Sunday, June 17, 2012

For Today - Breaker

Holy water swirlies, ahoy!

In my latest review for everybody's favorite lost symphonic brocore goons, Winds of Plague, I mentioned that I'm a pretty decent sized fan of Sioux City, Iowa's For Today.  Now, for some, this probably came as somewhat of a shock considering I'm such a refined beacon of extreme metal supremacy, one wouldn't necessarily assume by my chiseled good looks and flowing, Ross Dolan-esque locks that I have a taste for Christian tardcore.  Yet here I stand behind a band of extended earlobes clutching tightly to their rosaries while scolding me for getting boners.

Before I get to Breaker, allow me to address that the band is flawed on a conceptual level.  What I mean is that they aren't a band for the right reasons.  I realize the notion of correctness is a subjective concept, but when a band just up and admits in interviews that "we don't do this because we love music, we do this because we love God and we want to bring Him to everybody, to let everybody become one with Him" or something to that effect, I get a bad taste in my mouth.  By basically admitting that their music is nothing but a vehicle for their religious propaganda, they've rightly earned a fair bit of criticism by actual music fans from all sects of belief, because who the fuck does that?  Mercyful Fate had a grand ol' time singing about Satan and had a huge interest in the theological beliefs of satanism, but at the end of the day they were still there to make some great, ass kicking heavy metal and holy shit did they ever deliver.  Where For Today fails is that their music takes a back seat to their message, which admittedly earns them guaranteed fans (Christian metalcore runs rampant with the same circle-jerk back-patting that NSBM does, giving unearned praise to mediocre bands purely for having the "right" message) but harms the music at its core.

With all that said, Breaker is the album where it is harmed the least.  This IS just a vehicle, don't get me wrong, and while it isn't the '67 Corvette Stingray of Mercyful Fate, it's still akin to an '81 Pontiac Grand Prix with a ceiling that's falling off, bald tires, and a bum carburetor that's prone to stalling at odd times.  Yeah it's not the greatest thing out there but it's personal, it has character.  For Today writes functional music for the style, and it generally works well (there are some things about Ekklesia and Immortal that fail too hard for me though), and the whole package comes together the strongest on their 2010 effort, Breaker.  It's produced in a very typical, dry, metalcore way, but there isn't anything particularly wrong with it.  And if you really pick apart the songs, there's nothing entirely special about the way they're written.  They follow tried and true formulas, busting out the clean vocals and the breakdowns exactly when you expect them to, but there's an undefinable quality about the album itself that makes the unadventurousness seem bearable, even enjoyable at several moments.

For example, the first proper track, "Devastator", is probably my favorite metalcore song written in the last several years.  The buildup works magnificently, with the vocalist's strong declaration to Hell and how many wedgies he's going to give it, really feeling like a man possessed, pounding toms and a dissonant buzz perfectly complementing his anger and conviction, letting you know that some serious shit is about to go down.  And when it finally releases, it lives up to its own hype and just rips the place apart.  The middle section with the gang shouts of "TEAR IT TO THE GROUND!", culminating in a crushing breakdown pretty much sums up the entire album in a nutshell.  What this album undeniably does not lack, in any measure, no matter how prejudiced you are against the style or the ideology, is aggression.  For Today is fucking pissed about how many people have turned their backs on God, and how strong of an influence the Devil has in today's world, and on this album they just fucking explode.  Despite my earlier claims of the band clinging too tightly to their faith in order to write anything particularly creative, their passion seeps through in more than abundant enough quantities.  I feel the anger and frustration of the band, I feel how much they care for the greater good in the clean vocal passages, I feel how furious they are with the current state of affairs in the fast and technical sections, I feel how badly they want to punish who they perceive as wrongdoers in their... well, punishing breakdowns.  Tracks like "Seraphim" and "White Flag"  pull all of the qualities together in a frankly masterful fashion that I wish other non-musically motivated bands would take note of.  The extramusical qualities of the songs shine in a fashion nearly as strong as Strapping Young Lad's City, and that is one hell of a bold claim to make.

I can't ramble on forever since this, while being exceptionally passionate, is still metalcore.  Musically it's something you've heard a million times before and probably hated a million times harder than that.  But out of all those millions of things, nobody has really actually managed to make me buy in to what they were selling with quite as much conviction as For Today has.  The impressively technical percussion, the occasional melodic overtones, the skull stomping breakdowns, the emotional purity of the vocals, just everything comes together in a very well done whole.  The album suffers a bit from the running theme of whoever The Breaker is, as his poems serve as decent interludes and help split up the album into distinguishable acts, but the pieces themselves are kind of lame and passive.  Plus the album kind of peters out at the end, with the last set of proper songs being pretty inconsequential.  With all that said, and my admittedly bipolar praise/criticism of the album aside, if you ever find yourself with an itch for big, stupid brocore on a moral high horse, look no further than Breaker.

RATING - 77%

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Winds of Plague - Against the World

Goddammit WoP I will fucking stab you

I'm reviewing this one pretty much out of a sense of obligation at this point, since Decimate the Weak was an easy target that I reviewed mainly to make jokes and point out that the band really did have potential underneath the horrendous earlobecore elements.  Fate then conspired to bestow a physical copy of The Great Stone War upon me, which blew my mind by actually turning out to be a pretty decent album.  So a year or so later I hear they've released yet another album, this one with almost no hype behind it (there was a ton of hooplah behind DtW (which sucked) and almost none behind TGSW (which was okay)), so I figured maybe they had continued to improve upon their symphonic melodeath style they were playing around with on the previous album. 

You don't have to pick up your socks this time, this is just as atrocious as you thought it'd be.

I hate to harp on aesthetics, but one look at this album really should have given me a hint to drop my expectations back down to where they were after reviewing the first album.  The samurai that adorned the first two shitty albums (but not the good one) is back on the cover, front and center like he's always been.  The title alone could have told me that this was going to be an almost comical trainwreck.  Against the World.  Man if that doesn't sound like the creed of a wannabe hardcore kid who got yelled at for not taking out the trash, then I don't know what is.  The title, the blue tint, the actual artwork, just everything is a throwback to where they were before, and to the surprise of nobody except me apparently, that's exactly what happened.

I'll be the first to admit that I can get behind some retarded, chest beating brocore of the worst variety.  I love For Today, and they're a bunch of really pushy Christians who pretty much just break down and yell about how you're a shitty person for being human.  What Winds of Plague offers is a bunch of pushy douchebags who just break down and yell about how they DON'T RESPECT YOU 'CAUSE YOU GOT NO RESPECT AND WE DON'T RESPECT PEOPLE WHO DON'T RESPECT, RESPECT?!  People like to tear into Pantera for this goofy kind of primitive tree trunk pissing, but Pantera has got absolutely nothing on Winds of Plague.  The lyrical content of almost every song here consists of how awesome the vocalist and his crew are and how everybody else is a bunch of wannabe pussies who should stay out of their way.  I can handle stupid lyrics and attitudes I don't agree with, but my Christ WoP has got to be the worst at this.  Cook's yelling has actually gotten worse, shedding any tinge of metalness he may have previously carried, now being even more into the hardcore camp than he was before, yelling like Jasta and just as unintimidatingly.

Musically, basically all of the metal elements have been stripped away completely, and even the keys (their sole defining feature, mind you) take so much of a back seat that Rosa Parks would have to squint to see them.  There are a few strong metallic parts in a couple spots (most notably the first minute or so of "Strength to Dominate"), but otherwise this is brocore to the bone.  "One for the Buther", "Drop the Match", "Refined in the Fire", and most hilariously "California" showcase this expertly.  Gang shouts, rapping, one note slamdowns, it's all here in abundance, almost entirely devoid of the occasional blast beat or light key section the band used to chuck at the listener occasionally.  They've basically stopped playing the flip flop game and finally settled on one style to focus on.  Before, the songs would be irritating due to the nonsensical hopping between hardcore, melodeath, symphonic metal, and deathcore, but now they've decided to eliminate that problem by focusing solely on hardcore, which is a shame because they really suck at hardcore.  I mean really, one listen to "Drop the Match" or "California" should give so many kids flashbacks to their nu metal days, and this is supposed to be their tough, kick ass statement to the world. 

What makes this album extra irritating in comparison to it's predecessors is that their trademark "boring middle of the album" is even more boring and nondescript than previous albums.  I can basically tell you nothing about any songs between "Refined in the Fire" and "California".  They all just kinda happen, there's almost no creativity or standout songwriting (good or bad) on any of the five or so tracks in the middle.  The only reason the album picks up at all near the end is because "California" is such a hilariously poor attempt at a tough brocore anthem.  Seriously, I hate to quote a section of lyrics again, but:

Put yo' haaaands up!
Reach fo' the sky!
Do what I say or let the bullets fly!

That's just... so fucking stupid.  I can barely wrap my brain around that, it's just so unabashedly dumb.  I don't even want to comment on it further.  Just... LOOK AT IT.  Look at that lunacy, that dipshittery, that fudscullery.  I have to make up words to describe how stupid that is.  That stanza needs a helmet, seriously.

Now, despite being uninspired and stupid tardcore that I've spent the last several paragraphs raging against, observant readers and adoring fans of mine have probably realized by now that I actually awarded Against the World a higher score than Decimate the Weak, which I've implied isn't as terrible.  The thing is that while the quality here is consistently low, it's actually a better effort in my eyes because Winds of Plague actually know what they want to do this time.  Flopping around like a fish out of water between three or four styles that just do not mesh makes for a very irritating listen.  This, on the other hand, is consistently bad nu metal/hardcore crap but at least it doesn't keep changing it's mind every three seconds like a fussy child.  Winds of Plague are a bunch of dickbag fucknards for getting my hopes up with a decent album facing the right direction before unleasing this tattooed bumcore monstrosity upon my naive, sensitive, and non-stretched earlobes.  Stop toying with me you monsters.

RATING - 22%

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dying Fetus - Reign Supreme


This will be yet another short one, but the reason behind that is just DYING FETUS.  My brain has pretty much been pummeled to a pulp here, Reign Supreme ranks as the band's best offering since Stop at Nothing nearly a decade ago.  DYING FETUS.  Just FUCKING.  DYING FETUS.

Years ago, my buddy went to a show Dying Fetus was playing, I don't even think they were the headliner, but when he came back, for about two weeks the only words out of his mouth were DYING FETUS.  He'd try to explain how crushing they were, but he'd get like three words into a sentence before just yelling FUCKING DYING FETUS.  He was a fan before, but after witnessing them live he just broke, and that's currently what's happening to me right here.  Just, everything is right with this album.  Despite having a few tracks being obviously stronger than others, ("From Womb to Waste", "Second Skin", "In the Trenches", and "Revisionist Past" are my favorites), there are no dull spots.  Old school fans of the band should love this, as the aggression has been kicked up to a notch not seen in nine years, and while they aren't as prominent as they used to be, there is no shortage of the signature chugging sections and hardcore influences.  There's more blasting and traditional death metal riffing this time around as opposed to just flip flopping between sweepydoodling and neanderthal stomps, though both of those traits are here in force.  Reign Supreme basically took me by complete surprise and grabbed me by the balls in a way I had not found sexual since... well since Cannibal Corpse released Torture a few months ago, but still.... FUCKING DYING FETUS.

RATING - 94%