Friday, December 31, 2010

Merciless - Unbound

 Their "I" is dotted with a Skulltula

I've been a metalhead for essentially my entire life (thanks, Mom), and yet somehow Sweden's Merciless managed to slip under my radar until recently. Being the first band signed to and bearing your name on the first release by Deathlike Silence records is a pretty big deal in the metal underground. That debut, The Awakening is known to be an early death/thrash classic. Those two points alone make it baffling that I hadn't managed to stumble across this band earlier. I'll admit, I've yet to hear that legendary debut, and this, Unbound, is my first foray into Merciless's sick, demented world. And frankly, I plan on pitching a tent and staying in this desolate, ravaged world for a while.

Frankly, this really early style of death metal is probably my favorite style of music, but it's also the hardest to review. I love the hell out of Massacra, Agressor, Messiah, Revenant, and the like, but I've yet to review any of it because I really don't know how to articulate my love. This primal death/thrash is the hot, popular cheerleader to my socially awkward and obsessed nerd. There's nothing wrong with it, I love every little thing about it. I have a small shrine in my closet dedicated to it. There are a dozen almost-gone candles surrounding a marble altar with Enjoy the Violence perched at the top. Yet every time I convince myself that this is the time, that this is my shot to prove I'm not a square and that I can be worthy, it just kicks the living shit out of me and I have to go back to my room and worship from afar, sniveling like the bitch it made me. Merciless, being early progenitors of this style, accomplish the ass kicking as well as any other band in the genre. Unbound leans towards the thrashier side of the death/thrash balance that I love so much, but it still manages to blend the razor sharp riffwork of thrash with the punchiness of death metal. It's this brutal equilibrium that makes this sound so fantastic, and even though this isn't quite as balanced as some of the other bands I've mentioned, it's without a doubt more than competent enough to brain the snot out of you for saying it's flawed as a result.

The main strength in Unbound is that it rarely lets up, but it still does let up occasionally to keep the album fresh. It starts with a soft, acoustic intro before bursting out into some early Kreator styled death/thrash riffage. Each song continues the main theme of razorpunching the listener with unrivaled aggression, while simultaneously weaving in a melodic twist. I don't know why, but Sweden seems to have some law forbidding anything musical from being mainly atonal. Now don't confuse my point, melody is important, no doubt, and this particular album benefits from it. It sounds like the kind of thing Deceased would go on to thrive off of. The mixture is rather top notch here, as the mix of raw aggression and subtle melody never sounds forced or awkward. Everything is part of one cohesive monster. The one flub seems to be the 8 minute beast in "Back to North". Halfway through the track, the song abruptly stops, and plays around with a quiet, haunting instrumental section. It's less than a minute long and really isn't intrusive, but it's the one time that the songwriting seems to wander a bit. Thankfully, Merciless never lose their focus again throughout the album. Rogga carries a fairly typical voice for the style, but it works fabulously. It isn't quite a death metal growl, it isn't a thrashy rasp, it isn't a throaty scream, it's some unholy mixture of the three. Imagine a thicker, deeper Mille Petrozza and you're pretty close to the mark.

Unbound is essentially a blueprint for this very specific style I have such a raging boner for, and as a result, it's well worth anybody's time. The dirty production and hard edged riffing compliment each other extraordinarily. Looking back, I find I haven't really been able to express what makes this album so damn good, and it's precisely why I typically stray away from writing about this style. It has to be heard, and you'll surely convert when you hear it. It's hard to explain simply through text what makes a riff awesome or a song memorable. All that really needs to be known is that apart from some confusing song structuring here and there, this album does basically everything right. From the churning of "Back to North", to the pure thrash insanity of "Nuclear Attack", the more traditional metal moments of "Lost Eternally", and supernatural quality of "The Land I Used to Walk", nothing is half assed or mediocre.

RATING - 91%

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Godhate - Equal in the Eyes of Death

THIS IS THE COPYCAT! HUH... WOW!

So Sweden's Godhate has some complex backstory involving a name change from the (far superior name in) Throneaeon, a few breakups, and Yoko Ono, but all the history is kind of a moot point. The band's first full length under their new moniker, Equal in the Eyes of Death, is memorable for one particularly bad reason. If the review title wasn't a big enough clue, Godhate are essentially Taiwanese sweat shop model of Vader.

Now, I love Vader, I really do. I've blabbered for eons about how they so perfectly focus on their patented brand of furious blasting death whilst still maintaining a strong songwriting sensibility and attention to groove and memorability. I like their sound, and I actually don't mind bands that take more than a few cues from them. On the other hand, there is one thing I don't like in any form, and that is complete, unabashed, unimaginative tributes to bands greater than your own. I'll admit, I haven't heard a single note of this band's music when they still had a cool name, so maybe this is just a fluke in the scope of their career, but under the name of Godhate, they've recorded one hell of a boring tribute album. "Infinity Shall Be" sounds like a slowed down and far less evocative version of "The Book" from Impressions in Blood, and the title track sounds like something cut from the De Profundis sessions. This should be a good thing, De Profundis is a masterful work of death metal, the finest cut of the cow, surely something that warrants a comparison must be at least somewhat good by default, right? Not necessarily. Imagine that the porterhouse steak of that album was chewed for 14 years before being spat back on your plate. That's Equal in the Eyes of Death in a nutshell. Godhate didn't cook their own steak, they just tried eating Vader's.

Despite this disgusting unoriginality, I must admit there is something underneath the music that keeps me from forgetting this entirely. The first three proper songs are great, with the first of which, "Godhate" actually bordering on fantastic. Maybe it's because all of the songs are extremely samey and they all start to stagnate at that point, but it isn't until the fourth proper song that things start to go downhill, but it's a hell of a steep slope. The well produced and decently written riffs start to blend together, the drumming is surprisingly well varied for a band that's emulating another band that's known for relentless blast beating, and the pure Peter Wiwczarek worship vocals become completely unnoticeable until they spew off some of the more childish lyrics ("DEATH TO GOD! DEATH TO JESUS!"). It seems like all of the good riffs were used up in the first three songs. And it's unfortunate because they're actually damn good riffs, even though they sounded better 15 years ago. I'm gonna try to stop hammering the De Profundis comparisons, so I guess I'll settle by saying they're good, old school, no frills, fast paced, half thrash death metal riffs. I realize I've used precisely one other band to compare them with, but it's seriously that bad. I guess there's some Morbid Angel in here as well, but the pride of Poland is probably about 90% of the influence here, and the vocals really help that comparison. Maybe if they were a bit more guttural or utilized the higher register more often, the deja vu wouldn't be so grating. But as it stands it's a perfectly understandable roar, exactly like some certain other band I don't have to name.

So really, Equal in the Eyes of Death isn't a bad listen per se, it's just a useless one since what they're doing has been done so similarly yet so superior several times before. It starts off pretty good but everything starts to blend after a while. Once again, I'll end this review with a story. One day, I was driving my little brother (who is a huge Vader fan) to football practice. I put this album on and told him it was the new Vader album. He liked it, said it was basically more of the same but nothing particularly bad. When we arrived at the practice field he looked at the album to see the name of it and thus figured out we were actually listening to Godhate. He said "Wow, it's strange, but the fact that that wasn't actually Vader actually made it kind of suck, even though it was good". Strange indeed, but also true. Rehash central.

RATING - 51%

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shuriken Cadaveric Entwinement - As the Shroud of Suffering Suffocates the Land

Catastrophic Panoramic Brouhaha

Sevared Records will probably go down in my own personal history book as one of the worst metal labels to exist. Almost every release I've heard from them (and believe me when I say I've heard plenty) has been repugnant. "Repugnant" could actually be a compliment since I'm sure the over-the-top brutality and thick slams that punctuate most of the records are entirely the aim, ignoring songwriting, memorability, technical skill, and everything involved in music making. You always know what you're going to get, but most of their fodder tends to be low rate slam death with little thought behind it, and it's not the good kind of stupid (Jungle Rot). With that said, North Carolina's own Shuriken Cadaveric Entwinement is probably the least repulsive act I've found flying the Sevared flag.

First off, the band has to have the worst name I've ever stumbled across. They sure managed to pick three cool words, it's just unfortunate that they make no fucking sense when put together. I understand this seems like a superficial thing to be hung up on, but for Greek's sake, the name of your band is your first impression. It's your image, your identifier, it's how people will remember your band forever. Perfunctory Wingnut Calamity may be aiming for stupid, but this is mind numbing. And while I'm focusing on the flash as opposed to the substance, I must applaud the band for focusing their imagery on feudal Japan. This is a brutal time in history, rife with tales of battle and savagery that seems strangely untouched by much of metal. The burning of Honnō-ji, the battle of Mikatagahara, the... resurrection of the undead Genma forces? The demonic plaguewielding supervillian Nobunaga Oda? Oh, I see. This band learned everything it knows about Japan from the Onimusha videogames, nevermind.

The main problem with As the Shroud of Suffering Suffocates the Land is that it drags like a dog's ass on the carpet. The opening track is nearly seven minutes long, which is an insane marathon length for brutal death metal like this, and it's amplified by the fact that it's boring as hell and feels twice as long. Obsequies Quixotic Barbecue eschew the normal pig grunts and other assorted animal noises usually associated with Sevared denizens in favor of more traditional, Glen Benton-esque double layered death growls. Musically this also carries a slight Deicide vibe, although a paradoxically more laid back yet more crushing version. The two riffing styles on display are fast, atonal tremolo picking, and relentless pinch harmonic punctuation. The former style is much more interesting, as the stop-start dweedling of the pinching is extremely noticeable to the point of it being detrimental. Most of the time it doesn't fit, whereas the tremolo attack keeps the pace up and actually crafts interesting lines from time to time (the main riff of Ascension of Nobunaga is a prime example). There are a few slams and breakdowns here and there that attempt to spice up the mix but they don't do much help. The thing that makes this album so confusing to me is the drumming. It's fast, it's prominent, but it's also weak at the same time. The production is partially at fault for this anomaly, as the drums are pushed to the front of the mix, yet the bass drum sounds like somebody slapping a basketball and the snare sounds like it's covered in Ritz crackers. It entirely decimates the power they clearly intend to highlight. The other huge problem is the man's playing style in the first place. Double bass is pounding about 85% of the time, but his upper half seems stuck in half time. This gives the illusion that the song is moving at half the speed, despite what the riffs and bass drum are doing.

Despite the complaints, Phantasmal Blinkering Squeegee isn't all that bad. As the Shroud of Suffering Suffocates the Land is an enjoyable, if bland and somewhat weak, romp through bloody battlegrounds and demonic carnage. Standout tracks would be "Ascension of Nobunaga", "Screams of the Genma", and "Crumbling the Throne of the Fallen", but listening to the entire album can be a bit of a chore if it isn't used for background purposes.

Invertebrate Merriment Squirrel.

RATING - 67%

Rhapsody - Power of the Dragonflame

Of lumpy feet and kernel obstructed pooturds...

Rhapsody was nothing more than a punching bag for me before I was truly familiar with their music many a moon ago. I knew little about the band, but I knew that they were a ludicrously over the top power metal band with a metric shit ton of symphonic fluff and hilariously bad narration. Now, that's a very easy target for a thrashoholic Borisite like myself circa 2004. Since growing my own pair of testicles and developing my own musical taste as opposed to just taking popular writers' opinions as gospel (I truly was a cretin early on), I've fallen head over heels in absurd love for Rhapsody's signature sound. I find 2000 - 2002 to be the band's peak, encompassing Dawn of Victory, Rain of a Thousand Flames, and the subject of today's discussion, Power of the Dragonflame.

When it comes to the two series of albums, The Emerald Sword is far superior to The Dark Secret, and it's not because the story is significantly better. Honestly, the epic story is essentially just extra fluff that serves little purpose apart from giving the fanfares some sort of backdrop. This is the fourth and final installment of the first series, where our unnammed Warrior of Ice commences in the final showdown with the Dark King Akron after surrendering the Emerald Sword to the dark lord. There's also a Shadowlord by the name of Dargor and some Black Queen but it's all totally useless. Typing out those last two sentences made my genitalia shrivel inside itself and gave me the uncontrollable urge to throw ping pong balls at people whilst yelling "LIGHTNING BOLT!", and that may have something to do with the strong nerd fanbase that Rhapsody carries. These Italians love their fantasy to the point that it's nearly alienating to people who've never voluntarily endured a D&D session or would rather spend their time headbanging and shouting about Satan. If the story is fluff, then the narration is toejam. I don't know if this Sir Jay Lansford character is just Fabio Lione's pseudonym for when he begins his narrator shtick or what, but whoever the culprit, he has one of the most incredibly awkward speaking voices of all time. Thankfully, he only appears on the last track on this album, so you don't find yourself fighting urges to go dunk his head underwater until the bubbles stop like on the Rain of a Thousand Flames EP, but his mere presence makes me roll my eyes and hope that nobody else is listening. He over emotes and strains damn near every word to the point of hilarity. Listen to him say "Guy-Ya" or "Gar-gooyles" and do your best to at least not smirk.

I look at Rhapsody similarly to how I look at Bad Religion. I'm not here for the riffs, I'm here for the vocals and melodies (although admittedly the punk legends have a massive lyrical edge). Most of the riffs rarely evolve past fast palm muting and the drums stick to the power metal standard of double bass with occasional sprinkles of more double bass. But like with Timeless Miracle, the draw is not in the guitars, but in the keys and lungs. The over the top fanfares and soaring keys are, while not nearly as overpowering as many people seem to imply, doubtlessly the instrumental highlights right next to Luca Turilli's excellent, if predictable soloing. The symphonics do more than just play roots and the occasional solo, here they add an epic atmosphere and create their own unique melodies. They aren't memorable for how in-your-face they are, but more for their quality. The choirs also add a great touch to Lione's already great vocals, adding a fantastic backing boom, depth, power, and sense of epicness that would be sorely lacking if they were absent. Of course, this is Rhapsody we're talking about, so worrying about them holding anything back or not pushing something to it's cheesiest extreme would be like Hugh Hefner worrying that his sex life might possibly be weak. Lione's voice is also surprisingly varied for the style. He switches up with some harsher stylings on "When Demons Awake" and, while he never really shows it off, also touts a decent range when he so pleases.

To me, the main draw here is also the main turnoff for most of the band's detractors, and that is the fact that this is cornier than Fat Bastard's shit. This is shameless, over the top, and ridiculous in all the best ways possible. The only time it feels like the band is restraining itself is on the ballad, "Lamento Eroico", which is undoubtedly the low point of the record. The amount of references to ancient powers, swords, heroes, fairies, dragons, and Rapunzel are frequent to the point of childish, but you never find yourself doubting the conviction of the boys. The tough, metalhead badass inside us all will look at the guys and prolly threaten to beat their heads in with our Phallic Christhammer or Satanic Chainsaw ov Doom or whatever and they'll just draw their swords and cast a pussy spell on us. Rhapsody offers an escape into the sprawling lands of vagabond warriors and epic struggles against good and evil as opposed to hellish torment. Their optimism and virtue are, while fairly common for power metal, a welcome alternative to the dark and visceral that most metal likes to dwell inside of. Being one of the biggest names in the style certainly helps them stand out, but they didn't get to this status by accident, they're insanely good at the melodic symphonic style they play.

So melt some Velveeta and dunk an ear, let yourself get swept up into the heroic anthems and fantastic choruses and fight against the forces of darkness for an hour. Yeah, the album hits a dead patch with "Lamento Eroico" and the following two songs are pretty pedestrian but the first five proper songs and the nearly 20 minute closing are fucking sublime. "Agony is my Name" and the title track are probably the standouts, but almost everything is as infectious as syphilis and infinitely more enjoyable. Yeah, I feel the need to turn off my natural manilness genes when chanting about vanquishing the Dark Lord of Hargor or whatever, but the power the band conveys completely makes up for it.

RATING - 88%

Winds of Plague - The Great Stone War

MOO! MOO! MOO! MOO! COW! COW! COW! COW!

No way around it, Decimate the Weak was shit. I maintain my stance that Winds of Plague had potential underneath the laughable posturing and trendhorning, but they needed to focus on melodic death metal with a strong symphonic presence and drop the hardcore pretenses. I understand that the vocalist is basically a pure hardcore guy judging by his vocal stylings, but the rest of the band was always hopping between hardcore, melodeath, symphonic metal, and deathcore. There was no cohesion between the style mixing, creating more of a dry salad bowl effect instead of a much tastier melting pot. Therefore, I had initially completely passed on this album because of my bitter cynicism and past experience (most bands don't make the changes that I feel will make them improve (see: All That Remains, Meshuggah, et cetera)). Eventually, like it always does, curiosity got the better of me. To my bewilderment, they actually kind of did it right this time.

Once again, go pick up your socks.

The album opens with a purely symphonic intro, entirely devoid of the insipid breakdown underneath like what was featured in Decimate the Weak's opening track. No, this time the goons restrain themselves and actually let the keys alone create a grandiose atmosphere as a backdrop for a spoken word intro. Right around here, two things came to my mind. 1) These guys are really channeling their inner Rhapsody, which could totally be a good thing. 2) This is going to be a concept album. The latter realization scared the hell out of me. I'd spun the previous album several times in a futile attempt to wrap my head around the disjointed mess, so I was no stranger to John Cooke's absurdly awful lyrics. For a concept album to be properly done, you can't just shit one out. It requires forethought, storytelling skill, and lyrical prowess, none of which this man possesses. Not to mention his hardcore/deathcore vocals wouldn't do well to carry a story anyway, and were poor by the genre's standards in the first place. Well spoiler alert, that much hasn't changed since the last outing (the title of this review is actually featured at the one minute mark of "Soldiers of Doomsday"). A couple guest vocalists show up to presumably break the monotony, but since they're the guys from Terror, Hatebreed, and Suicide Silence, they don't add much of a new flavor. Martin Stewart appears on the first proper song, "Forged in Fire", and he's the only one I can actually pick out during the album; Jasta and Lucker just pass through without much presence.

And this brings me to my next point, and by far the most important and most improved, the actual music. The disjointed cut-and-paste style of songwriting that was so prevalent and so nut twiddingly irritating on Decimate the Weak actually only manages to rear it's malformed head a few times. The aggressive melodeath riffing actually takes front and center for a majority of the record, relying on the backing keys to provide the necessary atmosphere and melody. Whichever pretty face they're using to manipulate these keyboards now has a more important role this time 'round as well. She doesn't get any solos or anything, but it's actually really noticeable when she's silent. Her main job seems to be mimicking the melodies the guitars utilize and to play simple backing chords, (apart from the occasional quiet piano passage) but it's just... better on this album. The guitar work is actually the biggest improvement to be found. The riffs aren't anything to drool over and most won't stick in your head, but they aren't purely shit like they used to be. There are a few memorable moments like the slowed-down-Bodom moment near the end of "Approach the Podium" or the simplistic yet not downright retarded guitar solos in "Battle Scars" and "Our Requiem".

I must warn the potential listener that the ever dreaded breakdown is still around, as Winds of Plague is still deathcore and therefore will not part with it unless it is pried from under their cold, dead extended earlobes. Thankfully, most of them are short lived and not too horribly flow breaking. But unfortunately, the few insipid, blatant slamdowns that occur do indeed throw a large, tattooed monkey wrench into the gears of the metal machine. A breakdown by nature is supposed to be hard hitting and brutal, it's entire purpose is to switch up a song or throw the listener off balance or just plain smash them over the head with a brick. Bricks don't flow, you've never heard of the Brick River Rapids because it doesn't fucking exist. You know what demands flow? Epic, soaring symphonics telling a tale regarding an apocalyptic conflict between good and evil. The two main forces at work here are diametrically opposed to one another, and it's really distracting. I'll concede that most of the breakdowns on display are actually somewhat subtle and manage to continue the previously set pace of the songs, but there are a few of the dreaded breed regardless. Let's loop back once again to the first proper song, "Forged in Fire". The entire song rides on a few heartfelt, if somewhat unimaginative, melodic death metal riffs. It's high speed, it's pure aggression, it's a well oiled machine running on all cylinders. Three minutes into the track, near the end, we finally get hit with a breakdown. It's at the same tempo, it flowed into itself nicely, it's just basically a fast chuggada chugging section, nothing to be too awfully upset about. Fifteen seconds later, the entire band drops and we're left with Cooke's stupid yelling. You know exactly what's coming. Yup, it's the asinine, significantly slower, one note bonehead slamdown. It's big and stupid, and that can have it's appeal if the entire idea of the music is based on it, but it isn't on The Great Stone War. The album isn't built on breakdowns, it's built on high tempo melodeath and sweeping keys. An impromptu ninja fight has no place in this experience. They never add anything to this album and serve no purpose other than to aggravate the listener. This really stupid kind isn't featured on every track like the previous album, but when they show up they're definitely distracting.

So what we're left with is yet another flawed effort, but a massively improved one. The problems that punctuated Decimate the Weak are still here, but they've been scaled back significantly. Yeah, some tracks just go by with no consequence ("Creed of Tyrants", "Classic Struggle") and some are peppered with poor decisions ("Chest and Horns", "The Great Stone War", "Forged in Fire"), but overall the few good aspects actually manage to at least match up in weight against the bad ones this time. I actually feel it manages to outweigh the bad slightly. I'll give the band credit this time, it's clear they're trying their asses off, but I just wish they'd drop the stupid core pretense and work towards a totally symphonic melodeath release. That Twizzler chain from the previous album has been replaced with a plastic chain. It still isn't entirely strong, but it can hold some weight now and is definitely sturdier than licorice.

RATING - 60%

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Oracles

If this album had a dick, I'd suck it

When it comes to hyperspeed death metal, I've always been really picky-choosy about which bands I praised as awesome and which I condemned as pointless noodlers. I think Origin is great fun, but Brain Drill is so insane that its hypothetical brain has actually begun to deteriorate. This type of brutal technical melodic reversible what-have-you death metal walks a very fine line in terms of quality. When it spends too much time focusing on being brutal, it has a habit of sounding like one of the squintillion Suffocation clones, and when it takes a more precise approach, it carries a blinding sheen that totally overpowers the grit that is so important in the first half of death metal. The mushroom stomping plumbers in Fleshgod Apocalypse have found the line and straddled it beautifully (not much unlike your mom). If you want a visual representation of Oracles, think of the censored (but far superior) album art for the legendary Severed Survival by Autopsy. Make no mistake, this shit is brutal and dirty, yet also surgical and calculated. It's frenzied as much as it is barbaric and as precise as it is gritty. These motherfuckers got chocolate in my peanut butter, and god dammit I love them for it.

Like most brutal tech death albums, the experience runs for less than 40 minutes, but this is slightly disheartening in this case since the music is so damn superb. A lot of albums in this style have a nasty tendency of having one idea and stretching it out for the duration of the release, but Fleshgod has managed to take their one idea, hack it into nine little pieces, paint each piece a different color, and then intermittently sprinkle in a totally different idea along with it. What I mean is that every track is fast, intense, and filled with enough guitar theatrics to warrant an investment in fretboard pyrotechnics technology, but each track stands out as it's own entity as opposed to one faceless blur of minigun-esque percussion and more sweeps than Mickey Mouse could ever command. Take this profound songwriting talent and combine it with classical passages tastefully placed throughout and you've got yourself one of the very few song oriented brutal tech death albums. I won't lie to you and say this is as blatantly varied as, say Beyond the Permafrost, but it's more like one of Rhapsody's finer moments. Every track follows the same basic idea (in this case, warp speed brutality and finesse) but they all kick insurmountable ass. There are a few parts like the chugging section in "Infection of the White Throne" and downtempo segments in "Requiem in SI Minore" that deviate from the cast somewhat, but on the whole you know what you'll be getting once the album starts.

That said, these noble Romans were kind enough to give we, the listeners, a chance to gather ourselves a few times during the album. The classical sections come and go tastefully a handful of times throughout the album and offer a pleasant breather between the metallic madness that otherwise saturates the record. Be it the maniacal piano intro to the album's highlight, "Embodied Deception" or the purely grand piano outro of the title track, not one second of Oracles is wasted, even during these breathers. "In Honour of Reason" even manages to mix some female vocals alongside the totally masculine bellows of the lead vocalist. The juxtaposition of beauty and bowel evacuating horror is constantly explored, and can make one ponder about the dual nature of human existence. Is there truly beauty in ugly? Is there really a selfless good deed? One could ask if this is actually one of the most sophisticated, complex, and intelligent metal recordings of all time. One could ask this if they weren't too busy punching the snooty types who ask these questions in the face thanks to the sheer power of this album.

Fans of Hour of Penance and the like will eat this up, and with damn good reason. There is some member sharing between Fleshgod Apocalypse and the aforementioned group, and it's evident in the sense that both bands manage to stand out in the flooding scene of technical death metal. I'll end this review with a true story that should hopefully help you, the reader, understand the all consuming fury contained within. A while ago, I was listening to this album whilst dicking around on the internet. Three minutes into "As Tyrants Fall", my girlfriend walked into the room. Her eyes lit up at the pleasant ensemble emanating from my speakers, so she pulled me out of my chair and begged me to dance with her. Reluctantly, I obliged. We waltzed in the computer room for just under a minute before the track changed and the waltz abruptly shifted into furious blasting death metal madness. Instinctively, I headbutt my dear girlfriend in the face hard enough to break her nose and give me a nasty headache. Consumed by the music, I then dropkicked her dog and punched a hole through a nearby wall. I was only recently released from prison.

Translation: "This slays, buy the hell out of it"

RATING - 95%

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vielikan - Emotional Void

Better than the bands they remind me of

Northern Africa isn't necessarily known for crushing Metal, but Vielikan certainly prove that such a thing exists. Hailing from Tunisia, Emotional Void is a decent 25 minute journey through darkness that's interesting while it lasts, but won't stick in your mind for months after the experience. While yes, the tag of "Progressive Death Metal" will invariably draw comparisons to the bewilderingly beloved Opeth, the influence keeps itself restrained enough to remain pure influence as opposed to straight up worship, which is definitely a good thing. The percussion generally keeps a very slow pace, and while double bass may kick up occasionally, Tarak Ghemguy's upper half keeps the flow at a snail's pace for most of the duration. The main issue with Emotional Void is that it just kind of… I don't know, just happens.

No segments grab you by the balls and command your attention, there is no real sense of overwhelming atmosphere, and nothing is really retainable. The riffs are reminiscent of Gojira in the sense that they just kind of grind and chug along like an old fashioned locomotive on an endlessly looping track. The train chugs and chugs along, polluting the air and going nowhere, and most of the riffs are no different. Again, this isn't necessarily a riff based style they're going for, but the lack of any overpowering atmosphere leaves me nothing to think about except the guitar work. Thankfully, the overall feeling from track to track changes enough to keep them distinguishable. "Zero Affection" takes a Doom/Death style route in the vein of Evoken somewhat, "Black Marsh" has a couple clean breaks that warrant the dreaded Opeth comparison, and "A Vertiginous Fall" sounds straight off of From Mars to Sirius, further hammering home the unfortunate Gojira similarity.

You could do a whole hell of a lot worse than Vielikan (I guess you could be listening to Gojira, so this is a better choice by virtue of the fact that it isn't them), but there are much better ways to spend your time. Fans of the bands I've mentioned throughout the review should check this out, but if you never really liked any of them, nothing here will change your mind or enlighten you to the style.

RATING - 60%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com 

Unburied - Slut Decapitator

One of my favorite album titles, at the very least

The only phrase I can use to describe this would be "lukewarm vehemence". There isn't anything really bad about this Virginian Death/Grind outfit, but there isn't a damn thing worth getting excited over either. It's something that is fantastically mediocre, extraordinarily middle of the road, and just very, very, inconsequential. None of the riffs stick with you, none of the songs command your attention, and no single instrument strikes you as spectacular or awful. Y'know? It's Death/Grind, and that's about it. The only thing I can think of that is even somewhat unique or memorable about the album is the fact that they don't really mix the two genres as much as they make them "coexist". What I mean by that is simply that the songs aren't a mixture of the two, but the album contains some Death Metal songs and some Grind songs. The grindy songs are still closer to metal than, say, Last Days of Humanity or some other ridiculous goregrind band, but most of the songs just sound like a really bland, slightly faster than average, Death Metal.

I have to give the band some credit for making the bass prominent in the mixing. Most bands really seem to neglect the low end, and the act of simply making it easily audible will immediately make bass players enjoy the album just a slight bit more. I'll say that the second half houses the more memorable and worthwhile tracks, and "Gore-Soaked Revenge" is probably the best purely because it is based off a good, memorable riff, but it's still a faceless blur overall. There isn't much point listening to something that you won't remember or want to hear again, so I'd say this album shouldn't be bothered with unless you're a huge fan of the genre and need absolutely every release in order to feel complete with your life or something.

RATING - 54%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

PanzerBastard - 2006 - 2009

I AM A FALSE PROPHET, GOD IS A SUPERSTITION

June 6th, 2006, was a fateful day for Heavy Metal. For the first time since metal's birth, the dates have aligned to form a sort of tribute to the eternal muse down below… 06-06-06. On this day, Slayer promised to release their new album, Christ Illusion, but bureaucratic setbacks pushed the release back to August. Determined to make the once in a life time chance mean something, Slayer promised to kick off their highly anticipated Unholy Alliance Tour on that day, but Tom Araya's gallbladder surgery pushed that back a week as well. So the fateful day went by with very little happening in the world of metal since one of the biggest bands managed to not pull through with any of their promises. Essentially the only thing that happened was that this was the day when Boston's PanzerBastard took form, and while this isn't quite as momentous an occasion as anything Slayer could've done (as shitty as Christ Illusion was), PanzerBastard delivers some extremely fast and solid Thrash.

2006 – 2009 is a compilation of three earlier demos, Hell Gate, Bastards Die Hard, and Boston. Personally, I find the Bastards Die Hard material to be the best of the lot, disregarding the asinine intro and outro that both consist of essentially one riff repeated over and over again for a few minutes. "No God(s)", "PanzerBastard", and "Bastards Die Hard" are probably the best tracks on the whole compilation, it's just coincidence they all happen to be from the same demo. While some of the musicians have a background in hardcore and punk, not very much manages to seep through. This is Crossover of the thrashiest kind, and the hardcore vocals and blast beats never take away from the almighty riff (the latter actually improves most sections it appears in). Honestly, this reminds me of St. Louis retro-thrashers, Head on Collision; the main difference there being that I can listen to PanzerBastard for more than three songs at a time without getting bored. I'd say check this out. It's nothing revolutionary, but it's solid, thrashing, headbanging fun without some lame gimmick tacked on in order to make it entertaining like so many other new Thrash bands have done.

RATING - 83%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

Nahar - La Fascination Du Pire

A competent snoozefest

To me, Nahar is proof that some people just aren't quite made for one-man bands. Sure, Sorghal from Nehemah contributes vocal duties to La Fascination Du Pire, but as far as I can tell all of the songwriting and instrumentation is done by Shaddar, and he frankly doesn't have the talents to pull off what he's going for. Excluding the ambient intro track, the track lengths average out to slightly less than seven minutes. That, coupled with the fact that a majority of the album is mid-paced, gives the idea that he's trying to go for an epic style of Black Metal. Unfortunately, there is no feeling of epicness to be found. No real emotion manages to emanate through the dirty BM production, even though it's obvious that this was his goal. So instead of any real power, we're left with a very plodding recording. There are definitely some shining moments here and there like the end of "Where Others Have Drowned" or the beginning of "The March of No Reason", but overall there just isn't much of interest. I think the main problem is that while Shaddar has many ideas, the lack of other songwriters means his ideas are never tweaked or refined to become better. "Desert of Redemption" starts off on a typical, yet promising, Black Metal riff with a slow "blast beat" behind it, but the issue is that it barely evolves. You'll hear maybe two or three different permeations of that same riff with the drums bapping away at the same tempo for damn near the entire first six and a half minutes. The only reason it doesn't last all eight is because the last two minutes are ambient filler. That's the general idea behind most of the songs, and they never really mutate into what they want to be. Shaddar needs a full band to help these ideas mature and flourish, until then he'll probably continue to churn out boring music with few glimmers of potential here and there.

RATING - 44%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

Kiuas - The New Dark Age

On the bright side, at least they're easy to classify now

I'm a pretty large fan of Kiuas's first two albums. Both The Spirit of Ukko and Reformation did an extraordinary job of seamlessly blending Power Metal with outside influences like Melodeath, Thrash, and even some Black Metal. When I first heard their debut, I was somewhat blinded by something new and shiny, but even now that my phase has worn off, it's still a solid record. The following album was decent as well, although it had its share of clunkers as well. 2008 delivered The New Dark Age to us listeners, and through the benefit of hindsight it has shown me that the genre mixing wasn't the main thing that made Kiuas stand out, it was in fact the only thing.

The New Dark Age sees the once mighty Finns stripped of all the fancy battle armor that once adorned them. Underneath the imposing steel and leather, there is a spindly adolescent with a deep voice. The core of the warrior may not have been very strong, but when fully equipped for battle it was one hell of a force to be reckoned with. Well our warrior decided it was time to come out of his shell and stop pretending he was such a badass, and it was time instead to ride into battle unequipped yet determined. The point is that Kiuas is a fairly weak Heavy Metal band and in fact NEED the occasional blast beat, death grunt, or thrashy riff in order to fully reach their potential. In all honestly, one can only listen to the opening track, "The Decaying Doctrine", and promptly skip off to do something more worthwhile. That song is the blueprint for most of the rest of the album. It's mid-paced, chunky, bottom heavy, and features a good, clean middle range voice screaming over the top. The problem is that this formula wears thin rather quickly. One of the only times the formula is broken is on "To Excel and Ascend". The aforementioned track stills rides on a middle tempo and chugging chords, but it's one of the only times where Ilja Jalkanen lets his voice break the range he lazily sits in for the rest of the album, as he lets out a few low roars. Something incredibly simple like a few lines in a different vocal style reminds me why I fell in love with Kiuas in the first place. It's a shame that he and the rest of the band are suddenly afraid to experiment and let in all the outside ideas again. What we're left with is a fairly bland mid pace Heavy Metal album with a big focus on groove. Stick to The Spirit of Ukko, at least it manages to offer up more than two good tracks.

RATING - 52%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

Jewish Juice - In Memore

Those goofy Nazis

What a delightful name! Jewish Juice is one of those things that, as a metalhead, I find hard to turn away from. When presented with a name as provocative, in-your-face, and over-the-top as this one, you can not pay me not to be intrigued. Did this shock value work positively for the band? If you were to ask me, I'd say yes. Because underneath the rather typical exterior of NSBM tomfoolery, there is some solid Black Metal, and I probably never would have found it without the ridiculous moniker.

Aesthetics aside, the four tracks on In Memore are nothing if not solid, heavy, Black Metal. The album starts with the mid-paced war march of "Brucia", and it sets the tone for what the rest of the demo will bring rather well. I find that one of the main strengths of the album is the variety, virtually every song has something that will make it stand out in a way. The a capella intro to "Crystal's Night", the marching snare of "Brucia", the semi-punk riff in "Totenkopf"... everything has something. The flaw in this is that the weaknesses are more exposed in a way, and dips in quality hurt a four song demo much more than a 10 song full-length. The main beef is with the quasi title track, "In Memory", which just drones on and on in the background with an annoying repetition. Thankfully, frequent tempo shifts grace the remaining three songs, which helps keep them fresh and interesting. This isn't anything terribly innovative, but it gets the job done as a Black Metal album.

RATING - 74%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

Hod - Serpent

BRAPDRAOONDURAPDAP *PPPPPTH* *whirlwind*

Despite the fact that Texas plays host to a respectably sized slew of Black Metal bands, most of them seem forever doomed to live in the shadow of the mighty Absu. New Black/Death outfit Hod does a pretty good job of reminding us that there are other things inside that big, dumb cousin of the USA apart from Absu and King Diamond (for the time being at least). Despite only being formed less than two years ago, all of the members have been involved in the scene for nearly two decades, so you can expect something that sounds like some seasoned veterans cranking out some vicious metal as opposed to a bunch of kids hopelessly paying tribute to their idols. Their debut full-length, Serpent, consists of seven razor sharp, high tempo, aggressive Black/Death tracks that never slow down enough to give your neck a break. It's just constant pummeling from the get go, just the way the style should be played. To paint a vivid picture as to what the band sounds like, imagine Goatwhore amped up the Black Metal in the riffing department, nearly eliminated their blast beats, and recruited Taz from Looney Toons for vocal duties. That's right; these vocals come off as hilarious as opposed to hateful. I understand that metal is a great medium to be as ridiculous as possible but still be extremely cool at the same time, but this is an entirely different level. The LAST thing you want a Black Metal album to remind you of is a children's cartoon. Apart from this one setback, Hod holds up very well amongst the sea of mediocrity nowadays. There aren't any real standout tracks, but the album itself is an enjoyable journey through the depths of hatred and revenge.

RATING - 80%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com 

Embryonic Depravity / Gorevent - Malignant Opus of Inherited Depravities

Chugga chugga chugga chugga CHOO CHOO

This split is absolutely dripping with hilarious cliché. From the longwinded and meaninglessly syllabic song titles of the Brits' band to the goofy Engrish of the Japanese folks, the track titles are merely the beginning of the stagnation and unoriginality to be found here. I can't even look at this from a band by band basis, as they are rather similar styles of drop Z Devourment worship. If I had to pick which band I'd prefer, it would be Embryonic Depravity simply because the vocals are less irritating. And really, pretty much the only difference between the bands is the vocals anyways.

The tracks are indistinguishable from one another, but that is par for the course in this style, and that honestly isn't really a problem. The real issue is the fact that all eight tracks between the two bands just plod along like a hippo with a hernia, except it's not as entertaining or memorable. Embryonic Depravity is, as I said, the better of the two bands because they take a healthy dash of Dying Fetus to mix in with the Devourment, and this is evident on tracks like "Insurgence of Dogmatic Antiquity" and "The Propagation of Decrepitude", throwing it some technical sweeps to break up the monotonous chugging. Vocally, they like to stick with the tried and true method of growling really deeply and not actually annunciating anything.

Gorvent, on the other hand, does pretty much everything wrong. I'll give them some leeway for at least having a better drum sound (no "rubber band slapping against a tin can" snare drum), but the annoyance of their weak bass drum and overly sharp cymbals kind of offset their one improvement over the first half. The vocals this time are even less decipherable, instead going for the uber low snoring technique utilized by many goregrind acts. The fact that the music is literally nothing but boring chug riffs severely hinders the enjoyment of it. Drums switch between typical back beats to blasts and that's really the only variation throughout their contribution to the split. I can't even point out any one song as being the best or worst simply because they are all the same basic formula of chug/blast/chug/break down.

Malignant Opus of Inherited Depravities is a below average mid-paced Brutal Death Metal split, but not something worth nobody's time. Devourment and Dying Fetus fans could check it out, but it's not for everybody.

EMBRYONIC DEPRAVITY - RATING - 50%
GOREVENT - RATING - 19%

OVERALL - 40%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com 

Deicide - Till Death Do Us Part

RURGH WOMEN SUCK I SAW BIGFOOT BLAAAARGH

Deicide baffles me. Deicide and Legion are Death Metal classics in my eyes, then they release Once Upon the Cross, which isn't awful, but rather pedestrian and a massive step down. Fourthly comes Serpents of the Light, which is a slightly different take on their established style, and thus one of their best records. Afterwards, they released a bunch of tedious and boring albums, they then boot out the Hoffman brothers, recruit Jack Owen from Cannibal Corpse and Ralph Santolla, who was fresh off recording Iced Earth's incredibly crappy The Glorious Burden, and release their masterpiece, The Stench of Redemption. Stench was chock-full of new and awesome ideas, more intense songs, and Santolla's masterful guitar wizardry. Everything had finally aligned for one of the original Death Metal acts.

So what the hell happened with Till Death Do Us Part? Everything that made the previous album spectacular is conspicuously absent. It's not like they've completely reverted to the tedium of the Insineratehymn days or anything, but whatever magic they previously possessed is completely gone. Benton's trademarked dual layered growls are still prevalent, Asheim's drumming is just as vicious as ever, but I think the thing that made the most difference of the previous record was the addition of Owen and Santolla. The latter's soloing style is rather unique and strange in the context of Deicide's brand of fury, but it fit perfectly. It was a breath of fresh air for us listeners, and now the two are relegated to the back with very few standout moments. Benton's divorce really tore into him, that's understandable, but it seems like he let that inspire him to a fault. "Goddammit guys, I'm angry and bitter! Fuck those melodies and leads you wrote, THIS is how I feel, so fuck you. Don't like it? Start your own band!". It all boils down to the music, and this pales in comparison to the 2006 opus. It's nothing new, it's like a forced mixture of their middle era and tinges of the last record. Either way, it lacks the memorability and awe-inspiring quality that The Stench of Redemption so proudly carried. Is this just a disappointment in comparison to the previous behemoth? Somewhat, but even as a standalone, this doesn't do anything to impress me.

RATING - 35%


Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

Friday, August 27, 2010

Five Finger Death Punch - The Way of the Fist

You can't fool a former MTV drone!

I grew up with metal. My mother was a huge Metallica and Pantera fan, my dad loved Black Sabbath, I sang along with Megadeth's Countdown to Extinction from a very young age, and my taste stayed along the lines of hard rock ala GNR and mainstream metal for nearly the first decade of my life. Around the age of nine, I discovered cocai-.... erm... MTV. I was swept up into this mindfuck of a television station and began to base my tastes off of what was popular on the broadcasts. Because of this, I became a massive pop punk fan at nine years old. Blink 182, CIV, The Offspring, and other assorted bands were the order of the day. At age ten, I entered a brief rap phase. Eminem, Dr. Dre, stuff like that. After a few months of that, I "rediscovered" metal through dreck like Korn and Limp Bizkit. They blended that coolness of rap and that heaviness of metal to my ears. Obviously, I know better now, but that was a the coolest shit in the world when I was in fifth grade. I paid money to see Staind live, I thought Slipknot was the heaviest band around, I would listen to System of a Down's Toxicity at least twice a day, I probably still know all the lyrics to every song on Static-X's Wisconsin Death Trip. The lyrics of the genre reflected my twelve year old angst against the society that just didn't understand me, the songs were catchy and occasionally offensive, and it catered to the misunderstood like myself. Somewhere in eighth grade though, I had a strange desire for something a little more complex, so I got sucked into Metallica again and eventually refined myself into the Mosh Jesus you see today.

I shared this story because I learned something from it. Throughout my time as an angsty, Mohecan, nu metal drone, I became extremely familiar with the sound, ideals, and all the nooks and crannies of the genre. It gave me x-ray vision, so to speak... the ability to spot wolves in sheep's clothing. No longer could a bunch of angry losers in Halloween costumes control my mind. This is why Five Finger Death Punch is the recipient of so much of my uncontrollable rage, it's a collection of faux tough guys masquerading as heavy metal, polluting the minds of youngsters seeking to explore the genre. I am being 100% honest when I say that every last one of these songs sound like they would fit perfectly on Slipknot's Iowa. There is honestly nothing redeemable about this release, and all five members of the band, the road crew, those who helped in the studio, and all of their fans deserve to be rounded up, sodomized by cacti, castrated with meat tenderizers, and strangled with their own entrails. This is absolute zero, a place where all life dies. Matter ceases to move and music ceases to be enjoyable in any way.

The songs are only discernible due to differing levels of unintentional hilarity, almost all of which revolve around the hands down biggest clown to ever step behind the mic. Be it the laughable "BREAK THIS SHIT DOWN!", the pathetic "NO MERCY! YOU FAGGOT!", the despicable whining of "Everything I touch, turns to ashes...*crys*", or the sheer stupidity of shouting "YOU'RE MONKEY SEE AND MONKEY DO!" with honest conviction, the album is chock full of comedy around every turn. The breakdown of White Knuckles is pretty much the worst part of the entire record, as it just sums up the entire nu metal angst down to the letter. The crescendo of bullshit with him doing that stupid whisper-and-scream thing of "I'm taking back control... WITH MY KNUCKLES!", it's hilarious and humiliating at the same time. Every last lyric is the absolute nadir of creativity and sounds like shitty poetry hypothetically written by me circa 2001. It's all the same "I'm angry at the world, my father is an asshole, you're a bitch, why did my girlfriend leave me?, why doesn't anybody understand me?" garbage that saturated Korn albums in the late nineties. And honestly, everybody who isn't Devin Townsend should write this down, saying "fuck" every other word does not make you sound tough. The lyrics are not intimidating, I do not fear your obvious rage that you are so desperately trying to convey. Knock it off, it's not cool.

And as if the lyrics weren't enough reason to earn the ire of everybody who's heard an Exodus song in their lifetime, the vocals themselves are some of the most laughably horrendous I've heard since Masterpiece. He has two styles of vocals, Corey Taylor-esque "rawr I'm angry" tough guy screams and Corey Taylor-esque wussburger clean whining, both of which are terrible even for what they are... which is shitty. I've never met anybody who's been dumb enough to throw roadkill over a pile of shit, but this dweeb gets close enough to the general idea by taking an already awful style of vocals and managing to cock them up so badly. If there is any redeemable quality to him, it's that he shuts up every once in a while. The only downfall of the parts where he isn't crying is that he is no longer comically obscuring the pitiful instrumentals. I'll give these guys a very, VERY small amount of credit for at least being able to navigate around their instruments well enough, but that small amount of non-hatred is almost immediately stripped away due to the obnoxiously awful songwriting. They continue the old nu metal tradition of riding one riff into the ground for the duration of the track, with very small breaks for the inevitably terrible chorus and generically crappy breakdown. What could possibly be described as an average riff is extremely few and far between, and whenever it surfaces, it's drowned out by the hormonal stupidity of everybody's favorite microphone mongoloid.

People have tried to argue against my stance by claiming that the presence of double bass drums and guitar solos disqualifies it from being nu metal. This is like saying that calzones taste better if an accordian player is in the room. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Slipknot used double bass all the time, so let's not even try playing that card again. These solos that lobotomy patients speak of are as laughable as the rest of the record. Every time a solo starts up, the rest of the band slows down while the guitarist plays a super "emotional" lead consisting of maybe four or five notes, with a couple random rakes to fool all of the 'tards into thinking he's a guitar god. Honestly, listen to any solo on the record and try to imagine what they look like on stage. He hits his first prolonged note, the stage gets dark as all of the members step away from center stage, the lead guitarist slowly walks into the spotlight shining on the now clear center, his head flying back after each bent or held note. In the dark, one can faintly see the arms of the other four idiots rowing up and down, as they all bow on their knees to the six stringed messiah in front of them. He finishes his godlike twelve note solo, gently kisses the rest of the band on the forehead, and gives them permission return to their instruments so they can begin the song again. At this point, I would begin praying to God for Michael Romero to burst through the ceiling and COMPLETELY SHRED HIS FACE OFF! But alas, Romero seems content to sit on his ass and eat pork rinds all day, for if he had even a modicum of a sense of honor, he would've decapitated this blithering fool before this abomination of a record was recorded.

This is Slipknot, nothing more, nothing less. The overabundance of foolish teenage angst immediately shunts any good that could've hypothetically manifested itself through the record. And what's even more hilarious/depressing, is that nothing good is on here anyway. Roadkill over dungpiles, that's all. I believe that if you listen to this, decide it is enjoyable in any way other than unintentionally hilarious, then you need to be drawn and quartered. Listening to this is akin to having your foreskin slowly nibbled away by your grandmother. Death to Five Finger Death Punch. May your souls rot in eternal purgatory. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go blast some Torture Squad to wash the shit out of my ears.


RATING - 0%

Alter Self - Ashes over Eden

Nothing to really see here

While the album art of this Greek band's first, and currently only, demo screams of melocore posturing, the actual music underneath thankfully manages to carry a sharper edge reminiscent of The Crown. Ashes over Eden leans predominately towards the Thrash side of the Death/Thrash style, and there aren't any complaints from me about that. Alter Self is a competent band, but one that I feel hasn't come into their own quite yet. There isn't any shameless emulation to be found here, but there's very little that makes me say "FUCK YEAH" and start thrashing like a maniac. The solo and middle break in the title track is easily the highlight of this 15 minute romp, but the rest just kind of goes on through the background and never really grabs your attention. The vocalist from Alter Self's painfully mediocre countrymen, Dark Vision, makes a guest appearance on "Wither", but it honestly isn't that noticeable. Guest vocalists can be a neat feature if it's somebody with a recognizable voice and/or established background, like when Tomas Lindberg guested on The Crown's Deathrace King. Having your guest vocalist hail from an equally unknown band with a dime a dozen voice doesn't help you stand out at all. I know I've mentioned The Crown twice already, but that's really what Alter Self sounds like; a passable, but not enthralling, and less speed obsessed version of the legendary Swedes. Give it a listen if you've got nothing else going on, but don't go out of your way for it.

RATING - 59%

Amputated - Wading Through Rancid Offal

THESE guys made Gargling with Infected Semen?

Well color me shocked. Britland's Amputated have come an astoundingly long way in just two years. Their debut, Gargling with Infected Semen, was frankly garbage. This Sevared style of Brutal Death Metal is one that's incredibly simple, yet very difficult to do in a way that doesn't bore the piss out of me. As you can probably tell, GwIS did just that. So it was with great reluctance that I decided to give the band a second chance, but it wound up actually being a good decision on my part.

Wading Through Rancid Offal ranks as one of the very few Slam Death records that manages to actually grab and hold the listener's interest. This is rather ironic considering the tracks are nearly indistinguishable and only feature two vocal stylings, both of which are quite monotone. There's the very low croaking style that dominates most of the record, plus the genre staple pig squeal, neither of which enunciate at all, which makes me wonder if the vocalist even has a tongue. Looking past the cliché vocal department, it's the music that really makes this album stand out. The slam sections manage to avoid the pratfall that most Slam Death bands fall into, and that's that they stomp more than they plod. The breakdowns may take up the most space on this album, but they're done well enough to maintain interest and actually carry the song quite well. The shoddy production of the previous album has also been considerably cleaned up. The percussion is kind of wooden sounding but everything sounds chunky and filthy, just how it's supposed to sound. If there's any real problem with Wading Through Rancid Offal, it's that while it's fairly good, it still strictly adheres to every cliché of the genre. Every song starts with a sample, the song titles (I'm assuming the lyrics are as well, but there's really no way to tell) are verbose and gory, most tracks focus on breakdowns with sprinkles of blasting sections, and it's very short.

With all that said, I'm still impressed even if it's because my only prior experience with the band was so horrible. Everything from the production, to the artwork, and most importantly, the songwriting, has all been improved immensely. Fans of Devourment and Dying Fetus's less widdly widdly moments should check this out.

RATING - 78%

1349 - Revelations of the Black Flame

Remember all that stuff we were good at? Let's do the opposite

Okay, it's fairly obvious that I have a massive boner for 1349's previous works. Liberation may have had some remarkably thin and buzzy production, but Beyond the Apocalypse and Hellfire are must listens as far as I'm concerned. The band was incredibly good at what they did, which was furious and relentless Black Metal that focused on intensity far more than atmosphere. Sure, it's not what most people prefer, but I'm much more predisposed to that style since I entered BM through the Thrash camp.

So what makes Revelations of the Black Flame so much worse? Frankly, everything the band was good at is conspicuously absent. Instead of the unchained fury, we're barraged with half hearted ambience and slow, dissonant melodies. Of the nine tracks, only "Serpentine Sibilance", "Uncreation", and "Maggot Fetus… Teeth Like Thorns" retain any of the band's former glory. The Pink Floyd cover is interesting if nothing else, but it just goes in one ear and out the other, as do most of the filler tracks. I'm not bitter because the band switched styles; I'm bitter because they're terrible at what they're trying to do here. 1349 is not a group that excels in creating an unsettling atmosphere, nor are they renowned in the world of ambience. Hellfire was a modern classic because there are few bands that can cram as much intensity and aggression into one record as well as 1349 can. It barely let up, so I can't help but wonder why they decided it would be such a great idea to abandon what made them so memorable and enjoyable in the first place. The bottom line is that Revelations of the Black Flame is fucking lame. If you want an ambient soundscape integrated with Black Metal, stick with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room who know how to make it interesting. Disappointment of 2009 by far.

RATING - 18%

Xerath - I

A somewhat interesting idea marred by shitty music

I like music when it's taken to an extreme. I've grown to like damn near everything that metal has to offer purely because I'm in love with the concept of extremes. Over the years, I've warmed up to my former punching bag in drone. I've grown to see the appeal of insanely raw black metal and ridiculous goregrind. Everything from the stupidly over-the-top (Dragonforce) to the most dismally downtempo (Wormphlegm) has entered my regular listening cycles because of the fact that the bands in question had the balls to push their music to the extreme. Hell, a large portion of what I listen to isn't extreme at all, but the point I'm trying to make is that I'm more likely to enjoy a mediocre yet enthusiastic black/thrash band than a mediocre yet creative band in a safe genre. And this is where Xerath enters the picture.

Xerath garnered a large following due to word of mouth and likeness to Meshuggah back last year. Something about the "orchestral" prefix really piqued my curiosity when I first heard about the band, and the sad fact is that the term should be used in quotation marks no matter what the context. Meshuggah got lucky, their trademark style is incredibly simple in essence (two or three note riffs played in a complicated time signature with no progression and mindless yelling over the top), but it's one that's inimitable because nobody can try to tackle a similar approach without being egged by all the Meshuggah fans for being shameless clones. Xerath was capable of emulating this style, and even improving it by putting in more than three riffs per song plus a few short solos with an actual sense of melody, but couldn't really take off due to the aforementioned issue with playing the style. So they decided to pull what Winds of Plague did, and just add keyboards. Xerath were guaranteed popularity purely because they managed to sound like Meshuggah with one key difference. The same problem that the aforementioned deathcore abomination suffered from is just as prevalent here, and that's that the keys typically don't actually do anything. They layer over the top of songs that sound like they were written without the synths in mind. They play root chords and fade away, nothing more. There's nothing more frustrating to me than hearing a band that actually has potential and an interesting idea end up sucking because they can't get out of the rut they started in.

None of the songs on I stand out thanks to yet another inherited trait in the indistinguishability. I hate to keep comparing the band to Meshuggah, but this is darn near the only influence I can pick out within the actual meat of the disc. Every issue I have with the Swedish faux-progsters is reciprocated with this British counterpart. The riffs are uninteresting chugfests, the vocals are a tuneless and unvarying shout, the percussion manages to be complex yet profoundly boring, and nearly nothing sticks in your head after repeated listens. The one and only time I ever said "wow, that part was actually pretty fucking cool" was during the very last track, "Right to Exist". The variances in the riffing are less subtle and more interesting in that song, plus the guitars finally take a back seat to a worthy symphonic part for the first time on the record. Oh sure, there are extended breaks throughout the album, but the orchestrations are pedestrian and weak during all but this last one. I'll also mention the track "Alterra", purely because I actually sense a strong Pantera vibe in the front half as opposed to that dirty "M" word for the first and only time.

Honestly, I'd recommend this only to fans of Meshuggah or any of those proggy types who value difficulty to play over memorability or songwriting. If you're interested because of the supposed epic orchestrations like I was, look elsewhere. The promises of polyrhythmic chunk melded seamlessly with emotional symphonics are empty promises indeed. You'll be just as well off with playing Chaossphere loudly and In Sorte Diaboli quietly in the background.

RATING - 23%

Wolf - Wolf

Lasagna

For those who don't know, lasagna is a kind of pasta pie thing that looks disgusting and regurgitated, but it tastes like a slice of holy heaven, and that is what Wolf's self titled debut reminds me off. It looks like shit (most hilariously bad album cover I've ever seen coupled entirely unoriginal and generic name and sound), but tastes fantastic (the music is incredibly fun, fast paced, solid old school heavy fucking metal).

There, now that my contractual food reference is out of the way, allow me to continue with my musical analysis. As stated, Wolf's brand of heavy metal is... well, like a store brand. If Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Jag Panzer and the like are the Cokes and Pepsis of the style, then Wolf is like the Sam's Choice or the Tab. There is nothing here you haven't heard a thousand times before a thousand times better, but one can hear the conviction and passion in their riffs, which is more important than anything else. Imagine, the most innovative, creative, unique piece of music in the existence of humankind is performed by a bunch of scholars who have practiced to the point that they could play in their sleep, and execute the piece flawlessly in a nearly mechanically precise way. Immediately afterwards, Iron Maiden Clone #8675309, comprised of four or five eccentric looking young adults, sloppily plays their song, with a performance that exudes energy and passion. At this point, your are forced to make the choice of which one was more entertaining and what you'd rather see for the rest of eternity. I don't know about you, but I'll take the fools in spandex jumping around like chimpanzees on angel dust over the scholarly robots every single time.

That rather lengthy hypothetical was just my way of saying that while Wolf brings nothing new to the table, they are an enjoyable treat for any fan of the traditional heavy metal style. These guys sound like they worship Omen's Battle Cry, and that's about just as good an album as any to worship, and they do their worship relatively well. The riffs and leads manage to sound fresh even after the many recyclings they have undoubtedly gone through before the time of this album. Most of the songs are about the same pace and tempo, with the difference between the fastest and slowest songs being maybe only 20 or 30 bpm. So there isn't too much variation between tracks, but the variety in song structure will keep one interested throughout the duration. The minuscule difference between tracks and riffs that just scream deja vu don't seem like as big of problems as they actually are if you allow yourself to get sucked into the music.

There is one point of contention that really grates on my balls that I must address, and that is this vocalist. He is crappy... really crappy, he is the crappiest muffin (first person to identify the reference gets an internetical cookie). Remember how I said the vocalist for Icarus Witch sounded like a sedated Geddy Lee? Well now imagine a really tired and unconvinced Geddy Lee. All the passion championing I do when it comes to this band is almost always circumvented by this idiot. He sounds bored, like he just read the lyrics on the day he was to record his tracks, and he absolutely hated them. He's just there to fill the void of a frontman, the band needs a face and a voice, so they apparently just went with the first guy they saw who had long hair. I seriously can't see this guy being the best they could find. His voice lacks any sort of power... no vibrato, weak delivery, and just generally sounds like a really bored Joey Belladonna. The final seconds of Moonlight is a great example. The vocal line ascends to a point where he can't reach the note, and instead of just singing that particular portion in a lower octave or writing a melody that he could sing, he strains really hard to hit the note, and still ends up wailing about three or four whole tones flat, resulting in a hilariously embarrassing Kiske imitation. The fact that he plays guitar at the same time is no excuse, either give up guitar and vastly improve your vocal capabilities, or find a guy that doesn't smoke turds.

It's difficult to speak at great length about the instrumental aspects of Wolf. They are competent and ferocious, yet unoriginal, and I find it hard to explain it any further. Most riffs reek of Battle Cry or Powerslave and the drums utilize a grand total of four or five different beats, each one sounding like a master track from Iron Maiden's debut. And despite all this, it doesn't seem stale unless you want it to. Even though this is a hideously flawed record, it stands as an everlasting testament to why metal has endured as long as it has and why it won't die any time soon. While metal is still a young genre, it sometimes seems as if it expanded too quickly, and all of the ideas were used up in a mere 20 years. 38 years after Sabbath's debut, we are still treading new ground, but many of the paths are beaten and worn. Metallica has even set up a few rest stops along a few paths. But as Wolf tread the path that was taken many years ago by exponentially more talented groups, they still manage to deliver a solid dose of old school heavy metal. This is fun in moderation, but shouldn't be abused, lest it grow stale much faster than desired.

RATING - 79%

Witchaven - Totalitarian State of War

OH SHIT LOOK OUT

Every once in a while, a band comes along and just completely dominates you. You know damn well that there are better bands out there, but you just can't get over how awesome this one pet band is. Currently, Witchaven is this band for me. I'll be walking down Venom Avenue, the coolest street in all of Metaltown, and people will come up to me and ask "Hey dude have you heard the new Nile? Whaddya think of it?" and the only words that come out of my mouth are "FUCKING WITCHAVEN! YEAH FUCK YEAH YEAH! FAY! CESS! OF! DEEEEEATH!" as their heads blow backwards and skin slowly peels away from their face as a result of the power that simply reciting the lyrics musters. I find it impossible to listen to a band like Witchaven and not struggle to quell the urge to find the nearest living thing and kill it. They play with a rare power, a rare force that can command the listener to do whatever the band pleases, and they never have to even speak the command, you just do it.

Totalitarian State of War is black/thrash at it's most primal. Witchaven is the kind of band that wakes up every morning and eats freshly ground uncooked lamb for breakfast. With the blood still dripping from their jaws they exit their doom fortress and start axe murdering the local wildlife, and soon after that they jump on their V666 Murdercycles and ride a badass wheelie all the way to the Vatican where they sacrifice one priest every day in the brazen bull. Their days climax with a blasphemous orgy complete with mutilation and vorarephilia to the soundtrack of Bestial Mockery. What I'm trying to say is that they are bloody bestial ass rape raw and carry themselves on pure, undiluted attitude. Even tracks where they aren't running on all cylinders like the midpaced "Whispers in the Wind" completely destroy. "Circle of Shadows" and "Century of Fire" are probably the fastest outright tracks on display (and are unsurprisingly two of the best), but no track feels like a wasted spot. The production quality varies from track to track due to this actually being a compilation as opposed to a full length album, so it can be somewhat frustrating when listening from front to back. Songs like "Black Thrash Assault" and "Circle of Shadows" sound really professional (by black/thrash standards) while "Screams in the Night" sounds like it was recorded on a cell phone.

Instrumentally, this really isn't all that much to write home about. There aren't insanely fast blast beats nor virtuosic guitar acrobatics, but these California bred heathens play with a fresh intensity and passion that I find sorely lacking in most thrash based acts from the west coast. Instead of utilizing the perplexingly popular mindset of "Know what's awesome? Exodus. We should do that", they go for a mission along the lines of "Know what's awesome? Sabbat. We should try to be even better". And while they don't yet have the legacy of the Japanese Leather Thong Warriors, they play music of a similar style and equal viciousness, possibly even surpassing it at times. They way I see it, Totalitarian State of War wipes any trace of doubt away from the mind of the listener. The fact that Witchaven is still unsigned completely baffles me, as Hells Headbangers or Nuclear War Now! should definitely jump on a band of this style and quality. I believe they are bound for underground infamy based purely on the fury of the music. No frills, no gimmicks, just blasphemous, raw, neckbreaking attitude.

RATING - 89%

Winds of Plague - Decimate the Weak

Well, they ALMOST managed to not suck...

Let's get something out of the way really quickly. Yes, Winds of Plague's image is incredibly stupid. While I'm sure they weren't aiming for it, their metal aesthetic is so far off the mark that one really can't be blamed for being put off this band before even hearing a single note. Their hilariously bad music video for "The Impaler" sure as hell didn't help matters either. They look like (and probably are) a bunch of kids who were into hardcore that fell in love with Job For A Cowboy's infamous EP, Doom. They needed something to help them stand out in the flooding deathcore scene, so they chose to incorporate keyboards. To be completely honest with you, it worked very well, because I would have never been interested in hearing the band if it weren't for the symphonic prefix. But the bottom line is that merely doing something different isn't enough to legitimately garner genuine praise. It's been said several times before, but just because you're the first guy to train an elephant to piss in its own mouth, doesn't mean it's great purely because it's new. But here's the strange thing about Winds of Plague, they aren't really all that awful down at their core.

I'll give you a second to collect your socks that inevitably just flew off.

What I mean is that when they stick to trying melodic death metal, they're passable. Not great, but passable. Nobody in the band is a particularly strong songwriter, but the keyboard melodies actually seem to work over the generic chug riffing most of the time. While there aren't too many bands doing what they are doing here, it's still not very adventurous. There aren't too many strange riffs or exploratory melodies, but they do the job well enough to obscure the biggest problems with the album when they are in top form. For example, "Angels of Debauchery" has a churning middle section that focuses more on the atmosphere created by the keys, and they manage to give a somewhat soaring quality above the bland heaviness underneath. It manages to slow the song down despite frequent blast beating, giving it a somewhat mystical quality that the rest of the album sorely lacks.

Sadly, that's where the praise ends. The rest of Decimate the Weak is every bit as bad as the general opinion seems to reflect. I mentioned that nobody here is a very good songwriter, but the disjointed cut/paste style that most tracks feature is extremely irritating. It seems like these fellas enjoy deathcore, hardcore, melodeath, and symphonic metal, but they haven't the slightest clue how to actually blend them into a cohesive beast. Several songs will awkwardly jump from a generic melodeath riff into a cliche deathcore breakdown with absolutely no warning. The opening track, "Anthems of Apocalypse" is a perfect example. The song begins immediately after the pointless symphonic intro track with a typical metalcore/melodeath riff and a simple chord progression on the backing keys. The song follows that general template until suddenly stopping and turning into a hilariously brutal breakdown. I swear, you can hear the hardcore dancers in the back of your head start masturbating once it starts. The vocalist spurts a few ultra low, sounding like a deathcore parody, syncopated vocal lines before the song randomly switches back to where it was when it started. I sat stunned at the completely out of place breakdown upon first listen. "Maybe I just don't understand it" I thought to myself, as I was still early in my deathcore quest at the time and still didn't understand the thought process behind most of the decisions that seemed questionable to me. But before my thought was even finished, another asinine breakdown crashes through and stinks up the place. The hardcore "YOU WANNA SEE US FAIL?! NOT TODAY MOTHERFUCKERS!" yelling over the top was the icing on the cake. There was absolutely no way the band could redeem themselves after that insipid move. Yet, when the breakdown ended (as abruptly as it started, I should add), it was replaced by an adequate blasting section accompanied by the first riff I wouldn't describe as retarded. That's just the first song folks, and it never improves. Sometimes there's an unnecessary key only section and sometimes there's a big, dumb slamdown, but it never follows a logical flow. Winds of Plague is trying so hard to be against the grain and in support of throwing away conventions that they forgot to actually write a coherent song. I don't allow Opeth to do this shit so there's no way in hell that these tools get a free ride either.

Which leads me to my next point, this vocalist is fucking terrible. He has the common decency to not distort the shit out of his vocals like Suicide Silence, but there's no power behind any of his styles. He sounds like he just recently got into the music and just listened to a few similar bands in order to get the general idea down, as opposed to actually training his voice to growl with ferocity. Merely changing the way your voice sounds does not count as death metal vocals. He seems more rooted in hardcore and therefore has a voice that's incompatible with the melodic death metal that takes up a majority of the record. He only truly sounds like he belongs on a few choice spots, like near the end of the title track. Apart from being crappy and incompatible, he also spews some of the most retarded lyrics I've heard since Five Finger Death Punch. I'll concede that I don't know who the primary lyricist is, but nothing changes the fact that Jon Cook is the one whose mouth they are regurgitating from. I mean, for god sake, look at this choice excerpt from "Reloaded"

We've got the world in the palm of our hands.
Bustas fall down when we're barking commands.
Atlas ain't got shit on our steez.
Kick out the chair and get on your knees.


I really, really wish I was making that up. That reads like a mallcore parody, and yet here is this grown man making a complete fool of himself by yelling this drivel with honest conviction. Angsty teenagers write better than that, which is an absolutely pathetic line to be under. Sorry guys, but either ditch this fool or just give up, because despite the fact that he is so forgettable and easily blocked out when listening, he is the weakest link in a chain already made out of Twizzlers.

Decimate the Weak is bad, no two ways around it. I feel like they actually have some potential beneath the bad songwriting, lame image, and gimmick (ooh look, we have a chick in our band, here's a picture of her boobies, buy our albums please). If you've got tattoos covering both arms and use the word "fuck" like it's a punctuation mark, you are most likely the target demographic, but I can't even guarantee you'll like it considering some of my deathcore friends have complained about the sub par quality of the record. I guess if you enjoy the genre and don't mind a bit of experimentation, it's at least worth a listen. It's different, but far from being good. If they gave up on the breakdowns, hired a vocalist who actually carries a powerful set of lungs, and focused more on the light keys over fast heavy riffing, they could be okay. They flirt with that idea a few times here, but mostly tend to play simple melodies over simple chugging patterns, which frankly, takes about as much skill as being able to pick your nose without drawing blood.

RATING - 19%

Vicious Attack - 2009 Demo

SWARM OF INSECTS IN YOUR ROOM!

If you aren't an Illinois or midwestern US native, I can imagine it'd be difficult to name more than a few big bands in the Chicago scene. Areas like southern California and the east coast are intense hotspots for this new breed of thrash that's been making the rounds lately. The midwest only spawned a handful of classic bands in any genre, let alone just thrash. Trouble, Morbid Saint, Cyclone Temple, and Usurper are a few off the top of my head, while I could probably write a novel about all of the great bands to come out of Los Angeles and San Francisco in the thrash genre alone. In the new millennium, a few local favorites have spurned and a couple have even made somewhat of a name for themselves. Infinite Missiles, Cross Examination, and Diamond Plate are a few that have gained some renown. One local Chicago favorite, and possibly future force, is Vicious Attack.

First off, the guys at Gunpoint Studios did a damn fine job of making this demo sound professional. Thankfully, it's not the glittery sheen of Gama Bomb, it manages to be both dirty and clear along the lines of early Slayer and Exodus. That sound is, frankly, how thrash should sound. I must say the only thing that bothers me about the production is the extreme panning of the two guitars. I never thought this sounded good when done in a thrash context as the music is just too fast and chaotic for a pair of ears to handle when a blazing lead is tearing at your right ear and a sharp rhythm is slicing your left. Listen to Slayer's Decade of Aggression and tell me I'm wrong, I dare you.

Vicious Attack are a prime example of why I say thrash can never really die out. It can lose favor, it can become stagnant, and it can be outdone in terms of speed and brutality. But the fact of the matter is that none of that matters when it's done well. This demo absolutely reeks of early and late (no middle era influence though) Exodus and Kreator at their most vicious, but that means precisely dick considering how energetic and aggressive the fellas behind the music are. The vocals resemble Rob Dukes, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering Dukes is only really bad when Gary Holt decides to give him the spotlight (which is unfortunately often). Here, the vocals are used as an instrument just like the guitars and finds itself syncopating with the sharp chords rather frequently, integrating itself into the music as a whole as opposed to being layered over the top just because instrumental bands rarely get popular. There is a hilarious screech at the end of Infestation that breaks the flow somewhat, but works as a decent climax and release of energy. The guitars and riffwork further prove my point, as while they're about middle of the herd in terms of creativity, you never once doubt the band's conviction to thrashing faces off. The rhythm recalls Anthrax and Sodom with their insane precision and tempo. The leads pose a bit of a problem though, as Gomer Pyle seems to improvise most of the solos Kerry King style (aka pick an area on the neck and hit as many notes as possible in the time allotted). Most of the leads are very choppy and amateurish as a result. But once again, it manages to work well against the unrestrained nature of the backing band.

While Vicious Attack is no Sabbat in therms of speed, no Destruction in terms of riff writing, nor Kreator in terms of intensity, they are a very capable addition to the thrash wave of the new millennium. I sincerely doubt they will rise to the levels that Warbringer, Evile and the like have risen to, but they could garner quite the fanbase if they spent the majority of their careers only opening for bigger bands. Thrash is a simple beast, and Vicious Attack know exactly how it ticks... show up, destroy, leave.

P.S. I own the first copy of this release, so if they actually wind up being huge, I'll eat my words and then rub it in everybody's faces.

RATING - 83%