Friday, July 1, 2011

Midterm Exam: The best and worst so far

Well the year is nearly halfway through, and several big name bands and a few underground heroes have churned out their releases in an attempt to blow listeners' minds everywhere.  Some have succeeded greatly while others have failed miserably.  As a critic, it is my job to present my belief as fact and prove to all of you the true merit of these albums.  Let's take a look at the good first:


Autopsy - Macabre Eternal
Yeah, this is exactly what you were expecting.  And yes, it's just as awesome as you were expecting as well.  The sound isn't quite as murky and dirty as it was on Mental Funeral or Severed Survival, but these underground giants are back with a vengeance.  Monstrously crushing death metal that will surely make an appearance on several people's year end best of lists.

Christian Epidemic - Pusztítástan / Primordial Soul 
Maximalist symphonic black metal of the highest order.  This isn't really my area of expertise, but I really like this album for whatever reason.  I'm not very good at explaining why or even comparing it to anything since I'm usually hanging out with death and thrash bands.  Using my limited knowledge of the genre, I could say it sounds like Anthems era Emperor or newer Dimmu Borgir if they didn't suck.

Beyond Creation - The Aura
One of the best tech death releases so far.  A nice healthy mix of Necrophagist, Obscura, and a non shitty The Faceless.  Very brutal while also very proggy at the same time.  Melts brains and eyes with flashy showmanship and strangely solid songwriting.  There's a couple cliche style breakdowns but they fit very well here and don't end up being distractions like they do in so many otherwise cool albums.

Nervecell - Psychogenocide
Band and album name bring to mind some corny industrial metal ala Fear Factory but what you get is some really good death metal.  It has a technical edge but it doesn't stray into the cliche tech death territory and end up sounding like Origin or something.  It keeps the old school death metal ideal of riffs down while also showcasing their chops.  The last track also features the best build up and release of the year.

Bolero - Voyage from Vinland
Basically a less riffy and more epic Ensiferum.  Bolero blends the folk metal with power metal like the aforementioned Finns, but don't quite stand out as songwriters nearly as strong.  Regardless, I find myself constantly coming back to this album so it must be doing something right.  Ensiferum/Kalmah fans could check this out and walk away satisfied.

Demonical - Death Infernal
Beastly, beastly Swedish death metal in the vein of Dismember or Entombed.  I really find myself at a loss to describe this, as I've tried to review it a few times and just can't explain why it kicks so much ass.  I just know it does.  Listen or die, death metal album of the year so far.

The Project Hate MCMXCIX - Bleeding the New Apocalypse (Cum Victriciis In Manibus Armis)
The newest in a long line of creative, industrial death metal band The Project Hate (I hate the stupid number at the end).  I haven't heard any of the band's previous work, so I don't know how different this is (if at all), but the strange mix of groovy death metal, industrial samples, tripped out spacey interludes, and obnoxiously in-your-face operatic female vocals is a bizarre mix that it manages to work extremely well.  I suppose Mirrorthrone is a black metal version of this band, if that helps.


Miasmal - Miasmal
This has been getting a lot of praise lately, and I suppose I can understand why.  It's definitely old school with no pretenses of modern technicality that overwhelms most death metal nowadays, and it was released on the great Dark Descent label, which is a pretty good indicator of quality.  That said, I just don't see anything special here.  It isn't bad or anything, but it doesn't hold a candle against contemporaries like Demonical.  It just goes in one ear and out another, no lasting punch.

Deicide - To Hell with God
Have you ever heard a Deicide album before?  You have?  Well then carry on, this is nothing new.  The cycle is repeating itself here.  Deicide, Legion, and Serpents of the Light were great, and then they released a string of pedestrian, uninteresting, blasphemy by numbers death metal records.  The Stench of Redemption introduced new ideas and was a rush of fresh air, but now they're just doing it all over again, releasing boring tripe over and over.  What a shame, each individual member can do and has done better than this. At least the title track slays.

Deathraiser - Violent Aggression
This is by far, no contest, the most insanely blatant Kreator rip off I've ever heard in all of my years as a metalhead.  Check some of these song titles, "Command to Kill", "Terminal Disease", hell even the TITLE OF THE ALBUM would make any thrasher immediately expect a lackluster bunch of kids with no original ideas of their own.  The music backs up that assumption 100000%.  If you think Kreator would be awesome if they just ripped themselves off senselessly, go listen to Violent Revolution by (you guessed it) Kreator themselves.  Sooo shamelessly bad.

Breathless - Thrashumancy
Is it like against some sort of law for new thrash bands to even try anymore?  Every new thrash band has to have a similar logo, at least one song about how awesome thrash metal is, Ed Repka reject album art, and a staunch hatred of creativity.  This is yet another dull regurgitation of better bands from the past.  This one is at least a little more interesting than the awful Deathraiser album, but it's still lacking in any sort of creativity. 

Rise Against - Endgame
I think this is my first non-metal mention outside of my initial "Best of 2010" post, and I intended to keep this list metal exclusive, but this album is such a huge fall from the lofty heights of The Sufferer & the Witness that I just have to bring it up.  The aforementioned 2006 pop punk milestone had a little bit of everything the band was good at.  Mid paced, catchy poppy stuff, some more aggressive and high octane numbers, an acoustic track and even a throwback to their first two albums with "Bricks".  This album here is basically a bunch of half baked B-sides all borne from the same idea.  "Satellite" is basically the only track worth anything due to the unabashed catchiness reminiscent of their previous hit, "Savior".  Everything else is lame and uninspired.

Macabre - Grim Scary Tales
By far my biggest disappointment of the year.  Chicago death/grind/what-have-you stalwarts, Macabre, release an album roughly once a generation, so this was highly anticipated by fans.  Unfortunately, the opener "Locusta" completely rips face in the way only Macabre know how to do, and then we're treated to a band who blew its load and must putter through the rest of the album as a hollow shell of itself.  The trademark insanity and energy is almost entirely absent, and about 70% of the vocals are done in some bizarre baritone bard voice instead of the death growls and "LEMME DO IIIIT" Stuart shrieks the band is known for.  Killers throughout history, awesome concept, worst Macabe album.

Fractals - Paradox
I'm a bit out of the loop here so forgive me if I'm assuming incorrectly, but if this band isn't hugely popular, they soon will be.  Djent in the vein of Meshuggah, Periphery, and the like.  It's tailor made for the latest trend and somehow managed to get the "progressive" tag stuck onto it (despite sounding exactly like the front runners of the genre) so bonus intellectual cred there.  Basically this is just one of the noisier bands in the swelling djent ocean.  Oh yeah, and there's deathcore mixed in via breakdowns and vocals, as if the band wasn't irritating enough.

Hell - Human Remains
I'm gonna get stabbed for this one, so I'm gonna defend myself right out of the gate by saying this is less "worst" and more "disappointing".  The band has such an inspiring Cinderella story in the world of heavy metal, this is a triumph for the little guy with big dreams and bigger music to become noticed.  This really should be a victory for every aging headbanger.  Why don't I like it that much?  Well this suffers the same issue as the latest Accept and most other old school style heavy metal bands, it's just too fucking long.  Don't get me wrong, the songs are good, but there are just too damn many and too many of them are too long.  Interludes intrude before damn near every song and drag out between tracks.  For all the hype this got, it really fell flat of my expectations.  Worth a listen no doubt, but I'll rarely listen to it.

Mass Madness - Mass Madness
Well that was a thing that happened.  So utterly inconsequential it's actually offensive.  Nothing here ever... HAPPENS.  So dull, so little to say.  I don't understand how the band heard this and said "Yes, THIS will light the world on fire." and then released it expecting fanfare.  Not even the usual "OUR VOCALIST IS A HOT CHICK WHO GROWLS!!!" gimmick works here.

 Morbid Angel - Illud Divinum Insanus
Surprising absolutely nobody, Morbid Angel's ill advised foray into experimentation ranks as the worst release of the first half of the year.  The problem isn't THAT they experimented, but that they did it TERRIBLY.  The industrial bits are painfully amateurish and drawn out, the death metal tracks are boring and carry none of that patented Morbid insanity they usually carry with them (instead swapping it with lame simplicity), and even one bonafide nu metal track in "Radikult", which is by far the worst song I've heard in years.  I wouldn't even recommend this to Hitler.

Essence - Lost in Violence
My little rant on how lame modern thrash has become doesn't even come close to applying to these Danish maniacs.  I sense a strong Artillery influence here, but that could just be the shared heritage toying with my mind here. This is everything that Deathraiser isn't.  It's creative, it's memorable, it's intense, and well written.  This is devastating and heaps of fun to listen to (and not "fun" in the lame party/pizza/nachos/beer vein that a lot of retro thrash bands like to hark about).  Dynamic and lethal, Essence combines all that is good about thrash metal and presents it in a fresh, youthful way that doesn't reek of plagiarism and phoning in.  Definitely my favorite of the year thus far and will surely rank in my year end list.

Well that's where I stand on the first half of the year.  There were plenty of good releases I didn't touch on (Hibria, Portrait, Protest the Hero, Crucified Mortals, Iperyt, Neuraxis, Nader Sadek, Wormrot, Rhapsody of Fire, et cetera) that may grow on me and make my year end list.  But for now these are my recommendations to check out and avoid for the first half of the year.  Hope you've all enjoyed reading my rambling.  I'll be back in six months with the final judgment.