard to whether or not he changed his ways.  Just like how Fell did absolutely nothing wrong and found himself dragged through the mud yet again because somebody didn't bother to do any fucking research.

I guess what I'm saying is that there's a divide between retribution and rehabilitation.  Some people do not want to see or give people the chance to reform, they want to see them nailed to a cross because forgiveness is not an option when it comes to something evil.  This goes for the prison system that favors harsh time or capital punishment as well as people who will not buy an Inquisition or Deafheaven record because Dagon has made some terribly poor decisions and said some hateful shit in his youth or McCoy liberally threw slurs around like they meant nothing.  Other people are willing to give people the chance to change, with or without an explicit apology.

Honestly, I'm not going to give answers here, because I don't have any.  I'm posing the question to you and giving you the opportunity to debate with yourself whether or not one way of thinking has any merit whatsoever.  Do you think that things McCoy said years ago remain status quo until he explicitly apologizes for it?  Or do you think he's grown and matured as a person and deserves the chance to move on?  Do you think that Mayhem should not be supported because of all the terrible things that happened with them in the past or do you think that they've sufficiently distanced themselves from them and forged a new identity and do not need to revisit the past?  This is up to you, this part of the rant isn't meant to be soapboxing, it's genuine curiosity on my part because even I don't know exactly how I feel, even though I certainly seem to be leaning more in one direction than the other.  I understand that everything is a spectrum and there are exceptions to everything.  I'm asking the questions and not providing the answers, because I don't have them, only you do.  I can't tell you how to think.

But I can tell you that the A.V. Club article was sloppy and irresponsible, and potentially very harmful to people who may not deserve the vilification.  This ridiculous witch hunt within metal needs to fucking stop, and efforts need to be focused on the chief offenders who are blatantly and gleefully perpetuating hate and violence, instead of people who might have done so a lifetime ago and have tried to leave that behind them.  People like McCoy, regardless of whether or not you give them the benefit of the doubt in regards to growing away from past homophobia, do not deserve to be lumped in the same category as Varg Vikernes and Hendrik Möbus.  That is dangerous and irresponsible.  I keep using the same words because... fuck it's the truth.

And no matter how you feel, there's no denying that Charlie Fell got shafted and misrepresented, and deserves some sort of apology, because that's just fucking tragic.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

QUICK HITS: King Woman - Created in the Image of Suffering

*groaning*

I'm not gonna call this Pallbearer style of "doomgaze" or whatever a plague on metal or a Trojan horse for lame hipsters who don't give a damn about the genre or anything, because if I don't like something it's pretty easy to simply not listen to it and I don't really care if people like things that I don't, but I will say with authority that this Pitchfork-approved go-nowhere nonsense is almost invariably terrible, and King Woman does nothing to dispel that prejudice.  I got this admittedly entirely on a whim because the cover art was super cool, but that's really all the band has going for it.  None of these riffs are compelling, the whole thing just drags and plods along with no sense of urgency, wonder, malice, mystery, or anything that doom needs to work.  This is all just... there.  There's apparently an interesting tale about how this band came about, with the vocalist leaving a shoegaze band and starting this metal band to lash back at the religious institutions of her youth, but if there's any true lingering hatred and frustration behind the band it is wholly drowned out by plodding riffs that elicit precisely zero emotion and some of the most lethargic, tranquilized vocals I've ever heard.  You know that (beautiful) meme where people find all the most absurd and surreal ways to remix "All Star" by Smash Mouth?  Well one of the best ones is where somebody remixes every note to be C.  Every vocal line, every chord, every bassline, it's all just this one continuous streak of the same monotone shit and it sounds like the audial representation of an anxiety attack.  That's what Created in the Image of Suffering reminds me of.  Kristina Esfandiari is just a flat out terrible vocalist.  She sounds like she's trying to record vocals in her bedroom without waking up her parents.  This kind of dreamy monotone can work for something more apocalyptic and creepy like Chelsea Wolfe, but this isn't that.  It just sounds like a really lame practice session for a bunch of kids, none of whom are any good at their instruments, and the person doing vocals doesn't actually have any real singing talent so she just drowns herself in reverb and hopes that covers it all up.  If you forced me to say something nice, I'd say "Utopia" has a pretty cool riff hidden under what I think is supposed to be the chorus, but it's insanely overshadowed by the insultingly bad vocals and multitude of weak ass riffs with pointless shoegazey clean guitars layered over them.  I'm willing to bet anything that this has a great rating on Pitchfork.

*checks*

*8.2/10*

HA! I'm good at this game.


RATING - 17%

Saturday, February 25, 2017

QUICK HITS: Dreaming Dead - Funeral Twilight

It's like an unbuilt rollercoaster

Man I really want to like Dreaming Dead, but something about them just never seems to mesh correctly with me.  That's a partially unfair statement because prior to this album I was only familiar with their debut, but it was a total in-one-ear-and-out-the-other album and their long awaited return in 2017 with Funeral Twilight doesn't do much to convince me that I was unfair about them early on.  All of the elements for a badass record are here but nothing seems to coalesce into something genuinely riveting.  There are a lot of high octane melodic death/thrash riffs absolutely boiling over with venom, but nothing sticks.  It's sad because I don't really know what else to say about them.  It's certainly not for a lack of talent, since the band has a great ear for subtle melody and can make hyperspeed Kreator-style thrash riffs sound completely effortless to play, and Schall's rasp is one of the better Symbolic-era Schuldiner impressions out there, but it's all a blast of sound and fury that ultimately signifies nothing.  This is the problem with a lot of death/thrash in general, honestly.  You'll get behemoth exceptions like Deathchain and The Crown in their primes, but in general Funeral Twilight is indicative of the overwhelming serviceable mediocrity that plagues the genre.  There's nothing inherently wrong with these blistering riffs and frantic pace, but it's wholly lacking a sense of real danger to give it that extra oomph.  The hooks are few and far between, there's a startling dearth of memorable lines, and after several spins I still can't remember much of anything that happens.  "Beyond the Black Moon" has some cool bass tricks going on in the background and "Remnants of a Time Long Forgotten" is a neat change of pace with it's doomy instrumentals, but otherwise there isn't much else to point out.  Despite all the flash and frenzy, there just isn't anything exciting here.


RATING - 48%

Friday, February 24, 2017

QUICK HITS: Striker - Striker

The 12 month plan

Longtime readers of mine may remember that Striker actually released the very first album to win my official Album of the Year award back in 2010 (with Eyes in the Night, which still holds up and absolutely fucking rules), but my relationship with them has been sorta weird ever since then.  I always compare them to Enforcer since they came out around roughly the same time and helped spearhead this trad metal revival in the late 00s/early 10s, but Enforcer has been slugging home run after home run whereas Striker only managed one more total classic (City of Gold) and two other decent albums that didn't stick with me (Armed to the Teeth and Stand in the Fire).  Barely a year after the latter album, they're back already with a shorter, more streamlined self titled album, and I've gotta say they're keeping with the "good album - meh album" flip flopping, because this one is awesome.  Excluding the bonus track and the short interlude, there are only eight tracks here compared to the previous album's eleven, and it works to their advantage because they've always been a shallow band of surface flash (which obviously doesn't bother me, there's a reason I listen to fifty generic speed metal bands for every one complex prog band) so it doesn't overstay its welcome.  At just a little over a half hour long, this is a great blast of energy, blazing leads, and some of the heaviest riffing they've ever managed.  Seriously, tracks like "Over the Top", "Curse of the Dead", and "Pass Me By" just utterly decimate any of their previous songs in terms of ferocity.  There are some more traditional rockers like "Rock the Night" but those quick and heavy cookers are the true standouts of the album.  Special mention has to be made for "Born to Lose" as well for being one of their best tracks yet.  It's not as speedy and vicious as something like "Pass Me By" but it's certainly one of the catchiest tracks they've penned yet.  It's not their strongest album, and I'd say it's probably right smack in the middle of their five albums, but that has more to do with how phenomenal the good albums are and how sharp the dropoff is for their more mediocre ones.  Give it a go, it certainly rocks more than it has any right to.

RATING - 81%

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Gorod - A Maze of Recycled Creeds

A rare example of a new logo making older music

When I was first really getting into death metal and all of its subgenres (so like 2007-08), Gorod was one of the bands that really latched on for me.  Leading Vision (and to a slightly lesser extent, Process of a New Decline) were a rare kind of tech death that didn't focus on unending sweeps and blast beats, nor did it slather itself in so much progressive noodling that it descened into jazzy nonsense and forget to throw hooks at you like a pissed off Mike Tyson.  There was a bouncy jubilance that many of their contemporaries lacked, keeping the jazzy moments appropriately sparse to make them a fun and unexpected twist instead of an incessant feature, and it made them rise above with aplomb.  Unfortunately, around the time of Transcendence and A Perfect Absolution (and the subsequent change of vocalists), they became exactly the type of band they deftly avoided being, focusing way too much on jazzy Cynic worship and totally losing that pulverizing blend of sinister brutality and flittery eccentricity, dialing in on the latter and losing what made them so uniquely wonderful.

That preamble was merely to explain why I ditched the band and didn't bother listening to their most recent album, 2015's A Maze of Recycled Creeds, until now.  For all the fans like me who dug them from the Gorgasm days up until 2009, this is the comeback we've been waiting for, because this is easily the followup to Process of a New Decline, time displaced five years later.

This is just as jazzy and progressive as before, but the hammering death metal has been amped up again.  It's weird, because the driving force of the music are still the jumpy harmonized leads that are pretty much always drilling away in the foreground, but it's all rooted in a more menacing, metallic growl again.  This album is as vicious as it is impressive, coming off as some bizarro universe where the instrumentalists of Dream Theater were huge fans of Symbolic-era Death.

The hooks and catchiness are the things I missed most in their down era, and that's what's back here to make me a fan again.  One thing they were always great at was toeing the line between straightfoward, driving metal and catawampus melody with disjointed rhythms.  Head back to that marvelous 2006 album and check out "Thirst for Power" for a great example.  Here you can check out tracks like "Temple to the Art-God" or "Syncretic Delirium" and draw immediate parallels.  Even tracks that take on their newer approach like "Rejoice Your Soul", with straight flukey jazz sections and spoken word moments cutting up the frantic metal just end up working more effectively this time, even though it is still one of the weaker tracks.  Lighter tracks like "Inner Alchemy" chuck ohrwrums at you like no tomorrow, and that's what makes the band so special to me.  Nobody else so deftly manages to intertwine mind-melting creativity in their riffs and leads (like on "From Passion to Holiness", owner of the best riff on the album), it really is a breath of fresh air to hear the band take on the style that made them so unique in the first place without trying so hard to outdo themselves and ultimately overdosing on Cynic.

What they lack in morbid brutality, Gorod makes up for in sheer forward motion.  They're an energetic band with tons of conviction and songwriting chops, drawing comparisons yet again to Anata, as opposed to something like Necrophagist, despite the focus on melody and hookiness.  A Maze of Recycled Creeds isn't a particularly ferocious album, nor was it necessarily meant to be.  Gorod is a band more tailor made for guitar nerds than greasy headbangers, but as a member of the latter group, I adore this anyway.  There are things I'd still change, like the new vocalist isn't nearly as powerful as the old one, instead devolving into ineffective shouting at times instead of that thunderous roar, and some of the more weird moments hearken back a little to closely to the previous album to my liking, but in all honesty it's mostly just a product of trying to blend A Perfect Absolution with two parts Process of a New Decline, and it works for what it is.  They're not going to be the same band they were in 2006 nearly a decade later, but they tried to bring back those songwriting skills, and for the most part they succeeded.


RATING - 85%

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tengger Cavalry - kAAn

The Army of God experiences a crisis of faith

I've been hyping the shit out of Tengger Cavalry since 2013.  It seemed like everything Nature Zhang (as he was known at the time) touched turned to gold, and things only improved after Cavalry Folk when he expanded the band into a full lineup instead of a one-man band.  Up through Ancient Call, I was hooked.  Whether he be focusing on soothing, ritualistic tracks, rife with traditional Mongolian instrumentation and throat singing, or riffing your face off with simple yet effective melodeath/folk metal corkers, he was on fire, I wanted more and he/they consistently delivered.

Then Nature moved to New York and restocked the band with all new members, and suddenly things changed.

Their output after solidifying the new lineup exploded.  Since the move, they've released a mindboggling twenty five releases in barely three years, mostly consisting of singles, live albums, and rerecordings of previous full lengths.  We haven't had a "true" new Tengger album since Ancient Call, and if I'm being totally honest, I haven't bothered listening to most of these new releases.  I mean, I've already heard Blood Sacrifice Shaman, why do I want to hear it again five years later?  I can just listen to the original.  Sure I'll check out Mountain Side, but only for the title track, since the release is otherwise full of remixes and rerecordings.  So with that in mind, I ignored everything until this new EP, kAAn, since it's the first thing in a long time to consist album entirely of new material.  And upon first listen, something seemed... different.  Something about the Tengger I love was missing, and I couldn't initially place my finger on it, so I finally went back and listened to all those rerecordings I've been ignoring for years.  Then it hit me.

They're whitewashing everything to all but eliminate the harsh vocals.

I don't know if Nature blew his voice out and needs to exclusively utilize the throat singing that lent so much character to the band early on, or if it's a conscious choice to focus more intently on the cultural heritage of the band and eschew the more "normal" metal elements, but either way a lot of power is missing from the band now.  This worked on some things, the reworked version of Blood Sacrifice Shaman is excellent, if wholly different from its original incarnation, and Hymn of the Earth (the new Ancient Call) sounds pretty good if a little disappointing on some of the heavier and more aggressive tracks now missing that vicious snarl.  But around the time of Cavalry in Thousands (a rerecorded version of The Expedition, which was already a rerelease with a few changes of Black Steed from a few months prior), even the production seemed to fall off and just sound less massive and powerful.  This all ties in because it telegraphs kAAn very well, as it's a decent enough EP that retains the band's spirit quite well, but a lot of the tertiary elements that helped make the good band a great one are missing.  The production feels kinda flat, it's missing that propulsive oomph that helped kick the previous albums into overdrive when the songs called for it.  That's a shame because there are some awesomely aggressive numbers on here, like "Accused" and "Struggle" that feel like they're missing that extra gear they're trying to reach.

Musically there isn't exactly a whole lot to complain about, it's the same style of pummeling fury entwined with the cultural quirks and twangs of that god damned beautiful horsey fiddle I'll never fall out of love with, but the fact that each song falls short of three minutes and end on fadeouts, it just sounds underdeveloped.  Like they have great ideas and wicked riffs to present, as kAAn is chock full of them, but the songs were never exactly finished and just kinda fizzle out in the middle of a cool section.  This is, ultimately, what the band's main achilles heel at this point in their career, as they're fully embracing the digital age and pumping out singles and EPs at an almost alarming rate.  The catch is that very few things sound finished.  They've recently been releasing covers of classic songs that all run for about half of their original runtimes (the Metallica one (Master of Puppets) has a cool reworking of the chorus but otherwise sounds pretty ehhh, though the Motorhead and Megadeth ones are great), and that's true on kAAn as well.  It sounds like everything should be doubled in length, like there's a lot more song to get to before it just fades out and starts the next one.  They're recording and releasing every idea that falls out of Nature's head, regardless of whether or not it's fully fleshed out, and that's disappointing coming from a band that released like five classics in a row in the first half of the decade. 

The good parts are still here, the riffs are mostly a satisfying gallop and the folk instruments and throat singing add a ton of flavor to the otherwise simplistic riffs to great effect, but with the production polished so tightly and the explosive growls completely excised, it sounds like half a band releasing half an EP full of songs only halfway finished.  What I want most out of the Tengger camp is for them to simply slow down.  They're delivering an astounding quantity of music but the quality has dipped sharply.  As inherently simple as the backbone of the music has always been, it's just not working the same way it used to, and I feel like it's mostly because they're just doing too much too quickly, releasing first drafts of every new song and reworking old ones with new ideas and just nothing sounds finished.  kAAn has a lot of potential, with some songs being ridiculously cool (most specifically "Accused", "Mind Raid", and "Struggle") but just failing to follow through with their ideas.  I hate to be so harsh on Tengger because I was such a huge fan previously, but that's exactly why I'm so disappointed.  I know they can do better, and really all I want is for them to chill out and release some fully fleshed out songs for a change.


RATING: 55%

QUICK HITS: Hammerfall - Built to Last

I was really hoping for a Sick of It All cover

We all know my opinion on Hammerfall, mostly because it's the same opinion 95% of metalheads share.  They're the safest band in the universe, nearly every album sounds the same, loaded to the gills with effortless "Hail Metal!" filler that feels like it took as much time to write as it does to listen to.  They've always had a good song or two per album but that's it.  Nearly twenty years and ten albums since their debut, and they've finally scraped together enough material to make one truly great album, and that should be unforgivable for a band with such status and longevity.  Their career seemed to be taking an interesting turn, with Infected trying a whole bunch of new things, so of course fans revolted since their favorite comfort food decided to change the recipe.  The deceptively titled Revolution was the sound of the band conceding and returning to their old formula, and yet somehow they sounded rejuvenated and put out their best album since Crimson Thunder (shut up, I like that one).  And now two years later here we are with Built to Last, and it's... well, the same bland, formulaic filler crap they've loaded nearly every album with since their inception.  The only reason it's "Built to Last" is because they've spent the last two decades proving without a shadow of a doubt that you can do nothing different and not lose any fans, so this is just another album pumped out of a production line with the sole purpose of touring again.  They're sort of like Overkill in that sense, only lacking a legendary early era that makes it at least fun to catch them whenever they come through your town.  Like usual, there are a few good tracks here, particularly the more speedy and energetic ones like "Dethrone and Defy" and "Stormbreaker" (the latter of which is genuinely great and especially frustrating because it shows that the band damn well knows how to rock), but when stacked up against eight more rehashes of "Renegade" and "Hearts on Fire", it just doesn't do enough to overcome the safe and unchallenging formula they've made their bread and butter over the years.   I just feel like the band has no charisma, which is baffling considering their reputation, but it's true.  Built to Last is merely "Another Hammerfall Album", and it's sure to be nobody's favorite.


RATING - 41%

Saturday, January 21, 2017

QUICK HITS: Parius - Let There Be Light

No witty title for this one, get over it

Fresh out of kindergarten, the kids in Philadelphia's Parius have bestowed upon us a new EP, Let There Be Light.  The very first things I noticed were that the release featured two guest solos by Ryan Knight (formerly of The Black Dahlia Murder) and Michael Keene (of The Faceless).  Naturally, this told me I'd be in for a blast of high tempo and progressive, yet very modern technical/melodic death metal.  For the most part that's true (though it's not exactly progressive), and both of those bands are very obviously a huge influence on the band.  It should be a mixed bag in that regard, since TBDM is fucking awesome and The Faceless bores me to tears, but the more noodly and melodic elements borrowed from that band just work better here than on something like Autotheism.  The final track, "Another Kind of Reckoning" showcases this with aplomb, being loaded to the gills with flashy bass solos, and the title track incorporates some epic, spacey clean vocals that work well enough but feel a bit less natural than the pummeling melodeath of the rest of the song/record.  Really there's nothing to complain about, this is a very utilitarian melodeath release on par with some of TBDM's lesser albums (though that's not really a knock on Parius, those Michigan slackers just run at such a ridiculously high quality that even their worst album is still pretty good).  The vocals are typical but serviceable, the bass is quite prominent and noodles with the best of them, Angelo Sasso turns in a good performance, and even the occasional strings and such come off as good instead of forced.  They're not exactly blazing any paths but fans of this style shouldn't have anything to complain about.  If there are any problems it's just that this is very short, with only three real "songs" plus one short interlude, so it doesn't really give you a whole lot to chew on but that's a really nitpicky and unfair complaint.  It's a very professional meat-and-potatoes release and I can't realistically ask for much more.


RATING - 79%

Friday, January 20, 2017

QUICK HITS: Enceladus - Journey to Enlightenment

Their full potential is SO FAR AWAAAAYY

It's easy to forget, but pre-Myspace, pre-Guitar Hero, pre-Inhuman Rampage, Dragonforce enjoyed what seemed like universal adoration.  I miss that era because Valley of the Damned and Sonic Firestorm are absolutely fantastic albums, 100% worthy of all the praise heaped upon them up until 2006ish.  They were ludicrously over the top departures from the sometimes subdued melody and relative simplicity that power metal thrived on, and instead of eschewing the singalong choruses and sugary keyboard lines, they simply added forty tons of unapologetic bombast and non stop shredding on top, and it worked.  Upon first listen to Enceladus' debut, Journey to Enlightenment, seemed to be a throwback to exactly that idea.  The opening title track throws caution to the wind and just throws melody after solo after solo after hyperspeed solo at you, slowing down for nothing and making its presence known as a force to be reckoned with in terms of technicality.  I was instantly hooked, and couldn't wait for the rest of the album.  Unfortunately, the biggest flaw is... well, the rest of the album.  See, the title track is instrumental, and is essentially just a stripped down showcase of the individual instrumentalists' immense talent.  The rest of the album however, is more standard in the sense that yes, the do actually have a vocalist.  The problem is that he's, to put it lightly, very not good.  His tenor is just all over the place and it seems like he has no control over what he's trying to sing, and it just sounds off somehow, like he's just a teeny bit out of pitch at all times and I just can't seem to pinpoint it.  He occasionally showcases a stratospheric falsetto, but it's thin and weak and really detracts from the pyrotechnics of the rest of the band.  The fact that he album is 13 tracks and nearly an hour long exacerbate the problem, because as great as it is musically, it's fairly one-note, and the poor vocals only make it harder to listen to.  Overall it's a solid album in a style I really like, but the vocals are a huge elephant in the room that I'd like to see addressed somehow, because they easily knocked a good 20 or so points off the final score.

RATING - 61%