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


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%