Monday, December 24, 2012

Warhawk - Sic Semper Tyrannis

Vir prudens contra ventum non mingit

If you look back through my reviews, if you see which albums I namedrop as my favorites and the genres I normally stick to and things of that sort, you'll notice I tend to prefer stuff with cleaner production.  I get why people say super clean production jobs sound sterile and plasticky, but they don't bother me at all.  I understand why people feel the music loses aggression, but I disagree and feel like a different sound doesn't necessarily mean a worse sound.  I mean, I listen to a fuckload of new age tech death, and I can't imagine how Hour of Penance or Fleshgod Apocalypse or any of my other pet Italian bands would sound with a production any less pristine than the ones they already carry.  It's something I've grown accustomed to over the years and something that never really bothered me.

But then every once in a while, I get reminded why the old schoolers feel the way they do, and Warhawk's debut full length, Sic Semper Tyrannis, is one such reminder.

It's rare that I come across a thrash album where I have more to say about the sound than the riffs, but this here was such an unexpectedly great kick in the teeth, and a large portion of the reason why is because of the stripped down, organic, sloppy sound of it all.  It's a rough, unpolished, and unsanded piece.  There are still splinters near the cuts and the corners aren't smoothly rounded off, but to further tweak the piece would strip it of it's natural splendor.  Okay so woodworking is a bad analogy, sue me.  The point is that even if Warhawk was yet another Kreator or Exodus clone like 93% of thrash bands that started post-2003 (they aren't), the precise sound they employ is freaking perfect.  The bass is punchy, the riffs are sharp, but it all sounds as though a bunch of drunk and/or high thrashers were just rocking out to a bunch of Venom and Slayer records back in 1985 and then just ran to their garage and started improvising equally fast and dirty tunes.  This is like walking into that garage.  There's an unrefined dirtiness to Sic Semper Tyrannis that calls to mind those early 80s classics, and to the surprise of precisely nobody, it rocks as a result.

Now I always gab off about how thrash is a super restrictive genre and all, and Warhawk really don't do anything to disprove that theory.  You've heard hard and angry thrash like this before, but what the band lacks in Vektor-esque experimentation it makes up for with solid riffs, songwriting, and sheer enthusiasm.  To drop a whole bunch of totally great names, they're like Exhorder, but not quite as brutal, like Rigor Mortis, but not quite as precise, like Slayer, but not quite as intense, but despite all these "almost there" qualities, they're not even remotely close to a middling band like Testament.  Warhawk owns what they set out to do, and that's shove some visceral, bone breaking thrash straight down your gullet with riff after riff after riff.  "Hungry are the Damned" and "Projected Aggression" are potentially the most vicious cuts on display, with "Outbreak" and "Litany of Woes" (both from the previous demo, Peace and Quiet, though now improved with a less trebly production) taking the tag team runner up spot.  "Hungry are the Damned" in particular is based around one of the more ear catching riffs this side of the millennium. 

I always stress how I like my music to be fun most of the time, and while this isn't the most apt description, it's certainly vicious, which is probably my #2 most looked for quality in metal.  It's not perfect, as "The Chalice in the Square" is a bit too ambitious for its own good, clocking in at well over twelve minutes while feeling like two or three tangentially related songs just being smooshed together, and like with most thrash nowadays, the tracks don't always lend much to distinguish themselves from one another (notable exceptions with "Hungry are the Damned", "I Love the Guillotine", and obviously "The Chalice in the Square").  The vocal performance is inconsistent as well, with him switching between a mid 80s snarl and a more eccentric wailer, something like an odd cross between Show No Mercy era Tom Araya and Paul Baloff.  It's certainly a good performance, just a bit across the board and not entirely reined in.  I could yak forever about how much old school thrash was simply the purest form of aggression and how so few bands really nail that genuine feeling nowadays, but all you need to know is that Warhawk nails it harder than John Holmes.  Frantic leadwork, sharp riffs, rough sound, everything that made 1985 such a great formative year for the style is represented here in spades.

Oh, and the band offers it totally for free, with a handful of physical copies to be pressed in the near future.  Listen to this shit, SPREAD THIS LIKE A DISEASE.

RATING - 80%

Monday, December 10, 2012

Artas - The Healing

Jemand hat in meinen Koffer geschissen!

Ever come across one of those albums that you enjoy even though you know it's shit?  Like, you can point out specific reasons why it's terrible, why certain ideas don't work and why they never would have, where the band fails and why, but there's some enduring charm that keeps you hooked despite the obvious, glaring flaws.  We all have a few of those.  I have The Sword's debut, despite its awful drum production and lazy vocals, Arsis's United in Regret despite hilariously feeble themes and slapdash songwriting, and a few others I plan on getting to in the future.  And then there is Artas.  What Arnold Schwarzenegger is to acting, these Austrian dorks are to music .  They're not very good, but god bless them they're trying.  Their failure is in a way, the exact reason they're so entertaining.  Nobody can deliver a hammy one-liner quite like Arnie can, and not many bands can rip off both The Crown and Disturbed in three separate languages in the same song.  Give Arnie a giant machine gun and watch him eat Green Berets for breakfast; give Artas a big, silly breakdown and watch them play it twice as fast as they're supposed to.  Arnold is the king of silly, over-the-top action flicks, something that sucks on a purely cinematic standpoint.  The stories are cliche and dumb and the acting is usually awful, but the violence is ridiculous on Tom and Jerry levels and are packed with so much comedy (intentional and not) that they're just a blast to watch, and you'll never catch me turning down an opportunity to watch The Running Man.  Artas takes two cliched and played out styles (metalcore and nu metal) and throws about four songs too many at you, but mixes in a healthy dose of death/thrash attitude and riffing, polyglot lyrics, and the stupidest shit imaginable played with the most headstrong enthusiasm you're bound to ever hear.

The nu metal influence is a huge turnoff to most, and I'm firmly in the camp that really doesn't like it at all apart from fleeting moments of nostalgia from when I was eleven years old and had a mohawk because I'm a special kind of idiot.  But the way the influences are presented on The Healing are so earnest and blended so confidently with the highly metallic metalcore ala As I Lay Dying and the high speed death/thrash influences like my beloved The Crown (never name your band "The [singular noun]", it makes sentences awkward as fuck) that it never really feels all that out of place.  This was their plan all along, they just dug this style as much as the others and made it work somehow.  "Through Dark Gates" could straight up be a Korn song (unsurprisingly it's the worst track on the album), but much like "AAA" from one of my absolute favorites, Strapping Young Lad's City it's merely one strange quirk that sticks out in the grand scheme of things.  Then there's "Kontrol", which is the otherwise most overtly nu metal influenced track, but the goofy, Turisas-style chorus of "LA LA LA LAAA LA LA LALA LA LA" is such an ohrwurm that I can't stay mad at it, despite the rest of the song sounding like it a b-side to The Sickness.

But strip the nu metal influence away and you're left with a very heavy and thrashy take on metalcore, somewhat akin to what Fedhja did before mercifully splitting up two years ago.  The title track is one of the most obvious examples of what I guess you could call their signature style, if such a thing exists.  It's really and truly an As I Lay Dying styled metalcore song with a strong thrash bent, a catchy chorus, big breakdown, and strange nu metally "BWIP!  BWIP!" vocal flourishes that he spits during transition riffs.  That's what The Healing really is down at its core, it's a bizarre mixture of three or four styles that are all apparently related juuuuust enough to prevent the album from sounding like a hackneyed mess.  I keep using the same couple bands for reference, but that's really what this sounds like.  Take the core elements of The Haunted, The Crown, As I Lay Dying, and Disturbed and put them together, that's Artas.

I can't stress enough how catchy The Healing is, it's stupid but I find myself quietly singing the choruses to "Barbossa", "The Healing", and "I Am Your Judgment Day" under my breath when I think nobody can hear me.  They all feature the same elements I've been gabbing on about, and they're all stupid and fun.  For some, the first word there can really turn some people off, and I don't blame them.  The lyrics are juvenile as hell at times.  Hell, take a look at the few English lines in "Bastardo" (a song entirely sung in Spanish)

Don’t care about the familia
Give a fuck about the policĂ­a
Your rules cause diarrhea
My amigos smoke sensimilla

And that's the chorus... Yeah it can be a problem.  If I could speak/read/understand Spanish or German, the other two languages used heavily throughout the album (I'd say it's maybe 40% German, 30% Spanish, 30% English) I'm sure I'd be able to find dozens of other stupid sections.  I mean hell, they cover Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise".  Just... right there in the middle of the album like it ain't no thang.  And weirdly enough it actually fits, thanks to the ever prevalent nu metal influence.

If this review has turned you off and made you believe The Healing is destined to be awful, then welcome to the club.  I'm amazed I like this at all, it has so many components that are made of nothing but pure failure incarnate, but I can't help but enjoy it for it's starry eyed enthusiasm.  This is a very earnest and well meaning record, despite how silly it can be at times, and that's why I like it.  Artas is a band of youthful exuberance and enthusiastic vibrancy, and it shows here.  I never once doubt for a second that these guys couldn't give less of a shit about their peers or "haters" (man I hate that term) if they tried.  They're doing this because they love it, not because it might make them money.  I feel like there's a pure hearted naivete behind the music, and that's very charming.  Despite the weird choices and juvenile ideas and nu metal influence, I can't help but find The Healing to be rather endearing.  I don't expect most people reading this to like it, but the fact remains that in spite of myself, I do, and I find that it's a lot of fun to spin.  NO SHAME.

RATING - 75%

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Arsis - United in Regret

For never was a story of more woe...

There's a lot going on with Arsis lately.  Their not-so-hotly anticipated fifth album, Unwelcome, is due out in a month or so, and Scion A/V is continuing their quest to be the hippest car company in the universe by releasing their new surprise EP, Lepers Caress, (aren't they missing an apostrophe there?  That title looks weird...) for free today.  This is all shortly following frontman James Malone sitting out a recent tour, which is significant because Arsis has always been his baby, it's essentially a one man band with some other dudes who play along.  It'd be like Lemmy sitting out of a Motorhead tour, it's just preposterous to think of.  And then there was the joke article stating that Malone had quit music altogether to take a job as a strength and conditioning coach for the New York Mets (that I totally didn't fall for out of sheer absurdist optimism...).  And now they're embarking on a tour with Sonata fucking Arctica of all bands.  So to celebrate all of these recent headlines surrounding a band that nobody has cared about for about four years now, I'm gonna take y'all back to their forgotten album, 2006's United in Regret.

This one holds a special place in my heart.  Their previous two releases, A Celebration of Guilt and A Diamond for Disease have both been collectively coated in so much fanboy goo that you get a free wipey when you buy them, and everything after this album has been part of a surreal, circus style slide into failure and insanity.  United in Regret, in hindsight, can be seen as the harbinger to the carnival fire that Arsis became around the time Starve for the Devil came out.  A lot of the warning signs are there, the songs are a lot less cohesive, the lyrics and themes are even more laughably whimpy, and Malone is more visibly just a whiny teenager who happens to be a great guitar player.  Even though the debut is clearly better, there's a strange personality to this album that its predecessor lacks.  Simply put, United in Regret has got charisma.

If nothing else, this record has to be the first concept album about being friendzoned in all of heavy metal.  Love is a powerful emotion, and one of the easiest to write about and relate to.  It's a great base to start from, and I have no qualms with romantic themes in an otherwise dark style, it definitely has potential to work in a strange harmonic dissonance way.  The way Arsis approaches this, however, is with the same teary eyed angst and frustration of a fifteen year old boy in a mad dash to his diary after breaking up with his girlfriend of one month.

All nine of the tracks on display are based around some unnamed Mary Sue (whom I shall henceforth refer to as Sheldon Noodlespine) lashing out angrily at some woman he "loved" (let's call her Annabelle Gobelcocque) who didn't love him back.  Basically she was a whore who cheated on him with somebody who presumably wasn't a spindly anorexic dork with abandonment issues.  Each and every song references this whore's lies or her lips or some odd reference to a monument or the word "indifference".  That last word makes me think the true motivation behind these vitriolic diatribes is something more akin to this: Sheldon really liked this girl.  He liked Annabelle so much that he convinced himself he loved her, but because he's a clingy nerd with as much confidence and sex appeal as a biscuit with two shits inside of it, she wasn't attracted to him, but liked how nice he was to her, so she saw him as a good friend and nothing more.  James grew more and more obsessed every day, convincing himself that she was this immaculate seraph whose very existence was proof of the divine.  Every day in history class he'd zone out googly eyed at the back of her head, daydreaming of picnics under falling cherry blossoms while she'd daydream about getting getting her pink tortoise mounted by the hunky star quarterback for the school football team (let's call him Mike Henn).  This is because Annabelle is a normal horny teenager and Sheldon is an ineffectual wiener.  Naturally, Annabelle shacks up with some douchebag who drives a Mustang and says "yolo" a lot because he has an older brother who buys beer for him (normal horny teenagers are also extraordinarily stupid, you see).  This devastates poor Sheldon to the point of existential despair.  "How could this angel be so corrupted?  This guy wasn't good enough, why can't she see how perfect we are for each other?!" he'd choke out to himself between sobs into his Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann body pillow.  Later he'd share his plight on the internet, and all of his equally maladjusted /b/rothers would tell him that she's just a whore who was out to break his heart, and he needs to drop that bitch and get on with his life.  Sheldon of course follows this advice and leaves poor Annabelle without who she thought was a great friend, all because she was a normal person who had the gall to not reciprocate the feelings of an unhealthily focused sperg.  Sheldon is of course blind to the fact that he's merely a different kind of asshole for bailing on somebody solely because they don't have feelings for him, and instead picks up his guitar (the only thing he's good at) and writes nine songs about this horrible slut who broke his heart by committing the awful crime of being "indifferent".

What all that amounts to is BOO FUCKING HOO.  The thing about Arsis is that they're probably the nerdiest non-USPM band on the planet, and I never understood why until really paying attention to the lyrics around this era of the band.  Socially awkward kids can relate to the above story, they've all been there.  Nearly everybody has seen the object of their affection trek down the dark path away from the purity we thought he/she embodied.  Hell I've been there, because I too am a dork who had no idea how to be comfortable with himself until I stopped watching Naruto.  You had unrequited feelings, welcome to being 15 years old, time to fix your stupid asymmetrical haircut and stop writing shitty poetry about it.

Now I realize that the previous ~600 words seem like a really unnecessary tangent, but really it's symbolic of what the album does to you.  You are just constantly pummeled over the head with this extremely blunt message of "this girl is a whore and I'm an angsty twat" over and over again throughout the duration of the album.  This is hard to ignore for a few reasons.  One is that Malone isn't a very gifted lyricist.  Most musicians writing a song with this theme would veil their finer details behind some sort of symbolism.  This number about a demon rising from the depths to torment some poor shlub could well be an allegory for something else entirely.  They could work with some clever imagery to get their point across.  But no, Arsis just clobbers you in the gob with upfront accusations of manipulative sluttery.  I get the feeling they tried to be somewhat clever, but the fact that Malone still refers to a vagina as a "wound" he wants to "be inside" shows that he's still got a few lifetimes worth of practice before he can call himself anything resembling a poet.

The second reason this is so distracting is paradoxically a good reason, United in Regret is catchier than herpes.  One thing the band has always done right is that even at their most disjointed and confusing, they can always deliver a handful of songs that are a lot of fun to sing along with.  Tracks like "Oh, the Humanity" and "The Cold Resistance" have real choruses that I find nigh impossible to restrain myself from rasping along with.  The vocal patterns manage to be sing-songy and infectious despite being delivered in a harsh monotone, and that says something about Malone's songwriting ability.  Namely it says that he's one of the flukiest and most accidentally brilliant songwriters this side of Jari Maenpaa.  Unlike Jari, who is clearly good at writing one particular style of music and mediocre-to-shit at everything else, I can't really pinpoint what it is that Malone excels at.  Nearly every Arsis song since the beginning of time has been a haphazard goulash of unrelated technical melodeath ideas that he strings together with noodly classical Necrophagist style solos, but a good chunk of the time (especially early in the band's history) he somehow finds the correct order in which to assemble these random parts.  I'm convinced that A Celebration of Guilt is some kind of divine accident, where his dozens of unrelated ideas all fell into place flawlessly this one time on a count of beginner's luck.  The intricate melodies and leadwork that has been the band's trademark since day one is still here on United in Regret, but the problem is that the album on the whole is a lot less cohesive than its predecessors.  The slapdash songwriting just doesn't mesh well with this new sound.

New sound?  Oh yeah, the production is wildly different here as well.  Everything is considerably more muddy and incoherent than the crisp, trebly precision of the previous album and EP.  The thing about this is that it doesn't make the album feel more organic (which I suspect was the reasoning behind trying to fix what wasn't broken), and instead makes it harder to follow and less sure of itself.  The rhythm guitars especially sound muffled and chained in stark contrast to the crisp percussion that kicks through at nearly every opportunity.  There's an odd fuzz surrounding all of the stringed instruments as well, and again it isn't an organic feeling element.  I'm not saying this should be clinically clean or anything, but the music is surgically precise in it's approach, so it'd be nice if the production would allow the sound to express itself a bit more clearly.

And in the end, maybe it's a good thing that the production is working against the actual music, because compared to their earlier efforts, this is the album where Arsis started to go off the deep end and stop filtering themselves at all.  I mean, there are so many instances where I can't help but feel like Riff X and Melody Y don't go together at all and I'm just finding myself disoriented with Drum Beat Z making things even more awkward.  Seriously, the drumming is handled as if Brann Dailor and Flo Mounier decided to have a "Let's see who can give less of a fuck about keeping time" contest.  There is no such thing as a solid beat presented anywhere, it's all fills and rolls and tossing the snare in a tumble dryer and crap like that.  It's disorienting to a point where it never was before.  The parts where the band reins itself in to a more traditional styled riff or chugging stomp like "Oh, the Humanity", "Lust Before the Maggots Conquest", or especially the chorus in the title track are actually very good, and this is indicative of the band as a whole.  When Malone puts everything together as a band, some really neat shit can happen, but when everybody goes bonkers and tries to take center stage with their instrumental acrobatics, everything falls apart into a cacophonous mess.  Even though Malone handles all of the guitars on this record, it still sounds like there are two different players playing two different parts at the same time, cattily swatting at each other in the studio as they fight to have the more prominent part.

Now as I stated earlier, I do indeed really like United in Regret.  Every time I bring up a positive aspect I have a habit of saying "one thing the band has always been good at", but when I mention this next point I want to clarify that I mean THE thing the band has always been good at: Malone fucking slays at complex and intricate riff writing.  Now I don't mean he plays what a less ambitious band would consider a solo as a verse riff, but I mean the riffs he crafts are one of a kind and unmistakably his work.  The way he weaves an inherently strong melody into a simultaneously pummeling riff is nothing short of modern art.  He takes the mindset of a traditional Gothenburg styled band like Dark Tranquility, and somehow transmutes their melodeath riffs into something where the rhythm and melody are being played by the same guy at the same time, but at double speed and with a sixth finger on his left hand.  Check out "Lust Before the Maggots Conquest" or "I Speak Through Shadows" for prime examples of this phenomenal skill.  I truly do believe that this stunning ear for melody coupled with the completely off the wall melotech riffs are a huge reason the band catapulted to popularity with their debut eight years ago, and it's all still in top form here. 

All of the good bits mixed with all of the crummy bits make United in Regret a very memorable experience.  I'll be the first to admit that A Celebration of Guilt is a better album (but then again the cover to that album looks like the Icon of Sin from Doom II, so it was destined to rule from the outset), but over the years I've found myself spinning United in Regret more often.  It's this strange, oddly cut and grimy jewel.  There is a ton of shit wrong with it, from the blunt force trauma of the crappy angsty lyrics to the disjointed mishmash of the songwriting, but it all amounts to a sort of character that their later releases sorely lack.  The problems here really came to a head a few years later as the band toiled on, downwards into the realm of pink guitars and music videos featuring your long faced and stringy frontman windmilling in front of strippers in a trashed classroom and song titles as bewilderingly stupid as "Half Past Corpse O' Clock".  But for what it is, United in Regret is only slightly less enjoyable than its predecessors, and while it's not the best starting point for new fans, it is at the very least fascinating in hindsight.  This is where their sheen and prowess of heavily melodic technical death metal started to develop sores before falling into full blown leprosy on the following We Are the Nightmare.  If nothing else, check out "The Cold Resistance" and tell me you won't have that chorus stuck in your head all day.

tl;dr - This album is the musical equivalent to that episode of The Office where Michael proposes to his girlfriend in front of all of his coworkers on their ninth date.  It's just as painful of an experience just for the sheer vicarious embarrassment, but it's also just as much fun.

RATING - 78%

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cytotoxin - Radiophobia

Find the Spaceballs reference!

Okay, this confuses the crap out of me.  I don't usually talk about being a review mod because y'all would not be entertained by stories of me staring at my laptop for hours at a time, wondering if anybody has even so much as looked at previous reviews to know that just maybe their four line review might not be acceptable.  But there is one odd phenomenon I've noticed, and that's that a lot of people like Cytotoxin's sophomore effort, Radiophobia.  There's only one published here right now, but you'll have to take my word that I've had to reject at least six others for various reasons, all extraordinarily positive.  This blows my mind because who the fuck are Cytotoxin?  Did some famous dude I don't know pimp them out?  Was some guy from Job for a Cowboy wearing their shirt in a music video?  Somebody enlighten me here, these guys seemed to pop up out of nowhere with an already rabid fanbase in tow, and I can't think of a single reason why.  Why not?  Because they're fucking boring, that's why.

See, the thing about Cytotoxin is same thing about Cerebral Bore, it's really safe, cookie cutter BDM with an abundance of pig squeals.  The big difference between those two is that Cytotoxin is faster and more technical, making them more akin to the Italian scene I love so much.  But even then, everything on Radiophobia is something Hour of Penance did three times already and better, and without thirty minutes of pig squealing.  I know I probably seem like the -core hating cockdouche here, but really I never got behind this vocal flourish.  It's hard to inject personality into an inhaled squeal like that, no matter who you are or what language you're belching, it'll always sound like you're yelling REE REEE REEEEE and it just gets fucking old fast.  A band like, I dunno, Benighted or something that utilizes the technique every once in a while is one thing, but when you use it with the same mindset that Steve Asheim uses the blast beat, you're going to be repeating yourself an awful lot.  When you're playing a style as overpopulated as this, it'd be cool to help yourself stand out a bit, but this just is not the right way to do it for me.

And that's the thing, I really don't hear anything that makes Cytotoxin stand out above the rest of the bands of their ilk.  Really, this could be any band on Unique Leader or Willotip's roster (aside: I didn't realize until after writing this sentence that they actually are signed to Unique Leader, so basically I'm a fucking genius), it's that exact brand of faceless tech death that so few bands really manage to break out of.  If you'd put an album by Beheaded or Odious Mortem or Arkaik in the case here, I wouldn't have noticed.  It's brutal, it's technical, it has sweeps and breakdowns, it's nothing approaching special, and it's for that reason that I really don't understand their relative popularity.

But with all that said, even though there's nothing even remotely original here, it's still a style worth revisiting.  I can namedrop all these other bands this reminds me of because I like them all.  Generic brutal tech death is a fun genre to get lost in.  Smashing slams and breakdowns, blistering leads, and plaid drumming, everything you'd expect is here in spades and it's all pretty well done.  Radiophobia is structured the same way that The Browning's first album is, with back to back runs of four songs + interlude, and the better songs being in the back half.  "Fallout Progeny" is my favorite, with the breakdown at the end being both high tempo and punishing (my favorite kind of breakdown) and the fast tremolo riffs being ear catching and surprisingly melodic.  "Abysm Nucleus" is great as well for the same reasons, but those are the only two that really stand out overall.  I guess "Frontier of Perception" also has a really gnarly chugging part as well but those last two proper songs are the only two with anything that sticks when the album is done and over with.  But even with that being the case it's still not a bad listen if you can stomach the complete oversaturation of the pig squeals.

Basically if you like Cerebral Bore, but could handle them going more in the technical direction than the brutal one, then Radiophobia is for you.  I know I've compared them to the most accessible BDM band around a few times, but I'm still confused as to their sudden burst of popularity.  The pig squealing phenomenon seems to have passed in popular music, but that doesn't stop Cytotoxin from filing nearly 70% of all vocal lines with the technique, and that's really the biggest annoyance with the album apart from the lack of originality.  But really, those are two easy things to get over.  I wouldn't really recommend this since there are better bands doing this same thing but better right now (the mere existence of Hour of Penance makes this band redundant), but if you're a fan of the style I don't see how this could hurt.

Also, the band photo looks like it consists of four clones, and that just makes me laugh.

RATING - 63%

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Destruction - Spiritual Genocide

Do the title and art even mean anything?

Why are you doing this, Destruction?  I used to worship the ground you walked on.  Once upon a time you were my favorite German thrash band (though to be fair this was before I'd listened to more than a handful of Sodom songs), and what are you guys now?  Shells.  Giant walking husks of what you used to be.  And that's weird, because I feel like you've been gliding along on the still warm layers of ejaculate from fans after releasing your testament to why thrash can still be relevant and incredibly fucking good in the new millennium with The Antichrist eleven years ago.  You've been coasting along on that gooey success for over a decade now, and apart from the ironically titled D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N. you haven't done shit to distance yourself from the formula set on that thundering megalith from 2001.

I'll stop addressing the band now, and start addressing you, the fans.  I'm one of you, Release from Agony was the first German thrash record I'd ever heard, and the cover art alone was enough to stick with me for the rest of my life.  From the Sentence of Death EP to the legendary Live Without Sense, Destruction unleashed six straight releases of naught but the purest thrash metal run through a filter of unique riff writing and unmistakable vocals that made them all instantly recognizable as Destruction records.  Once per year, we were treated to another slab of their unique style of Teutonic tenacity, with the only weak link being that their guitar tone was about as heavy as a toothpick until 1989 (one of the reasons I consider Live Without Sense to be one of the few essential live albums in heavy metal history).  From there hey had their well known departure of frontman Schmier, the decent Cracked Brain, and then the infamous mistake known as Neo-Destruction.  Finally Schmier returned and then NAILED TO THE FUCK-KING CRAWSS.  Okay well All Hell Breaks Loose came first but that seems to have been completely forgotten since The Antichrist was so ludicrously good and helped the whole "retro thrash" thing get its start in a way (I mean, it doesn't sound anything at all like what we've come to know as retro thrash (neo thrash at the time), but along with M-16 is did show that the style was still relevant and not career suicide to play).  Since then we've just gotten The Antichrist five more times except without any stellar standouts.

Apart from maybe "Devolution", "The Price", or... uhh, I dunno maybe "Metal Discharge", there haven't been any standout classics like "Thrash til Death", "The Heretic" or fucking "Nailed to the Cross" in over a decade.  The band's 77th release, Spiritual Genocide is no exception.  The only track that stands out in any way is "Riot Squad", and even then I can't tell you why it does.  I guess the riffing is just a bit punchier than the rest of the album, just a little more straightforward and stripped down than the otherwise frantic finger flailing the band is usually known for.  "To Dust You Will Decay" has a cool chorus and "Under Violent Sledge" is good too, but again I'm not sure why since it sounds exactly like every other song on display and still has nothing on the monsters I've mentioned from The Antichrist.  Destruction's style of manic, technical riffs that are incredibly complex for their style are on full display and are just as good as anything else since the turn of the century, but there's nothing you haven't heard about 67 times by now since then.  It's frustrating because the members are all still talented and technically proficient, but their songwriting has fallen into less of a rut and more into something akin to the Marianas Trench.

Honestly, this is the same career path I foresee Goatwhore taking.  The songwriting is so one-dimensional nowadays that there's nothing to be excited about when it comes time for a new album to drop.  Spiritual Genocide, like its predecessors (Except for D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N., I have to point out that album at least stood out for the successful addition of more groovy elements (that they immediately stripped away on the next album in favor of just doing what they'd already been doing for a decade)) is about as creative as macaroni art and put together about as haphazardly.  There's no pacing to the album because it contains one idea spread so thinly across ten tracks that you can barely tell there's anything on your bread.  Let's say a jar of chunky peanut butter symbolizes all of the ideas the band has had over their career.  For the last five albums, they've been picking out one chunky nut and trying to spread that and that alone over their toast.  The songs are all interchangeable and ultimately worthless in the grand scheme of things.  The punchy production is identical to the last handful of albums and the songs are the exact same technical riff vehicles they've always been, but it's less enticing than ever before because nothing sticks.  If you throw your cream cheese bagel at the wall and see that it sticks, you can't just keep throwing it there because eventually you'll run out of cream cheese and it'll just flop helplessly off the wall. 

What I'm saying is that Destruction needs more cream cheese, lest I find myself giving even less of a shit about the next album.  If you're a die hard fan who has loved the last five albums just as much as their early material, then by all means this is for you.  If you're like me and starting to get bored with hearing a dead horse being beaten with another dead horse, then you can safely skip this one, you won't be missing anything.

Also, "Legacy of the Past" sucks really badly.  They literally tried to rewrite "Thrash til Death" using the exact same gimmick of using classic album titles as lyrics.  Go home Destruction, you're drunk.

RATING - 39%

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Browning - The Browning

It's a rifle made out of steak that shoots feces

I'm going to give a little bit of personal history here, so bear with me.  Years ago, I hated deathcore.  I was one of the hundreds of thousands of metal fans who found the genre to be populated by talentless wastes purely because by dumb luck I had only heard bad bands within the genre (crap like Emmure, Oceano, Carnifex, and the like).  After hearing Burning the Masses and All Shall Perish (two of the least -core deathcore bands by the way.  If you haven't found any bands in the genre you like, give those two a shot), I decided/realized I was being a tool and asked a few of my buddies for recommendations.  One of them sent me a Mediafire folder with like 15 albums he said I should try.  There were more misses than hits that I can remember, stuff like Chelsea Grin and Disfiguring the Goddess that I just didn't like at all, but there was one that really stuck with me, and that was The Browning.  Maybe it was the strange and to this day unexplained name that caught my eye initially, or perhaps it was the fact that the album cover was nothing more than an old clock face.  No big dripping, brutish logo, no intricate artwork of a man getting impaled with a railroad spike, just this plain blue clock.  I don't know why, but it was striking to me at the time, and so I was interested before I had even heard a note of the band's music.

What followed upon clicking "play" was nothing short of a miracle for me.

I didn't call it at the time, but nary a few months later, I was sure that The Browning was going to be huge, possibly even the "next big thing".  The trendsetter, the band that spawned countless imitators, and I'm still of the belief that we're only a few years away from that groundswell.  I mean, it took how many years for any notable Meshuggah knockoffs to rise to prominence?  Something that nobody else has done takes a while to catch on, and The Browning's self titled record is certainly something entirely unique, and it's only a matter of time before the imitators begin pushing forth.  The Browning specialize in a style that is almost entirely electronica + breakdowns, and I would have never guessed such a style would work until happening upon this unsung gem.

I'm not particularly well versed in the several squintillion subniches of electronic music, so I can't really specifically tell you what kind of electronic influence you're getting (though from what I can gather, trance and hardstyle are the two most prominent).  Tracks like "Time Will Tell" and "Judgment" have almost house music styled melodies (though the drumming keeps it grounded in a soundly more rock territory) while "A Better Way" and "Taken for Granted" go for more subtle and atmospheric synths.  I initially saw the band marketed as dubstep + deathcore, which really isn't true at all.  I suspect it was purely a marketing strategy since dubstep was certainly the hot new thing in 2010-2011, since the only trace of what we know as dubstep can be found in the track "Ashamed", from their 2011 release, Burn this World.

And with that I have to bring up that album.  I don't know why, but the band seems to have disowned this self titled, or at the very least doesn't consider it their debut full length (if they consider it an EP or something I don't know why, it's 10 tracks and over 33 minutes long), since Burn this World is being treated like their debut.  There is a clear difference between the two albums for me, and that's that the electronic influence on Burn this World is more straightforward and dance oriented, whereas on the self titled it's more dialed back on the whole and has a more atmospheric mindset behind it.  It's no coincidence that the only two tracks from this that survived to their more widely known successor ("Standing on the Edge" and "Time Will Tell") are also the most straightfoward and... well danceable (for lack of a better term).  Something like "Taken for Granted" would have never fit on that record, and that's one of the reasons I find this self titled to be superior.  It's special in the sense that this was during that sweet spot during the band's early life when they had both an abundance of ideas and also a clue about what they were good at.  If you really want to hear some truly horrid stuff, go check out the reeeeeally early stuff when it was even more simplistic, more electronic, and featured some laughably wretched rapping.  But at this point in their career, they had it narrowed down to "electronic stuff and hardcore stuff", before Burn this World when it was narrowed down even further to simply "dance beats and breakdowns".

With that said, it's a bit of a strange paradox because the best songs are actually the more in-your-face and catchy/dancy ones.  "Standing on the Edge", "Time Will Tell", "Suit and Tie", and "These Nightmares" are easily my favorites, with the other four traditional songs being more of their own collaborative entity known as "the songs in between the great ones".  And even though they aren't the "great" ones, they're by no means the "bad" ones, they just don't stand out as much.  For an album I obviously adore to bits, it's weird to say that a little under half of it comes off as unmemorable filler, but when I sit down and really think about it, it kind of does.  "A Better Way" is the best of the four in that category, thanks to some really awesome bouncy synths in the chorus, but it still ends up getting a bit lost in the static since it precedes the stellar trio of "Time Will Tell", "Suit and Tie", and "These Nightmares".  "Suit and Tie" is the best of that triumvirate, being one of the only songs that sees the guitars not base their parts entirely around breakdowns.  I like my music fast and melodic, and that is definitely the fastest and most melodic song on the album.  Plus the section that starts at 1:17 is just goddamn awesome.  It makes me get up and mosh with nobody every time I hear it.  If you can't dig that, you're dead to me.

The more subtle touches are also a great feature that the band lost as time went on.  The two instrumental passages, "Inner Mission" and "Remnant", are incredibly good.  I could easily hear those tracks being in Goldeneye 64, and if you've ever played that game or heard these songs you know exactly what I'm talking about.  The subtle, swelling synths and the slow, almost creepy piano melodies work extraordinarily well.  It's strange because the more subtle songs don't stand out as much while the big and loud ones hit hard and resonate strongly, but when they just go all out in either direction they land right on the money.  Again, it's the more diverse songwriting displayed on this seemingly buried independent self titled that makes it stand a head above the major label debut.  

I'm failing hard on describing why this rules so much, so I suppose I'll just wrap it up here.  I'm incredibly hipstery about this band.  My favorite album is the one before they got signed to a major label, I "liked" their Facebook page when they had ~600 likes (it's currently sitting at 70,533 as of the time of this writing (to put that in perspective, Gorgoroth has 62,193 and Sigh has less than 5,000)), and I just harp to everybody who brings them up how I totally called their future popularity before they struck it big.  The Browning write big, dumb, catchy tunes and that's undeniably what they're best at, but when they let a few other ideas seep in, they capture a kind of magic that nobody else at the time had managed to ensnare so marvelously.  Despite my opening paragraph, there's no metal influence here, so anybody calling this deathcore or anything of the sort is completely wrong.  It's hard to go into detail as to what makes the band and album so great, because it really can be summed up succinctly and accurately as "breakdowns and light techno beats complementing one another".  That's what's on display, and it's fucking stupendous.

RATING - 88%

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Skeletonwitch - Beyond the Permafrost

None so cold

For a personal record, this marks the third time I've reviewed Beyond the Permafrost since 2008.  Initially I had given it a good score but complained that the tracks were too samey, and the second time was just a short two paragraph blurb on Metal Crypt that I honestly didn't put much effort into because I just hadn't written anything in a while and wanted to get something out (Sorry Michel).  Since then, I've been haunted by the memory of that first review.  How many times had I listened to this album before crapping out a quick review during my poor (but productive) era?  Like... twice?  That's the only explanation for how a 17 year old version of myself could seriously manage to listen to this and come to the conclusion that it lacks variety.  Not only is this Skeletonwitch's most varied album by a long shot in hindsight (this was their newest album when I reviewed it previously), but it's one of the most blatantly varied thrash records in recent memory, with more nods to black metal and shreddy trad metal than pretty much any other band in the genre.

Skeletonwitch belongs to the trio of bands that tend to get classified as retro thrash that I never, ever agreed with.  To me, retro thrash is a tag reserved for bands who are doomed to hopelessly relive the 80s via staunchly opposing new and creative ideas.  Bands like Violator and Fueled by Fire and Merciless Death whatnot who spend roughly 100% of their recorded material wishing upon a star that they could have been in Exodus.  Bands like Cross Examination who try so desperately to capture the same lightning in the same bottle that Municipal Waste have, despite playing the style of music long after it became a popular and established genre again, thus making them look like yet another band of trendsters.  These three bands who get grouped in with this semi-derogatory movement of retro thrash are Vektor, Exmortus, and Skeletonwitch.  Vektor are worlds away from a majority of the silly movement they get lumped in with due to the fact that they're so far removed from the silly cliches that populate the scene.  Not only are their lyrical themes unique, but their style of writing is so much more thought out and, dare I say intellectual than most of the Havok's in the world that there really is no comparison.  Exmortus should be obvious why they don't belong.  Thrash is merely one component of their masterful blend of styles, and I'm hesitant to even consider it as their main style (Beyond the Fall of Time never happened in my universe, don't shatter my fragile psyche), they just tend to tour with a lot of silly thrash bands due to the band's connections/friendships and the fact that they hail from southern California.

And then we have Skeletonwitch, from the grim and evil fjords of southern Ohio.  Normally I get pissy when I see the tag of "black/thrash" metal because it usually seems to mean "sounds like Pleasure to Kill" about 90% of the time, but Skeletonwitch are one of the few bands I've found who can successfully do justice to the genre (at least on their second and fourth albums, not so much the first and third).  For real, the silly image you imagine when hearing a name like Skeletonwitch and the tag of retro thrash sure as hell doesn't bring to mind a band a serious, menacing, and vitriolic as this.  I mean really, listen to the descending tremolo riffs and the blastbeats in "Limb from Limb", that right there is an honest to goodness black metal influence, not Kreator riffs with rough production.  "Feast Upon Flesh" also flirts with black metal style dissonance and straight fucking evil sounding tremolo patterns.  That is why I get just as frustrated when I see them lumped in with the retro thrash scene along with Vektor and Exmortus.  Those three don't fit, and if you consider them to be a part of that whole thing, then I'm afraid we can't be friends.

The honest black metal influence is just one aspect of their sound, which is what makes any claim of facelessness factually incorrect.  I mean, it doesn't take a classically trained music scholar to tell you that "Within My Blood" and "Sacrifice for the Slaughtergod" were written by the same band, but they really don't sound all that similar to one another.  Some tracks are far more melodically focused ("Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery", "Within My Blood"), while others go straight for the throat with razor sharp thrashing intensity ("Upon Wings of Black", "Sacrifice for the Slaughtergod", "Fire From the Sky"), and some even go for a more slow building atmosphere of malice with a strong lead dissonance and churning sections of uncomfortable aggression ("Cast into the Open Sea", "Baptized in Flames").  There are so many different ideas on display, I didn't even touch on the melodic death metal inspired sections that are sprinkled tastefully throughout the runtime. 

One thing that helps the band stand out are the versatile vocals of Chance Garnette.  He mainly sticks to a high barking growl (I hesitate to call it a rasp, since there's a really coarse grit to it much like a deep death metal growl) and sparingly belts out a low bellow, sometimes overlaying the two.  The thing about him is that he's good at both styles, and switches between them appropriately.  Ya know, unlike Trevor Strnad who mars an otherwise stellar album in Nocturnal with his awful screech.  In an album full of consistently high quality songwriting and performances, he still manages to find a way to stand out.  I mean even the silly "TWO THREE GO!" part before the solo on "Within My Blood" (the climax of the album, mind you) manages to just be goddamn awesome.  The entire record hinges on that moment, the climax of the last song, and with three completely unnecessary shouts he gives it a character that it would have never had otherwise, and makes the entire romp feel like it was all worth it.  The fact that they're his last vocals before the very, very end highlight the fact that we're in the home stretch, and he's relieved to finally be reaching the end, he's almost home.  It works, and the solo that follows does not disappoint.  Beyond the Permafrost is one of the few albums I can think of off the top of my head that leave me with a smile and a feeling of satisfaction upon finishing.

Another thing that I feel gets understated a bit is Skeletonwitch's almost Bolt Thrower-esque ability to make their best material also be the most simple.  I won't lie to you, there are some challenging passages and over the top technicality in bits and pieces ("Upon Wings of Black" and most notably "Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery") but I'll be damned if the best songs aren't the most stripped down and basic.  I've mentioned "Within My Blood" several times already, and that's not just for the hell of it.  It's based on a pretty basic melody and doesn't make any sudden movements or progress in any way other than exactly how you'd expect it to go, but it's satisfying because it knows what it is and doesn't try to be anything else.  The title track is another brilliant example of a track with no surprises but makes up for it with sheer enthusiasm.  If that bridge doesn't make you pump your fist or bang your head, then I don't want to know you.  But the track that really takes the cake in this regard is easily "Vengeance Will Be Mine".  Listen to it, it has like three riffs in the whole song and just repeats the same verse twice.  But that verse is so irresistible to sing along with and the solo during the climax is so stupidly simple that I can't help but love it.  It's easy to air guitar, easy to sing, easy to just rock all over the goddamn place.  Skeletonwitch does this so well, they allow you to indulge in the big dumb caveman part of your brain while still having a ton of fun, giving you plenty of options of how exactly you can tard out, and keeps the presentation and production quality so high that you don't even feel like you're being stupid.

Most of the time an album tries to be a little bit of everything, it ends up bland across the board.  That's where Beyond the Permafrost excels, it actually manages to be great at everything it touches.  The dissonance is tasteful and the melody is powerful, the thrash is hard and fast and the trad metal leaning and dual lead melodies shred like nobody's business, the death metal tweaks and rhythms are crushing, and the black metal overtones are both subtle and prevalent at the same time.  Everything works, and I think that is the album's downfall in a way.  The following two albums (Breathing the Fire and Forever Abomination) would be much more focused efforts, with a lot less grabbing from random styles and more focusing on one or two niche areas, and as a result they'd be less interesting and less entertaining.  Do yourself a favor and pick up Beyond the Permafrost, five years later I still spin it and enjoy it just as much as I did back when I realized how great it was.

2007 was a great year, wasn't it?

RATING - 93%

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bloodbound - In the Name of Metal

If neanderthals dug hair metal

Now, I'm fairly new to Bloodbound.  I was introduced to them last year via Unholy Cross because I was told they were superior to Powerwolf (which turned out to be a preposterous lie), and frankly the album just never struck me.  It wasn't bad, but mid paced, hard rockish power metal doesn't usually do much for me.  Arthemis is okay I guess but give me late era Edguy and watch me change the music to a far better band in record time.  I'll admit that "Moria" is a cool, catchy song, but after the next track or two I just always lost interest.  Unholy Cross did absolutely nothing for me, and so I had intended to just add Bloodbound to the list of okay bands that just aren't for me.

And then I saw the album art for In the Name of Metal.  Jesus Chrystler Town & Country, that is a sight to behold.  Just look at that scene.  Zombie vampire creature (apparently Nosferatu if you're to believe the graffiti behind him) with a spiked mohawk made out of what appear to be baby narwhal horns, giant hoop earrings, studded denim jacket, bullet belt, a shirt with his own face on it and a gigantic, steel plated ghetto blaster.  That is just... too much.  It's so perfectly bad, I can barely put to words how brilliantly fucking stupid the whole thing is.  It hits that sweet spot in the bell curve where it's so unabashedly silly and dumb where it becomes something awesome.  It's like Army of Darkness, or The Room if you're super drunk.  I mean, just look at the graffiti on the wall behind our mascot.  "Show me the horns!" "Metalheads!"  It's so retarded and full of itself that I just can't help but smile at it and embrace the silliness of the whole thing.  If Unholy Cross was decent but uninteresting, then the worst case scenario for In the Name of Metal was that it would at the very least be an interesting train wreck.

Thankfully, the music follows the spirit of the cover art perfectly.  I'll be the first to admit that I haven't heard a single track off of Tabula Rasa, but from what I've read and been able to gather, I can say with utmost certainty that In the Name of Metal is the exact opposite of what that album contained.  Nothing here took more than a few minutes of forethought, it's a collection big and stupid chest beating anthems.  The trad metal equivalent to Jungle Rot, if you will.  The songs here fall under one of two lyrical themes, either corny old horror movie monsters or puffing out your peacock feathers and holding your head up high with your metal brothers.  The flip flopping between Lordi and Manowar is fairly seamless, as the songs themselves all follow a pretty traditional flow of simple, head banging, fist pumping heavy/power metal singalongs with huge choruses.  Imagine a dorky mix of Hammerfall, Firewind, Dream Evil, Powerwolf, Lordi, and Edguy, that's the level of silliness and pomp you'll be dealing with, and there's no denying that it's a fucking bargeful of fun.

Now with all of that said, In the Name of Metal is far from perfect.  The second half of the album really tends to blur together with their midpaced singalongs all sounding fairly similar to one another.  "Bounded by Blood" is pretty much the only song after the fifth or sixth track that's managed to stick in my mind, but despite how similar all of the songs are to one another they do still manage to be fun while they're on.  That's the real problem with this album, it lacks that intangible that Powerwolf holds so firmly, that swagger that makes me want to return frequently.  I could probably fart the melodies to "Phantom of the Funeral" or "St. Satan's Day" at this point, so it's pretty safe to say that they're the standards to which I'll be holding most bands of the style for a while.  But even though Bloodbound here isn't quite as huge and doesn't pack quite as much heat in their trousers as their German counterparts, they still carry all of the same qualities apart from the indescribable intangibles, just not as strongly.  The drum production is particularly beefy, and the fact that they rarely pick up to double bass speeds keeps them steadily thick and powerful without being overdone.  Don't get me wrong, the guy is by default better than Phil Rudd or Lars Ulrich or something, but he tends to keep it on basic hard rock beats and basic power metal beats, just never very high speed.  Think of Hammerfall.

I'm honestly being a bit facetious in constantly comparing Bloodbound to Powerwolf, when in reality this album has a lot more in common with the works of their Scandinavian neighbors in Lordi.  Lordi for the most part writes boring, cliche, and not particularly interesting songs.  But one thing the band does fucking magnificently is craft choruses.  Man if you can seriously resist singing along to "Blood Red Sandman" or "Bringing Back the Balls to Rock" or "Hard Rock Hallelujah" or pretty much any single the band has ever released, you are officially dead inside.  That is also where Bloodbound succeeds the strongest, these choruses, even on the more boring songs like "Mr. Darkness" or "King of Fallen Grace" are at the top of their class.  The choicest cuts are probably the title track, the rerecording of "Book of the Dead", or "Metalheads Unite" ("SAY M-E-T-A-L FOOOOR ME-TAAAAAL").  The title track holds the distinction of being the song with some of the most juvenile lyrics I've heard in ages ("We'll kick your ass like a pussy bitch!"), and I absolutely have to point out that "Son of Babylon" has the exact fucking same chorus as "You Give Love a Bad Name" by Bon Jovi.  This amazingly makes it more awesome somehow, because it helped it stand out the first time I listened to the album, which kept me coming back for more and eventually led to me eventually really enjoying this album, when at first I had found it as faceless as its predecessor.

And really, that's what makes In the Name of Metal a flawed gem.  On the whole, there are maybe four songs I can see myself coming back to frequently ("In the Name of Metal", "Metalheads Unite", "Son of Babylon", and "Bounded by Blood"), but whenever I put it on I find myself enjoying the full album.  It's silly and overblown and stupid but that's what makes it fun, despite the technical flaws.  Definitely a fun album, much closer to my beloved Powerwolf than Unholy Cross was, and mix that with equal parts Lordi and Hammerfall and you've got a pretty good idea of what you're getting yourself into.  I can gather that this is a lot less serious and thought out than some of the band's previous works, so established fans may want to be wary, but if you like dumb, heavy metal/hard rock anthems with a power metal bent, then get on this.

RATING - 79%

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Overkill - Bloodletting

No, I won't stop complaining

Really, I did want to just leave well enough alone when it came to Overkill's preplexingly forgiven/overlooked mid era.  I wanted to just let it be and focus on when they were good.  I wanted to review the surprisingly fantastic Ironbound or the near flawless Feel the Fire, but sheer morbid curiosity led me to reaffirming my belief that everybody except me is fucking crazy.  Originally, this review was going to be for From the Underground and Below, as it seems to me to be the somewhat "forgotten" Overkill album.  Fans who defend their 90s/00s era stuff even manage to look over that release entirely, and for good reason because I can't imagine a Borisite backing up that "Machine Head/Pantera performing Godsmack covers before Godsmack ever released an album" trainwreck.  But in doing my research for that review, I floored myself by discovering that, as of the time of this writing, both Necroshine and Bloodletting have average review scores in the eightieth percentile on Encyclopaedia Metallum.  I had a small Mugatu breakdown upon seeing that.  What in the goddamn hell are you people hearing that I'm not?  I'll be the first to admit that this is a step in the right direction, but it still sucks golfballs through gardenhoses.

The main problem I have with Bloodletting is the same problem I have with the entire middle streak of Overkill, and that's that it's just fucking boring and unmemorable.  Overkill really felt the impact of bands like Pantera and Machine Head in the 90s, and it's extraordinarily clear on their albums of the era.  The early 00s were still a high time for nu metal and groove metal, and Overkill remains, as they always have been (despite what revisionists claim), a product of the times.  I don't know if Bloodletting here was a small fluke or what, but it is actually one of the first albums from a stalwart thrash legend to step back in the direction of the high tempo thrash aggression that got them popular in the first place.  The Germans seemed to be ahead of the game here, with Sodom releasing Code Red the year prior, and Schmier's return to Destruction with All Hell Breaks Loose a few months before the release of this album (the trifecta of Sodom, Destruction, and Kreator would all solidify their comebacks to their thrash roots with two classics (and an "eh" album) with M-16, The Antichrist, and Violent Revolution respectively, all within a month of each other the following year).  The problem was that the style still wasn't the big draw in Overkill's home market, which was still nuts deep in all that is groovy, which kept Overkill firmly in the groove camp, despite the raising of overall tempo with this 2000 release.

Most defenders of this album point to the first two tracks, "Thunderhead" and "Bleed Me" as proof as to why Bloodletting is just as worthy of the band's legacy as something like Taking Over.  While I do admit that these two tracks wouldn't sound too horribly out of place on a record from a decade later when they got good again like Ironbound, it's still plagued with problems that dragged the band down consistently throughout this time, plus a special new one that was never a problem until this one.  That problem is Blitz's vocals.  Yeah, I never thought I'd say that either, but for some reason they're just fucking grating here.  "Thunderhead" is my prime example of this problem, which in itself is a pretty big problem considering it's the opening track and one that people usually point to when I tell them they're wrong for liking this album.  He's more nasally than ever before, and also even more prominent in the mix.  The chorus of the aforementioned song is almost unbearable with his atrocious "I'M COMIN' HAAAWWWOOOOMMME" that just drills itself into your temples.  I realize I'm probably just being harsh on one aspect considering the rest of these two opening songs are pretty decent groove/thrash, but this is really a huge flaw because it's the first time where the band could actually benefit from not having Blitz behind the mic.  I've always said that while he's technically a pretty awful vocalist, he's a lot like Dave Mustaine or Lemmy in the sense that I really can't imagine him fronting a different band or another person fronting the band he rose to prominence with, but good lord even Sean Killian would be an improvement here.  I have to stress that this is the only album where this is a problem, so it's another reason why I'm so utterly dumbfounded at this album's positive standing within the fanbase.

Digression aside, I do note that the opening few tracks are worlds better than anything the band had released in nearly ten years, but after then the album just falls apart.  They fell right off the wagon and went back to the Machine Head style of slow grooving that they've always sucked at.  "Let it Burn", "I, Hurricane", and "Blown Away" are somehow simultaneously boring as hell and also completely unmemorable.  They drag on for ages with nothing approaching an interesting riff or solo or vocal line or anything of the sort, and yet when they're over I can't recall what they sound like at all.  "Blown Away" stands out a small bit for the long, gloomy intro that the band is so fond of shoehorning in to every fucking album since 1989.  But otherwise the middle six or so tracks all blend into this nebulous grey mass of uninteresting plods and directionless grooves.  "Death Comes Out to Play" and "Let it Burn" are probably the worst offenders in the realm of uninteresting structure and riffs and ideas, but I have to give an honorable mention to the one-two punch of "Left Hand Man" and "Blown Away" being A) next to each other in the track listing, B) similarly structured with the drawn out intros and outros, and C) being over six minutes long.  Normally, this isn't all that bad, but for mid tempo plodders like them, it's nothing less than a test of endurance.  There's a half hour stretch in the middle of the album that leaves listeners cold and wondering where the hell the band we all fell in love with wandered off to.

The strangest thing?  Bloodletting is structured overall like a Skyclad album, with the good songs at the beginning and end with all the mindless filler taking up the middle of the album.  "My Name is Pain" is probably the best track on the album, with it's high tempo and chest beating bravado presented in the way that only Overkill can, and I almost didn't fucking hear it because it's such a chore to listen past "Blown Away".  The closer ("Can't Kill a Dead Man") is underwhelming in comparison to the total barnburner that precedes it, but it follows the same late 80s thrash ideals and pummels the listener with one of the rare examples of how the groove elements can work in conjunction with the high octane thrash numbers.  And therein lies the big problem with the albums starting from this point and continuing through the following three albums, they try to retain the Pantera style grooves whilst still hearkening back to the thrash scene of the 80s, and only succeeding in blending the two about half the time.  Within the context of this album, "Death Comes Out to Play" has a really fun, fast paced thrash part, but most of the track is the damn low plodding that bores me to tears, whereas "My Name is Pain" is exactly the opposite.  The title track for the previous album, "Necroshine" is pretty much the only very solid example I can give of Overkill doing the pure groove metal style correctly, and one song out of over 90 is pathetic.

The easiest way to tell whether a song will be good on this album is to see how long it runs.  The four tracks under five minutes are all very good, while anything over that is bad.  Yes, that includes "Thunderhead", I really don't like that one at all and am blown away by how many people cite it as one of the best mid-era tracks.  That's how simple and shallow the whole thing really is.  Overkill are just not good at groove metal.  They never were and they never will be.  Now, I know in my review for The Killing Kind I had claimed it was my favorite of the band's bum era, but after realizing there are a whole four songs on Bloodletting that I like, I'm somewhat forced to reassess that claim.  I can confidently say that that will not happen again, as even though they did pick up the pace starting from this album, the quality stays pretty consistently low until 2010.

For the quadrillionth time, Overkill are not legends, they just released legendary albums.

RATING - 36%

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Municipal Waste - The Fatal Feast (Waste in Space)

Big and stupid and fucking rad

Maybe I'm just a simpleton, a dum-dum thrasher, a brain dead nu thrash kid with his flatbilled hat and pumped up kicks and skateboard, but I love pretty much every Municipal Waste record to date.  I mean, they're never going to top that perfect blend of energy and riff writing showcased on Hazardous Mutation, but I still believe they haven't completely given up on writing fun, exciting songs.  Even though Massive Aggressive is pretty much my least listened-to album from these Virginian old new schoolers by a long shot, it's still chock full of fun, aggressive songs like "Wrong Answer", "Upside Down Church", and the mighty "Wolves of Chernobyl".  And if I'm being 100% honest with you, their 2012 offering, The Fatal Feast is no exception to the rules they've laid out for themselves and all new school thrash bands with Hazardous Mutation a whopping seven years ago (good Christ has it been that long already?).

The Fatal Feast is a strange anomaly in a way, as musically it seems to take more cues from hardcore punk than its predecessor, but on the whole the songs are a lot longer than they ever were in the past.  I mean, listen to the chorus riff in "Standards and Practices", you can pretty clearly tell what I'm talking about.  The riffs aren't as... I guess "typical" would be the right word.  At this point in time, you can pretty much just hear a five second snippet of any song and you'd be able to accurately deduce that it's a Municipal Waste song, they have a distinct sound at this point.  An Overkill style loud, pangy bass, riffs ripped straight from Game Over and Speak English or Die, Tony Foresta's pint sized shout, you've heard one album and you pretty much get the idea.  Part of this has to do with the fact that this is the fourth straight album with the same lineup.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, don't get me wrong, a stable lineup is a marvelous thing to have and writing new music with people you've grown to be rather comfortable with is a huge plus. But let's be honest here, they haven't thought up a new idea in nearly a decade.  Waste 'em All is the only album that sounds even remotely different, being much more into violent, dissonant, sloppy hardcore than the rest of the albums, which took a much cleaner, melodic approach to their punk influences.  I attribute this mostly to the fact that not only was the band younger and more eager to just rip everything apart, but there were different brains behind the writing process.  But what this long diversion is supposed to illustrate is that the signature Foresta/Waste/Phil/Witte sound has been ever so slightly tweaked to the center.

It's a small change, and maybe it's only noticeable to me because I've been a fan for a long time (kind of like how only casual fans or non-fans of Motorhead make the utterly incorrect accusation that all of their songs sound the same), but The Fatal Feast is a lot less insane than their earlier, finer hours.  It's not as all over the place and pushing the highest tempo the band could possible muster, there are a lot more mid paced sections and hard chugging/moshing sections.  Don't get me wrong, there are balls out speedfests here of course, fans of obnoxiously high octane crossover would do well to listen to "12 Step Program", "Unholy Abductor", or "You're a Cunt Whore" (or "Eviction Party" if you have the bonus track).  But also listen to the first half of "New Dead Masters" or the title track, their dedication to high speed insanity has been dialed back a few notches overall.  The real question is whether or not this is a bad thing.  Well... yeah in a way it kind of is.  I always felt Municipal Waste was at their best when they were being both catchy and dangerously fast, hence why Hazardous Mutation will likely always be their best album.  On this newest album, they're a lot more focused and deliberate, which creates a much less frantic pace and presents us with three or four versions of "Sadistic Magician".  This brings the album down a smidgeon in the overall scheme of things.

But it's only a smidgeon, as Municipal Waste's main quality is still here in spades.  Say what you will about their skill or attitude or originality or quality or whatever reason you want to knock them, but you can't deny that Municipal Waste is a boatload of goddamn fun.  I love listening to this album, I love listening to any of the previous albums, and I love seeing the band live.  This is the intangible that keeps them as the reigning champions of post-2000 thrash.  They're crossover masters and they embody this trans-genre swagger in the most entertaining way possible.  The Fatal Feast may not be as shitnards bonkers as Hazardous Mutation or The Art of Partying, but it's easily equally fun.  "New Dead Masters" and "Covered in Sick" should be counted as classics within the Waste's catalog as far as I'm concerned, right next to "Unleash the Bastards" and "Born to Party".  Previous fans are bound to like this just as much as anything before it, and previous non-fans will find absolutely nothing to change their minds.

And that's what makes this what it is, it carries an abundance of energy and a dearth of fucks to give.  Municipal Waste knows what they do best at this point, and they know that experimenting with this sound too much will certainly alienate them from the rabid fanbase they've built up.  You want to know something?  I agree with their mentality entirely.  The Motorhead comparison above is just as apt in this regard.  They know what they do, they know what fans want to hear, and so they deliver with all the passion and fire that they have to give, just like they did at the beginning of their career.  Overall The Fatal Feast doesn't have as many memorable standout tracks (the two I singled out earlier are certainly the highlights regardless) as the second and third albums, and it isn't as crazy or unrestrained as them either, but it still somehow manages to be the best thing they've done in years.  Municipal Waste is the whole package when it comes to this style, they predated the groundswell of 2006-2007 thrash bands and they prove that they're still legit with their fifth album.  Despite the heaps of praise, I do realize that this is an album for established fans only, this isn't going to convert anybody.  But fuck it, I am an established fan and this is a fucking awesome album.  If you aren't an established fan too, then I'm afraid we can't be friends.

RATING - 81%

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cerebral Bore - Maniacal Miscreation

Crazy gross accident?

I was initially drawn to this for probably the same reason most of you were... a band named after that fucking badass gun from Turok 2 has to be awesome, right?  I mean, that should be a law.  Perhaps it's the friendless child version of myself from grade school that my psyche never fully grew out of, but any videogame reference in a metal band instantly intrigues me.  It's the whole reason I initially checked out Jenovavirus and Crossbreed Gyarados.  If I ever came across a band named Agamo or Valus then you bet your cute little ass that I'll be on that like bees on honey.  And so, from the depths of my own psychoses stemmed my interest of Cerebral Bore, the Scottish brutal death metal band that seems to be garnering all of the attention imaginable.  This is significant because how many straight up brutal death metal bands really get that much coverage outside of their niche market?  Skinless?  Maybe Dying Fetus too if you ignore the hardcore and tech death influences, but that's about it.  What is it that makes Cerebral Bore so goddamn special?

My thought?  It's catchy.  Maniacal Miscreation is a rare example of a very accessible brutal death metal album.  It's not overly slammy to scare away the tech death fans like myself, it's not too slow or stupid to scare away the OSDM fans like myself, and it's not too flashy to scare away the BDM and slam fans like... well like slam fans (fuck slam).  The production is rather clean as well, which helps people relatively new to the style ease into it smoothly.  But if you take all of these things into account, you realize the album really isn't all that organic.  It feels very "manufactured", like all of these choices were made for the reasons I outlined above (attracting as many fans from as many places as possible) and less because this is just what the band loves to do.  What I'm trying to say is that you'll never find them signed to Sevared Records, Earache (the label I blame for ruining Diamond Plate's debut full length) is currently what they call home, and it makes complete sense.  Cerebral Bore is a very marketable band, based both on the clean accessibility of their music and for other reasons I'll get to later.  Therein lies both one of the reasons to their success and one of the reasons I'm pretty lukewarm about them on the whole.  It's just kinda phony feeling on the whole, like the passion is there to an extent but the band could be so much more if they just went off the deep end and dove head first into retarded brutality.  They try to please everybody and end up bland across the board, jack of all trades, ace of none.

One of the key components to what makes Maniacal Miscreation is the appeal towards the younger, asshole internet generation in the silly lyrics.  I'm not the biggest fan of them myself, but it was fun the first time my buddies and I were cranking this and had to ask ourselves if we heard it correctly when it was shouted "She'll seeeeeeeee, his evil pee-peeeeeee". I also find it irresistible to sing along with "Ee pee oppa pee pee / Ee pee oppa BURST HER CUNT IN" at the end of "Entombed in Butchered Bodies".  But what the stupid lyrics accomplish is that it makes the album memorable.  How many times have you heard brutal lyrics about superfluous gore and dismemberment?  Can you recite the lyrics to any given Ingested song?  Probably not.  Hell one of the reasons I became a fan of Skinless in the first place is because the samples from Pink Flamingos stood out to me on Foreshadowing our Demise.  Regardless of whether or not the lyrics work or if they fit with the dirty, brutal music, you're not going to remember a line like "Maggots fester through flesh / Witness of an evil night with a perverse morality to rape and kill" over a line like "I eat chicken when I pump her fud / I love chicken, yum yum nice".  In fact, if you can tell me what song that first line is from without cheating, I won't even give you a prize because I know you'd have to cheat to figure that out.  Therein lies my point, Cerebral Bore push the sick humor to the forefront, and that coupled with their accessibility really makes them visible to a casual fan of the genre.

Apart from the very middling songwriting and "hilarious" lyrics, why has Cerebral Bore become such a popular name from out of left field?  The answer is obvious for basically everybody, but it's no coincidence that their popularity spiked roughly around the time they introduced Simone Pluijmers as their new vocalist in 2010.  Yes, yes, a young attractive woman is behind these deep, bellowing roars and inhuman gurgles.  She was 19 years old when the album was recorded and she doesn't resemble a cave troll, can we just move past this already?  People seem to focus so much on the fact that she doesn't have a Y chromosome that they totally overlook the fact that she is a dead ringer for Mads Haarlov when she isn't squealing.  If you don't know who Mads Haarlov is, then for fuck's sake close this review and go pick up either Five Across the Eyes or Grime.  I like Cerebral Bore well enough but Iniquity is leagues ahead of them, get on that shit, kids.  Digression aside, that's my main point of comparison during the deep growls, but roughly 45% or more of the vocals are inhaled pig squeals, and they frankly get annoying.  I mean, they aren't bad, and they fit the music well enough, but they're better used as a flourish than as a base.  King Diamond is one of the only people who can manage to get away with taking a vocal technique best used sparingly (falsetto in his case) and using it all the fucking time and making it work.  The point is that Som is a good vocalist, and the fact that she's a woman is overhighlighted to the point where it's the defining feature of the band for a lot of people.  I promise you, after this sentence I will lead by example and never highlight the fact that ZOMG SHE'S PRETTY again, throughout any future reference or review of the band.

Put all of these points together and you get a good idea of what Maniacal Miscreation really is.  It's a bunch of popular elements from seemingly random corners of death metal thrown together in an overall successful package.  There are problems with the album, but really I can't deny that it's a fun listen.  There are very memorable songs like "The Bald Cadaver", "Entombed in Butchered Bodies", "Maniacal Miscreation", and "24 Year Party Dungeon", and the runtime is only 32 minutes (maybe it's just me, but I lose interest in this kind of music if it runs for over 35 minutes it seems), so it's a decent romp.  Regardless of whether or not it's for good reasons, the album does stick with you.  It's catchy and accessible and poppy in the most death metal sense of the word.  The music Cerebral Bore writes is not in any way dark and carries almost zero superfluous qualities that makes good music great, but it's a good meat and potatoes base that sits pretty firmly in the middle of the road.  You could do a fuckload worse, that's for sure.

RATING - 74%

Monday, November 5, 2012

Arch Enemy - The Root of All Evil

You should all be ashamed of yourselves

Now I've made it pretty clear that I don't consider myself much of a melodeath fan, and long time readers probably remember that I gave Rise of the Tyrant a pretty harsh review when it was new, and alluded within the review that I really didn't like Anthems of Rebellion either.  Now, that's all true, but I have to make one thing clear: I do actually like Arch Enemy.  Perhaps there's a nostalgic quality for me considering, despite what I always say, they were the first band with harsh vocals I'd ever liked.  I always claim that Children of Bodom was the band that warmed me up to the style, and that's mostly true because I was/am a MUCH bigger fan of Bodom than I am Arch Enemy and have listened to Bodom's good albums waaaaay more than the good AE albums.  But really and truly Arch Enemy beat them by about a month.  Because of this, I'm one of the few weird people who really, really likes Doomsday Machine, but in all honesty it's the only Gossgow era album that I find holds any worth.  It's got some crappy tracks like "My Apocalypse" and "Skeleton Dance", but tracks like "Out for Blood", "Taking Back My Soul", "Nemesis" (which could possibly be their fastest song), and even the instrumental "Hybrids of Steel" really make up for the shortcomings in my mind.  Now this is going to sound strange, but despite considering myself a fan of the band, I don't really like more than one Gossgow era album, and I have a huge issue with the Liiva era stuff as well.

And that, my friends, is why I think The Root of All Evil is actually a brilliant idea.  See, I agree with pretty much everybody in the universe who doesn't suck at music on this subject, but the songs on the first three albums were leagues ahead of the mostly uninspired crap that the band has been putting out lately.  There was a much more prevalent aggression present and the melodies, while predictable, yes, were infinitely more infectious and memorable than turds like "Leader of the Rats" or "Revolution Begins".  I'll go on record saying that "Silverwing" from Burning Bridges could well be my favorite melodeath song.  But there is one glaring, unavoidable flaw with the early albums that makes me rarely want to spin them: the vocals were atrocious.  I'm sorry, but Johan Liiva was a fucking terrible vocalist.  He always sounded like he was lazily grunting out the words or just yelling like a wrestler instead of putting forth any fire or effort.  It really brings down the soaring melodies and fast paced energy of the songs.  When Liiva was given the boot and Angela Gossgow was brought in, the problems flip flopped.  Yeah it's annoying how she layers her screams something like ten quadrillion times (which is one of my main problems with certain Behemoth albums, I'm looking at you, Demigod), but she has a legitimately good raspy scream that is just worlds better than Liiva's passionless bark.  And therein lies the problem with the band as a whole, once they got a decent vocalist, they seemed to completely stop giving a fuck about their music, pushing out mostly lame, lazy plodfests.  Which brings us full circle to why I not only like The Root of All Evil, but why I actually consider it to be Arch Enemy's best album.  It is the only record where they managed to get a decent blend of good vocals and good music.

When it comes to the real music, there are virtually no changes from the original cuts.  I notice it seems like the instruments are tuned a half step higher, but that doesn't detract at all for me.  Yes, it makes the songs less dark, but more exuberant.  While I dig the aggression on the earlier albums, that was never Arch Enemy's strength.  Their strength lies in the huge melodies and searing leads, not the deep crunch or pounding rhythms.  This is a band that is all about the flash and the style, and less about the base itself.  This can be a problem for most people, as the old "Iron Maiden with growls" criticism is no less true here than it is with In Flames or pretty much any other Swedish melodeath band ever, but there's a sense that there's something larger at work in these older tracks.  Post-Liiva, they've been more about being catchy, but pre-Gossgow they were more about dark splendor.  With the new, highly polished production, it does cheapen the idea slightly.  The songs are now presented more like big, dumb anthems like the band has been trying to do ever since Wages of Sin, instead of the darker, more mysterious and strange songs they used to be.  Perhaps this is because Painkiller is my favorite Judas Priest album, but I love big, dumb anthems.  So this new gloss and presentation only adds to what were otherwise good to decent songs in the first place.  In fact, I love the new production, as I don't feel like it saps any aggression out of the recordings, instead beefing them up with a more pronounced drum sound and tighter performances.  It is indeed less organic and more manufactured, and I acknowledge the problem with that, but it works really well for the style that Arch Enemy plays so I have no real criticism in that decision.

The track selection is a bit wonky, with Burning Bridges being overrepresented and Stigmata getting the shaft, but apart from maybe "Demonality" they didn't choose any straight up bad or boring tracks for this compilation.  The inclusion of both "Bury Me an Angel" and "Silverwing" alone make the album worthwhile though, as they're the two best tracks from the band's early era.  Honestly, listen to those two tracks alone and tell me you didn't spend the rest of the day humming the chorus melodies to yourself.  Some of the straightfowards burners like "The Immortal" and "Demonic Science" are improved with the new, thicker production as well, and "Bridge of Destiny" is just epic as all get out as a closer.

But really, I have to address the elephant in the room, the question on nearly every old fan's mind; why was this album made?  The general consensus seems to be making a quick buck with little effort by rerecording old material, cashing in on their newfound fame that they didn't revel in quite as much when the band started off as little more than "the new band by that Carcass dude".  But in all honesty, my belief (and apparently the belief of the band as well) is that this was done because they loved the older songs, and a majority of the newer fans had no idea they existed.  I saw them live about five or six years ago, and the crowd (consisting mostly of teenage mallgoth kids and grrrl pwr! type drones) stood around looking confused when they played "Dark Insanity".  Let's face it, this isn't Gossgow's fault.  She was a fan of the early albums, that's why she tried out for the band when Liiva was kicked out, she loves singing these songs.  Michael and Christopher obviously want these songs they wrote in the 90s to continue being a part of the band's legacy, as evidenced by the fact that they keep playing them in the face of moronic fans who didn't know they existed before their current vocalist.  This was an album that the fans demanded simply by not knowing these songs were ever written.  I see it as the band throwing up their hands and saying "You know what?  Fuck you guys.  If you don't know these goddamn songs by now, we're going to make you know them".  This gives the band the satisfaction of being able to see a real response when they play early era classics, and gives new fans the pleasure of being given a selection of their best songs from the time before they had the vocalist that made them so visible in the first place.  In a way, it shows that the band was always legit, and they're not just trying to exploit the fact that they have a female vocalist and apparently no angsty teenager had ever seen that prior to 2001.  Plus they make that easy money and people like me who hated Liiva get to hear those great old songs with better vocals.  Everybody wins.

So at the end of the day, what we're left with is a fun and melodic album from a band who has been fervently boring the crap out of me for years.  This is a welcome change, even if they didn't actually write anything new.  New fans were introduced to the old classics, the band earned the ability to play the songs they love live again, and old fans either get a beefy reimagining of the songs they already enjoyed (like me) or a pointless cash in (like idiots).  The detractors have been pretty vocal about this album and for once, I have to side with the band making all the money.  The Root of All Evil is a killer album, and you should be ashamed for writing it off as a pointless cash-in.

RATING - 84%