Saturday, March 9, 2019

DRAINING THE DREGS: Vol I

I'm sure y'all have noticed that my production has fucking spiked to an absurd degree over the last few weeks.  I've already almost matched my total from last year and March just started.  I've been on a review-a-day pace for a few weeks now, and it doesn't look like I'll be slowing down too much for the foreseeable future.  This is for a few different reasons, but the biggest one is simply because I've started actually going through the flood of promos I've been getting and ignoring for years.  For those of you who don't know how this process works, generally a promo company will send out an email with a press release and a download link, occasionally they'll send out reminders for something that was sent in the past, updates on what promo bands have been doing (releasing videos and singles, etc) if you run a more general "metal news" type blog/zine than just a review focused on like this, openings for interview requests, and things of that nature.  But, at least a few times per week (because I somehow wound up on like four or five different agencies' mailing lists) they'll send a big ass block with 4-10 download links.  So theoretically I can get up to like twenty fucking albums a week (that's not even taking into account the handful of artists who contact me directly, which is much rarer but still happens, nor is it taking into account that I generally only actually download the ones that interest me, so I leave a lot of them on the table) and even if I didn't limit myself to one review per day like I do, it'd still be absurd to try to get through all of these myself.

So, thanks to the flood of stuff I've actually been taking seriously for a change, I have a backlog that's starting to border on total insanity.  So to help myself out a bit, I'm going to be introducing yet another feature to Lair of the Bastard, wherein I drain the dregs and just knock out a bunch of these in the backlog with short, one paragraph blurbs with a simplified rating system, purely to ease the creeping anxiety of the knowledge that I have so much more to do than I have any reasonable amount of time for.  So, please enjoy the aptly titled new feature: DRAINING THE DREGS.


Ambrotos - Cosmic Annulus
This was supposed to be the next review after the Avantasia one yesterday, but frankly I found myself frustrated with an inability to formulate enough thoughts for the multi-paragraph format I employ.  Which is a shame, because I do like this EP a lot.  I like the lyrical focus on pre-Socratic philosophy, I like the dynamic of the band being split between Greece and Mexico, I like the devastating riffs, I like the strong sense of melody, it's just a very good release.  The geographical origins shine through pretty brightly, because I hear a lot of Varathron in Cosmic Annulus.  It's not a carbon copy though, because I also get some pretty strong vibes from up north, with Marduk and Sacramentum style melodies (albeit with far slower blasting) slicing through the fiery black metal fury.  It's "majestic" without being grandiose, and overall just a very delicate balance between heady and aggressive, and I think it's great.
RATING: QUITE GOOD

Climate of Fear - The Onset of Eternal Darkness
I've spun this one probably six or seven times now and I still don't remember most of it.  I'm still not even sure exactly what it even is.  I think I'll stretch definitions a bit and consider this "metalcore", but I mean it much more in the semi-atavistic sense of Converge or Nasty or something, or maybe a less sludgy Code Orange.  A massive portion of this is just plain old death metal, and it's heavy and riffy and pretty good, but there are still hardcore tendencies that get thrown around with wild abandon.  The vocals frequently break from traditional death metal growls and employ a much more throaty and desperate scream, and it's these mixed with the pummeling breakdowns that call to mind the less metal aspects of the band.  I like this a lot, but it just doesn't really stick with me.  It wasn't until "Shadow and Flame" hit that I realized who this reminds me of so much, and that's the little known Italian deathgrind band Natron that I encountered briefly while writing for Metal Crypt.  So yeah, this is some mega heavy death metal/hardcore without truly being deathcore.  Gotta give bonus points to the Napalm Death-esque anti-capitalist bent to the lyrics as well.  Always support for conrads o7
RATING: GOOD BUT FORGETTABLE

Vulcanodon Phazer - Cretaceous Skull
When I first started checking my promos again, I couldn't help but notice myself completely swamped in doom and stoner metal.  Vulcanodon Phazer was one of the first ones I checked out, and they set the stage for what I'd be getting.  Unfortunately, stoner stuff just isn't really my thing usually, and these guys don't do much to dispel my prejudice.  This hits every cliche and does very little to break away from the mediocrity they embrace.  Everything is distant and slathered in reverb, the vocals sound like they're being rambled from the next room, the riffs are basic and repeat a million times each, it's just the very definition of uninteresting, mediocre metal.  They're a few thousand yards away from ever sniffing Yob's quality, ya know?
RATING: DULL AND UNINTERESTING


Telümehtår - The Well

This is raucous and fiery black metal from France, presented in a very raw and passionate manner, and spends most of its time just tearing the fucking roof off your listening space.  It's not perfect, it goes on a little too long and doesn't really throw any curveballs your way or anything, but it's effective for fans of really hateful BM.  There's really only one moment that breaks from the formula, and that's "Perpetual Hopes in Eternal Despair", which is just a really fucking odd choice to include on the album.  Every other track, regardless of length, is populated with mountains of blasting and furious riffage, but then this track pops up in the middle of the album and it's just seven minutes of strumming tremolo chords and a pulsing one note bassline.  No percussion, no vocals, no nothing.  I assume it's meant to just be purely atmospheric but it doesn't work at all, it's just a weird, needless bore, and it's a huge distraction away from the unimaginative-yet-effective malice the rest of the record exudes.
RATING: DECENT

Helevorn - Aamamata
Honestly, I just didn't want to listen to any more fucking doom by the time this one showed up.  Much less the gloomy gothic kind.  I can't say with any real confidence that Aamamata is no good, because it's fine, perfectly serviceable for this synthy gloom, but I didn't care for this downtrodden dullness when Draconian or Katatonia was doing it and I don't care for it when Helevorn is doing it either.  Maybe I'm the wrong audience for this, and I'll admit that freely, maybe I got a little too ambitious when choosing which records to check out, but this dark, slow, dramatic, pompousness isn't anywhere near as gripping and emotional as it needs to be for me to sit through an hour of it.
RATING: ZZZZZ

Flame, Dear Flame - The Millennial Heartbeat
Ditto for this one.  Thankfully though, it works much better than Helevorn because it feels a bit more epic and is way more succinct, and the female vocals work really well over the epic, crushing doom underneath it.  It's vaguely psychedelic and doesn't stretch out the gloomy dirges for too long, with all of the tracks sitting at a healthy sevenish minutes and fucking off after only three of them.  I wouldn't say I like this one a lot, but I do like it.  I think I'll like it a lot more when I revisit it in a few months, when I'm (fingers crossed) no longer swamped in mediocre Swallow the Sun ripoffs.  It keeps the pace consistently downtrodden and it's a nice, melodic slab of depressing doom metal.  I obviously tend to prefer my metal to be fast and angry, but I adore this style as well, and while they don't knock it out of the park, they do a very good job with what they do.
RATING: DECENT

Contrarian - Their Worm Never Dies
Man could you pass up something with a cover art this fucking rad?  The music doesn't quite live up to the lofty expectations the aesthetics build up, but this is still a great example of proggy tech death that keeps things interesting.  It certainly helps that George Kollias of Nile fame is behind the kit, and it also helps that he resists his nature to play as inhumanly fast as possible at all times because it gives these winding riffs and screaming leads some room to breathe.  There's a huge helping of late-era Death in here, landing in some cosmic midpoint between the aforementioned and the ubertech whirlwind of Decrepit Birth.  Their Worm Never Dies also benefits from having a very active bassist who doesn't insist on hogging all the limelight like Beyond Creation or something.  I'm speaking as a bassist myself, I don't have any real problem with it being given a lead role, but I prefer it if a band acts as a cohesive unit where all of the members' individual talent complements one another instead of one clear superstar rendering the rest of the band useless.  You've gotta build around your superstars, and that's why the Capitals finally won the Stanely Cup when they managed to give Ovechkin an actual fucking team to play with.
RATING: VERY GOOD

Backstabber - Conspiracy Theorist
This is better than it has any right to be.  It's hard to take a theme as in-your-face as "all conspiracy theories are real" and not come off like a bunch of tinfoil chewing dorks mainlining Infowars at all times, but this Canadian trio pulls it off very well.  Conspiracy Theorist is mad hammering death/thrash from the starting gun and keeps the adrenaline through the roof.  There aren't many real highlights and it struggles to keep my attention the whole way through, but there are some excellent moments here and there in tracks like "No Privacy" and "Banksters".  This is really the album that gave me the idea to do this feature, because the previous four sentences are all I could think to say about it.
RATING: BETTER THAN IT SHOULD BE, STILL JUST OKAY

Iron Fire - Beyond the Void
Holy shit, remember these guys?  I discovered Iron Fire waaaaaaaay back in the Limewire days when I was a filthy music pirating teenager, when On the Edge was their newest album.  That album became a minor meme with my friends, where we'd plug our noses and intentionally sing terribly, because Martin Steene had to have been the worst vocalist for a major power metal band any of us had heard up to that point.  Nevertheless, "Thunderspirit" was a great song, but beyond that they just fell completely off my radar and I haven't listened to a note of their music in like 15 years at this point.  So yeah, I was shocked when I saw this name in my inbox, and I was even more shocked when it wound up being quite good.  Maybe it's because Steene is way younger than I realized (making him only 20 years old when On the Edge was recorded), but his voice has seemingly dropped two octaves since 2001, and it sounds fucking awesome now.  He has a Chuck Billy-esque gruffness to his voice now, and it adds a lot of grit to this much heavier variant of heavy/power metal that he's still reliably cranking out.  I'm sure there's a much better vocalist to compare him to, but I'm nine reviews into this feature and my brain is frying.  Maybe Matthias Ecklund's deeper voice he utilizes sometimes?  I dunno, either way this is some muscular Hammerfall/Iron Savior styled speedy trad/power metal with loads of good melodies and catchy choruses.  I'm genuinely surprised by this one and feel like I need to check the band's back catalog now.
RATING: QUITE GOOD

Porn - The Darkest of Human Desires - Act II
Ah yes, the ungoogleable.  Porn is... weird and stupid.  I'm not even really sure who this is supposed to appeal to.  It starts off with really basic groove metal, backed by clean vocals that sound like they were recorded in a subway tunnel, but there are weird subtle synths all over the place as well.  And as the album goes on it starts devolving into lengthy interludes of ambient industrial/synthwave.  I don't know what the fuck to call this, atmospheric industrial groove metal?  I dunno, it's bad.  And weird.  And stupid.  And I hate it.  I've only managed to sit through the entire album once after like five attempts, it's just boring and dumb, completely unengaging groove riffs with no mood.  Fuck this.
RATING: WEIRD AND STUPID

Andeis - Servants of the Cold Night
Andeis is one of those groups of dorks who values pointless anonymity more than actually crafting good music.  Their official country of origin is "unknown", and it's one of the only bands throughout all of these promos to have a big disclaimer saying THIS BAND IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS in their EPK, because god forbid he slips up and says "y'all" and I find out that Laignech is actually some dude named Mike from Arkansas or something.  That's my headcanon now, Andeis is really just some stooges from a really boring American state who need to shroud themselves in SpOoKy mysticism in order to drum up any sort of hype.  Because despite being released on Fallen Empire (a very respectable label (who unfortunately seems to love fostering this kind of esoteric dorkery)) there is nothing at all here to help it stand out.  This is basic, raw, lo fi black metal with basic blasts and basic tremolos and basic screams and basic everything.  They say the lyrics are based in some ancient gothic language but it just looks like Welsh word vomit.  The one and only track that stands out in any way is "Wintrus hailagaizos aggwiþos", and that's entirely because there's some weird effect that pops up throughout the track that I think it supposed to be industrial sounding but really just sounds like a spoon banging on an air conditioner twice as loud as the rest of the band.  Just constant sixteenth note BINGBINGBINGBINGBING.  There's nothing interesting here and I never want to hear it again.
RATING: BINGBINGBINGBINGBING

Idiot Sect -  Idiot Sect
Last one for today.  I checked this one out because I like Thomas Ligotti, and one of his more famous stories is the very Lovecraftian Sect of the Idiot, but these guys don't really do a whole lot to conjure up the atmosphere of that tale.  This is just regular ass grind and that's it.  This is a very short release, barely breaching the five minute mark, and it's fine for hyperviolent grind with wild, unhinged yelling, but it's not something I'm ever going to put on again.  "Bury Blade of Wrath" is the only track that stands out in any way, and it's entirely for a few seconds of death metally double bass.  This is nasty and violent, but it plays strictly by the rules and does very little to excite me.  It scratches an itch but it's not an itch anybody gets very often.  "Piss Blood, Stake Claim" just finished.  It took me longer to write these few sentences than it did to listen to the entire release.
RATING: WHATEVER YOU THINK OF GRIND


That's all folks!  Tune in in a week or two when I have to clear the queue out again.

1 comment:

  1. Damn I remember hearing about the Contrarian album from Trevor Strnad's column last January. Haven't listened to ot yet as I see that I have seemed to save a LOT of black metal in my Spotify account that I have no way of knowing whether or not listening to the whole thing is worth it. Hoping to be able to listen to Contrarian soon and awesome column as always!

    PS: If you you could tell me the telltale signs of an at least decent black metal album, please tell me so! Thanks

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