Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Axis of Perdition - Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital

I serve none but Korrok!

Now, clearly I'm just rushing out a Halloween themed review, but the question I'm sure many metal fans may be asking is "If you're such a huge King Diamond fan, why not post something he was involved in like Fatal Portrait or Melissa?  They both contain themes pertaining to Halloween".  Well hypothetical reader, you're right, King has a fascination with this holiday that celebrates the dark and macabre like no other.  But let's face it, though Halloween isn't really a "scary" day, in the days leading up to it, we all try to be scared.  Horror movie marathons, haunted houses, getting blackout drunk and trying to take home Big Rhonda, we all do things that we hope will scare us.  King is goofy as hell, I love him and you (should) love him too, but the dude embodies April Fool's Day more than Halloween.  And that's why I've chosen to review the British industrial/black/ambient creatures in The Axis of Perdition, namely their second album: Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital.

I'm going to veer off track really quick and explain my thoughts on what horror truly is, what it is that genuinely scares people.  Nobody is truly scared by slasher movies made post-1980, basically only  Halloween and Friday the 13th have any real sense of dread, every other slasher movie since then has all been about the spectacle (unless you count the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre from 1974 as a slasher flick, then there are three acceptable scary ones).  Haunted houses have a bit more emotional investment since you yourself are actually involved, but you know that you're just on rails and will be safe and sound in about a half hour, so there's no real suspense or danger about the people jumping out at you.  When it comes to film, it's the ones that focus on what you don't see that are truly terrifying.  The ones that build slowly and present a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere.  John Carpenter's The Thing is my favorite movie ever, and I maintain that nothing else has ever had such a perfect balance of claustrophobic, paranoid terror, and the disgust and grotesquery when things go downhill.  I can't explain what makes Takashi Miike's Audition so great without spoiling it for you, but trust me when I say you should watch it pronto.  Ju-On (what would be remade in America as The Grudge) was probably the last movie to truly scare the fuck out of me, and it's not even a good movie.  It builds up for 80-90 minutes with awful acting and bland characters and shit I just couldn't care less about, but the climax makes you realize how well everything came together, and concludes with such a harrowing final sequence that my breathing was noticeably accelerated when it ended.

And then we have videogames.  Yeah I realize it seems silly, but believe me when I say a videogame, when well done enough, can be the scariest fucking thing imaginable.  The good ones take the slow building, helpless, paranoid atmosphere of good horror films and adds the tension of haunted houses by placing you in control.  Yeah, you can turn the game off, but when you're invested and playing, you may not escape, you may not make it out alive.  One bad choice and you may find yourself face to face with your own mortality.  Most games pegged with "horror" are silly, as I'm sure many people think of the Resident Evil series, which is about as scary as a white sheet with eyes drawn on it, but you catch the right thing and you're in for some grade-A nightmare fuel.  Clocktower, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill, Amnesia, it's series like these that make you feel helpless and alone and terrified of a malevolent something that wants you dead.  Anybody who has ever played these games knows what I'm talking about.  Hell I haven't even been able to find the balls to play Fatal Frame without being surrounded by friends, that shit is soul-draining.

Why the long diversion?  Well part of it is because tangential tirades are as much a part of my shtick as food similes and toilet humor, and the other part of it is because The Axis of Perdition gets their inspiration from the darkest and most twisted of the aforementioned ways to scare the piss out of you, the Silent Hill series.  If you're one of those people who can easily be lost in the imagery that music can create, then I beg of you not to drop any acid or eat too much cheese before listening to Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital.  The band's cultural background of being from England seeps through as well, as anybody who watches Cracked After Hours like I do was recently reminded that English horror seems to center around urban environments.  That's what Deleted Scenes truly is, the horror and madness of a long dead and abandoned insane asylum, roving with malevolent apparitions whose sole purpose is to mindfuck you so hard that you give mindbirth.  To nightmares.

There is a strong black metal influence at first, but it seems to diminish as the album goes on, eventually ending more into unsettling ambiance.  "In the Hallway of Crawling Filth" is pretty much the perfect opener for this kind of experience.  Ten minutes of uncomfortable atmosphere, punctuated occasionally by the soulless, dead sound of insanity.  The drum machine works well here as opposed to being distracting like it normally would be.  The cold, dead sound really brings to life the lifelessness of the afterlife, if that deliberately confusing sentence makes any sense to anybody other than myself.  The old, long dead spirits have no empathy, and could not give less of a shit for your well being.  They are cold, dead, soulless beings that want to make you an ex-person yourself, and the frantic sound of the drum machine encapsulates that lifeless frenzy so much more than any warm, tonal human player ever could.  And even then, it is used very sparingly, only a handful of times on the album is there ever any real explosions of traditional music.  Most of the time it's the quiet sound of hooks swaying in the breeze, big steel doors being slammed shut, large, rusty generators churning for the first time in eons.  It is an industrial wasteland that houses horror yet unseen.  And as the album goes on, the frantic drum bursts and distorted screams of torture and dissonant guitars become less and less prominent, with the last big chunk of the album being predominately ambient.

What this creates is that terror of the unknown I mentioned earlier. It makes you anticipate horror behind every turn, but the more turns you take without finding that macabre wretchedness that you're expecting, the more it builds, the more it permeates into your very consciousness and tests the limits of your sanity.  This is what makes a jump scare work, it has to be earned and not just something popping up into frame accompanied by a loud orchestra sting.  It's a fear that embeds itself inside your very core.  And my favorite part is that in the last fifteen minutes or so of Deleted Scenes, there is precisely one loud part, and it's not even the end of the album.  That's what makes this stick with you like the slow building horror of Japanese films, even when the album is done, you still feel that anticipation, that cautiousness that behind this next door could be some other unspeakable Lovecraftian monstrosity.  The near constant white noise in the background of the entire 55 minute experience tests your sanity and loosens your grip on reality.  It shows a disconnect between the real world and this nightmarish realm you've stepped inside, and it's small touches like that that make this album work so well.  Moreso than anything else in this style, the background noises are really what make this so harrowing. The screams, the clicking, the creaking and moaning, the monologue in "One Day You will Understand Why", everything strikes just the right chords within you and puts you in this nightmare you've created for yourself.

Now with all of that said, this record is not perfect.  I find the metal parts really do distract the listener from the atmosphere of the ambiance at times.  The buildup is great and the release is wonderful, but I find it goes on for too long.  It does the right thing, it's not particularly fast or musical, it's more droning, dissonant chords and anguished moaning punctuated with hellish roaring which does keep the mood where it needs to be, but the quiet, ambient parts are just so much more effective that I wish the album was 95% entirely that.  "Entangled in Mannequin Limbs" jumps between the two styles too much to really let my mind take in the imagery, and it suffers for it.

But even with that quibble, I'd still highly recommend Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital, as it's probably one of the very few metal albums that actually conveys a sense of dread and terror, even if the metal parts themselves are the album's main downfall.  In a perfect world, this would be almost entirely ambient, consisting only of horrid noises and the occasional anguished cry from the depths of the unknown.  But as it stands, it still manages to depict a world of filth and decay populated by the restless dead who envy the living to the point of hatred.  I love the atmosphere, and the Silent Hill influence is rather strong when the imagery is at its best, and that alone is reason enough to give the album a listen.

Happy Halloween, kids!

RATING - 84%

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sigh - In Somniphobia

The most pretentious thing I've ever written. Hands down.

I'm going to spoil the ending right off the bat, I pegged In Somniphobia as my potential Album of the Year way back in March, and here, rolling near the end of October, it's only cemented its position in the lead spot.  I try not to spoil my year end list beforehand, but I see nothing dethroning this, the only albums that were even remotely close were also released very early on in the year, and they lack all the intangibles that make this album so special.  I was unfortunately not introduced to the magic that is Sigh until roughly 2009, so Hangman's Hymn, undoubtedly the best album released in 2007, was unfortunately snubbed of my album of the year, so it's only fitting that they come roaring back so powerfully five years later to easily usurp the top spot from my mystery #2 album (I need to keep some suspense, people!).

In Somniphobia finds itself continuing Sigh's unending theme of evolution, considering they haven't written anything resembling the same album since their inception.  If you held a gun to my head whilst simultaneously dangling me over a pool of sharks and forced me to choose the Sigh album this resembles the most, I'd say Imaginary Sonicscape (maybe it's just me, but (assuming you all know the band's naming formula) the "I" and "H" albums always seem to be the best) based on how "out there" it is and how many different ideas are thrown into the huge melting pot.  A huge majority of this album isn't even based in metal, instead opting for a weird, tripped out jazz style, complete with long psychedelic jams and a genuinely terrifying atmosphere.  Seriously, listen to tracks like "Amnesia" or "Somniphobia" or portions of "Equale" and then promptly tell Cynic and Atheist to fuck right off.  This is the purest mixture of jazz and metal I've ever heard, and as a result I have even more reason to hate Cynic, those uninteresting hacks.  Perhaps it is my own personal psychosis, but there are several sections of the album that remind me of mid-to-late nineties videogame music as well.  For example, I could swear "Ending Theme: Continuum" is straight out of Goldeneye, and the mechanical, background noises of "Somniphobia" bring to mind the darker areas of Donkey Kong 64.  Keep in mind that I know the band isn't actually paying respects to the City of the Ancients Theme from Final Fantasy VII, but the point is that there's a nostalgic quality to the album, even upon first listen.  An esoteric warmth of familiarity lying dormant underneath a harrowing, bleak surface.

Sigh has been pretty squarely detached from their black metal roots from as far back as Hail Horror Hail fifteen years ago, and what they exhibit now is a mad avant garde blend of traditional metal with hints of black metal and electronic ambiance and trip hop and jazz and orchestral suites and pretty much anything else you can think of that ponytailed and neckbearded psychology majors in Agalloch shirts claim to listen to by the fireside with a nice Merlot.  I really couldn't explain in words precisely what Sigh sounded like if you had a gun pointed at my son, they truly are the most unique metal band in the world today.  They get crapped on by people (numbskulls) who accuse them of being silly carnival music masquerading as metal, and I can see where that comes from to a point.  The instruments used can definitely be tied to more festive origins, and the climax of the album, the build and release and final chorus of "Equale", can definitely be pointed to if you were to make this accusation, but if you were to actually make this accusation you can be safely disregarded and ignored since you are clearly an idiot.  When the album isn't wandering off down the dark and twisted path, there is indeed an eerie jubilance to be found.  I'll touch on this a bit more in depth later, but despite the light guitar tone and major melodies scattered about, this album is nothing if not nightmarish and dark.  "Fall to the Thrall" is probably the most in-your-face example of the harm the album surely wishes upon you, as it is the most aggressive and pessimistic track on the record.  "Purgatorium" and "The Transfiguration Fear" are more hooky, and despite the more upfront presentation they are still rather layered, with different little things you'll catch each time you listen to it, while simultaneously being interesting the first time you hear it (a rarity when it comes to songs like that).  I also feel I have to point out that the only metallic song during the middle stretch of the album is "Amongst the Phantoms of Abandoned Tumbrils", which isn't very riff heavy regardless, instead focusing on a suffocatingly frantic atmosphere.  It reminds me a lot of "Salvation in Flame" from Hangman's Hymn.  I also adore the opening of "Equale", as it sounds like Weather Report went down the rabbit hole and landed face first in a puddle of LSD.  Despite the seemingly random assortment of shit I've been mentioning, Sigh manages to actually not be proggy, which is a great thing since the proggier the music, the less likely I am to like it.  Everything is progressive in the technical sense because it moves along and evolves naturally throughout the length of the song, but they're still songs, with an intended beginning, middle, and end.  Unconventional as they may be, they're still well thought out and executed perfectly.

I need to step back for a moment before I really delve in to why this album is so perfect and point out just one thing that should sell you on the album alone: "The Transfiguration Fear" is, bar none, without a doubt, 10000% positively the best metal song written since... my god since "The Oath" all the way back in 1984.  I'm dead serious, never in my life have I heard one song with so many ideas, so many unconventional quirks, and so much raw and unfettered brilliance contained in under five minutes.  Everything I love about Sigh and about music in general is showcased and presented in the best possible way.  The main theme repeated throughout hooks instantly and never lets go, and literally every melodic line layered over the frantic and bizarre trad metal inspired fire underneath is endlessly hummable and fits perfectly.  I never thought I'd use these next twenty words in a row, but when the band breaks down into the Cosmo Canyon theme, the keyboard to saxophone to guitar solo is fucking magical.  It transitions so smoothly and builds up masterfully to one of the most soulful guitar solos ever found in the genre.  In this one section, Shinichi proves once and for all that people who claim that you cannot inject soul or feeling when it comes to soloing in metal are batshit crazy and flat out wrong.  It's a stunningly beautiful trio, and I promise you I will never get over how masterfully the entire section is handled.  The almost childlike chorus of "End of torment coming / See the world, it's to disappear" is bone chillingly haunting and executed  flawlessly.  That's something this song does exquisitely well, the atmosphere is downright unsettling despite an air of levity.  What I mean is that the drums drive the song forward with a strong galloping pattern, and the melodies seem almost merry in a way.  The theme is sometimes accompanied by clapping and there are sections with an elongated whistle in the background, and despite all these qualities that would normally never be found in a dark and apocalyptic track, it never comes off as bouncy or lighthearted.  Instead, the visual I'm given is of a madman who has strapped you to a gurney and is happily whistling to himself as he lifts up and inspects each and every sharp instrument he plans on using to dissect you with.  I can clearly see his sharp, Kefka-like face and his Glasgow smile, gleefully inspecting you from behind a rusty scalpel.  This hypothetical madman, and more importantly this song itself, absolutely revels in the evil that it embodies.  It loves how dark and horrifying it truly is, and uses every trick in the book to make you feel uncomfortable, and makes you beg for more.  This atmosphere is conveyed perfectly and only helps to reinforce my claim of this being the best song written in nearly thirty years.  Just the way the song fades out with the cheery rhythmic clapping and the distant whistling of the main theme, punctuated by church bells... spine tingling.  You, as a fan of music in general, are selling yourself short by not listening to "The Transfiguration Fear".

Okay, now that I've spent over 530 words describing only one song, you're probably wondering "well is the rest of the album as good?".  Amazingly, yes.  Not one moment of In Somniphobia falls flat, all sixty four minutes are crammed with equally brilliant and terrifying ideas, and this is one of the few albums you experience more than you hear.  Now this is going to sound strange coming from a guy who typically likes his music to be on the fast side, and usually melodic (hence my love of thrash, power metal, and punk), but this record is paced perfectly.  I mean it, and that's including the half hour consisting only of spacey jazz jams in the middle.  We're initially started off with a barnburner in "Purgatorium", before being treated to the auditory equivalent of being told you won the lottery whilst mid-blowjob that is "The Transfiguration Fear", and then we're treated with what I assume is meant to be a long suite.  I say this because track three is labeled as an intro and track nine as an outro, thus bookending over 40 minutes of music, most of which therein being the slow jazz based stuff and strange noises.  I wish I could adequately describe what the fuck is happening for the majority of this record, but I can't, but I love it.  It's so unremittingly bleak and suffocatingly heavy in atmosphere.  The whole experience just oozes malice, from Mikannibal's deep growls to Mirai's harrowing rasp.  If you could extract a physical manifestation of dread out of In Somniphobia, you'd need an aircraft hangar to store all of it.  I realize I'm rambling like an idiot fanboy, just tossing around hollow descriptors left and right, but I promise you they're all true and fitting.  Plus I'd have to write a damn dissertation if I were to touch on every single aspect of what makes this album so flawless (I mean, Mirai is credited for twenty one different instruments, and a helpful "et cetera" on the end).  There's so much to find, it's a veritable treasure trove of mad genius, a tapestry woven of flesh and nightmares.

And that word there plays a large part of this album's tone; "nightmares".  The word "somniphobia" means "fear of sleep", and knowing that really helps make yourself vulnerable to the horror within.  Have you ever read the famous internet "true story" of the Russian Sleep Experiment?  If not, a quick summary is that during WWII, Russian scientists decided to test the effects of sleep deprivation on five captured German POWs.  They achieve this by locking them in an observation room and steadily pumping in a small amount of a gas that prevents them from sleeping.  After a short time, the POWs start acting strangely, and it is later discovered that they began mutilating themselves to preposterous extremes.  It is discovered that putting the men under for surgery instantly kills them, and the madness has made the pain pleasurable.  It leads to some disturbing imagery and an overall unsettling atmosphere.  It's a decent short story, but most importantly it really helps illustrate what In Somniphobia means to me.  The deprivation of sleep leads to utter madness, and the imagery wrenched from this album is that of slimy, nasty, soul shattering madness.  The thought is that sleep will kill you, and so against your sanity you must persevere through the terror you're inflicting upon yourself.  The juxtaposition of the lighter elements (the light melodies and childlike whistling and clapping, for example) furthers the idea that there is a form of peace in insanity, and invites you to leave what you know behind and instead fight for the unknown and unbalanced lunacy of what's inside your own mind.

And this is the big draw of the album, the main reason it's so perfect in my eyes.  It's the same reason I love HORSE the Band's The Mechanical Hand so much.  Nobody will experience In Somniphobia the same way as anybody else.  Yeah, we're all hearing the same music, but it means something else to each individual.  The Mechanical Hand strikes me as a huge, overarching concept album about the cycle of an unfortunate and mentally broken life.  Beginning with the childhood rage and confusion of "Birdo", continuing to the struggles of adolescence and early adulthood, the hypothetical narrator fights against his shortcomings and psychological trauma, eventually culminating in his mental collapse and early death, with the soothing, peaceful piano at the end of "The Black Hole" symbolizing his eventual peace in his tumultuous existence finally coming to a close.  The thing is, that album has no narrator, there are no lyrical themes connecting one song to the next, and my journey is undoubtedly not what the creators intended for listeners to take away from the album.  But that's what makes it so magical, that's what it means to me.  That is the connection I have to the music, and how I relate the stories told to my own life, all within my own imagination.  That's what makes The Mechanical Hand more than mere music, it makes it art.  In Somniphobia is the exact same thing, it's art.  What this album is to me, is being on your deathbed, mere minutes left in your existence, everything you'd done in your life is about to be rendered moot and nobody is there to share in your sorrow in your last moments.  What you experience in your last conscious moments awake are a series of twisted hallucinatory fever dreams and nightmares from your past, all flooding back to remind you that no person is perfect, and no matter what good you've accomplished in your life, you've caused and equal amount of harm and suffering and heartbreak.  In your last moments, you aren't who you used to be, you are instead broken down into fragments of what used to be a whole consciousness, now splintered and scattered across landscapes adorned with horrible, shameful memories and twisted, deplorable monsters.  In Somniphobia is a journey through those last moments to me, as evidenced by the occasional punctuation of what sounds like a flatlining heart monitor, and the closing lines of "I'm sorry, but I must go now...".  Was this Sigh's intent?  Most likely not, but that's why it's so gorgeous.  I'm not having my hand held through a linear narrative, Sigh doesn't paint picture for me to marvel at.  Instead they give me a gigantic canvas and all the materials they have and say "Now paint me a picture".  The sheer imagination is given vicariously to the listener, and is then allowed to project whatever twisted nightmares one can imagine on to your own psyche.  This is an album that you, the listener, write as you listen to it.  By experiencing and embarking on this journey, you have become the creator of your own nightmare, and In Somniphobia merely supplied you the tools.

It's the intangibles that make this album so beautiful, and that's why I could safely predict its position at the pole before the year was really even in full swing.  There is nothing I don't like about this album, everything from the pacing, to the atmosphere, to the driving songs and the laid back songs and the mindboggling songs, just everything about In Somniphobia was done not only correctly, but flawlessly.  I hope I don't appear to diminish the prestige by awarding my second 100% in just over a year, something I planned on doing as sparsely as possible, but anything less than the absolute highest marks would be an insult to the brilliance displayed by Sigh on their ninth full length album.  Buy this album, kiss it every night, make love to it, clean up after yourself, and thank Mirai and company for the best experience you've had listening to music since the day you were born.  In Somniphobia is, in a word, divine.  "The Transfiguration Fear" is again, the greatest song written in generations, and "Equale" is astoundingly not far behind.  For the love of everything, listen to it, I implore you.  How often do you see me fanboy out quite this hard?

This was easily the most pretentious review I've ever written, (and already usurped my Wintersun review as the longest one I've written by word count) but if any record earned it, it's this one.

RATING - 100%

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Brute Forcz - Out for Blood

And now for something completely different

Fuck suspense, I'm just going to blurt it out right now so nobody accidentally decides to buy this halfway through reading my opening paragraph.  This is probably the absolute WORST trad metal record I've ever heard.  I'm seriously flabbergasted at this album's very existence.  Just... everything about this album is bad.  No, that's giving the album too much credit.  It's not merely bad, it's transcendental.  Out for Blood epitomizes every cliche of bad 80s trad revival, not one terrible cliche is avoided.  At first I was simply upset that this was so bad, but when I decided to dig and do a little research in to the band (as their mere existence perplexed me so greatly) it became stunningly hilarious.  I don't normally do this, but I just have to in order for you, my faithful readers, to follow my journey into the void of musicality that is Brute Forcz... I present to you, one solitary interview:

There is so much gold in here that I could happily burn Fort Knox to the ground and not feel the slightest bit of shame.  Let's start off with the brains behind the band in the first place: the brothers.  These two sentient tubs of vanilla pudding are identical twins, Robb and Ronn Steel.  As if those (probably fake) names aren't stupid enough, they go by the stage names of Jammer and Slammer, respectively.  Holy crap, that makes them sound like a wrestling tag team duo.  Wait, what's that?  THEY ARE?  Oh man oh god oh man oh god, one thing at a time, BH, your heart can only take so much!

*downs bottle of Lanoxin*

Whew, okay, we'll set the rasslin' aside for the moment and start with the origins of this Brute Forcz.  According to the interview, the brothers wanted to start a band around the time they were near the end of high school.  They started an unnamed cover band (though I would have suggested The Tugboat Twins) with Jammer (the one with the stupider haircut) on bass and Slammer on drums.  They recruited some poor schlub on guitar and began looking for a vocalist.  From what I could make out between the wheezing and farting, Jammer claims they had one guy try out who said he could sing like Motorhead's "Killed by Death".  Tubby here, despite being in a metal band in the 80s, had apparently never heard of Motorhead because Motorhead is not a fried pastry.  After being introduced to music that didn't suck, Porky took the entirely wrong message and decided "Well those vocals sounded easy, I'll just do them then and we won't hire a singer, that way I'll have more money for pizza".  And thus his vocal technique of lazily grunting into the microphone like a slightly disinterested warthog was born.  These are without a doubt the worst vocals I've heard in the genre, bar none.  There is fucking zero effort here.  He's practically just talking in a gruff voice, never attempting to do anything even remotely resemble singing.  But hey, if Lemmy could do it, then so could this guy, right?!  He's succeeded marvelously at everything else he's done.

I need to pull away from the music for just a moment here to illustrate the other aspects of these guys' attitudes that just make this album all the more hilarious.  They say, straight up, that one of the reasons they loved wrestling so much when they did it, was that it was easy to manipulate interpretations and make yourself seem way more important than you actually were.  When asked who they've wrestled with, they say "Well we were on cards with Stone Cold and Diamond Dallas Page and... well see we never actually competed against them but we can say we wrestled with them and it technically isn't lying since we performed the same night".  They did fuck all worthwhile in this profession they were clearly nothing special at (I think other wrestlers complained that it was too hard to grapple with people who naturally excrete bacon grease), as evidenced by the fact that they were never in a featured match throughout their entire careers, and then they have the gall to be like "But we were totally in the same building as Mick Foley!".  And then (this is my favorite part of the whole interview apart from when the interviewer says he believes wrestling is real, to which the Bovine Bros challenge anybody to get in the ring with them), they go on to say that they became actors after they quit wrestling, and then gleefully tell the story of how they landed their biggest role, a bit part on Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill.  I'm only assuming they merely had a cameo, because A) if they act at the same caliber as they wrestle and play music, that's the best they're ever going to do and B) the day I watch Jack and Jill is the same day I dunk my head in a vat of sulfuric acid.  They tell of the audition, where there were tons of identical twins wandering around, looking like total pussies and having shitty attitudes (which is a hilarious complaint coming from Mr. My-band-is-groundbreakingly-unique-and-I'm-totally-BFFs-with-Kevin-Nash), and when it was their turn, they entered the room and were delighted to find both the director and Adam Sandler himself in the room.  They then tell about how they "cornered" them and "dominated everything" because "it isn't often you get the director AND the star pinned against the wall".  They say they had them rolling with laughter because they dominated the conversation, but I'm more inclined to believe that Sandler was trying to squirm away from the two voracious butterballs who mistook his stupid, square head for a giant can of baked beans because they hadn't eaten anything in twelve minutes.  Nevertheless, they got the part and spend a good chunk of time gloating about it.  Gloating about being in a post-Waterboy Adam Sandler movie is akin to gloating about being in a snuff film.

Anyway, that is the attitude that Jammer and Slammer have with their non-musical affairs.  Now how do they feel about their music?  Well their first demo was titled Kick Ass Heavy Metal so that's a clue.  Yeah, I'm not even kidding when I say that Jammer just casually throws out there that they didn't intend to have a completely original sound that nobody else has (pay no mind to the fact that the very first words out of the interviewer's mouth are about how all he can think about when listening to them is how much they remind him of Venom).  The only thing that fills this guy up is himself.  Are you fucking kidding me?  You don't sound like anybody else?  Dude you exemplify everything about the bottom-tier NWOBHM bands that disappeared because of how fucking pointlessly inconsequential they were.  I can't even think of any terrible bands they remind me of because they were all lost by time, instead I'm going to shame the names of legends by saying Out for Blood does indeed bear a striking resemblance to Welcome to Hell and British Steel.  But only in the absolutely worst possible way.  Imagine hearing "Welcome to Hell" for the first time and then immediately deciding you're going to start a band.  That's the only scenario I can imagine where you can honestly fucking believe that what you're doing is in any way original.  Christ even all ten songs on display here share the exact same two riffs (alternating between the "Welcome to Hell" riff and the "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" riff), I'm just so goddamn stunned at the ego on display here.  I mean, I tore into Jari Maenpaa really fucking hard over Time I, but at the very least I can't deny that the man has skill in certain areas.  He's a great guitar player and when he plays to his strengths he can write some splendorous music.  Jammer and Slammer couldn't write their way out of a haiku.

"Not to brag or anything, but everybody has told us they love our stuff... the greatest sound they've ever heard in a long time" Jammer brags, followed by a live humming bird flying out of his mouth mid-belch.  The interviewer then says that he loves how they're very straight ahead and in-your-face, "This isn't Yngwie Malmsteen, ya know, not like Ratt...".  Because fucking Ratt is definitely known as noodly thinking man's metal.  Jesus lord it's like being shat on by Snooki, these three douchehammers could not be any more vapid and stupid if they were bragging about how the only thing they know how to write about is sex.  Oh wait they do that too, but you already knew that, didn't you?  What kind of sex do these walruses even have?  Vaginas instinctively snap shut whenever they get within smelling distance of these dudes.  I don't think they could even get a vagina to reach their nether-regions, considering they have about three yards of excess jelly guarding their hairy banjos.  I think I got sidetracked, what the fuck was I talking about again?  Oh yeah, every song is about getting laid apparently, though I can assume "Torture Chamber" is the exception to the rule on this album, which is almost strange because it's probably the worst song here.  Yeah yeah, they're all turds that stink to different degrees so it doesn't really matter, and I couldn't point you towards the least stinky of all the turds if you had the Blubber Brothers staring hungrily at my nubile flesh.

Each and every track rides no more than one riff into the ground throughout their runtimes, and that one riff is probably stolen from Venom, Judas Priest, or WASP.  The band claims to have a huge Motorhead influence, but I think they're just confusing "influence" with "bands I like".  I'm at a loss to describe this, it's all so fucking boring and lame and shitty all at the same time.  This is the laziest album I've ever heard.  Every song consists of the same unimaginative riff with the same unimaginative drum beat in the back (Slammer can't play any faster because his bloodstream has been replaced with gravy), the vocals are the laziest, most half-assed and passionless grunt I've ever heard in all of my years of uninterested grunting, I want nothing to do with this album and I can't wait to publish this damn rant because the sooner I'm done with it, the sooner I no longer have to listen to this album.  I keep rambling on because I feel like I haven't described the music enough in relation to my rant on that hilariously bad interview and the attitude of the band members themselves, but in reality all you need to read is this paragraph.  It's lazy and shitty and full of itself, and if Brute Forcz can't put in even the slightest hint of effort into writing and performing their music, why should I follow suit by putting any further effort into this review?  Fuck you, Brute Forcz, Out for Blood sucks and you two are shitty people who should be ashamed of your fat selves.

The solos are cool though.


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Sword - Apocryphon

Hey, I defended you turds. Stop sucking

Okay, one superficial thing I want to get out of the way really quickly: I adore The Sword's album covers.  Seriously, they've gotten better and better since the debut.  Age of Winters's stained glass affair was cool but nothing particularly special, Gods of the Earth was adorned with a really striking painting that instantly made me want to hear the album (plus I have an affinity for album covers unblemished with band logos or album titles), Warp Riders was just a damn awesome throwback to OG sci-fi (and for a very stupid personal connection, it really reminded me of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read in grade school), and now with their fourth album, Apocryphon, it's just the essence of cool.  Look at that, the colors pop, the figure in the middle stands prominent, the ruins beneath are drab and scattered like dusty old toys, it's just very striking and sticks in your mind after the very first time you see it.

And sadly, that's about the extent of the praise I can give to Apocryphon.  The Sword made a huge splash with their first album, basically roaring from out of nowhere to make this huge mainstream presence with a style that is both incredibly easy to write and done to death, so they rightly earned a staunch number of non-fans right off the bat for their perceived posturing and media-friendliness.  Personally, I found Age of Winters to be a flawed gem.  The drumming style was intrusive and headache inducing, the lyrics were shallower than a petri dish, and the vocals sounded tired and lacking in passion, but the riffs where so memorable and fun and the songwriting was so devilishly catchy that I found it hard to hate the album despite the very valid complaints.  Now, I haven't reviewed the albums since then because I was never able to find much else to say that I hadn't said already about Age of Winters.  The Sword has been so focused on growing beards and trying to find different wordings of lyrics they'd already written that they forgot to write any new songs.  Gods of the Earth was an incredibly dull album, with maybe one track I remember liking at all, and even with that I can't quite remember the name of it ("Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzepherians" or something equally stupid), and Warp Riders, while at least being more energetic than its predecessor, still carried an overwhelmingly thick essence of deja vu and had very few standout tracks.  Well the fact that I didn't skip over this newest album shows promise, right?

Wrong.  This is the same problem that's been plaguing The Sword for six years now, they've done fuck all in the way of evolving since their inception.  Their genre on MA is split as "stoner/doom metal (early), stoner/heavy metal (later)", which blows my mind because their albums are all practically indistinguishable from one another.  It's a shame because I really did like that first album, but now essentially all the charm and charisma they had has been worn away with the overuse of ideas.  These riffs are on their thirtieth run through the grinder, it's time to give it a rest already, fellas.  Try something different, anything, I don't care.  Make a trip hop song, write a high octane ode to your fetishistic love of caramel apples, a ballad about poodles, just... anything other than another midpaced Sleep/High on Fire song about space or mythic gods.  It's so played out, we get it.  The lyrics still haven't improved from the amateurish slapdash style exhibited early on in their career, so it's essentially the same flawed album for the fourth straight time.

What makes flawed things valuable is their rarity.  Into the Unknown by Bad Religion is difficult to find and highly expensive because it's a strange album that is leagues away from what the otherwise consistent band has ever done.  The Yellow Goat Head Bathory LPs?  Every metal fan knows about those and the exorbitant prices collectors are willing to shell out on ebay for them.  I'm sure there's some misprinted "Bonus Vagner" baseball card in some dusty old bat's attic that Wayne Gretzky would be willing to pay another twelve quadrillion dollars for.  The thing is, if ol' Honus was misprinted on every single card produced that year, it wouldn't be a rare valuable, it'd be a defective batch of cards.  This fourth straight album full of the exact same ideas executed in the exact same way with the exact same shortcomings shows that The Sword is a defective band.  They lack the creativity and exuberance to write anything ear catching or worthwhile nowadays.  The shit drumming and agonizingly bad lyrics were more of just a funny quirk on Age of Winters, whereas since then they've been cemented as integral to the band's identity.  This is distracting and the one huge problem with the band overall, not just little nitpicky shit like a boring song here and there.  Their very existence has been rendered redundant by none other than the band themselves.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are indeed some things I enjoy about Apocryphon.  I think the closing title track is great.  Nearly every vibrant riff on the album (that the band used to sneeze out three times per track) seems to have been crammed into these five minutes, and I know it's weird but I love the silly little beep boop noises in the intro and bridge.  "Dying Earth" is probably the most energetic song on the album, with the highest tempo and most aggressive riffing, and it stands out because despite what the band aims for, I've always thought their fastest stuff was among their best ("Iron Swan" is doubtlessly the best track on the debut, for example).  And lastly "Hawks & Serpents" goes for more of a rock n' roll feel and benefits greatly from it.  Not only because it's something different from the low/mid tempo vaguely stonerish riffs we're normally treated to, but because the band is surprisingly pretty good at writing more rock oriented numbers.  It rides on no more than one main riff for most of the duration but it works very well and never gets grating.

But those are merely three tracks out of the ten on display, and the remaining seven are utterly forgettable in every way.  Those lyrics I complained about being amateurish and lazy are paradoxically inconsequential on this album, as I thought "Arcane Montane" and "The Hidden Masters" were instrumental the first two times I listened to this album.  They just blur by, nothing hooks you, nothing catches your attention, nothing fights for the spotlight, it's just one drab, grey mass of music buzzing past your ears.  Those two songs, by the way, are placed next to each other in the tracklist.  What's that tell you when two straight songs pass through my ears, barely measuring so much as an idle twitch from my... uhh, music receptors in my brain or whatever.  I can't even point out any particularly bad  moments on the album, all but the three tracks highlighted in the previous paragraph are completely lifeless and dull mid tempo stoner metal songs, that's all there really is to it.

It's honestly so much harder to review a mediocre or boring album than a truly bad one, and this is just so pointless of a record that I can barely justify ranting what I have.  I don't carry any vitriol for Apocryphon, I really don't, but I guarantee you that after I hit the "publish" button, I'll never be listening to it again.  Fans who have remained fans across the previous three records will adore this, as it's essentially Live Free or Age the Winterser with a Vengeance.  For non-fans, this won't sway you at all.  I can give the album at least a small bit of credit because there are a full three songs I like this time around, which is about as many from the previous two combined.  I really think The Sword needs to either drastically change up the writing process or take a break and work on side projects or something.  They need fresh ideas, or maybe an entirely new perspective.  The hipstery neckbearded drummer left, true, but clearly he wasn't the driving force behind the writing, because the replacement is nearly unidentifiable.  I wouldn't have noticed there was a new drummer had I not looked up their lineup to see if it was the same four chumps since the beginning.  That's a testament to what this album is, just another faceless replacement while they fund their prostitute habit.

RATING - 39%

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Arghoslent - Incorrigible Bigotry

Giving bumpity fucks about moral conundrums


I really, really hate the fact that I love this album.  I feel like a shitty person every time I headbang or air guitar, especially when I sing along.  For those who couldn't take a hint from a title as in-your-face as Incorrigible Bigotry or song titles like "Flogging the Cargo" or "Quelling the Simian Urge", Arghoslent is a very racially charged band.  They identify as racialist, which is different to plain ol' racism in the same way that fucking your half sister is different to incest.  You see, these poor misunderstood souls don't hate black people, they just believe that they're genetically inferior ape-men who should be seen as subhuman.  See?  That's so not the same thing, LEAVE POGROM A-LOW-HOOONE.   And yes, I'm well aware of the hypocrisy involved here because I always preach that the lyrics/message of the music shouldn't be a huge deciding factor of your enjoyment.  I see this all the time with religious/anti-religious themes.  There are people who won't touch anything with a Christian bent, which means they'll miss out on some awesome stuff like Woe of Tyrants, Trouble, and Tortured Conscience.  And then there are the Christians who won't get near anything satanic or just anti-theistic in general, which means they miss out of 70% of heavy metal.  My view is that it shouldn't really matter, because music is music and if you can make a connection to it, then it only enhances what you would normally like anyway, and if you disagree with it then oh well, your choice but you could be missing out on something great.

But Arghoslent?  Man this is a test of my resolve.  Social issues always light a fire in my belly, and here we have a band that I think are legitimately very good that stands for everything I don't.  Here I am supporting a band who not only writes songs like "Manacled Freightage" (not on this album, that one can be found on Hornets of the Pogrom), but also contributed to a compilation titled Smashing Rainbows, obviously supporting homophobia.  How can I consider myself a fan of a band who, regardless of whether for their genuine beliefs or just because they like to stir up shit, holds views so extraordinarily extreme and opposite to my own?  The frank answer is this; they are one of the only bands in this day and age to write riffs on par with Mercyful Fate in their heyday.


I know, that's a ludicrous claim to make.  Nobody can write riffs like Sherman and Denner.  Nuns Have No Fun, Melissa, and Don't Break the Oath are some of the greatest metal albums in all of history, and one of the reasons for the timelessness of those early '80s masterpieces is because the riff writing was and to this day still is unparalleled.  That main riff to "The Oath" is in my top two greatest riffs ever written.  Now currently there seems to be a small resurgence of Fate's sound seemingly centered around Sweden, with bands like In Solitude, Portrait, and (to a lesser extent) RAM.  Even with all of these bands attempting to recapture the magic of one of the greatest bands in the history of heavy metal, I still maintain that the band that comes the closest to reimagining those gorgeous riffs are a melodic death metal band from Virginia.

And right off the bat I make another confusing statement.  Yes, in the most literal sense, Arghoslent play melodic death metal.  There is a difference between melodeath (which is essentially crunchy Iron Maiden songs with growls on top (see: In Flames, At the Gates)) and death metal that is melodic (which is what it sounds like, death metal with melodious riffing (see: Vehemence)), and Arghoslent fall into the latter category.  Incorrigible Bigotry consists almost entirely of classic metal riffs put in the context of a death metal song.  For a good example, take a look at the opener, "Flogging the Cargo".  That verse riff couldn't be less death metal if it was played by Rainbow Bright and the Sugargina Brigade, but it's backed by a frantic blastbeat and layered underneath the hellish roar of the vocalist.  Essentially each and every note the guitars rip forth hearkens back to the mindset of bands raised on Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate, and it really helps set the band apart (in addition to the obvious reasons).  Honestly, I find it hard to deny the quality of the riff writing within the album.  Originally I was just going to list a few examples, but I'm really struggling to do so.  Literally every song barring maybe "Heirs to Perdition" is filled to the brim with top notch heavy metal riffs.  My personal favorites are probably the outro to "Quelling the Simian Urge" and the bridges to "Archaic Invincibility" and "The Purging Fires of War", with the lattermost song probably being the best on display.  The overall performance across the board comes off as rather sloppy at times as well, but it never works to the band's detriment for the same reason The Lord Weird Slough Feg's Twilight of the Idols is so enjoyable.  In fact Slough Feg is another good point of comparison for the composition as a whole.  Chaotic solos aside, the more midpaced sections (particularly "Archaic Invincibility") really bring to mind bands like Slough Feg and Brocas Helm.

The classic metal bent also gives the album an air of levity.  Despite the waves of vitriolic bile that the band belches forth with the lyrics, I can't help but find them to be rather sing-songy.  I know I've been quoting sections of lyrics an awful lot in my reviews lately, but again I just have to illustrate what makes this album so conflicting to me.  I'm going to assume (hope) you aren't a bigoted dipshit, so try to imagine this stanza:

Burying swords into emaciated ribs
Tired naked souls could no longer walk
Exotic filthy mongrel dogs
Fettered to failure by a flawed genome

Imagine that presented in a way that was simply irresistible to growl along with.  That morally confuses me as an obnoxious punkass who can't help but sing along and mimic instruments whenever listening to something vaguely resembling music.  Arghoslent is just damn good at making their music catchy, and I almost hate them for that.

That said, I'm not in love with everything about this album, it does indeed carry a few noticeable flaws.  The most obvious problem is presented precisely three seconds into the first song, and that is that the lead tone is obnoxiously bad.  It carries an almost visible buzz that ends up being very distracting whenever a lead line is playing, it's like dropping a beehive on a synthesizer.  The saddest part is that it isn't even all that different from the rest of the album.  Considering 90% of these riffs were more inspired by Hank Sherman than Bob Rusay, the band doesn't really aim for crunch.  Again, this makes the album's overall feel and sound quite distinguishable from most bands of their ilk.  Instead of a thick, crunchy, and beefy assault, the guitars are instead a very heavy kind of fuzz.  I'd call it "steel wool" if it wasn't so soft.  Yeah, the tone is about as sharp and heavy as a beach ball, and it does take away from what the band was trying to do.  The percussion also leaves a bit to be desired as well, as apart from maybe two filling segments in "Quelling the Simian Urge" and "Heirs to Perdition", he tends to alternate between three different beats and rarely changes it up.  Usually this wouldn't bother me too much, but when the guitars are so creative, I'd like to see the rest of the band step it up as well.  And if I'm being extra nitpicky, the tracklist could be tweaked a bit as well.  The first three songs are instantly recognizable with tons of standout parts between them, and the following four, while all very good, tend to blur into one bigger whole.  They all contain excellent parts that I'll hum and air guitar when I think nobody is looking, but I sometimes have trouble remembering precisely which song they came from.  Plus the album really could have benefit from ending on "The Purging Fires of War".  That song is just so damn huge and imposing, with that long bridge and monstrous buildup, if it were followed by any track other than "Quelling the Simian Urge", I'd probably quickly lose interest and go listen to the previous song again.  It's a great closer and I wish the band would have realized that as well.

All told, it's hard to describe at length what to expect with Incorrigible Bigotry because "classic metal riffs in a death metal context" pretty much sums up the whole experience.  I think it's incredibly well done and well paced and on the whole it's a very fun experience, despite the subject matter.  I don't want to play the "Open Minded" card to justify why I like this album so much, but the beliefs are a huge part of what makes this band, so it can definitely be hard to get past.  If you can though, it's chock full of excellent Mercyful Fate styled riffs and unstoppably catchy songs.

RATING - 82%

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wintersun - Time I

Album of Time and Ego

Well this is it, kids.  The big one, the one you've all been waiting with bated breath for nearly a decade for.  Jari Maenpaa's alleged masterpiece, the one and mighty Time.  After leaving Ensiferum at the height of their popularity to focus full time on his baby, Wintersun, Jari has spent presumably all of his free time obsessively crafting this masterwork, this ode to the gods of music, this sonic journey through time and stars and snow.  Tours were canceled, tentative release dates kept on being pushed back or passing by with nary a fart noise coming from Jari's general direction.  This was poised to be his Use Your Illusion.  He has a monumentally successful debut and then spends the next couple years being a reclusive perfectionist while meticulously nitpicking and perfecting his complex vision.  I mean really, he describes the music as "Extreme Majestic Technical Epic Melodic Metal", which sounds like some ridiculous shit I would make up in order to make fun of it.  Really, look at that profoundly superfluous descriptor and try to imagine what the fuck Wintersun sounds like.  Clearly this is the work of a mad genius, the musical equivalent of Nikola Tesla for the new millennium.

Now Time is finally, for realsies out and finished, and to the shock of precisely nobody, it's a goddamn insult.

Eight years.  Think about that, think about everything that's happened in those eight years.  The Chicago Blackhawks went from perennial whipping boys to Stanley Cup champions, Saddam, Gaddafi, and bin Laden were all killed, a black man became president of the United States, MutantClannfear lived more than half of his life, and Fall Out Boy's entire career happened.  In all of this time, Jari assured us he was slaving away, doing his absolute damnedest to make sure he was getting his creation just perfect for all of us.  This dude was acting like goddamn Howard Hughes, except he managed to skip straight to the piss-drinking insanity stage.  There are apparently something preposterous like 100+ tracks on each song, the hypothetical tape would be fucking transparent if this weren't all digital.  The problem is that he thinks he can be Queen here, and just capture this huge journey and set it to music that's as complex as it is accessible, that's as bombastic as it is grounded.  If Jari Maenpaa is Queen, then I'm Roger Ebert.

I could make stupid metaphors and similes until the goddamned sun implodes if left unchecked (I even passed on my overdone picnic analogy!  Go me!), so I'm going to attempt to rein myself in here and explain why Time I is so offensive.  And really, a huge component is the ratio of sheer amount of time it took to complete to the actual amount of content we got as a result.  I can't get over the fact that after eight years of waiting, the band is actually going to play the Darelle Revis card and hold out on us after proving themselves precisely once.  Wintersun's self titled debut is for some utterly perplexing reason heralded as a beacon of metal songwriting despite containing precisely two good songs followed by what feels like ten hours of Jari jerking off to pictures of himself.  Based on that, fans have waiting patiently for enough time for a Great Dane to live its entire life for the follow up, and when that day finally, finally came, we were only given half of the final product.  What kind of bullshit turd dicking move is that?  After all this goddamn time, you expect me to lap up five measly tracks, only breaking the forty minute mark because the last song has three minutes of an unrelated instrumental transition track tacked on to the back of it and then promise me that the second half will be out soon?  Bitch your word is worth about as much as the Hungarian pengo, I'll have kids in grade school by the time the second half of this album sees the light of day if your track record is anything to go by.  Because hey kids, here's some random trivia you've all seemed to have forgotten, the first handful of songs written for the first Wintersun album were written... *drum roll* eight fucking years before the album was released.  This obnoxious waiting period is nothing new for the band, Jari takes his sweet time when writing music.  But hey, let's pretend for the sake of keeping this review on track, that Time II comes out within a month, does it still justify the piddly bullshit we have here for Time I?

Of course not, I'd be cursing a whole shitbucket less if that were the case.  The problem with this is that the preposterous waiting period doesn't show at all.  At no point is there anything complex enough, or well thought out enough, or executed strongly enough for me to believe that two high school careers were spent honing it to perfection.  Now don't get me wrong, this isn't a sloppy mess that sounds thrown together in the eleventh hour, clearly every moment was meticulously planned and orchestrated from the beginning, but it's all so mind-numbingly average that it becomes something worse entirely.  I feel like the problem here is that Jari simply thinks he's much more clever than he actually is, so he spends an eternity putting together this masterpiece that turns out to be something Rhapsody could have sneezed out in between their cruddy albums in the mid 00s. Did anybody truly expect this to be life affirmingly great?  Of course not, in fact I actually expected the music itself to be much worse than it actually is.  I won't deny for one second that the music is well performed and actually showcases some very diverse dynamics, which is a complete rarity for anything within the confines of metal nowadays.

The first two tracks rank somewhere between "very good" and "surprisingly great", and are paced masterfully.  This is a massive improvement from the self titled, which was paced like somebody sneezing and then watching their phlegm drip down a wall.  The songs there were arranged from shortest to longest, which I suspect was an effort to make the album feel more and more epic with each new piece, but instead made it feel longer and longer each time and really hammered home just how glacial and dull the album truly was.  Instead of blowing his wad early and then spending the next 45 minutes silently sobbing into his pillow, Jari instead actually builds up anticipation and releases it in a scarily brilliant fashion.  "When Time Fades Away" ranks as one of my favorite intro tracks of the past decade or so, to be entirely honest with you.  It's merely an intro and it's quite lengthy as far as instrumental intros go, but the fact that it slowly builds up energy across a very palatable melody just works in such a strikingly beautiful way.  There's also a personal bias because ever since playing the old Playstation game, Tenchu, I've had an almost fetishistic affinity for traditional Japanese music.  I fucking love the twang of the shamisen and the pleasant coo of the whistles, and so the prominent Eastern influence is a huge plus, and something that actually managed to assuage my seething fury at the relative brevity of the album itself upon first listen.  The first proper song, "Sons of Winter and Stars", actually starts so smoothly that you can barely hear the transition between the intro if you aren't paying close attention, as it starts off with roughly thirty seconds of even more traditional Japanese music.  It paints this vivid picture of a dimension spanning journey the listener is about to embark on, and bewilderingly enough it actually manages to deliver on this promise in the beginning.  I touched on the dynamics earlier, and while I was slightly facetious about their quality (I do find the two extremes to be akin to Raiders of the Lost Ark in that the quiet parts are too quiet and the loud parts are too loud, and such ends up being distracting), it is nice to hear such thought and care put into the lesser aspects of the music.  Despite the soul-melting length of the track (over thirteen and a half minutes) and an extended quiet passage in the middle, "Sons of Winter and Stars" manages to not get dull.  The fast and bombastic parts are full of pomp and vigor, and as I've stated oodles of times in the past, that is when Jari is at his best.  It builds to no less than two very satisfying and well executed climaxes that end up being very depressing in the grand scheme of things.  That release of "Embrace the STAAAAAAAHS" is skin tinglingly great.  This is what most people were expecting this album to sound like, and for the first quarter of the alleged full product, it actually does live up to the stupidly high expectations that I certainly did not have.

It's only afterwards that the album falls into the rut that I just fucking knew it would fall into.  "Land of Snow and Sorrow" (can you tell that he names his songs with Wintersun ad-libs?) pulls the dragchute and spends the entirety of its duration just trudging along like a lost (and not adorable) puppy.  Listen to that opening guitar line and tell me that he really needed eight shit spackling years to tweak that to perfection.  It's a lazy, plodding, dull and uninteresting riff that just drives the exciting energy that the previous track just spent a quarter of an hour building up straight into the mud.  The orchestrations that build around it are uninspired and predictable, and the pace never picks back up.  Over eight minutes are spent on this lifeless, meandering snoozefest that never once ever attempts an epic moment.  That pan-dimensional journey the album was alluding that we'd embark on?  Yeah, this is where Jari just puts the controls on autopilot and fucks off to go eat some potato chips.  Nothing happens, the riffs just plod on like a dozy elephant and the symphonics just kind of diddle around with their own thing, just being wispy off in the atmosphere.  Imagine a version of "Sleeping Stars" from the previous album that's almost twice as long (while feeling twice as long as that, added on) with even less going on within the song.  I can't get over how intensely boring the song is, this is why the album is so offensive to me.  This is what we'd been waiting for?  Where was the brilliance we saw in that opener?  You're only going to present us with half of your vision, and as an added slap in the face, this dull pit of tripe is part of that?  This didn't take you eight years to write, this probably didn't even take eight hours.  This is insulting, and any fans lapping this up like good little minions are simply lying to themselves if you can find anything approaching good songwriting within.  Go jump off the highest point of your house and land face first on something pointy.

The "album" rounds out with another interlude-full song combo, and this one holds nary a percentage of the vigorous ambition of the first set.  "Darkness and Frost" (Seriously?  What are some of the tracks on the second part of this bloated turd going to be called?  "Stars of Snow and Darkness"?  "Winter of Stars and Time"?  "Starless Winter Darkness"?) is yet another competent Japanese influenced instrumental, though wholly lacking in the vibrancy and splendor of "When Time Fades Away", and builds up into the drudgery that is the title track.  "Time" is yet another dull, spiteful exercise in how to show your patient fans naught but utter contempt.  I could just copy and past my entire diatribe on "Land of Snow and Sorrow" here and the description would be just as apt.  The main difference is that "Time" is based around a higher tempo and contains one of Jari's patented shredding solos, and even that ends up sounding lame and forced.  I wasn't expecting another "Winter Madness", because that would be asking for the moon on a stick, but something a little more inspired than a warmup exercise would be mightily welcomed.  The clean vocals come off as tired and obligatory, the strings are dull and inconsequential, the drummer is so pointless that he might as well not get any royalties from the album sales.  There is a psyche-out buildup that leads to a loud orchestral part that somehow ends up sounding much less exuberant than the brilliance shown on "Sons of Winter and Stars", which I will continue to hold as the stick by which this entire experience should be measured by.  The song is truly only roughy nine minutes long, but in order to breach the forty minute mark, what was clearly intended to be another standalone interlude was tacked on to the end in order to juuuuust push it over the mark.  It's this kind of underhanded trickery that further fuels my virulent hatred of what this album stands for, which is a monumental lack of inspiration being mislabeled as visionary and consequently spoon fed to loyal fans as the answer to their prayers.  And then fence sitters and vocal detractors like myself are also expected to hear an unheard of brilliance within Time and, if not promptly switch sides for the cheerleader, to at the very least understand what the die hard fans have been chomping at the bit about.

Frankly, NO.  This is overblown yet still undercooked.  There's a lot of presentation with no flair.  And apart from one example of Jari's flukey genius, the other two thirds of the album's content is watered down nonsense with no appeal.  If you like this droning, plodding nonsense with weak symphonics, then by all means you'll eat this like candy.  I wasn't expecting this to be as fast paced as I prefer Jari to be ("Beyond the Dark Sun" and "Winter Madness" are legitimately great songs from the previous album, and are unironically the fastest and most to-the-throat songs on the album), but I wasn't expecting it to mirror the new Ensiferum album.  Yeah I said it.  This is akin to freakin' Unsung Heroes.  Both albums revel in the dull half of the early dichotomy that exemplified Jari's songwriting style on the first two Ensiferum albums.  Time I spends a majority of the album on the slow side, and just like the slow half of the first Ensiferum album, it's fucking bloated and boring, and with the extramusical qualities being taken into account, it's an insult to those who've been waiting.  Keep in mind, I'm not even a fan of Wintersun for the most part, so imagine how pissed off I'd be if I was given this dull, glorified EP as a reward for eight fucking years of faithful patience in the face of seemingly dogged contempt towards me.

I compared this to Use Your Illusion earlier, based solely on the fact that the main songwriter became a screwy and reclusive perfectionist after one monstrously popular album, but the ratio of time taken to complete to utter disappointment ranks closer to Chinese Democracy.  If you, as a fan, don't mind having your face spat in as long as you finally get to hear some new Wintersun material, then fine, go running back to your abusive ex, crying about how you still love him and you know he's sorry.  For me?  Fuck that, this is offensive to me on both a musical and non-musical level.  The second half of this album better A) come out very, very soon and B) contain some of the most stellar material I've ever heard as an avid listener of epic metal, because what we've been given with Time I is fucking insulting.

RATING - 28%

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reinxeed - Higher

Disney metal

Tommy Johansson's melodic flower metal project, Reinxeed, has proven themselves rather prolific ever since their debut, The Light, in 2008.  Not one year has gone by since without a Reinxeed release, and in my eyes they've improved on each record for the most part.  2012's love letter to Hollywood cinema, Welcome to the Theater, ranks as the album with the most identity (somewhat ironic since each track is its own smaller, meta-love letter to a particular film), but there's an unquantifiable charm within their second (kinda first) album, Higher.

See, Reinxeed started off as a solo project for the creepy human china doll that calls himself Tommy Johansson, after apparently years of covering ABBA and breakfast cereal jingles.  Apparently realizing that you can't quite become a successful live act with such a setlist, he assembled a full band after one album and has since stuck with the format.  2009's Higher is the first album with the full lineup, and the question is does it really show?  I'm not going to give you a chance to answer and I'll just tell you that no, it doesn't.  This is still entirely Tommy's band, and the dearth in variety really highlights the fact that this is all coming from one (questionably human) mind.  Each and every track is full of soaring keys, perpetual double bass, cliched straight sixteenth riffs, and the cleanest, most sugary voice this side of the Baltic Sea.  Reinxeed's brand of flower metal is insanely intoxicating, it's more fun than a barrel of disembodied boobs.  Higher is about as edgy as a bouncy ball and as clean as a hospital floor.  This is easily the cleanest album/band I've laid ears upon in ages, and the syrupy vocals are the icing on the cake.  This is flower metal of the floweriest kind, for the floweriest fan.  Lucky for me, I wear tulips in my hair and cry during Glee.

Where the album fails is in having much that warrants repeated listens.  The vocal acrobatics on "Dragonfly" and "Star Shine" and such are really, really cool, and I popped an audible boner when the bridge of "Reality" lifted the main theme from Jurassic Park (seriously), but that's about it.  As much as I enjoy this album, it's about as memorable as what you ate for dinner two weeks ago.  The whole experience blurs by fifty minutes and then it's over, leaving you laying there unsatisfied despite the duration.  There's a whole paint-by-numbers feeling to Higher that keeps it from reaching the upper echelons of flower metal inhabited by Rhapsody, Athena, and Timeless Miracle.  Basically it feels like nobody went the extra mile for songwriting, instead opting to put all of the effort solely into hitting glass shattering high notes.  I would sacrifice a whole rucksack full of puppies to be able to hit the notes Johansson can hit with apparent ease, it's very impressive.  But unfortunately his saccharine wail is the only impressive thing you'll find on Higher.  One song lifted from Beauty and the Beast ("Light of the World") isn't enough to inject any semblance of variety into the album, and it suffers for it. 

Overall check it for "Reality", which I will maintain from now until the end of my life contains the most awesome portion of stolen music in power metal history, but otherwise there isn't much to see unless you're hells_unicorn or something.  For fans of the genre, it's worth picking up, but otherwise you aren't missing much.

RATING - 63%

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bride - Live to Die

They've been shipRIIGH-HIGH

According to their page on the Metal Archives, Louisville, Kentucky's Bride has enjoyed a long and illustrious career, beginning in the early 80s as Matrix before changing their name in 86. They've apparently explored a variety of styles including rocking heavy metal in the vein of mid-era Judas Priest, blues rock, and even mallcore.  But from what I can gather via internet buzz and fans of the band, everybody promptly stopped caring about the band sometime around when the 80s ended.  One of the band's major defining features is their heavy Christian bent in their lyrics and personal beliefs, which frankly I don't think should mean a damn thing, but has of course made them a target for both sides of the equation.  There is a small contingent of metal fans lining up to suck any band's dick as long as they sing about the right things, whereas the majority refuse to even piss in the same washroom with them.  And I'll be the first to admit, the Christian connection is the only reason I'd ever heard of Bride in the first place.

With that expository nonsense out of the way, I'm sure most of you handsome and clever folks realized that this album was released in 1988, firmly during the time when the band seemed to have some clout and before they strayed away from heavy metal.  This works out well, as I can safely say that Bride rocks very, very hard.  With that whole Christian elephant in the room, I'm sure they probably get compared to the dorky dorks in the crappy dorky Stryper band a lot, but Bride are really on an entirely different echelon of performance and songwriting than those spandex clad dork dorkers.  Bride's brand of distinctly dated metal showcased on Live to Die recalls albums like British Steel and Inside the Electric Circus, meaning it has an underlying essence of sleaze whilst remaining firmly hard rocking and very clearly a product of the 80s.  The production is very indicative of the time period as well, with the slightly reverbed vocals and sharp guitars (which perform some excellent trad metal theatrics, by the way).

But to me, the main draw of this band is Dale Thompson.  This man sings like how Zakk Wylde plays guitar.  He throws in these nut shatteringly cool falsettos at every viable moment, and nearly 50% of all non-viable moments as well.  He spends all of his time behind the mic solidly giving a negative amount of fucks, there's such an attitude on display that I can't help but completely adore.  His "main" vocal style is this mid range snarl that brings to mind Rob Halford's mid range moments, and the brilliance in his performance lies in the fact that he interjects this with an earth fissuringly awesome wail as often as he can.  I can't stress enough how goddamned great his shriek is, it's high pitched, fucking powerful, throaty, and full of strong vibrato.  Best of all you can hear in his voice that he is loving where he is.  The band is obviously serious about what they're doing, but he's clearly having a blast, and that added childlike enthusiasm adds so much to the charm of the unchained performance.  I seriously can't get over them, quit reading my review and go find a way to get your hands on this album, the vocal performance is so lacking in restraint but manages to be so super cool that it doesn't matter in the slightest.  Imagine Warrel Dane from the first Sanctuary album, except every song is either "Battle Angels" or "Termination Force".

The songwriting also manages to stand out in its own way, though obviously taking a back seat to the manic vocal performance.  There's a nice variety on display, with fist pumping anthems like "Hell No" and "In the Dark", to fast, speed metal monsters like "Here Comes the Bride" and "Live to Die", to half ballad rockers like "Out for Blood" and "Heroes".  I get a vibe recalling Jag Panzer, 80s era Priest, and early W.A.S.P. from Live to Die, and as anybody with half of a functioning brain knows, that's certainly a great thing.  Everybody has a pet band or album that ended up being completely lost in the flood of any particular genre (like how Timeghoul and Vomit Sodomy was overlooked during the extreme metal boom in the 90s) that they use the internet to pimp the hell out of twenty years later, and tonight it's Bride's turn.  Fans of 80s heavy metal owe it to themselves to give a listen to "Hell No" and "Here Comes the Bride" at the very least.  Very, very entertaining release with one of the most fun vocal performances I've heard in eons.

RATING - 83%

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fields of Elysium - Capax Universi

Butthole dissonance

I admit, my distaste towards the new Fields of Elysium EP, Capax Universi, may entirely be naught more than personal bias.  I've addressed before in previous reviews that I love metal when taken to some sort of extreme, like I'm some sort of audial thrillseeker who will relentlessly masturbate to whatever I'm listening to as long as it's shitnards bonkers in some way.  It's what I told myself when I started getting in to funeral doom and drone.  I liked Wormphlegm because they took the concept of slow, crushing, suffocating heaviness to an extreme that nobody else had at that point.  I liked Dragonforce because they cast the notion of restraint right into the ocean and spent six minutes engaging in dueling shred solos.  It all made sense until I really started to dissect bands like Brain Drill.  There was a divide in modern tech death, and I could never fully quantify what it was that separated the bands I liked from the bands I didn't.  Now, as the years have passed, I can point to records like Capax Universi and tell you exactly why they suck.

Basically what it is is that I've further refined my taste of extreme music.  I like my metal extreme and ridiculous, as long as it stays grounded in a cohesive set of ideas.  This makes it all make sense to me.  Dragonforce's first few albums are barely contained tap frenzies, but they're within the confines of a real song.  Wormphlegm is ridiculously slow and obnoxiously thick, but there's a greater idea at work, and a brutal atmosphere that most bands can never dream of touching.  Decrepit Birth has a stunning ear for melody, Children of Bodom's early albums were collections of fun tunes, even Duke Lion Fights the Terror!! is a concept album telling a story of some sort.  Every example of a band taking an idea to a crazy extreme that I actually like is still grounded in the idea of writing music that's enjoyable to listen to.  Bands that are over-the-top nuts that I don't like all sound like a collection of unrelated jazz exercises being played simultaneously.  Fields of Elysium has joined the ranks of Brain Drill, Beneath the Massacre, Rings of Saturn, and Viraemia.  The difference is that Fields of Elysium holds the distinction of reveling in dissonance far, far more than their peers.

There isn't one melodic line throughout this entire twentysomething minute endeavor, there isn't one note resembling any portion of a real riff, there's pretty much nothing to hook your attention and want to keep listening.  It honestly, actively annoys the hell out of me to listen to.  I'm finding myself reminded of what I wrote on Behold the Arctopus roughly three years ago, with the strong resemblance to Dillinger Escape Plan and the glorious lack of any kind of structure.  Capax Universi is essentially five pieces of freeform jazz as performed by Iniquity.  There are vocals that are surprisingly deep and powerful that would be much better suited for a much meatier band, but instead they are backed by constant short upsweeps that stop after ascending the scale once, wait a second, and then repeat the process in a different location.  This is how every minute of every song is constructed.  Short stop-start dissonant sweeps and drums that play rhythm like Kerry King plays solos.  Occasionally there's an acoustic passage with some tripped out synth in the background, but the stringed instruments are still doing their spider fingers thing so it doesn't do a whole lot to break up the monotony.  Basically just the vocals stop, the distortion turns off, and some backing swells are added but the rest of the band keeps playing the same shit they've been playing the whole time. 

This kind of music is incredibly fucking dull and Fields of Elysium has done nothing to change my perception of this particular niche in modern tech death.  Maybe I'm a square who sucks up to authority, but there needs to be at least some minute semblance of structure or else the entire album just falls apart in a mess of unrelated dweedledeedwoops and rakkatektektekteks that never coalesce into something thoughtful.  Perhaps the appeal in this style is the completely unrestrained nature and complete disregard of convention.  Maybe there's something daring to be said about a band who can write an album full of songs that don't share any overlapping notes yet still somehow sound exactly the same.  Is there a mad genius to be found underneath the frenzied mayhem?  Is there beauty in not confining music to any cell, allowing it to wander free across plains, uncaring where it goes or how it gets there, shunning all rigidity in favor of unadulterated, braless splendor?

No.  It's fucking stupid and it sounds like shit and you should be ashamed for liking it.  Get off my lawn!

RATING - 21%

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cemetery Lust - Screams of the Violated

Pleasure to ReKreate

I've gone on record before claiming my main problem with the black/thrash subgenre is that there's typically little more to it than just molesting Kreator over and over again, and I still stand by that.  The title of "black/thrash" is such an egregious misnomer for this niche sound that I really think that we as a metal community need to rename it.  How many of these bands actually have any semblance of black metal in their music?  There are raspy vocals and harsh production and the occasional blast beat here and there but for the most part this style is thrash through and through.  Bands like Witchaven, Black Fast, Hellcannon, Ketzer, and the subject of this review, Cemetery Lust, all exemplify this problem.  Screams of the Violated here is essentially the twelve quadrillionth reimagining of Kreator's seminal classic, Pleasure to Kill, and I knew this going in based entirely on the aesthetics of the album.  But with that said, this is still rather enjoyable for fans of the style, or fans of extreme metal in general.

Squid Nasty and Nasty Nate's riffing is exemplified pretty well by their own names: nasty and repetitive.  There's very little variety on display here, with all but one track, "Black Angels of Hell", consisting of almost nothing but lightning fast buzzsaw riffs that were already written twenty five years ago.  That said, the energy put in by the band coupled with the excellently raw production make these riffs sharp and vicious as opposed to dry and tired.  This type of sound is perfect for the style if you ask me, it's rough and dirty but no instrument is compromised due to poor recording.  This is going to shock you, surely, but the vocals are reminiscent of Mille Petrozza.  It sucks that I can't think of any point of comparison other than Kreator, but really, give this a listen and you'll understand.  This is Pleasure to Kill worship and little else.  The strange part about all of this is that it's good.

For real, this album is preposterously infectious.  Despite (or perhaps because of) the riffs being so cliche, they are instantly hooky and lasting.  This album doesn't have a whole lot working for it in terms of originality, obviously (I've compared this to Kreator... what, twenty seven times already?), but it makes up for it with energy and songwriting.  It's a cavalcade of cliches, but it's put together rather well.  Fans of pretty much any band I've named dropped here will find something to love.  The band dubs their style "Rape Thrash", which I was hoping to make jokes about, but the unoriginality sapped my joke-making ability and the sheer ferociousness simply broke my brain.  "Black Angels of Hell" is bookended by two slower, doomier segments, but the rest of the album is vicious to the core, with highlight tracks being "Resurrected Whore", "Night of the Creep", and "Perverted Aggressor".

RATING - 79%