Thursday, May 30, 2013

Megadeth - Super Collider


Usually when I talk about Megadave, I typically talk about how they're Metallica Jr, how bewilderingly overrated Endgame is, how damn close to perfect Rust in Peace is, things of that sort.  I have the same few sticking points that I seem to harp on whenever the band is brought up, it's a definite flaw that I certainly acknowledge.  So what am I going to harp on today?  Why, how clear it is that Dave Mustaine has lost his goddamn mind, of course.

The series of events leading up to this has been nothing short of a surreal, yet hysterically apt look into the mind of Dave Mustaine.  We all know about how strong his political beliefs are and how staunchly libertarian he is, but that's not what makes him crazy.  There are plenty of normally well adjusted people who believe in their political leanings so strongly that they're willing to say crazy shit to make a point.  I mean, I don't doubt that Dave probably believes that Obama harnessed the power of the Weather Machine from Red Alert 2 to stage the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma, but that doesn't necessarily make him a bad guitarist or songwriter.  No no no, shit like "Super Collider" makes him a bad songwriter.  Yeah, the title track here was released about a month or so ago, and everybody who heard it promptly shit their pants in awe of how transcendentally crappy it was.  A riffless mid-90s radio rock song with tired melodies and the worst vocal performance of Dave's entire career?  Oh yeah, you bet your sweet little tushie this is going to be a comical trainwreck!  I couldn't wait simply for the sheer schadenfreude.  And before then, Dave announced that David Draiman, the hilariously wimpy frontman of Disturbed, was going to be featured and also help co-write a couple tracks.  Fans lost their shit over this prospect.  I'll admit Disturbed released two alright modern hard rock albums back with Believe and Ten Thousand Fists, but they're largely uninspiring and Draiman himself is a hilarious wussburger of a human being.  The cover art was incredibly funny to me as well, it's one of the most well known stock photos of the Large Hadron Collider with just an added lens flare and a Megadeth logo slapped on to it.  It's so preposterously lazy, they may as well have just released this instead:


The day finally came where the album was made available to those of us who are leeches upon the underbelly of the music business, and well... it's bad, but it's not hilarious like I was hoping.  I made the choice to avoid Thirteen (pHU(|< 7|-|@ $7UP1D L337 $P34|< p0PP'/(0(|<) based on how little I've liked practically anything the band has done since 1994, but from what I've gathered, Super Collider isn't all that different.  It plays like a collection of b-sides from the mid 90s for the most part, with boring hard rock songs and boring kinda-vaguely-thrashy songs that they've been shilling since The System has Failed.  It's more just really boring and uninteresting as opposed to outright offensively bad. I mean, there are some decent things here; I think "Kingmaker" is cool hearkening back to the sound of Countdown to Extinction (which I have now dubbed "speed rock"), and "Built for War" goes along those same lines.  And no matter how bitter I am about Broderick potentially damning Nevermore to jump ship for the sinking S.S. Megadeth, there's no denying that he and Mustaine play off each other extremely well, and the leadwork has been pretty consistently great ever since he joined the fold.  But apart from the leadwork, there isn't really any consistent positive from beginning to end on Super Collider.  It pretty solidly flip flops between bad and boring with a few bright spots here and there.

To get the positives out of the way first, the aforementioned appearance of David Draiman is actually probably the best moment of the album.  Say what you will about his voice or the insane Alex Jonesian lyrics he's forced to sing (the word "Al-CIA-da" is seriously used (ya rly)), but at least he sounds youthful and energetic.  Mustaine's already technically awful singing voice has been long shot, and so he just kind of grumbles and snarls his way through the entire album like a tired old man trying to still sound as vicious as he did when he was a smack addicted young adult.  The music does occasionally ramp up the aggression, but the vocals just have no chance of matching up to the energy and pace when it does pick up.  And as I've previously mentioned, the speed rock numbers like "Kingmaker", pieces of "Don't Turn Your Back" and the end of "Dance in the Rain" are pretty good (especially that last song, the double bass passages and Draiman's exuberant performance are the clear highlight of the album for me), and the more mid paced stuff can sometimes groove along pretty well at times.  The horridly titled "Burn!" is a pretty good example of such, even if the song is utterly forgettable if not for the dumb chorus.

But really, that's really all the album has going for it.  Consistently impressive guitar solos over the top of mostly boring speed rock and intended radio singles with the occasional bright spot and vaguely thrashy moment.  Nobody really expects Megadeth to churn out dozens of classic songs and riffs like they used to, but I don't think we fans are asking too much to ask for a little bit more effort on their part.  The title track is still worth all the hate it received upon release, with it's utterly boring progression, pointless lyrics, and hideous vocals.  We know that Megadeth can pull off this style relatively well, Youthanasia was full of decent songs like this, and I maintain that "Countdown to Extinction" is one of the better kinda-ballads in the band's repertoire, but "Super Collider" here is an exercise in half hearted ideas being shat forth with no passion from their creator.  The song just kind of stumbles around on a really bland vocal melody and a complete dearth of anything resembling a real riff.  Granted, it's clearly not meant to be a riff based song, but when the vocals are so hilariously botched and the melodies so uninteresting, something like an interesting riff in the bridge or something would have been most welcome. 

And... good God this man's lyrics just need to be addressed.  We all know they suck, we all know that his increasingly extreme political views have been seeping into his music for a while now, but they manage to be both funny and confusing on Super Collider.  Take "Beginning of Sorrow" (which, to my dismay, is not actually a Suffocation cover) for example, which at first seems like a pretty straightforward take on the hot-button issue of abortion.  But as the song goes on, the narrative just gets super fucking bizarre.  A quick summation is this: "Teenage girl meets 'Mr. Right', Mr. Right turns out to be a jackwagon and rapes her, she is given the choice to abort, chooses not to, spits out baby in an alleyway, kid grows up in shitty foster homes, grows up twisted and bitter, becomes rapist himself, the end".  So wait, what the fuck am I supposed to glean from that?  Abortion should be legal because... otherwise there'd be more rapists in the world?  Or... is it trying to make a statement about the fucked up state of foster care?  Or... rape... is bad?  I just don't get it.  And then one song I keep mentioning as being one of the better ones, "Dance in the Rain", starts off with a goddamn "God Alone" dissonant banging while Dave rambles some spoken word crap about how da gubbermint has your car bugged and how they're just the worst thing ever and anarchy and antichrist and whatever I'm not The Sex Pistols I'm not very good at this get off my back!  And then we have a personal favorite of mine, "Don't Turn Your Back".  Favorite why?  Because I'm almost sure this is yet another Chris Poland diss track.  Motherfucker you wrote this already twenty five years ago.  I'm not even kidding, the lyrics even directly reference getting his stuff stolen.  Goddammit Dave, stop being such a booger.

Despite being boring on the whole, there are some strange musical choices here as well.  The aforementioned awkward spoken word intro of "Dance in the Rain" is a big one, along with the banjo rendition of the opening of "My Last Words" (srsly) in "The Blackest Crow".  Most impressively though, is "Forget to Remember".  Honestly, this one is actually probably my favorite because it just so perfectly encapsulates the ever dwindling coherence of our glorious leader here.  First off, it seems like a fairly typical farewell song.  Could be a breakup, could be a death, whatever, it's a sad song, that's the point.  That is until we reach the bridge, where (and I'm so happy that what I'm about to describe is a real thing) we get a spoken word section where a groveling Dave Mustaine begs to some woman to just please let him talk to her while she tells him to piss off because she has no idea who he is.  The female voice in this exchange is played by his fifteen year old daughter.  And then there's one last verse about how vaccines are evil shoehorned into the end because why the fuck not?  What is going on in this man's head?  I implore you, make sense of this insanity.  Albums like City or Obscura sound like the musical manifestation of insanity to you?  Well you simply just haven't spent enough time with Super Collider.  Between the not-bad-but-kinda-half-hearted speed rock and the really terrible radio half-ballads, the layers peel away to reveal a man who hasn't been in full control of his brain ever since he learned how to burn the bottom half of a spoon.  And it's odd because he still manages to surround himself with great musicians, and Broderick here is no exception, and he still manages to shine through when given the opportunity.

But clearly, this is very much a "Dave" project, and the band really has been ever since day one.  This used to work out fine when other guitarists were able to inject their style into the still great songs Dave was writing.  But now that he's an old, decrepit, lip-flapping lunatic, somebody needs to pull the reins and sit the man down, shake him violently and just yell in his face "NOBODY WANTS THREE RADIO ROCK SONGS ABOUT THE BARACKALYPSE.  Goddammit man, we get it, you don't trust the government and personal freedom is being eradicated yak yak yak.  Lots of people agree with you, but you are fucking awful at making this point eloquently.  You're not a very good lyricist, you just kind of hamfist stupid scaremongering buzzwords into an awkward cadence and then run with it without editing your work at all.  Nobody wants this shit.  You know what they do want?  Fast, violent, ripping music with lyrics that have fuck all to do with your increasingly pushy political views.  Look back at 'This Day We Fight', that song was so goddamn good that most people seem to forget that the rest of Endgame sucks.  Just... do that again.  We know you can do it, you just did it flawlessly nary two albums ago.  Why instead do you churn out crap like 'Off the Edge' and 'Forget to Remember'?  Take your pills, man.  Pick up the pace, let Shawn double bass and let Chris shred even more, maybe even give him an opportunity to start writing some riffs.  The pieces are in place, but we have a raving madman at the helm who can't focus or make a good decision anymore.  Get your head in the game, dammit."

That's all there really is to say about Super Collider.  It's boring more than it is outright bad, but even with that being true, it still manages to make some bafflingly strange decisions.  Is it worth checking out?  Ehh, not really.  "Kingmaker" is okay and the second half of "Dance in the Rain" is really good, but otherwise it's one of those things you shouldn't go out of your way for.  Not the trainwreck we were all expecting (un)fortunately, but it's still boring and yet another pointless addition to the ever growing pile of pointless Megadeth albums since Youthanasia.  The band's biggest problem is pretty solidly the band's own leader, and it's sad to say (especially since Rust in Peace is one of my all time favorites), but it's best to just ignore Megadeth at this point.

RATING - 30%

PS - The Thin Lizzy cover is pretty solid too, though they don't do anything special with it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Goatwhore - Carving Out the Eyes of God

The album that killed Goatwhore

I'm saying that from the perspective of somebody who feels that this is far and away their strongest album.  And even then, that's slightly facetious because it's really only one song that killed this band, and that is "Apocalypic Havoc".  That opening track is everything the band had been building towards with their previous efforts, it's the fastest, thrashiest, catchiest, and most energetic track they'd written up to this point, and has quickly become a fan favorite and live staple (as it rightfully should be).  Goatwhore's riffing had always been razor sharp, but "Apocalyptic Havoc" just turns it up to an even higher level of intensity and precision.  Every riff is hard hitting, and are among the purest thrash in their repertoire, with minimal dilutions of black or death metal (unlike the rest of their work, which balances the three pretty well), with a pummeling drum performance, and a frenzied vocal performance.  It's impossible not to sing along, and it's far and away the band's best song.


But therein lies the precise problem with Carving Out the Eyes of God, "Apocalyptic Havoc" is such a stunningly good song, that it really hammers home how mediocre the rest of the record, and hell, even the band's career as a whole, really is.  Seriously, one of Goatwhore's biggest strengths has always been how consistent their quality has remained across and within albums, I'd go as far as to say that's what their entire legacy is based off of (I'm gonna pretend that nobody noticed/cared that they featured members of Acid Bath, Soilent Green, and Crowbar).  I could never find fault in the band's unwavering standard of quality, as each song on each album stood as a punishingly heavy, yet at the same time infectiously catchy monument to how to properly earn semi-mainstream recognition while keeping your integrity as an extreme metal band.  Goatwhore seemingly had it figured out.

And then they wrote "Apocalyptic Havoc".

Kids, this is why you should never try your hardest, because when you get it right, jerks like me are going to expect you to get it right every time after that.  The rest of this album just totally pales in comparison to the opening track, and it's not for any reason other than the songwriting is just not as stellar.  The riffs are always sharp, the vocals are always harsh and the pace is always blistering.  It's just... never as good as "Apocalyptic Havoc" again.  It all sounds like the same song after that, it's like they put all of their effort into that one track and then just kind of coasted through the remaining nine.  Honestly, they've kind of always been like this, but it was just never this blatant.  I mean, go back to the previous album, A Haunting Curse.  The best songs are also the two singles ("Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult" and "Forever Consumed Oblivion") and the rest are pretty consistently okay.  They've always been pretty one dimensional about blasting a very straightforward black/death/thrash hybrid at the listener with the occasional punky/rock'n'roll element, and that's pretty much the whole of what Goatwhore has presented from day one.  They're a balanced mixture of nearly every extreme metal genre and they've always been pretty good at it.  It wasn't until "Apocalyptic Havoc" though, that I realized how stellar they actually weren't.

There are pretty much no standouts on Carving Out the Eyes of God past that opening scorcher.  I guess "To Mourn and Forever Wander Through Forgotten Doorways" is memorable for being the first to really bring the tempo down at all, and I think "Razor Flesh Devoured" is the only other track really worth listening to thanks to it's heightened black metal influence helping it rise above the mediocrity otherwise, but apart from those last two tracks, it's just a mire of boredom and "been there, done that".  Goatwhore hasn't had a new idea since they started, but they'd always made up for it with enthusiasm.  That is quite unfortunate because there's only so far that can carry you, and the exact amount is "about fifteen seconds after writing 'Apocalyptic Havoc'".  I'm sorry to keep harping on that, but it really is the main downfall of the album.  We've seen how brilliant they can be, and they just never put the pieces together in the correct way again.  Every other track blends all of the aforementioned elements together just the same way they always have, but they all come off as very tired and bland and effortless.  There isn't one memorable moment past the first three and a half minutes of the album.

I'm just repeating myself over and over again, so I guess I'll have to keep this one short.  The point is that I haven't namedropped the same song in every paragraph on accident, it really is far and away the best song the band ever did, and one of the most perfect modern metal songs you'll ever find.  The problem is that they never again live up to the standards set by that one particular song despite everything else containing the same elements.  The songwriting was never again that on-point, and the one-dimensional nature of the songs really bogs everything down after the first two or three.  It's not bad I guess, but it's not really worth listening to over most other things you could probably be listening to.


RATING - 39%

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Grand Mood - Final Urge to March

Overwhelming ambivalence

And The Great Taste Swap Challenge continues forth, as this time I eschew the silly doom of Metantoine, and instead have turned to the Phil Lynott-esque MutantClannfear for my next challenge.  Being familiar with his taste, prepared for this in advance.  I spent weeks going back and listening to all the slam I've known and reviewed throughout the years.  Embryonic Depravity, Amputated, Human Mastication, Gorevent, things of that sort, preparing myself for what kind of brainless ballyhoo he would chuck at me.  I preempted the assault with the most saccharine flower metal I could think of, and in return he rewards my arduous preparation with... ludicrously obscure black metal.  Who'd'a thunk?

Really, Grand Mood embodies the attitude I despise within certain black metal circles.  No information available anywhere about the band apart from their name and their demo, and that's about the long and short of it.  This intentional obscurity always buggered me senseless, it's like a bunch of kids meeting in a clubhouse with a NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign outside who spend all day high fiving each other because those dumb, silly girls don't know what they're missing in this clubhouse.  I get the point of it, I really do, I just think it's fucking stupid and more often than not takes precedence over actually writing engaging music.

Grand Mood's band picture on MA shows five figures, but I'm more apt to believe that it's made by one scrawny kid from the middle of Buttdick, South Dakota, but that isn't really the point.  There's no way it took five people to put their heads together and come up with such fairly typical raw BM.  I mean let's face it, it's a pretty bad sign when I almost never listen to the style of music you play, and yet I still feel like I've heard your songs dozens of times before.  That's not to say that music needs to be oozing with creativity to be enjoyable (I listen to bands like Wisdom and Bywar for God's sake, I'm not that much of a hypocrite), and Grand Mood does a fine job of doing nothing new while still doing it pretty well.  But really, run through the black metal checklist and you'll end up with precisely zero blank boxes.  Extremely lo-fi production?  Yup.  Tremolo riffs?  Check.  Vocals either way too upfront or buried in the background?  Background here.  Blast beats for fast parts and vaguely punkish and/or marching beats for the mid paced parts?  Yuperooni.  Final Urge to March just kind of strikes me as baby's first raw black metal, and to its credit, it doesn't seem to pull any punches and try to be anything other than that musically.

Taking out the strange choice to include two versions of every track (three normal, three instrumental), this is a very short demo, consisting almost entirely of all the cliche's I mentioned earlier.  Right from the get go, you're bombarded with extremely lo-fi tremolo riffs and a mid paced snare march.  I give "Final Urge to March" and "Iron Cornucopia" a little more credit for trying to work some intrinsic melody into the riffs, and they do a fine job, if nothing mindblowing.  But with that said, my favorite track is actually "Walking Through Wind", perhaps because it's the most "normal" track to be found.  It's pretty much just straight howling and blast beats and I like that.  The other two tracks are a bit more ambitious with tempo changes and melody but I feel like it all comes together the best when they strip it down to the essentials and just go for straightforward dissonance and misanthropy.  In the end though there really isn't a whole lot to say about the songs themselves due to the one-dimensional nature of them.  Is there an atmosphere?  I dunno, doesn't feel like it.  Is it bad?  No, it's perfectly capable for what the style is and there's nothing that stands out in either direction for me.  I mean, I can guarantee you I'll never listen to this again once I press that handy-dandy "publish" button, but if somebody is looking for recs along this line (and for some reason ask me), I can certainly feel confident in pointing them towards Grand Mood.  To me, it feels pretty shallow, and after a dozen and a half listens, I don't feel any different about the demo than when I first heard it.  So if there are layers to be peeled away, it's just not happening for me.  Sorry y'all.

MutantClannfear doesn't have his own personal blog, but his reviews can be found here, and you should read them. Asshole.

RATING - 60%

Saturday, May 25, 2013

JERKING THE CIRCLE Vol III: Gorguts - Obscura

 I feel like I'm taking crazy pills...

For real, Obscura is the album that inspired this entire series in the first place.  The reason for this is simple; as far as I've been able to tell, there is no other album in all of heavy metal that is both as well loved by the fandom and also as intensely reviled by me.  I can understand near-universal worship of bands and albums I dislike most of the time, I really can.  Hell, I rag on Helloween's most notable work all the time, but I know why people like it.  I understand how and why it was so influential, even to bands that I enjoy.  I get it, I really do.  But for the life of me, Obscura still eludes me.  What the fuck is it that makes this so goddamn revered?  I really can't wrap my head around it.  The only way I can rationalize it is by viewing it from the "I love weird things for the sake of weird things" crowd, but even then I still see this hailed by both old school death metal fanatics and snobby prog fans alike.  Something about Gorguts's third album brings everybody together, and I'm not even exaggerating when I say I've spent roughly eight years listening to this album on and off trying to make sense of it all, and I just cannot for the life of me understand the appeal in this sonic trainwreck. 

Some people are just suckers for dissonance, I can get that, it's why shit like Portal and Ulcerate are so popular in the underground.  Hell, I'm a huge fan of SikTh and they're pretty notorious for sounding terrible on purpose since the guitarists don't know a lick of music theory and just kind of play whatever.  But Gorguts here manages to be dissonant 100% of the time, there isn't one consonant chord or melody throughout the entire bloated runtime of Obscura.  I'm as serious as a goddamned heart attack right now, for real.  This manages to run over an hour without anything pleasing to the ear happening.

But BH!  It's death metal!  You can't expect death metal to be pleasing to the ear!  I bet you're an In Flames fan!

Clearly I mean pleasing in a death metal sense.  I like listening to Cannibal Corpse, I enjoy rocking out to Immolation, I could spin the first Krisiun album day and night, I have honestly nearly shat my pants during "Suspended in Tribulation" during a Suffocation show, I enjoy all of these classic bands not because they're melodic or pleasant, but because they don't sound like they just picked up their instruments for the first time the day prior to entering the studio.  I don't give a fuck how "creative" or "avant garde" or "outside the box" this album is, the bottom line is that the opening riff to the title track sounds fucking terrible.  That's not even first year guitar player level of skill, that's not even first day.  That is somebody picking up their buddy's guitar when he leaves the room for a second and just wailing away on it without having a clue what he's doing.  Every last riff sounds like this, they all sound like dissonant smashing and random bends with no real thought put behind them other than "Does this sound like shit?  Yeah?  Perfect!".  The percussion section is equally nonsensical; complementing nothing by blasting at seemingly inopportune times, goofing around with bizarre jazz sensibilites, and just seemingly playing the entire album as a free time jazz exercise as opposed to anything even remotely structured.

And you know what?  Maybe that's the real problem I have with the album.  Maybe it's my distaste of intentionally structureless jazz that draws me away from it.  Let me ponder that for a bit...

Oh, no wait, my mistake, that's absolute bullshit.  It's not just the fact that the structure is bizarre or jazzy, it's that it isn't there at all, and as a result nothing sticks with you other than "Clouded", and that's solely because it stands out for being much slower than the rest of the album and a whopping ten goddamn minutes long.  The songs all waft in and out of consciousness between epileptic fits of chaotic nonsense, noodling around with strange, dissonant wonkiness and grating harmonics for the better part of an hour, boring itself into your skull like an iron mosquito (note to self: pitch Iron Mosquito to Capcom for new Mega Man X game).  Other than that one track, nothing else is memorable for any reason other than the fact that it sounds like a chalkboard grinding its teeth.  This is seriously the most irritating music I've ever listened to, and this is taking into account shit like Neoandertals, Enmity, and that one random Buckethead impression that my buddy recorded that I post all the time.  I listen to albums while I review them, and this has taken me a month to write this far simply because Obscura gives me such a cataclysmic headache.  I know that saying any particular piece of music is "random" or "has no structure at all" and things of that sort almost always implies that the reviewer doesn't know what he/she's talking about and just can't fathom something unconventional, and I know how silly I must sound saying those same things about this album.  Obviously it isn't random, Gorguts can perform these songs live, they were very deliberately written, but they suuuuuuuck.

Another thing I really need to get across is Luc Lemay's vocals.  They are just... oh man, otherworldly bad.  Strangely enough, on one hand, I feel like they fit the music perfectly, as they're really tortured and chaotic sounding, like there's absolutely no skill as a death metal vocalist present and he's just yelling at the top of his lungs.  I'm not just saying that because I feel like there's zero skill involved in the instrumentals either (though that does also apply), but I feel like this style could work if the music was better, because it fits with the chaotic dissonance that the music revels in.  Agonized howling like this works well with certain torture doom bands like Senthil who go for a similar atmosphere, but with an album so chock full of irritation like this, it's merely another pin in my back.  It's all so non-stop and abrasive, and it works in all the wrong ways.  He howls like a guy making fun of death metal, and the guitars just hammer away and impossibly dissonant and wretched sounding chords and seemingly randomly placed harmonic squeals, and the drums sound like they're being performed by an eight year old who is just having the time of his life hitting everything he can.  This is a death metal version of The Shaggs, it sounds like a parody, and I will never understand how it attained such cult status for its "avant garde genius".

Honestly, Obscura will forever blow my mind.  This must be how death metal sounds to people who hate death metal.  And hell, even if I look at it from a different perspective, it doesn't help it.  Let's not view it as death metal, but instead prog metal or avant garde, either way it sounds like crap.  The music sounds bad, the guitars sound like a first grader just strumming and sliding his fingers up and down the neck, and the vocals are almost hilariously inept.  This bewilders me because I've actually since gone back and listened to some of the band's older material (which I'd avoided for years because this album pisses me off so much), and they're a perfectly capable band.  It's not like they're a bunch of Wesley Willis types that people latch on to for novelty (or just because they're so passionate about what they do that it's hard not to like), nor are they something like the aforementioned Shaggs or Complete where they are so transcendentally inept that they get dug up years later and passed around the internet for shiggles.  They wrote some solid death metal back in the day, and then around 1998 apparently decided to go a different direction.  That direction was downwards

Part of me can almost appreciate what Gorguts is going for here, I can tell they're trying to do something very different, they're trying to be much more dissonant than anything before them.  They're going for some kind of weird, avant garde style insanity.  Hell, maybe they're trying to tap into the musical representation of insanity itself.  It's possible, but it doesn't change the fact that at the end of the day, the product presented to us sounds like absolute horsedick.  There is not one single aspect of Obscura that I can give praise to.  It's a haphazard mess of seemingly intentionally irritating parts thrown together with apparently no regard for the interconnecting parts nor the big picture.  The high pitched slides and squeals contrast with the dissonant banging in the same way a knifewound to the gut contrasts with a hatchet to the cranium.  The vocals are one dimensional yowls and shrieks and simply add another layer of needless frustration onto an already compounded pile of headache fuel.  How this ever became a cult classic is beyond me, because it sound like if I had just picked up instruments I'd never played before and wailed on them without any real idea how they worked.  And it's weird because it's deliberate.  It sounds like cacophonous shit on purpose, and that somehow makes it a brilliant masterpiece.

I didn't expect to give this a zero when I started writing, I really didn't.  I expected a single digit score, yes, but not a zero.  The more I listened, the worse it got.  It just gets more irritating with repeated listens, and the layers peel away not to reveal hidden genius, but simply different frequencies of irritation I hadn't noticed before.  There's nothing here to like, this is the absolute nadir of musicality.  I don't care how expertly this was written, I don't care how deliberate and complex it is.  Frankly, it sounds awful, goes on for far too long, and has nothing enjoyable to be found.  You want weird, late 90s death metal?  Listen to Starseed, otherwise hop off this album's dick and stop trying to find beauty inside the asshole of Shub Niggurath.


Friday, May 24, 2013

JERKING THE CIRCLE Vol II: Death - Individual Thought Patterns

Crushed under its own weight

What time is it?!  Time for another installment of Jerking the Circle!  Yes kids, the series wherein I take a look at albums that get tons and tons of praise from certain groups within the metal community (or just the community at large).  Today we look at a band that released some stunningly great albums, and instead focus on what is by far their worst one.  Goddammit Chuck, remove your head from your anus, por favor.

Death had a moderately lengthy and quite illustrious career, spanning seven albums of wildly varying sounds and an even more unpredictable lineup.  And this, Individual Thought Patterns marks both their lowest point as a band, and also (bafflingly) their most star studded lineup.  Death has always basically been Chuck Schuldiner's Revolving Band Selected Via Musical Chairs Matches, and in 1993 he managed to strike potential gold by retaining the fretless hobo of Sadus fame, Steve DiGiorgio, and bailing on the technically proficient but writing impaired hacks from Cynic and replaced them with goddamn Andy LaRocque (known for King Diamond), and motherfucking Gene Hoglan (known for every fucking band ever).  Seriously, you ever play that game where you daydream up the ultimate band?  Chuck Schuldiner fucking did that, and whatever personality issues the man had that caused members to leave constantly/him to constantly kick them out, I really wished he would have found a way to rein it in around this era, because there is so much star power potential in here I could go blind by looking at it.

And then I actually heard the album.

Yeah, I guess stars are prone to supernovas, because this is an unmitigated disaster.  Don't get me wrong, despite my general distaste for prog, I don't dislike the fact that Chuck decided to take the band in a more progressive direction (they were pretty much devoid of death metal from this point onwards).  Hell Symbolic is probably my favorite album by the band, just a smidgeon above Leprosy.  But this here is a goddamn trainwreck.  This is what happens when somebody who's good at being hard and fast and heavy decides that that path is too stupid and instead tries to be more intellectual about everything.  And hey, to his credit, he did eventually figure it out, because Symbolic is great, but Chuck didn't have a goddamn idea what he was doing when writing this album.  Listening to this in one sitting, I'd be hard pressed to tell you where each song ends and a new one begins, much less which song is even actually playing, even after a decade of being a Death fan. 

There are moments of brilliance scattered throughout, as "Destiny" has a fantastic riff hidden somewhere in the middle, as does "Nothing is Everything" and "Overactive Imagination", but that's really all I can do for critique; pick out random bits from random songs and tell you whether it's good or bad.  It's woefully unprofessional, and I get that, but it really feels like the album was written and recorded in that same haphazard direction.  Lots of shit happens, but I don't think anybody other than Chuck himself actually knew why.  This is probably the most literal collection of riffs and ideas I've ever heard.  Very few sections repeat later in a song, it's basically just a 40 minute gag reel of jazzy proto-tech-prog ideas that the band was noodling around with but couldn't really decide on how to arrange.  So they just decided to play them all in one long 40 minute take, arbitrarily consider it a new track every four minutes or so, and call it a day.  It's a shame because the talent is obviously there, but at this point Chuck was no longer in a transition phase, and therefore had neither that excuse nor the leftover bits of pummeling death metal morbidity that he had on HumanIndividual Thought Patterns is instead it's own entity with no crutch to lean on, which is unfortunate because it's rather malformed and disabled.

There was also a quite bizarre malady that plagued the band during this middle era as well, and that was that the more technical, proggy, and wanky the music got, the shorter the average song was.  The average song lengths on both Human and Individual Thought Patterns are shorter than their more simplistic predecessors in Leprosy and Spiritual Healing.  This kind of writing (when not done in such a slapdash and poorly arranged manner) definitely lends itself to a more spaced out format.  I normally prefer shorter songs, mind you (one of the reasons Gama Bomb will always be better than Cyclone Temple), but nothing here has room to breathe or develop.  Instead we're presented with ten claustrophobic and rushed exercises in vaguely deathy progjazz.  Again, the entire album is presented as a collection of unrelated things, and that's basically the end of it right there where it starts.

The production job is also a nagging whack in the shins, as like with the previous album, it's rather thin and lacks the punch of their earlier recordings.  We've all heard Leprosy, we understand how good they can sound.  The guitar tone on that album was as thick as a baby's arm, and yet here it's this wispy gossamer.  I realize they were going for more precision and less chunk, but the music is noticeably less powerful this time around and it suffers for it.  The widdly wanky parts are well suited to this kind of sound, I'll admit, but there are occasions when real riffs and double bass and whatnot actually do happen, and they end up laughably weak in the grand scheme of things.  "Weak" is an adjective that applies only to this album throughout all of Death's discography, and that's a giant mark against it.

Overall this is too jazzy and not thought out enough for it's own good.  There are far too many segments where the instruments all just kind of break down into their own thing and all wander away from each other.  The percussion is definitely prone to this, with Hoglan being wildly misused and left to just mostly fuck around with bizarre cymbal patterns.  When Chuck reined it in on the following two albums and focused more on cohesive songwriting and logical progression, they knocked it out of the park.  But here?  Not at all, not yet.  The kinda awkward but still good transition phase in Human had long passed, and they were fully into the prog territory at this point, but frankly, the songwriter here still wasn't entirely sure of himself, and as a result Individual Thought Patterns is a complete mess, and probably the only skippable album in Death's entire career.

RATING - 38%

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Witch Mountain - Cauldron of the Wild

And then that little girl shocks The Rock

So earlier this week, I proposed a challenge to the lovable grizzly, Metantoine.  The deal came down to us both agreeing to step out of our comfort zones and review each other's preferred genres.  He stepped up to the plate and tackled Blood Dress's album, and since he held up his end of the bargain by reviewing a tech death album, I must defend my honor and review a mum doom album.  I figured I'd take on one that seems to get near-universal praise amongst a good chunk of the metal fandom, Witch Mountain's Cauldron of the Wild.

Final thought?  Eh, it's alright.

I feel like I should like this a lot more than I actually do, because despite not really being a doom fan, there is definitely a lot to like here.  Honestly, I feel like the main thing holding this back is one of the main reasons a lot of people really like the band in the first place, and that is the vocal performance of Uta Plotkin.  Now don't get me wrong, she is a very talented singer, and the actual sound of her voice is gorgeous, and she hits high notes with chutzpah.  Hell, even her lyrics are very good.  So what is there to complain about?  Really, I just don't think her voice gels with the music very well a lot of the time.  She seems like she's hitting notes too high for the music most of the time.  With guitars as deep and heavy as these, her voice should be a sweet contrast, but it just ends up distracting most of the time.  It's like they're singing in a different key.  It's hard to explain, but they just sound off most of the time.  Perhaps it's just a personal quibble, and most people will think I'm just hearing improperly because my head is planted so firmly up inside my own butthole, but it's really distracting to me and it knocks the album down a few pegs.

Vocals aside, Cauldron of the Wild is a resoundingly heavy album, full of suffocating atmosphere and slow, churning riffwork.  I realize "churning" is a really cliche word used to describe any riff that sounds even the slightest bit dark, but I feel like this is one of the better examples of such an adjective.  The extraordinarily slow riffs conjure up imagery of an old witch, glaring intently into a cauldron as she carefully and deliberately stirs the pot of odoriferous muck.  This is an album I "feel" more than I "listen to" in the sense that my preferred genres are typically very energetic and high tempo, so giving my full attention to something with the opposite endgame in mind leads to me taking on a very different perspective.  I feel like I'm lost in the woods while this is on, calm yet unsure.  None of the riffs sound urgent, but they all sound very deliberate, like they were crafted specifically to sound like you're being stalked.  It's a very dark and organic album, and I like that.

The atmosphere is fantastic, so it's a shame that the riffs are so inconsequential.  I mean, I understand this isn't really a riff based sound they're going for here, but still, there's almost nothing to grab you musically.  Cauldron of the Wild was definitely written with vocals and atmosphere in mind, and in that regard it succeeds.  But the greatest albums can strike a balance between the two ideals of atmosphere and engaging music (Don't Break the Oath, In Somniphobia, Sin After Sin, et cetera), whereas this here has pretty uninteresting music, accompanied by soaringly clean vocals and a great mood. "The Ballad of Lanky Rae" is probably the worst offender here, as the riffs there just kind of plod around and don't really go anywhere, whereas "Beekeeper" and "Shelter" (far and away the best songs) at least have a direction they're moving towards.  The vocals also seem to mesh the best on those two tracks, with their melodies being very striking and the lyrics very memorable.  "Shelter" in particular has a wonderfully powerful climax.  The two very long songs don't do a whole lot for me either, they just kind of go through the motions with nothing exciting happening in them.

And I realize I may just be the wrong demographic for this, but it seems like a lot of times the riffs are utterly inconsequential and don't have a lot going on behind them.  It's very slow, it's very deliberate, and while they create a great backdrop for the ballsy croon of Plotkin, they never do anything themselves that make me perk up and take notice.  I love the general feel of the album, but I find the music lacking, and I think the vocals are fantastic, but rarely fit with the music.  Basically the music itself needs some sort of overhaul for this to reach its full potential for me.  The good bits are good enough for me to give this a positive overall score, but the rest of the band really needs to catch up with the vocals.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled tech death and europower reviews!

RATING - 65%

Check out Metantoine's site! He may speak a funny, dead language and like a terrible hockey team, but he's a great writer in spite of that. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Blood Stain Child - Epsilon


There are some little crutches I try to avoid in my criticism/everyday life.  Certain immature cliches just get under my skin and always have since high school.  Things like using the word "douche" as an insult more often than an onomatopoeia, or just relying on profanity or "zomg randumb" type stuff as a placeholder for actual jokes.  But one particular one is that I try to avoid using "gay" or "fag" as a general insult.  It's just... it's just fucking lazy and almost never used in a context that makes sense or is even effective in any way.  Yeah yeah, I know it almost never relates to actual homophobia when used in comedy, but it still manages to rub me the wrong way most of the time (hurrr).

With that said, Epsilon is gay as fuck.  Seriously, this is the faggiest album ever to be tied (however tangentially) to the metal scene.  And holy crap I love it.

Before even touching the actual music at hand, the aesthetics just have to be addressed.  Honestly, one look at the Final Fantasy XIII concept art on the cover should turn away most fans of both metal and Final Fantasy, but for me, a guy who made his name by making fun of shit, there was no way I could pass this up.  There's no way a melodeath album with such a goddamn dorky cover could be anything even approaching the realm of passable.  And then I saw the band themselves, oh lord the band themselves.  It's like Dir En Grey went to ACEN.  I mean, I know the visual kei scene exists, I know they could be so much more ridiculous.  Hell, even good bands like Gargoyle employ stunningly ludicrous stage attire, it's a Japanese thing, I get it.  But with an album cover with a 3D rendering of the newest Murakumo Unit and a lead vocalist cosplaying as Lili de Rochefort from Tekken 5, there's just no way this band could possibly be serious about their music.  I haven't the foggiest idea of what they used to sound like, but with a name as ill fitting as frickin' Blood Stain Child, I can only assume they slowly morphed into this bizarre Otaku mess over time.

And then I finally listened to the album, and... well I was kinda right, but I didn't expect to actually like it.  This band doesn't pull any punches about what they are, they're an electropop band that used to play melodeath, and that's exactly what they sound like and exactly how the music is presented.  It's full to the brim with both fast melodeath drumming, At the Gates riffs, and high raspy vocals, while at the same time employing dance club-esque synths and saccharine female vocals.  It's all done exceptionally well for how strange it is.  I'm not going to sit here and pretend that this is some misunderstood avant-garde genius, because I'm not so insecure about liking a pop album that I have to pretend that it's anything other than dumb pop music (something Lady Gaga fans were fucking notorious for a couple years back), but I acknowledge that the appeal here is pretty limited.  They're aiming for (what I assume (Japan is a scary place)) is a pretty narrow demographic; fans of light melodeath, trance, and Bleach.  This is less "two sides of one coin" and closer to "ten random sides of a d20", as the two big musical influences are rarely relegated to their own specific tracks ("Stargazer" being the exception, being entirely devoid of metal influence), and are instead cohesively blended into one another to create something I really don't hear all that often.

Take the first track, "Sirius IV", which is a pretty good look at the entire album in a nutshell.  It starts off with a fast stop-start double bass pattern with a throbbing trance melody in the background, and from then on will take fast melodeath riffs and syrupy female vocals and catchy trance melodies and throw it all together into one strangely cohesive beast.  It's almost never split up awkwardly, the two different styles normally blend together marvelously and create something that's both headbangable and danceable at the same time.  It's always so unabashedly fruity and light-hearted, I actually find it difficult to hate unless you generally take your music extraordinarily seriously.  How can you not grin during the completely cheesy bounciness of "Stargazer" or "Electricity"?  It's so jovial and harmless that I just can't help but want to give it a hug.

That said, there are still metal elements at play, they're just in the background.  The drumming pretty consistently stays firmly on the harder side of the band's dichotomy, even cranking out a few short blasts in "Forever Free", and the band as a whole can occasionally pull it together to pull out a really ripping metal section (most notably in "La+").  The metal sections remind me a little bit too much of In Flames for comfort, but unlike their Swedish neighbors, Blood Stain Child is clearly having a blast with what they're doing, and their enthusiasm carries over to the listener.  It doesn't work as effectively in the metal elements or the bizarre choice to end the album on a weak ballad, but on the predominately electronic tracks like "Stargazer" and "Dedicated to Violator", it works beautifully. 

Due to the shallow nature of the music, I've really already said everything there is to say twice already.  It's dumb and poppy an fun and yet still injects a few metal riffs here and there to keep it interesting.  The trance elements are pretty handily the best parts, so it tells me that the band's strength isn't in metal music in the first place, so the further away they move from wherever they started, the happier I'll likely be.  It also means that the metal elements end up pretty inconsequential in the long run, so there are parts of the album that sort of drag.  I don't view this as a metal album, because it really isn't.  It's basically a trance/electronic album with heavy guitars and occasional screams, but for what it is, I really like it.  The fact that they manage to blend the two styles together so well as opposed to just hackily splitting them up and not letting them touch really helps give the band an identity and a sense of confidence in the unorthodox (and frankly silly sounding) music they play.  It's infectious, and goddamn I can't help but love it.

Also, this was apparently released on a label named "Pony Canyon".  If you can think of a funnier combination of words than "Pony Canyon", I will buy you a boatercycle.

RATING - 78%

Monday, May 13, 2013

Vomit Sodomy - Godfelch

What lurks under the underground...

This... this is it folks.  This is the holy grail of underground, avant garde black metal.  I joke about silly bands all the time, and it's no secret I'm really not much of a black metal fan in comparison to death, thrash, power, and trad metal, but believe me when I say Vomit Sodomy is the real fucking deal. They are easily, easily the most impressive band that nobody has ever heard of.  The fact that this was lost by history is an affront to extreme metal.  Never before has such aggression been put to tape in such a genuine, primitive form.  But before I can get to that, I have to tell you a story.

My grandmother has been using eBay since the month it debuted, basically.  She's made a small fortune off of scavenging for random antiques at auctions and flea markets and garage sales and things of that sort and then reselling them on eBay to collectors for whatever exorbitant costs that collectors subject themselves to paying.  For a grand portion of my life, that's how she's made her money.  Now, since I've grown up and gotten older and stronger, she's occasionally recruited me to come along to auction houses to help her carry larger items she may end up buying (desks, cabinets, et cetera).  This is integral to the review because you need to understand the amount of divine intervention that went in to me acquiring this tape.  One overcast afternoon in early August, she called me to ask if I could accompany her to a flea market out of town, since she had spoken to one of the venders and had a large desk put off to the side for her.  Of course I said yes, and so off we went.  Before getting the desk, she decided to take a look around for any other trinkets she could hawk, and so I decided to take my leave and explore for myself.

And that's when I saw him.

The guy looked... odd somehow.  Like he didn't want to be behind the table he was behind.  He was a larger man (aka: he was basically a beached manatee), and he had the unmistakable scent of cheddarwurst emanating from the deeper crevices of his amorphous midsection.  I would have avoided his stand like the plague if I didn't notice two things about him.  One was that he had a box of records and another box of tapes, meaning he was one of the only people here selling music in any capacity, and the other was the tattoo of the Elder Sign on his wrist.  So he had an interest in Lovecraft, which was both promising because that meant he'd probably have some cool occult based stuff in those tapes and horrifying because he looked like the singer of Smash Mouth if you'd filled him up with 150 extra pounds of cream cheese.  I greeted him as I approached, and he continued to stare, dead faced and catatonic at his table.  I began to think that maybe he was simply a very lifelike statue of a Nu from Chrono Trigger, but when I asked him if he had anything good for sale, his head snapped towards me so quickly that I swear I heard his neck break.

"You looking for something evil, kid?"  His voice was strangely weak for his gargantuan frame, almost mouselike.

"Well, yeah.  I'm definitely a fan of evil music" I responded nervously, motioning to my Exmortus shirt.

"Well then you've found the right place...." he choked out, holding for an uncomfortably long time on his last syllable.  His head slowly rolled back to where it was before he acknowledged me and came to a rest there.  He seemed to go back into his semi-lifeless state, so I decided to ignore him and just start perusing the tapes.  This dude wasn't lying, the box was full of great, hard to find and certainly malicious releases.  The first Samael demo, some Mantas, and even the Tirant Sin demo.  I was blown away, I asked him how he managed to find all this, but still he sat there, stiff as a corpse.  I didn't have much money with me and didn't want my grandma to be subjected to the obnoxious crap I listen to, so I decided I was only going to buy one tape and that was that.  My heart was pretty set on Tirant Sin, since holy shit that's death metal history right there, but as I was getting ready to take it out, something else caught my eye.

I'm not sure what it was about this artwork, but it was just so primitive, so earnest, and so goddamn brazen that I couldn't take my eyes off of it.  A decayed caveman, with a mohawk no less, brandishing a giant cock in one hand and a cross in the other.  Is he going to stab it?  Write on it (ew)?  Only that greave-adorned skeleton knows the answer, but goddamn I had to find out.

"Hey man, how much for the tape?" I asked.  Once again the dude's head shot towards me so fast that I actually took a step back in panic.  This time... he just stared at me.  He wouldn't say anything, he just stared at me with these lifeless, spherical eyes.  I'm pretty sure my bowels were about to evacuate themselves in sheer terror, so I just fumbled through my pocket, threw a wadded up five dollar bill on the table, and then turned and speedwalked the hell away from his table.

Nothing could have prepared me for what lay inside the plastic here.  I noticed the back was marked as "5 of 17", so this is officially the rarest goddamn thing I've ever owned, plus it just revels in blasphemy from the word "go", even down to the number of copies made.  I mean really, that's some hardcore shit right there, these guys really want Jesus to choke on it.

Since collecting a bit more and exploring more of the band's work, I've come to realize that Vomit Sodomy has always had a pretty diverse sound.  Basically every piece of music you can find by them is at least two parts black metal, but the third part has ranged from thrash, to death, to sludge, to punk, to even a bizarrely interesting blend of symphonic grind on Mediocre Blasphemy. While this is one of their less esoteric releases, Godfelch is definitely worth the price of admission.  It's like a much sloppier, dirtier version of early Sarcofago, with a much more profound black metal influence.  With this being such a short demo (seven tracks, all under two minutes barring one), there isn't a whole lot of room for variation, but the overarching attitude of it all keeps it interesting enough for me to not care.

One thing that could be really, really difficult to overcome is just how lo-fi this is.  I mean damn, you know the old derisive comment on how "this sounds like it was recorded on an answering machine"?  Well this was probably recorded on a pager. It's hard to make out any of the instruments, what with this being one big buzzy mess and all, but the guitar can usually find a way to cut through during one of the more traditional black metal tremolo riffs.  I think they take up most of the riffwork of the album but it's kind of hard to tell, the point is that I love it.  This shit sounds about as evil as evil can be, and there's really no room for polish in the utmost darks of hell.  While the riffwork can be hard to pick out, it exudes the attitude the band was certainly going for with flying colors.  And apart from the lo-fi sound, this is also as sloppy as toothless cunnilingus during shark week.  Honestly, imagine carrying a tray of steins of lager and half melted Nestle Crunch Bars, and now imagine stumbling and dropping said tray.  The resulting mush of tin and spillage wouldn't sound too unlike the drum performance. It's a chaotic, thin sounding cacophony that rarely seems to match with the guitars, but goddamn do these boys rock it.

It takes a lot of enthusiasm to make something this inept sound this awesome, and boy oh boy does Vomit Sodomy layer on the enthusiasm!  Seriously, I'm not one to really focus on lyrics, but I'm not sure I've seen such one-dimensional anti-religious as this.  It's hard to make out the lyrics, to the point where I have to admit I only have song titles to go off of, but it's still pretty clear which path these guys take.  For example, "Jesus - Knight of the Brown Hole" sure makes some pretty incendiary assumptions about our lord and savior's sexual preference (hint: it's blasphemous), and "Fatherfister" really doesn't leave a whole lot to the imagination.  It's actually admirable how many different sexual perversions they can throw at holy figures.  Vomit Sodomy is serious about their dedication to blasphemy, but I have fun with it.  And really, what else could I ask for?  Godfelch is one of those demos that you treasure more than you actually like.  I mean, apart from the only track over two minutes (the five minute long, doomy dirge of the title track), the tracks all kind of blur into this one wall of noisy intensity, and with the production being so intentionally primitive and the performance so drunkenly off-kilter, it's hard to just sit there and wreck your neck or swig a beer to this.  But what it is is charming.  I get butterflies listening to this, and you will to if you can ever manage to track down a copy.  When you listen to Vomit Sodomy, the band's energy rubs off on you.  That's what makes them worth it.

It really, truly is difficult to ramble at length about this demo that, in all likelihood, is only notable for its rarity, but I feel a connection that really makes it stand out in my collection.  Vomit Sodomy isn't the best band around, and I don't like everything they've done, but as a starting point there's almost nothing better than Godfelch.  It's a raw, chaotic, inaccessible demo, but it really showcases the mission statement of the band (Fuck Jesus with dynamite) and gives one of the most purely aggressive performances in decades.  Shit, I'm not even sure when this demo was released, to be perfectly honest with you.  There's no indication on the packaging, and the band is so scarce and obscure that the internet is no help.  Truly, Vomit Sodomy is an enigma, and Godfelch is one of the many notches in their bedpost that make them so worth tracking down. 

RATING - 93%

Saturday, May 11, 2013

JERKING THE CIRCLE Vol I: Beyond Creation - The Aura

Featuring the adults from Peanuts on bass guitar!

Welcome to Jerking the Circle!  A new series wherein I tackle seemingly universally well loved albums that I can't help but feel actually kinda suck.  Today I shall steel myself against the waves of vitriolic nationalist scorn, as I'm here to point out to everybody that the latest Quebecnichal band that's apparently taken the metal fandom by storm, Beyond Creation, is actually not all that good or interesting.

A few quick things right off the bat; yes, I used to sing this album's praises back in early 2011 when it first dropped.  The things I said about it back then are still true to an extent, but with time the album really grows away from you, as the poorly thought out compositions, excessive noodliness, and just overall shoddy execution really begins to grate on one's ears.  Secondly, yes, the bassist from Augury is stunningly talented, and his fretless tones really help give the album an identity.  Unfortunately, for all the band member's skill, none of them can put their ideas together in an enjoyable fashion.  The Aura is basically a 52 minute blur of faceless technicality and wrrrow WRRROW sounding basslines.

And yet, that seems to be the main draw of the band.  On the few occasions where I can break my head above the overwhelming flood of ejaculate and catch my breath, I hear praise that champions the band's outside-the-box approach, heavy melody, and that ever prevalent fretless bass.  All of this stuff is true, the bass is above even DD Verni in the "look at me! I'm important!" department, there is an absolute abundance of melody, and the songwriting is very... erm, "progressive".  Upon my first listen to this, I was reminded of fellow Francophone Habs fanatics, Neuraxis, but that comparison doesn't really stick outside of the first song and a couple occasional sections here and there (like in "Le Detenteur").  I like Neuraxis because they're basically just really, really fast death metal, complete with real riffs played at blinding speed.  Beyond Creation here is, more often than not, true to the common criticism of being a group of dudes just playing a bunch of stuff.  Just that.  Stuff.  That's what The Aura is.  It's just a bunch of... stuff.

It's hard to point out specific sections because there are so many different things happening that all somehow manage to sound the same.  There are a couple traditional breakdowns scattered about (like in "Coexistence", "Injustice Revealed", and the 11 minute failed epic, "The Deported"), some more tripped out, proggy moments, the really cool Neuraxis styled riff batteries, and absolutely incessant "wrow wrow" bass.  Seriously, it permeates through every single moment, regardless of what the rest of the band is doing, and it's more distracting than anything.  Maybe it's like King Diamond where his voice is annoying to some people but absolutely integral to both Mercyful Fate and his solo band to others, but here I just can't get behind it.  Steve DiGiorgio plays a fretless bass too but he doesn't stand in front of your face and just woobly wrow wrow in your face for a whole goddamn Sadus album.  That dude from Hibria gets crap for playing too many notes as well, but man he reins it in for most of the songs and just decides to showcase the fact that he has thirteen fingers every once in a while, he isn't desperately trying to push the guitarists out of his way at every opportunity.  No I cannot let this go.  It's so fucking distracting, I forget what most of the album sounds like because I just keep remembering the modulated moose bellows every goddamn bar.  Seriously, stop it, Jaco, before I sic a kung fu superbouncer on you.

Forcing your way past the excessively irritating moan of the bass can be a challenge, but if you can somehow manage it, you'll find that the rest of the songs really aren't all that interesting.  They get a lot of kudos for being proggy, but apart from the occasional tripped out and atmospheric interlude, I'm not entirely sure why.  I don't mean to imply that I'm devaluing this for being pretty standard, but apart from the lengthy runtimes, yeah The Aura is pretty standard.  Yeah yeah it doesn't follow the traditional verse-chorus-yakkity-yak template, but you know who else doesn't?  Almost every other death metal band on the planet.  Unconventional structuring is pretty much the convention in death metal, and the mere fact that Beyond Creation tends to use more sections per song than most doesn't inherently make them any more progressive or advanced than Cannibal Corpse.  But even with the nomenclature dispute aside, nothing here manages to stick.  It's odd because they do a lot of different stuff, but it's all thrown together in a really slapdash style.  "The Deported" is a great example, because it kind of wanders in and out between high tempo breakdowns and slow, jazzy solo sections throughout the entire eleven minute runtime, and it manages to do so with only one coherent transition.  And even if it was more cohesive and tied together by an idea more complex than "tapping sections, weird off-time jazz percussion, and BASS BASS BAAAAASS", it wouldn't really matter because the individual sections of each song are pretty dull themselves.  The entire album just kinda happens without much consequence.  No particular part will grab you due to a very well done riff, or great solo section, or memorable melody, or strong climax, or pretty much anything.  This album plateaus from the start and never gets more or less interesting as it goes on. 

So yeah, The Aura is a collection of well performed but utterly uninteresting tech death pieces that wouldn't stand out in the slightest if it weren't for that motherfucking bass.  I get it though, I really do.  I understand that they're playing to their strengths because the man is a very proficient bass player, the issue is that none of the members can count "songwriting" as one of their strengths.  Beyond Creation is like that one dude who has incredible puck handling skills and can make crazy trick shots in a shootout situation, but the instant you put him on a team you realize he can't pass and has no idea how to handle defense and causes a bunch of turnovers.  There really isn't a whole lot I can recommend other than showy instrumentals, and that really doesn't make for a worthwhile album on the whole.

RATING - 30%

Friday, May 10, 2013


And fuck you, Ma-Ti! Your element sucks!

Truth be told, because I hated Crack the Skye such an unfathomably large amount, I couldn't give even the minutest of fucks about The Hunter.  In fact, I didn't listen to it until I decided to do this series, and even then I didn't bother with it until I'd finished writing on the four previous albums, so as to not taint anything or potentially warp my old perspective of the band.  This was going to be a new experience for me, this was an entirely new album by a band I once really liked that had since fallen into the toilet, and the only bit I'd heard about it was that it was apparently lighter and more radio friendly.  That's all I knew, no other preconceived notions.

Frankly?  It's okay.  Certainly worlds better than fucking Crack the Skye, that's for sure.

At this point, Mastodon had proclaimed that they were tired of trying to be so heavy all the time (booo!) and instead were going to go in a direction that would allow them to have more fun with their music (yaaay!).  I love fun music, I don't care how silly that makes me.  It's why I listen to Blood Stain Child and The Decline and Gargoyle and Municipal Waste and Kvelertak and all kinds of other bands, because they're fun to listen to and I love that.  Mastodon had dashes of fun here and there on songs like "Megalodon" and "The Wolf is Loose", but Crack the Skye was a tedious chore, and even if you liked the album, you certainly don't list "fun" as one of its qualities.  That wasn't what they aimed for, so hearing that their new goal was to have some more fun with what they do for a living actually pumped me up quite a bit.

The final product here, with 2011's The Hunter, is actually pretty divisive, and yet at the same time pretty homogenous.   This is a clear departure from the more matured (dull) and adventurous (meandering) direction they were taking with the previous album, so a large contingent of fans are going to have issues with how light this is compared to anything they'd done in the past ("Curl of the Burl", despite having a very catchy, bluesy main riff, catches a lot of shit in particular for this reason) right off the bat, but personally, I find the commercialism is overstated.  I mean yeah, "Curl of the Burl" could be on the radio, but that's really about it.  The rest of these tracks are all either too heavy or two weird for any substantial airplay, and they usually do pretty well for themselves depending on what they shoot for.  There are some strange, trippy pieces like "Stargasm", "The Hunter", and "The Sparrow", and unsurprisingly those do pretty much nothing for me.  I suppose they work for what they are, and they at least keep themselves for being shorter than your average drone track.  Some tracks like to wander between the two styles on display, like "All the Heavy Lifting", but apart from the droning stoner chorus, that particular track is completely unmemorable.  In fact, most of the album apart from the first three or four tracks until the last two or so are pretty unmemorable.  Oh don't get me wrong, there are pieces that stand out, like the incredibly soothing "Creature Lives" (this song would have been terrible if attempted in a previous album. The laid back style and harmonized vocals work stunningly at this point in the band's career) or the blistering "Spectrelight", but most of The Hunter ends up being nary a blur after repeated listens.

Of the two styles, I find the heavier stuff is far more memorable.  "Blasteroid" is a Mastodon classic as far as I'm concerned, with an incredibly slick main riff, just oozing with bluesy charm, and the seemingly lost Blood Mountain b-side in "Spectrelight", which starts off blazing and never nods off.  And then there is the bonus track, "The Ruiner".  The fact that something incredibly tedious like the title track or "Thickening" wound up making the final cut while this fist pumping, bone crunching stomper was left out is nothing short of a mystery to me.  It carries the most memorable chorus on the album, for Greek's sake (Heavy weeeiiighs thuuh crooow-ow-hooowwn).  It's impossible to resist singing along with.  When Mastodon said they were going to go in a less intellectual and more fun direction, this is the kind of track I was imagining.  Leviathan/Blood Mountain mashups with big hooks and singalong vocal lines.  You see, this is the kind of Mastodon I miss.  The band that used to put all of their energy into every song, every bar, every note.  That energy, that oh-so-missed showboating percussion, it's all but absent apart from three tracks that exude it marvelously.  "Blasteroid", "Spectrelight", and "The Ruiner" are by far the best tracks on display, and the only other one I can even put in that same echelon (despite being a completely different style) is "Creature Lives".  Four tracks.  Four tracks from a band whose first three albums never dipped below six or seven total classics amongst a bunch of other pretty good songs.

Mastodon really reined it in here, and that rarely works to a band's advantage, especially when they built their base popularity around how aggressive and energetic the once were.  Taking a band like Sex Pistols and telling them to write something more akin to Snow Patrol is going to end up sucking, and the same thing happened when Mastodon decided to try to be like Genesis.  Thankfully, the overindulgence is mostly gone on The Hunter, but the tripped out psychedelic parts still rear their heads occasionally, and the still managed to not really work.  It's clear that this is what the band wants to do at this point, but they still never figured out how to do it well.  They've always been at their best when releasing all that energy they've built up, and yet their latest album finds them doing their best to avoid doing just that.  This isn't really as poppy or commercial as it's advertised, but it's still just a sort of diluted version of what the band delivered on their last two albums.  The huge dead streak in the middle of the album is a huge mark against it, but the first couple tracks are pretty decent, and there are four fantastic ones that would be live staples if I had my way ("Blasteroid", "Creature Lives", "Spectrelight", and "The Ruiner"), so it's not a worthless album.  They're just missing their best elements, which really drags down the idea they were going for.

RATING - 68%

Saturday, May 4, 2013

MAINSTREAM EXTINCTION IV: Mastodon - Crack the Skye


I... I don't know what happened here.  I really don't.  Blood Mountain was a testament to what modern metal could be (I still don't know what to call Mastodon's style, so "modern metal" is just gonna have to be the big catch-all until I think of an appropriate title), and while each successive Mastodon release got a little bit less heavy (nothing was going to top the sheer weight of Remission, as flawed as the album may be), they were inventive and interesting and, most importantly, fantastic songwriters.  They could take all these elements I'd normally abhor and somehow craft very infectious and memorable tunes around them.  I really admired that ability, and no amount of overexposure or radio play is going to make me enjoy Blood Mountain or Leviathan less.

But the truth is, when Crack the Skye first came out, it pissed me off so much that I didn't listen to Mastodon at all for nearly four years.  From the release date of this fourth album until the day I started this series, I didn't intentionally listen to a single note from this band.

Yes, Crack the Skye is really that fucking bad.  All the kind of eccentric proggy elements I wasn't fond of but could appreciate how they made them blend with everything else before have taken center stage, and instead of aggressive barnburners and strong, catchy melodies and choruses, we are now inundated with long, spacy prog jams, and endless slow tapping melodies and 100% Mudvayne vocals.  It blows my mind how they could have spent their first three albums constantly refining their sound, perfecting the little details and carving out their own specific niche, just to reach this point and go "You know what?  Fuck all that, we want a more intelligent audience, so let's just drop the heavy influences we have and instead focus on Genesis and Dream Theater and the light Opeth songs".  I'm not crying because they changed (hell, every previous album was distinctly different from its predecessor), I'm crying because the change they made sucks like a turbocharged hoover

This reminds me a lot of what happened with Norwegian black metal hellions, 1349, with their fourth album (released two months after this here), Revelations of the Black Flame.  Both bands had started off pretty raw and unrefined and then nailed their particular sound on their third albums, and then for their fourth had apparently just decided that they needed a change and completely abandoned what they were good at.  1349 did not play to their strengths by abandoning the frantically brutal and straightforward black metal and instead focusing on ambient, and Mastodon did not play to their strengths by abandoning the punchy heaviness and strong, hardnosed aggression and melody by instead focusing on longwinded and melodic prog rock.  Mastodon taking a huge influence from Pink Floyd and King Crimson seems interesting at first, but when you actually hear it in action it just ends up horrendously depressing.  A band as frantic and energetic as this just doesn't translate well to this laid back style of songwriting.  The band never lets loose like they're so good at doing, and even Durgha spends all of his time in the background just giving very simple backing beats as opposed to the nigh endless showboating he's so well known for.

So the flair is toned down and it's a lot less showy, that doesn't necessarily mean it's inherently bad, right?  Most of the time, sure, but here it's proven pretty early on that when Mastodon wanders outside of their established home base, they just end up lost and confused and have no idea what in the hell they're doing.  All seven tracks here just kind of meander about without much cohesion between the individual instruments or the vocals.  And oh yeah, the vocals are at their all time worst at this point.  Not only is the Mudvayne voice the only real vocal lead (I still don't know which member sounds like individually, sue me, they're all similar), but it's also more nasally than ever before.  It's like he has a dastardly head cold that they couldn't wait to heal because they'd already booked the studio time.  The perplexingly popular "Oblivion" is a perfect showcase for such an issue, as that damn chorus repeats itself seemingly dozens of times, and his voice just grates and grates and grates and oh god make him stop Jesus Christ it's making my liver hurt somehow.  The vocals usually just drone over the top of whatever flittery psychedelic passages are noodling around in the background, and it just lacks any semblance of memorability throughout the runtime of the entire album.  It's bewildering, one of the band's main strengths in the past was writing the catchiest songs they could while using abrasive and seemingly incompatible elements, and yet here they focused on one style and managed to cock it up all-encompassingly.  Mastodon is not Pink Floyd, they can't write songs like this and make them work.  They tried, I can say they really obviously put their hearts into this album and I can appreciate such a personal and heartfelt effort, the problem is that it's totally ineffectual and they just can't get this sound down correctly. 

There are moments that are passable, like the "Let it gooo, LET IT GOOOO" chorus of "Quintessence", and the heavier part near the end of the same track that reminds me of "Capillarian Crest" from the previous album, and there are sections here and there in the way-too-fucking-long-because-we're-actually-a-real-life-prog-band-now-aren't-you-proud-of-us-yet-dad? "The Last Baron".  There's also one woefully short heavy segment about halfway through "Ghosts of Karelia" that works pretty well (probably because it's the most Blood Mountain-y segment on the album), but that's it.  Three or four short sections throughout a fifty minute psychedelic prog rock jam session, and that's an awful average.  Far too much of the album is spent trying to be all spacey and trippy and smart and it just ends up sounding so goddamn phony.  Yeah, I just said that they obviously tried very hard, but I still feel like this is insincere in a way.  To me, there are two ways this album came about; either the band was tired of the Adult Swim crowd they'd garnered and wanted to attract more "intellectual" fans, or they'd just finally reached cosmic levels of drug intake and decided to pay homage to all the pretty colors they'd been tasting for the last few years.  Either way, it was a shitty idea and no amount of genuineness can change that.  

Funnily enough, I feel like the band understood the problems with the album, as there are instrumental versions of each song floating around out there somewhere and they've since released an EP which featured shortened versions of the two needlessly overlong tracks.  Granted, the instrumental tracks were probably more to please the prog nerds/themselves and the abridged EP was probably the label's idea or their attempt to just cave in and please everybody, but either way they at least eliminate two of the bigger problems with the vocals and bad structuring.  But even with those cut out, the album is still flawed on a conceptual level and falls flat on its face straight out of the gate.  It's strange how when they take a bunch of different ideas and try mashing them up, they manage to craft some intense and hooky songs, but the instant they focus on one particular sound, they just completely bomb.  Crack the Skye is a bad experiment, and a terrible progression that just went against everything the band had been building to and working towards.  The laid back style doesn't at all work with the band's chemistry, and the album as a whole ends up sounding paradoxically unfocused and meandering despite being their first attempt to rein in their songwriting to one particular style.  This is honestly offensively bad to the point where I abandoned the band entirely upon first listening to it, and to the shock of nobody, time has not sweetened it.  They had been constantly improving up to this point, and then somehow managed to just wreck it in a fiery hodgepodge of shitty psychedelia and warbly nose-vocals.

RATING - 18%

Thursday, May 2, 2013

MAINSTREAM EXTINCTION III: Mastodon - Blood Mountain


So if Remission got Mastodon noticed and Leviathan made them popular, I'd say Blood Mountain solidified them as a premier mainstream metal band.  Around this time, they were about as on top of the world as they could imagine.  They managed to jump ship from Relapse (one of the biggest and most recognizable labels in metal) to Warner Bros, which is most certainly not known for their impressive roster of metal bands.  So they went from a major label to a major label, and after ripping shit up on giant nationwide tours like Ozzfest, damn near everybody knew who they were at this point.

Prime ingredients for a sellout, naturally.

Blood Mountain says "Fuck that" and proceeds to hammer a whopping nine excellent tracks in a row into your skull before any real misstep.  All that fine tuning that took place on Leviathan was perfected on this 2006 release, to the point where I'm not even sure what to consider it from a musical standpoint.  I was never comfortable with referring to Mastodon as a sludge band, since to me, sludge is the stuff like Grief or Eyehategod, clearly worlds apart from our media darlings here, but at the very least I could understand why that tag got tacked on to them early on.  But here?  It's gone.  They're like mid-era Death where I guess they could be called prog metal if you wanted to call them that, but they weren't really all the way there.  I mean, there's still a huge High on Fire groove going on here, plus whatever other stoner and hardcore influences, but for the most part they've just kind of become their own nebulous entity at this point.  In fact, mid-late-era Death is actually a pretty decent comparison at times when you think about how frequent the harmonized leads play a central role in the music.  Almost every track is crammed full of minor tapping melodies and harmonized runs, very similar to what Chuck fell just a little bit too much in love with around the Individual Thought Patterns era.  And of course, Kali is still the drummer, so there are still an abundance of skin pounding theatrics.

I'll admit, I was being slightly facetious when I said that we get nine tracks in a row before the album ever stumbles, as "Sleeping Giant" is merely a shorter version of those long stoner jams I disliked so much on Remission, but it manages to keep pace with the rest of the album and doesn't overstay its welcome.  It ends up being a neat little idea as opposed to a flow breaking intrusion, so I can't really stay mad at it.  In fact, the album as a whole actually contains a lot of singular experimental ideas that I'd normally despise, but mostly work out pretty well, like the trippy jam of "Sleeping Giant", the weird talkbox insanity in "Bladecatcher", and most obviously that stupid fucking Tron voice that Cynic used so much on "Circle of Cysquatch".  Oh man that will never sound cool.  Seriously, somebody needs to sit on some council that reviews every single recorded album before it's released, and if they hear the Tron voice they should give the bands a light slap on the bottom with a fucking sledgehammer. The last quarter of the album suffers a bit too from being much more laid back than the rest of the album, not to mention a frankly bizarre vocal performance by the Mars Volta guy in "Siberian Divide".  Plus "Pendulous Skin" has that fucking stupid thing that bands do where they tack a bunch of silence on to the end of the album just to stick in some little joke at the end.  Man that shit can fuck itself with dynamite.  It's normally pretty easy to ignore but it's so bloody pointless that I can't help but get upset with it.

Those quibbles aside, everything else about the album is great.  There are an abundance of guitar solos (at least in comparison to their early work) and they're all tasteful and well done, the riffs are among the the most infectious they'd ever write, and the songwriting in general is just leaps and bounds ahead of where they were before.  I mean, nothing was written poorly on the previous album, but here it's written superbly.  Every track flows beautifully from one section to another, never feeling like a haphazard mess despite each track containing so many different ideas.  The overwhelming heaviness is mostly gone, replaced instead with a very infectious and aggressive, yet still fairly poppy mentality.  Everything here can pretty safely be considered inoffensive while still clearly being hard, heavy, and aggressive, and it's rare that a metal band can manage to strike such a remarkable balance between legitimacy and accessibility.  Mastodon here nails it, with the kinda-progressive-kinda-stoner-not-really-sure style lashing out both extreme melody, extreme aggression, and weirdly effective (for a change) psyched out trippy parts, though they're still the weakest link of the album.  The neat style of riffing that Mastodon had always used but never really established as their own finally comes to life here, coming off as a high energy mix of High on Fire and Between the Buried and Me.  "The Wolf is Loose" pretty much sums up the entire album in a nutshell, with it's blisteringly high octane pace, ascending bridges, and vocals split pretty evenly between the manic shouts of the past and the Mudvayne voice of the future.  The album on the whole seems to use that goddamn Mudvayne voice most of the time, but at this point it's still firmly in the territory of Mastodon, and doesn't sound as silly as it could.

Apart from that beast of an opener, there is the "hit single" in "Colony of Birchmen", which is a great, midpaced melodic number with a very catchy main riff and instantly memorable chorus.  It's moments like this that foreshadow the more melodic and accessible direction Mastodon was pointing towards, and yet it showed how great they could potentially be with such a mindset.  Then there are tracks like "Capillarian Crest", which show case a more progressive, aggressive style, rife with tapping leads and frantic melodies.  Again, it showed that they were pretty good at most of the styles they toyed around with, even though they were mainly just reaching to other areas for inspiration in their own defined sound, as opposed to trying desperately to appeal to everybody.  Despite it's weirdness, my favorite track my actually be the instrumental "Bladecatcher".  It flows in a very creative fashion from each disparate section to the next, and the fast part with the weird whammy-ing talkbox strangeness just manages to work masterfully.  I wish I could explain how so many different, noodly sections end up sounding so brilliant to me, a guy who generally can't stand noodly prog, but Mastodon somehow manages to master it by basing the music instead around an accessible stoner/prog/modernwhatever hybrid.  "Hand of Stone" also gets special mention for the surprisingly thrashy riff it closes on.

Blood Mountain can basically just be summed up as "Mastodon".  That's it, this is what Mastodon had been building towards since their inception, and it just reached its apex here.  I'm still not entirely sure what genre to classify this as, as to my knowledge it's a style that started getting aped later by horrid modern bands that Liquid Metal likes to fellate.  Give it a listen, if only for the fact that it's one of the few definitively "modern" metal albums I can think of that both completely exemplifies the new sound of heavy music in the mainstream and is also not utter shit.  Mastodon managed to somehow strike gold here, and they were certainly on the upswing.  They'd hit their stride, surely they'd ride the momentum and creativity from this album into an illustrious career as both media darlings and legitimately good songwriters, right?


RATING - 88%