Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sodom - In War and Pieces

My apologies to Onkel Tom

I have a confession to make... I completely dropped the ball here.  A few weeks before the new year turned, I thought to myself "Well I plan on opening LotB with a best of section, are there any notable records I have yet to hear?".  It wasn't until after it was published that it dawned on me that I had somehow completely overlooked Sodom's latest offering, In War and Pieces.  For this, I have sliced out the vagina of the first attractive woman I saw after leaving the house this morning and mailed it to Angelripper in hopes that it pleases him enough to not kill me for my blunder.

The thing about Sodom is that they've had very few dips in their career.  Every time the Knarrenheinz resurfaces in the news, buttholes clench in preparation for the brutal rape that's down the pipeline.  Sure, Masquerade in Blood was a bit of a disappointment and their flirtations with punk on Get What You Deserve and 'Til Death Do Us Unite didn't sit well with some of the fans (though I personally thought they were still great), but most thrash bands are kind of allowed that stumble in the 90s.  It's one of those things that is just kind of understood and accepted as fact in the metal world.  Most thrash giants turned to suck in the 90s and black and death metal had to fill the gap.  But also like many of their brethren, Sodom once again harnessed the power they once held so triumphantly and began whipping merciless ass around the turn of the century.  This thundering monstrosity is a testament to what Sodom has always stood for musically: aggressive, vitriolic, and violent thrash intensity set against a backdrop of apocalyptic warfare.

Over the years, old Uncle Tom's voice has undergone a bit of a transformation.  The wear and tear of the extreme rasp he sported at the beginning of his career has obviously taken a huge toll on his vocal cords, as he now sounds reminiscent of fellow countryman and another corner of that famous Teutonic Thrash Triangle, Destruction's Schmier.  One of the words I can see people using to describe it would be "modern", but that's really an ill fitting term since "modern" doesn't actually mean a damn thing and it seems to be associated with metalcore yelling, which couldn't be further from the truth here.  Yes, it's a yell or a bark as opposed to a scream or a rasp nowadays, but it's still pure thrash, and it fits the blistering intensity of the music underneath to a T.  And speaking of the music, it certainly fucking delivers.  Sodom still hasn't slowed down since kind of regaining their swagger a little over a decade ago.  This shit is just punishing.  I wholeheartedly believe that if the production was stripped down to a late 80s thrash value, this could have been released no more than a year after Agent Orange and nobody would have been aware of the band's time traveling ability.  And that quality is something that many of the younger thrashers nowadays need to understand better.  Yeah, the 80s were a completely kick ass time for thrash metal, but instead of sounding like records you enjoyed from that era, you should try to sound like you could have been writing and performing alongside Exodus and Slayer instead of just ripping them off over and over again.  Sodom isn't trying to relive past glories with In War and Pieces, they're trying to just kick ass the only way they know how, and that is the way it should be.

I'll admit, like most Sodom records, this does tend to get a little bit samey in the middle, but it bothers me here less than on some other efforts.  "God Bless You" has a rather different feel to it than the rest of the record, starting off on a much calmer note and carrying a less violent and more heroic vibe to it.  "Knarrenheinz" borders on crossover thrash with its intense riffing, and the war march beat under the chorus to the title track just sounds brutal as hell.  There's no doubt that these guy still mean what they're playing, and it's just exhilarating to see a man nearly pushing 50 this energetic and youthful with his art. I don't want to compare Sodom to Destruction yet again, but they're really similar at this point in their careers.  After a shaky 90s campaign, they both release monstrous fan favorites in 2001 (M-16 and The Antichrist respectively) and have only marginally slowed down since then, released solid record after solid record and maintaining a youthful exuberance to help them stay relevant and ass kickingly great.

So once again, I sincerely apologize for my glaring oversight on my year end list.  If you wish to imagine it properly, imagine Hooded Menace shooting up to the number 7 spot (it's really grown on me), Misery Index getting bumped off, and Sodom sitting about the number 8 spot.

RATING - 93%

Year of No Light - Ausserwelt

O Darkness, O Solitude!

When it comes to the "post-" styles of music, I've strangely never been able to get into the subset that merges with my favorite genre, metal.  Post rock, I love.  I could listen to God is an Astronaut or Gifts from Enola or Up-C Down-C Blurbbity Bluh Bluckity all day and never get tired of it.  Now if you chuck some Isis into the mix?  Suddenly my interest is lost.  The juxtaposition of metallic aggression with the quiet atmosphere never really sat well with me.  It was great in theory, but the execution was always fairly shit.  Keeping this in mind, France's Year of No Light is a bit of an anomaly in my listening cycle.  MA lists their genre as "sludge/drone doom metal", but really I can't think of any other way to outline post metal than this.  Yeah, there's some sludginess, there's some doominess, but the dynamics, structure, and overall attitude of Ausserwelt is deeply rooted in the post rock ideal.

For example, the opening track, "Perséphone I", is based around the Explosions in the Sky template of "quiet... LOUD" songwriting.  There are two very long and drawn out buildups that lead to explosive climaxes.  The same can be said about most of the tracks, but the what separates Year of No Light from the heavier post rock bands like Gifts from Enloa lies in the almost funeral doomesque guitar work.  "Perséphone II" and "Hiérophante" really showcase that difference.  A majority of the record is taken up by this ultra slow, apocalyptic, monolithic riffing underneath dissonant, haunting melodies with a strong emphasis on dynamics.  Frankly, it works fantastically.  It doesn't try too hard to throw in a faster metallic riffing section anywhere because I think the band knows that what they're doing works very well already, and that trying to spice it up with something so ill fitting will only be detrimental.  This predictable build and release style should be old news by now, but the band does it so well it doesn't matter.  It's the same reason I don't scoff at each new Cannibal Corpse record.  Yeah, sure it's probably going to sound like the last six records but they all slayed.  Why fix what isn't broken?  What they've got here conveys crushing despair and futility so well that basically any change will just screw up what they've got going on.  The only issue I have with the Ausserwelt is that it's a bit samey at times.  Sure the first track is calmer and the last is the most intense and epic, but the lion's share of the music laid out here is pretty interchangeable.  Still, if you wish there was a bit more Tyranny or Wormphlegm in your Mogwai, this is definitely a good place to turn.  Very healthily doomy, with a post what-have-you attitude.

RATING - 86%

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Mafia

They want the clamps!

I have a well documented boner for Fleshgod, it's just common knowledge at this point.  I saw them live with Suffocation about half a year ago and I'm still erect.  These guys have really pushed the limits of brutality and technicality to a once unheard of level, and it sounds better than most of their contemporaries.  This EP, Mafia has generated a lot of buzz since its release last June, and with damn good reason.  We're treated to three new songs, an At the Gates cover, and (as seems to be their trademark) a solitary piano providing an outro.  So this really isn't all that much material, but it is every bit as great as what was found on Oracles a year prior.  The music, at its core, remains largely unchanged since then, with the general idea still being universe bending speed and technicality with sprinkles of classical orchestra.  "Thru our Scars" features a cleanly sung chorus by bassist Paolo Rossi, hitting some impressive high notes.  It really sounds like it should be out of place but it works fantastically.  I feel I should also point out just how great the cover of "Blinded by Fear" is handled.  They keep the spirit of the original intact whilst amping it up to 11 as is their specialty (and this is rather welcome since I'm not much of an At the Gates fan).

I really can't blabber on about this for very long.  Fans of the previous album will undoubtedly love this just as much, and I really can't recommend either of the two releases enough.  Fleshgod Apocalypse is easily one of the best bands formed in the last five years, and each release only hammers that point home harder.

RATING - 94%

Fedjha - La Fin D'une Ère

Remind me one more time what thrashcore is, Fedhja

Metalheads love thrash and hate metalcore, this seems to be universally accepted.  Say you meet two dudes at a Deicide show and ask them what their favorite bands are.  If Guy A says Kreator and Guy B says As I Lay Dying, a vast majority of metal's lifers will immediately claim Guy B to be a poser unworthy of disgracing metal with his mere presence.  Thrash, despite owing a large credit of its existence to hardcore punk, is considered one of the purest forms of extreme metal.  It embodies the aggression, the abrasiveness, the anger, the swagger, everything that makes metal ballsy and skull crushing.  Metalcore, probably because of its ties to hardcore, is considered everything that is wrong with popular metal.  It is overtly simple, unoriginal, bland, and manufactured.  The trees may not represent the forest, but the biggest names are indeed usually rather boring and unafraid of recycling the same Gothenburg melodeath melodies over and over again over simple and predictable breakdowns underneath bad screaming and occasional whining.  With this in mind, Fehdja decided to try to mix the two styles, with less than successful results.

France's Fedhja really goes out of their way to remind you that they are indeed "thrashcore", putting it in their logo, mentioning it in every interview and promo blurb, and just parroting the word endlessly in some attempt to make them stand out.  The style shouldn't be hard to pull off, and it can be argued that thrashcore is interchangeable with crossover as it is.  If that was the case, why not just label oneself crossover and join an already popular crowd?  The answer is because they aren't blending thrash with hardcore punk like Cross Examination or Municipal Waste does nowadays, but more because they are mixing thrash with As I Lay Dying and Bury Your Dead.  And the result sounds like... well, As I Lay Dying and Bury Your Dead.  Don't get me wrong, there are indeed some healthy thrash segments present in each song (namely "Insoumis"), but they're interspersed with metalcore yelling, aggressive melodeath riffing, and breakdowns.  Really all this is is typical AILD fare with faster breakdowns and the occasional Slayer riff.  Sadly, there really isn't much else to say.  This is a bland record and not even worth listening to all the way since all of the tracks are so damn indistinguishable.  Go ahead and listen to the first track, but after that there's no real reason to go further, you already know what the rest of the album sounds like.  Maybe some hardcore and metalcore fans with gauged earlobes and lip piercings will love the hell out of this, but as a more traditionally leaning metal fan, I can't say I'm gonna listen to this ever again after this review.  Artas does this kind of thing better (though not much better).

RATING - 30%

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lamb of God - As the Palaces Burn

Haters gonna hate

I know Lamb of God is an easy target for a lot of die hard metalheads.  They are a very popular band who play a groovy, Pantera styled metal with plenty of breakdowns. A lot of what makes them Lamb of God is exactly what purists despise.  I'm not gonna sit here and play the open minded card, I'm just gonna concede that I like some shitty music and then praise the hell out of the band.

This here, As the Palaces Burn currently ranks as the band's best.  The aggression is always kept up to a really blistering tempo and always manages to let the percussion carry it very well in order to create a very punchy experience.  Chris Adler is by far the highlight of the band, keeping his patterns interesting during all of the breakdowns and slower parts while also keeping the adrenaline up to full pace during the fast sections.  I've noticed a lot of people who dislike this album usually seem to concede that the drum performance is at least pretty good, and it's no accident.  The riffs are mainly a blend between Pantera worship, hardcore, and occasionally thrash.  If that doesn't sound appealing to you, actually hearing the riffs won't change your mind.  That said, they are deceptively complex, well written, and catchy (Which I believe is the main thing I can attribute to their mainstream appeal.  Kids love something angsty they can hum).  Randy Blythe catches a lot of flak for his Phil Anselmo impersonation but it really does fit with the hardcore nuances, and I really couldn't imagine the band with anybody else behind the mic.

Despite all of the individuals' styles meshing together fairly well in the context of the songwriting, this album is still far from perfect.  There's a pretty dull stretch from "For Your Malice" to "Blood Junkie".  "A Devil in God's Country" stands out a bit during that lull but not too horribly much.  Unfortunately, that stretch takes up five tracks out of a ten track album, (And honestly, I think the only reason "11th Hour" doesn't fit in this area is because it's right before it and right before I start to get bored).  Strangely this dip in the songwriting department is bookended  by some rather creative pieces of work.  "Purified" and "As the Palaces Burn" are high tempo rippers, carrying some of that much beloved thrash swagger, "Ruin" boasts one of the better breakdowns the band has put to tape, and "Vigil" is a great and varied song, beginning with a good, haunting acoustic intro, followed by a not quite successful attempt at doom, and finishing with a monstrously thrashy and mosh friendly riffset that completely makes up for the mediocre middle part.

It's hard to write about Lamb of God, it really is.  The music community is very, very polarized when it comes to the band.  One half throws accusations of elitism while the other accuses the former group of thickheaded noobiness.  This is all a dissertation for another day though.  Overall, I find As the Palaces Burn to be enjoyable yet flawed.  There's a crippling lack of variety in the middle that sucks a lot of enjoyment out of the full listening experience, but the good tracks are fantastic if you're just looking for a quick fix.  This isn't for everybody, but it's worth at least a try.

RATING - 74%

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hibria - The Skull Collectors


Hibria used to slay.  Defying the Rules may have had a horrible story but at least the music was entertaining and high octane.  It was chock full of power metal classics like "Steel Lord on Wheels" and "Millennium Quest", but The Skull Collectors gives us "Tiger Punch" and nothing else.  Maybe I'm just broken, but nothing clicks here.  The only catchy track is the aforementioned opener, and I think one of the reasons I like it is because it's just changed the way I pronounce Sagat's moves when I'm playing Street Fighter.  And strangely, there's a LOT of shit going on here.  If the vocals aren't wailing, there's a blistering solo being shredded on either guitar OR bass.  The drums are kind of unnoticeable thanks to the unfortunate tendency to just double bass their way through the entire album, but the fact of the matter is that they're always going full speed.  There's no reason my attention should wander while this album is playing, there's always something going but it's almost always dull.  It's like some dude showing up at a party and juggling for six hours.  Yeah, you can juggle, awesome, can you do something else?  No?  Well then get the hell out.

Oddly enough, the music hasn't drastically changed since Defying the Rules.  So, as at least a moderate fan of the previous album, I should at least like this album somewhat.  That right there is proof, to me at least, that Hibria has just completely forgotten how to write a song.  It's even more diversified than the previous album, with tracks like "Sea of Revenge" and "The Anger Inside" treading on some more traditional heavy metal aspects at times, but none of the songs are anywhere near as GOOD as the last one.  I suppose I could just chalk this one up to me "not getting it", but I've given this bastard two years to grow on me and it has yet to do so.  So sorry, Hibria.  You'll have to try again next time.  Fans of the previous record may like this, but then again I liked the previous record and this one bores me shitless.

RATING - 27%

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Well folks, as I'm sure you can see, the backlog of reviews here goes back to August, but I haven't put up an link to this site anywhere on the internet until today.  Mainly because I don't write all that much anymore, but I have lots of short, blurby thoughts I could crank out, and I was saving some up to keep updates at least somewhat regular in the future.  So for those not in the know, most know me as BastardHead, and I am a music critic of the most genuine kind.  I'm not formally educated in the fields of either music or writing, but the two have combined into something I really enjoy.  I'm just a music fan, and I speak and write as one fan to another, mainly in the all powerful field of HEAVY FUCKING METAL.  I started this blog as a way to archive my thoughts on music in general, not limiting myself to purely heavy metal, as I am so confined when writing at the Metal Archives or as I was during my time at Metal Crypt.  Metal is my first love, and always will be, but here I have a chance to write about some of my other interests as well as my heavy favorite.  So with my expository blabbering aside, I intend to immediately contradict myself and shall christen this blog's public opening with a metal exclusive "BEST OF 2010" list.  Let's get this ball rolling...

THE 10 BEST OF 2010

10. Hooded Menace - Never Cross the Dead
This right here is some crushing shit.  These Finnish doomsters approach the style with a less melancholy and more sinister attitude.  This is death/doom at one of the most literal mashups imaginable.  Not satisfied with the traditional approach of slow, suffocating atmosphere, Hooded Menace is, in essence, a slowed down death metal band.  Think Asphyx or Autopsy, slow, riff heavy, no blasts, grandiose soloing, and deep, guttural growls.  Listen and be killed.

9. Misery Index - Heirs to Thievery
The remnants of Gallagher's backing band during Dying Fetus's finest hour, Destroy the Opposition, has again cranked up the grindy, blasting death metal mentality for their fourth full length.  While Heirs to Thievery may not carry a nut shattering standout like "Conquistadores" or even be as overall exhilarating as Traitors, it's just as solid as anything the band has done in the past.  And "solid" for Misery Index is "fantastic" for most of their contemporaries.  There's a more hardcore aggression present here, but this is still metal to the bone and suitable for any violent outburst.

 8. Blind Guardian - At the Edge of Time
Has this band ever made a truly BAD album?  Hell, even their worst (A Twist in the Myth) has a few classics (Fly, This Will Never End).  This, At the Edge of Time, continues the band's storied legacy as one of the finest power metal bands to ever grace us on Earth.  It's clear the band is trying to shoehorn all of their different eras of their career into this record, kind of haphazardly jumping between epic, sweeping symphonics, and fast, aggressive riffing, but they prove that they still kick ass at both styles.

7. Weapon - From the Devil's Tomb
While the Oilers still need a year or two to fully bloom, Edmonton doesn't need any excuses when it comes to their metal.  Weapon here delivers an extremely death heavy blend of death/black metal that shits upon most of its competitors from a great height.  Behemoth be damned, this is what the style should sound like.  Black in atmosphere and tremolo scaling, death in brutality and execution.  Also unlike many other practitioners of the style, nothing here feels like a wasted track.  This entire record is memorable, and that combined with stellar songwriting and musicianship earns it a spot on this list.

6. Immolation - Majesty and Decay
These guys are death metal legends for a damn good reason.  Even after all these years, Immolation has yet to slow down or cop out.  Their style is unique to the point that I've yet to hear a really blatant clone.  Hell, even insanely creative and unique bands like Demilich and Incantation have their share of imitators, yet Immolation remains untouched.  Majesty and Decay is a monument as to why that's the case.  Crushing, twisted, maniacal, and overall just brutal as fuck.  You know exactly what you're going to get here, but Immolation ain't about to fix was isn't broken.

5. Briton Rites - For Mircalla
So I was very disappointed with Hour of 13's newest album, The Ritualist, but my woes were quickly assuaged when the existence of Briton Rites became known to me.  Phil Swanson has lent his vocal talents to one of the better traditional doom albums I've heard in a long while.  Instead of the pure Sabbath worship of his other aforementioned band, Briton Rites keeps their sound reminiscent without becoming a clone.  This is epic, powerful, galloping, occult doom for fans of the old school.  The songs never feel as long as they are, everything stays fresh and interesting despite being so rooted in the past.  A definite must hear.

4. Hour of Penance - Paradogma 
My anus has only recently fully recovered from the punishing rape that was The Vile Conception, but Hour of Penance has once again ravaged me in ways that Genghis Khan's worst victims have shown sympathy for.  Everything about the previous record is actually improved on.  The vocals are more hellish, the riffs are more thought out, the percussion is even more devastating, there is almost nothing to fault here.  This brutal tech death style gets old at times, but Hour of Penance have avoided that pratfall by never losing sight of what really matters... strong songwriting. One of the most brutal releases of the year, hands down.

3. Overkill - Ironbound
After twenty goddamn heartbreaking years, Overkill have finally managed to return to the heights they used to attain with alarming regularity in the 80s.  All of the groovy pretenses are absent, Blitz is at the top of his game, the production, while clippy at times, is far better than what they've had over the past few albums, the riffs are top notch, just everything is finally back in order with these thrash giants.  I guess they were just waiting for thrash to be cool again.

2. Enforcer - Diamonds
There are some that believe that bands like White Wizzard are leading a charge of "new old school" heavy metal bands.  If that's the case, then Sweden's Enforcer seems to be one of the only bands to really grasp the meaning of pure, straight, fast, and energetic heavy metal.  You never once get the feeling that the songs sound the way they do because the band is following a strict, unwritten code as to what metal is supposed to sound like (like the aforementioned White Wizzard do).  This sounds like it could have been released in the 80s simply because the band makes kick ass metal influenced by bands of that era.  One of the most fun records released this year.

And the winner is...

1. Sriker - Eyes in the Night
Enforcer only released ONE OF the most fun records this year because the king of kings in that department was released by Striker.  This album is so fucking cheesy, I swear I'm gonna need bypass surgery soon, but no other album this year even came close to eclipsing this in terms of how often I spinned it.  This is very similar to Enforcer in the sense that this is pure, undiluted heavy metal, but the only reason this took the top spot over it was because there is just no way Diamonds is anywhere near as fun as Eyes in the Night.  The wailing vocals, the upbeat riffs, the pounding drums, the anthemic choruses, there is just next to nothing wrong here.  Proving once again that Edmonton is way better at metal than they are with hockey nowadays (For an added hockey trivia bonus, the vocalist's name is Dan Cleary.  I want to knock it down due to the Red Wing connection, but it's too damn awesome for me to do such a thing).

So there ya have it, Canada's Striker brings home the very first BH Award for Album of the Year.  Congratulations guys, keep this shit up in the future.

And now for a few other bits of unfinished business...


Fleshgod Apocalypse - Mafia: This would have easily cracked the top 5 had I included it.  The reason I didn't was simply because it was an EP.  Three new songs, and At the Gates cover, and an instrumental outro.  The fact that it all kicked ass was a little unfair to the albums with 10 tracks that kicked equal ass.  Oracles was amazing, and if this EP is any clue, their next full length will be as well, they'll just have to wait a year to make the list.

Accept - Blood of the Nations: I, like most fans, was very upset and disturbed by the notion of an Accept album without Udo.  Also like most fans, I was knocked on my ass by the sheer power of his replacement, Mark Tornillo.  Yeah, no doubt at all, this man can wail.  Even better is that most of the songs were pretty good and just as anthemic as ever.  So why no place on the list?  It's just too damn long.  All of the songs go on forever, it feels like the album finishes at just under three hours, it's just too much.  Trim the fat and this would have been a top 5 contender.

Witchaven - Terrorstorm: My favorite underdog has finally released a full length.  And while all of the building blocks are in place, it just doesn't seem as unrestrained and frenzied as the previous demo comp, Totalitarian State of War.  So their charm has been toned down a notch, and that unfortunately was a huge factor in their appeal.  This is still a great album, just not better than the top 10.  I have faith in you, boys.  You'll kill 'em next time, I'm sure.


Rhapsody of Fire - The Frozen Tears of Angels: Rhapsody is awesome, we all know this, and this was their heaviest release in a long while, it was just unfortunately BORING AS HELL.  This is the case except for one track, "Reign of Terror".  That song is Rhapsody's best song by a galactic mile, absolutely no question.  The fact that they manage to crank out a universe shatteringly awesome track along with a bunch of mediocre borefests is baffling to me.  Seriously, check this out purely for that track, everything else can suck it.

Melechesh - The Epigenesis: After two thundering juggernauts with Sphynx and Emissaries, Melechesh finally broke their streak.  The style here is slower, more atmospheric, and focused on the grandiose mystery of the middle eastern culture.  Unfortunately, it just doesn't work as well as the more blistering and riff centric style the band initially flourished on.  One of my favorites took a bit of a tumble here.

Heathen - The Evolution of Chaos: Kind of a difficult one since it was officially out in 2009, but a majority of the world didn't see a release until 2010, so I'll allow it.  The issue here is that all of the best tracks just happen to be the three from the unnamed demo from 2005.  Yeah, they're cleaned up, but the new songs just pale in comparison.  Once this is realized, there's really no reason to listen to this album.

Hour of 13 - The Ritualist: Just boring, not much else to say.  The occult eccentricity of their previous, self titled album just seems to be missing.  It was Sabbath worship before, but now it's just not interesting.  A damn shame, I had high hopes for this band.

Because yeah, I listen to other music.

Mighty Midgets - Raising Ruins for the Future: I'm fairly new to melodic hardcore, but if this is what it is, I want a hell of a lot more of it.  Fast, frenzied, furious punk/hardcore/whatever the hell this is classified as.

God is an Astronaut - Age of the Fifth Sun: The post rock band that found popularity with shorter songs and accessible melodies.  Yup, same formula is at work here, and it's just as great as usual.  Fans shouldn't be worried at all.

Army of the Pharaohs - The Unholy Terror: I know next to nothing about rap, but I know that this posse of undegroud Philly rappers make some of the best I've heard, Celph Tilted especially.  I don't expect there to be many fans reading this, but if you have an interest, you won't be disappointed.

Shadow of the Colossus - Shadow of the Colossus: Damn skippy, this is probably the best of the few deathcore bands I've managed to really enjoy.  Heavy, aggressive, and enough on the metal side to find a metalhead like myself thoroughly enjoying it.

The Browning - The Browning: I should hate this, I really should.  It's nothing but techno beats and breakdowns, BUT IT KILLS.  It's an odd mashup, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

So there ya have it, my opinion blasted all over your face, just how we both like it.  I'll do my best to keep this updated semi-regularly, at least once a week.  So now that I'm public, all I can say as we journey forwards is "Welcome to my lair..."