Saturday, June 29, 2013

Soul Remnants - Plague of the Universe


Sometime in 2009, I received an album in the mail.  This wasn't unusual, as I was writing for Metal Crypt at the time, and got plenty of promos, whether I asked for them or not.  I usually knew they were coming, or if I'd gotten one by surprise it'd also come with contact information so I could let the band know I received it and to link them the review when I was done.  That's what makes this particular album so strange.  It wasn't affiliated with any label that MC frequently dealt with (like Sevared or Metal Blade), the band hadn't requested anything from the site nor myself to my knowledge, and the package didn't come from the owner/webmaster of the site (usually he'd get piles of promos and then ship them out to reviewers).  This was... just kind of out of nowhere, with no contact information, from an address I didn't recognize.  This album, of course, was Plague of the Universe, by the unfairly obscure Massachusetts death metal outfit, Soul Remnants. 

Plague of the Universe has a couple things going for it that help set it apart from the legions of American death metal bands nowadays, and one of those is the fact that it has a pretty solid footing in that 1991 sound that Cannibal Corpse never left behind, with a very harsh, atonal thrash bent at times.  Instead of just going for all out brutality, over the top technicality, or a nasty, swampy atmosphere (the three most popular approaches to death metal nowadays, it seems), Soul Remnants never forgets that they're still writing music, and therefore each track comes off as its own self contained song, instead of a cog in a greater machine.  Both of these approaches are equally valid, but the ear catching collection of real songs seems to be a real rarity in death metal nowadays, with most albums being defined by an overarching feeling or theme.  That's not to say there's no theme to this here, as it's most certainly unified by infectious hooks in the riffs, a very powerful drum sound, and excellent, Ross Dolan-esque vocals.  Really, the vocals are a huge draw here, as they just sound like a roar from beyond hell itself.  Like the incredible Mads Haarlov, whom I always point to when examining great DM vocals, this sounds less like a man changing how his voice sounds, and more like he simply wasn't human in the first place.  The outro of "Rememberance" is a great example, with that massive "I SEE MY DESTINY" part.  Oh man that shit is just too cool.

Despite there being plenty of tracks that could be considered on the lengthy side, nothing here feels like it drags or was stretched out for the purpose of artificial padding.  The songs all flow very naturally, from one excellent proto-death riff to the next brutal tremolo section, everything has an inherent sense of melody that keeps it interesting throughout all the different twists and turns the record takes.  The melodies are surprisingly prevalent despite never being made the focus, and it just makes the record even more layered and interesting than it already is.  It's actually pretty difficult to assess each individual component that makes Soul Remnants tick, as no real member stands out as being leagues above the rest of the band (apart from possibly the vocals).  Soul Remnants work as one cohesive unit, just like the Boston Bruins (I'd like to make a joke about Boston losing the Cup to my Blackhawks, but I'd rather not rub it in (but just remember it only takes 17 seconds to prove who's the best, chumps!)). 

You know how I'm always throwing praise at Sectu for taking the idea of Immolation and making it more accessible?  Well Plague of the Universe takes the same idea and does it just as well.  There's pretty much nothing I don't like, and if there are any issues with the album, it's that I feel like the last couple songs start to lose identity a bit, but it's really only a small problem when compared to how great the other elements of the album are.  It all ranges from the fast and furious ("Chopwork") to the huge and triumphant ("Burning Reflection"), and it's all done extraordinarily well.  Definitely one of the better death metal bands out there nowadays, it's a shame they haven't released anything in about three and a half years.  I also learned while writing this review that the vocalist (Mitchell Fletcher) is married to Mallika Sundaramurthy, who most people recognize as the pretty face bellowing behind the mic for Abnormality, but what most people should recognize her for is the fact that she fronts not only one of the only three good bands on Sevared Records, but also potentially the most engaging and all around best BDM band around, releasing one of the best albums of last year with Contaminating the Hivemind.  Perhaps there's some idea sharing in the family?  I find it hard to believe that two of the best vocalists for two of the best bands in New England manage to live together and not rub off on one another.  Definitely one of the better surprises I've stumbled across throughout all my years of reviewing.

Sorry it took four years to actually review, guys!

RATING - 92%

Exmortus - Beyond the Fall of Time


SERIOUSLY?!  This album is... I dunno, it's a miracle.  I have no fucking clue how it managed to end up sucking as much as it does.  Really, if anybody remembers nearly five years ago, Exmortus's debut full length, In Hatred's Flame, landed a near perfect score from me.  It was such a delicious hodgepodge of over the top technicality and low brow catchiness.  It's was big, dumb, fast music for big, dumb, fast people like me, and I ate that shit up.  I've since gone back and revisited it, and you know what?  It's still fucking awesome.  Really, that debut pretty much perfectly showed what you could do by putting a new, modern spin on a few styles that were starting to get stale, and the songwriting was so stellar and the performance was so theatrical and bombastic, there wasn't a whole lot to complain about.  If you can go back and not rip shit apart to "Triumph By Fire" or "War Gods", you're dead inside.  Exmortus was seriously a defining band for me, a milestone in my life, and I rank the show where they headlined above Vektor and Diamond Plate in 2009 (before any of these bands sucked), three days before Christmas in the back room of a bar that resembled a subway tunnel as a top ten show for me, even if there was only like thirty people there.  The performances were all so exuberant and energetic, and none more so than Exmortus.  This was a band on fire, ready to destroy every goddamn thing in their path.

And then Beyond the Fall of Time happened.  I wish I could understand what the hell happened to everything during the time between the two records.  I'm not kidding when I say that not one aspect from the debut has been improved upon, and in fact they have all gotten worse.  The production and the vocals are the two most obvious, but the fiery leadwork and interesting songwriting are probably the two most important things to take a nosedive.  Really, apart from the intro to "Entombed with the Pharaohs" and the verse riff for "Black XIII", I don't see a whole lot to sneeze at.  The riffs aren't nearly as creative as they once were, and instead sound like a much less death metal influenced and much less intense version of Revocation as opposed to the passionate thrash/melodeath/Bodom style they used to exemplify.  I always rallied against them being lumped in with the whole rethrash scene along with Skeletonwitch and Vektor, but it's a bit harder to make that argument now.  A lot of the extraneous influences have been stripped away in favor of a more basic thrash sound this time around, and the songwriting suffers greatly as a result.  This is strange because I feel like Beyond the Fall of Time is meant to be a much more ambitious effort than its predecessor, what with there being three interlude tracks and four tracks over six minutes in length and all.  It's not often you see a band get less creative when it comes to tackling something with a bigger endgame in mind.  But yeah, it's mostly just a thrash album now, whereas before it'd be pretty misleading to simply refer to In Hatred's Flame as a thrash album.  It's pretty disappointing.

Every major problem with the album makes itself known within the first minute or so of "Kneel Before the Steel" (which the band has been trying hopelessly to turn into a catchphrase).  The production, instead of that full, beefy, and raw sound of the previous album has been replaced with a very plastic sounding botch-job.  What was once drenched in reverb and natural aggression hasn't been "cleaned up" as much as it's just been "fucked with".  Everything feels damp and muffled now, with the drums in particular sounding very wooden and dry.  The opening drum fills really make that apparent very early on, and the main riff just sounds really half hearted.  But when the vocals start... oh man what happened?  Despite seeing them live twice, I really do fail in the sense that I can't remember who handled a majority of the vocals, Conan or Balmore.  But seeing that Balmore has since left the band and Conan is the only one credited with vocals on this album shows that it must have been Balmore, because they sound completely different.  Instead of the deep roars of the past, we're presented with a much sillier sounding grunt most of the time, with these boundlessly stupid and ill-fitting falsettos thrown in occasionally.  This must be counted among the worst vocal shifts in metal history, because this new sound neither sounds good on its own, nor does it fit with the band's music in the first place.

If I have to give props anywhere, I can still at least say that while the leads and solos aren't as good as they could be, they're still pretty unrestrained and over-the-top, which is what I liked about them in the first place.  And while the vocal performance is pretty awful, I at least give it some credit for attempting to be more varied, and I suppose "Entombed with the Pharaohs" is decent enough to at least be a b-side from In Hatred's Flame.  I hate to pull the Torture Squad card and constantly compare everything this band does to one release, but it's so hard with that shadow looming overhead.  On its own, Beyond the Fall of Time is an ultimately forgettable technical thrash album with bad vocals and cool guitars, but as a followup to In Hatred's Flame, it's a complete, laughable failure.  There are flashes of the band's previous brilliance here and there, but it's almost always in the form of grey reimaginings of what we already know they can do better.  Maybe the new vocals are the biggest problem, or maybe it's the plasticky production, I'm not sure entirely.  The whole package is less than the sum of its parts, and really it's not worth seeking out.

RATING - 41%

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gargoyle - Kijuu

An experiment in criticism/Gargoyle fanboying

Now, Gargoyle has a very lengthy, fruitful, and illustrious history.  Pretty much every phase of their career is worth checking out, and even if I feel like some of them fall a bit flat (like Natural or Gaia), every album has at least one absolutely killer standout track (like fucking "Meditation").  But despite how important it probably is to understand Gargoyle's back catalog when it comes to dissecting any album in their career, I'm going to leave all that out for today.  No no, for today, we are simply going to focus on the band's sixteenth (!) full length album, 2013's Kijuu.  This review, so as to not scare off any curious readers, will treat Kijuu in its own little microcosm.  No other Gargoyle album exists, and I swear that after this sentence I will not namedrop another album from the band's past (but seriously newbies, check out Furebumi and Tsuki no Toge!).

One thing the Osakan warriors in Gargoyle have been able to prove here is their mastery of creating ear catching riffs that don't particularly sound like anybody else.  It's somewhat hard to explain, but you can feel that the band has a really distinct style of thrash riffing that sounds almost completely alien to what one would expect from a thrash band.  The prevalence of melody is completely over the top, and the riffs are much less straightforward than roughly 100% of their peers, taking on odd, herky jerky rhythms and bizarre note choices but fitting them into such a unique template in such a fitting way that there's really nothing to complain about.  Take something like "Yume Kajitsu" for example, as the verse riffs, while not necessarily weird, are certainly somewhat unorthodox, especially with the very prominent lead lines all over the place. That intrinsic melody that intertwines with the riffs that I usually attribute to something extraordinarily wanky like Arsis is on full display here, especially in tracks like "Face of Fate" and "SLA".  Most overtly though, Kijuu is catchy as shit.  Tracks like "SLA", "ABC", "Junketsu Sanctuary", and most prominently, "Kerberos" will bore their way into your skull and refuse to leave for days at a time.  Seriously, "Kerberos" manages to be the best and most memorable song on the album despite being the shortest song on display.  The hilarious accent only adds to the memorability.


They toy with a couple ideas here, like the fun, bouncy energy of "Sokonuke Jinsei Game" or the slower, more monolithic track in "Gudon", which doesn't do a whole lot for me.  If nothing else, it stands out for being the only song of it's kind on the album, with this huge, slow, grinding riffs over the crazy vocals.  Which, now that I think about it, really need to be highlighted here.  Kiba's vocals are one of a kind, with a really deep rattle coming from the back of his throat.  It's pretty hard to explain, but once you hear it, it'll be completely unmistakable for the rest of your life.  It's the low rattle that really helps give the band identity along with the stellar riffs.  It's impossible to describe riffs through text, but the very quick, sharp riffs on tracks like "Junketsu Sanctuary", "Inochi no Kizu", and especially "Kerberos" are among the best of the year thus far, and that's not to mention the great tremolo riffs in tracks like "Face of Fate" and "SHIT Shitto SHIT", the latter of which rides on a really groovy main riff for most of the time as well, alternating between that and near blast beats under fast palm muted tremolo thrashing.  There are absolutely wicked solos all over the place as well, since the ear for melody is so damn strong.  No matter how fast and wacky or deliberate and soulful the leads get, they almost always end up being very memorable and well written.  I can just keep throwing out examples until the cows come home, but Gargoyle's style is so difficult to describe that you truly do just need to hear it for yourself.

Kijuu's highlights are (for me) easily the mighty "Kerberos", the rip roaring thrash of "Inochi no Kizu", "The Gun", and "Junketsu Sanctuary", and the sheer embodiment of devil-may-care enthusiasm of "ABC".  This album is full of ideas, and while not all of them hit bullseye (the slower tracks in "Gudon" and "Yume Kajitsu" I can do without, and the chorus of "Face of Fate" is pretty crap), between the nardtard thrashing and the strange bounciness to be found throughout, there isn't a whole lot to dislike.  It's a very unique album, and there's pretty much nobody who sounds like Gargoyle anywhere else on the planet.  From their very distinct riffing sensibilities to the utterly inimitable vocals, they truly are one of a kind, and Kijuu shows that in spades.

(Okay, I have to cave and bring up the biggest flaw of the album is simply that it just isn't as creative as what the band is normally known for.  I said I wouldn't compare it against other albums, but Gargoyle pretty much defies description unless you're already familiar with the band.  In it's own little microcosm, Kijuu is fantastic, but when it comes to modern Gargoyle, you can do much better with Kisho or Kuromitten.  Even the best songs here like "Junketsu Sanctuary" remind me a lot of better songs from better albums, like "Amoeba Life" from Tenron.  The neat flourishes they used to revel in have all but been abandoned for a more stripped down approach ever since roughly Kemonomichi, and this is the first time where the songwriting (while as unique as ever) just simply isn't as up to par as the band can usually muster.  Kijuu certainly isn't worth skipping, as "Kerberos" is one of the better songs the band has written in a decade or so, but it's just simply underwhelming when compared to the previous three or four albums.)

RATING - 81%

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Murder Made God - Irreverence

The world let out a resounding "meh"

Murder Made God...

I sat there with that potential opening line for like, two or three hours.  Irreverence here is so goddamn boring that there's just nothing to talk about.  It's tech death, that's all there is to it.  They used to be a wiggery slam band when they went by the name Human Rejection.  That's not very interesting because none of that influence can be found on this album, so it's moot point, who cares?  Not I, not you, not the tech death geeks nor the slam bogans, nobody.  This is a pointless, redundant album that nobody cares about and nobody should care about, that's basically the end of that.

Really, Murder Made God remind me a lot of Hour of Penance, just with more stop start parts.  Really, I may not have reviewed them to date, but I've been pretty vocal about how much of a raging Hour of Penance fanboy I can be, so at the very least that similarity makes the band tolerable.  I won't tardrage and start ripping people apart if they come on the radio (I live in a fantasy world where stuff like this plays on the radio), but I don't see myself listening to this very often once I finish this review.  And yeah, this is gonna be a really short one, because what really can you say about this?  It's really fast, it's really intense, the vocals are deep roars, the guitars chug at an inhumanly fast pace, and the drums are absurdly fast and technical.  There, that's all there is to say, what more do you want me to do?  I mean, there is a pretty cool riff in the chorus of "Aberrant Curse", but that's one of the few memorable moments.  Remember how I derided Cytotoxin for being good but utterly pointless?  Well yeah, I'm willing to bet that fans of Cytotoxin will flock to Murder Made God as well, because it's the same basic idea.  Hyperfast brutality with no original ideas. 

Now I know I can be a bit of an asshole when it comes to moderating the review queue at MA, and people can be upset when I reject a review for not being descriptive enough.  "The description is very vague and glossed over, and could describe any random [genre] band".  So I need to be a hypocrite here for a second and say that yes, this review could describe any random brutal tech death band, but the reason is because this sounds like any random brutal tech death band.  I mean, it's pretty decent, but I'm probably saying that because I love this particular style so much.  There's nothing to help this band stand apart from the legions of bands that sound exactly like this.  Super fast, not necessarily technical in the same sense as something like Decrepit Birth (it's not very weedly or noodly), but it's very riffy and pummeling, but it never really sticks with you.  It's cool when it's on and it doesn't exist when it's over.  I wish more bands could manage to make this style as memorable as others can (like the obvious one I keep mentioning or the first Fleshgod Apocalypse album).  Worth a look if you're a fan of the style, but it doesn't really have any staying power, unfortunately.

RATING - 54%

Lonewolf - Army of the Damned

Bumming Wild

Lonewolf is... uh, kind of a difficult band to critique.  I say this because these Frenchmen seem to be most renowned for one, and only one, thing.  They are probably the most blatant and shameless Running Wild clone on the face of the planet right now, with the only other real contenders being the (superior) Blazon Stone.  While the Swedes take influence from the early middle era of the legendary band (as if their name wasn't a big enough clue), Lonewolf here takes a window every so slightly more recent.  Basically instead of spanning the Death or Glory - Pile of Skulls era, they take the influence from the Pile of Skulls - The Rivalry era.  Considering I'm sure a raging RW fanboy, and since Rolf has been steadfastly dragging the band's name through the mud lately, I should be happy that a couple good worship acts are here to fill the void in my life, right?

Well, kinda.  It's certainly neat to hear a band take such obvious influence from one of the greatest metal bands to ever exist, but it's also exceedingly lame when they put absolutely no effort into putting their own spin on it.  Lonewolf is a carbon copy of Running Wild's sound on The Rivalry, and that's really about as deep as the description goes.  It's loaded with high tempo rockers with plenty of double bass, and most importantly those triumphant tremolo picked melodies all over the place.  That is really the most obvious element they've decided to just take and do nothing interesting with, but even the utter lack of creativity is softened somewhat by the simple awesomeness in these melodies.  Even when it's a totally redundant band ripping off a far greater band, those damn melodies will always manage to pump me up.  If there're any two things that really separate Lonewolf from Running Wild, it's the power metal influence and the vocals.  Yeah, Army of the Damned here may be a complete ripoff of mid-90s Running Wild, but it's a tad closer to power metal than my favorite Germans ever got.  So for that, we get a slightly quicker average tempo and a bit more double bass, but otherwise this is still among the most obvious worship bands this side of Warhammer.

The second biggest difference is the vocals, and holy shit they suck.  I wish I could describe them accurately, but it's just so hard to do with words.  They sound like that fucking HONK HONK laugh that Pee-wee Herman does, but with a French accent.  I'm sure that sounds hilarious, and at first it really does, but good lord does it wear thin quickly.  This is not the sound a lead vocalist should strive for, in any medium.  I guess as a background thing or in part of a group vocal, it sounds fine, but when it's the most prominent aspect of the album outside the melodious guitars, it's really grating and distracting.  It's a shame because the guitars are really good (in both the leads and those juicy, juicy melodies), but the vocalist just really needs to chase his next shot of whiskey with some drain cleaner.  There's a difference between a voice having grit and just sounding comically ridiculous.

This is another one I can't really go on at length about because I've already said everything there is to say twice.  It sounds like Running Wild with a terrible vocalist, quod erat demonstrandum.  The title track has a nice chorus and "Hellbent for Metal" is really catchy, but past that I really can't recommend for anybody other than Running Wild fanatics who really want some new music in that style to help assuage the pain of Shadowmaker.  Otherwise skip it, there's nothing to see here.

RATING - 40%

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Power Trip - Manifest Decimation

Ripping and tearing

Crossover thrash does indeed have a pretty literal definition: "a mix of thrash metal and hardcore punk".  And yet with this fairly loose and open ended with a ton of theoretical wiggle room, a vast majority of the bands playing the style seem totally content to just be DRI or MOD with lyrics about partying, pizza, nachos, Ninja Turtles, yadda yadda you know the deal.  The legions of Municipal Waste clones really drag the entire scene down, and proclaiming yourself as a fan of the genre pretty much automatically pins you with the stigma of flat billed caps, sleeveless denim, skateboards, beer, and pubic lice.  That's why Power Trip here is so refreshing, because it actually is a pretty neat combo of thrash and hardcore, a pretty literal one we don't see very often. 

Coming off the doom/sludge/black/drone drenched roster of Southern Lord, these Texans come flying out of the gate with unbridled aggression, and a serious hardcore influence that makes their presence on the label not seem too crazy.  From the moment Manifest Decimation kicks into gear, it spends the the next half hour just pounding its way into your skull with a very dirty, gritty sound.  This isn't your typical party thrash that "crossover" usually makes you think of, this is fucking vicious.  A big part of this is the production job, which is just stellar.  Everything sounds huge, but it's not particularly clear.  It's very gritty and drenched in echo and reverb, like it's being played inside a tunnel.  The vocals are the most obvious example.  The production job actually does well in highlighting the aggression and sharpness of the riffs, so I see no reason to complain about it.  It's a little unorthodox, but so is a crossover thrash album with an average song length around four minutes.

As I mentioned, the old school hardcore influence is very prevalent, and mixes gorgeously with the highly prominent thrash.  The mark Black Flag left on this band is pretty goddamn huge, and it helps them stand out from the legions of simple Cross Examination types of bands in the scene.  Manifest Decimation takes one part Black Flag, one part Slayer, and one part Kreator, thereby creating some of the most outwardly ferocious music to be released this year.  It's dripping with vitriol, and throughout the entire runtime of the album, I find myself enjoying it.

There is one somewhat major problem.  Most of the songs... just, well aren't very memorable.  They're fun while they're on and provide an excellent soundtrack with which to beat your chest and punch strangers, but after spinning this roughly a dozen times, the only songs or riffs that really stick out to me in any way are "Manifest Decimation", "Power Trip", and "Hammer of Doubt".  So this is kind of a flash in the pan type album, but it's incredibly good for being one.  So overall, Power Trip still stands as a welcome breath of fresh air in a very stagnant scene that is in dire need of innovation.  The only really innovation the band makes it to bring in some more old school west coast hardcore influence than most bands, but it's still a nice change of pace, and the lengthy songs are also a neat spin on the usual template.  It may not stick with you, but it's worth a listen, if nothing else.

RATING - 75%

Daisuke Ishiwatari - BlazBlue in L.A. Vocal Edition


Now this is a somewhat stranger one for me, but honestly, this gets a ton of playtime from me.  Daisuke Ishiwatari is best known for being the brains behind the popular Guilty Gear series of fighting games, wherein he wrote all of the music, designed the characters, and voiced the main antagonist.  A few years back, he but that series to rest and started up the new franchise, BlazBlue.  Now, I've always had an interest in Guilty Gear but never had an opportunity to play it, but I've been all up on BlazBlue's dick for a while now.  It's the most overtly Japanese thing I own, with characters including a loli with a giant magic wand and multiple personalities, a doctor with gigantic tits and a sentient six foot pole who is in love with an amorphous, black blob who is hell bent on eating everything, a catgirl with no face, no pants, and bright red panties who fondles and comments on every female character's boobs, an android girl with swords for wings and gold plated pubes, and my personal favorite, a half squirrel teenage girl with DDD cups and enough underboob to smother an entire family.  As much as I like ridiculous crap and overly technical fighting games that I'll never be good at (seriously, if you can do Arakune's 160 hit combo, you are either lying or you are a fucking freak), that actually isn't what initially drew me to the series.  No sir, it was the power metal soundtrack.  And while I definitely recommend checking out the original soundtracks for Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift (including Extend, for the extra seventeen songs), for established fans, we have this neat little bonus album, BlazBlue in L.A. Vocal Edition.

All this really means is that eleven tracks from the previous soundtracks have been chosen and given vocal parts, that's all.  It's kind of a pointless cash grab, really, considering there's really no new music on display.  Nothing is rerecorded or rearranged or anything.  It's just the original tracks with a singer on top, belting out absurdly retarded and literal lyrics pertaining to the characters that each song represents.  That is without a doubt the worst part about the album, the completely mangled Engrish nonsense lyrics.  It shouldn't really matter in the long run, but that's really the entire point of the album at hand (to add vocals and lyrics to already written songs), it's kind of a huge problem.  Some of them I guess I can't be too mad at, like "Black Onslaught", because it did originally have terrible lyrics, they're just now sung by a much more competent singer. 

Oh yeah, there are three different singers here, all of varying degrees of quality.  First off we have the male vocalist with a super clean and nasally yet somehow still midranged voice who takes on tracks 1, 3, 8, 9, and 10, the male vocalist with some semblance of grit and energy who sadly only appears on tracks 2, 4, and 7, and lastly we have the female vocalist with a one octave range who tackles tracks 5 and 6.  The first male vocalist and the female vocalist duet track 11 together.  As I've alluded, that second vocalist is by far my favorite and is far better suited to the heavier tracks on display, so it's no surprise that "Gluttony Fang", "Susanoh", and "Black Onslaught" are the best tracks here.  Everything here is pretty uptempo power metal, but those three stand as the heaviest, with "Black Onslaught" just being a straight up melodeath song.  In fact, "Gluttony Fang" is by far the best track on the album period, as the riff at 0:17 is legitimately one of the better ones I've heard recently, and the completely awkward and ill fitting piano parts have been replaced with actual vocals.  I kind of wished they'd've done "Thin RED Line" for that same reason, though the strange cacophonous piano fits that track a bit more.

And while I'm whining about the track selection, "Rubble Song"?  Really?  Who listens to this high octane melodic power/melodeath soundtrack and says "Man, you know what would really hit the spot right now? A BALLAD!".  Get that shit out of here, son, it totally fucks up the flow of the album here.  Why couldn't they have chosen something like "Gale"?  At least that one is really upbeat and fun.  I should be in charge of this shit. 

But really, I'm nitpicking.  The new vocals don't really detract from anything, and most of the time add a fun new dimension to the songs fans already enjoy.  Sometimes the new melodies are really great, like "Under Heaven Destruction", while some others really suck, like "Awakening the Chaos".  In fact, that last one is the only song that really suffers from adding vocals, with the female vocals desperately lacking in range and just sounding horridly atonal in the most inappropriate spots, obscuring the incredibly engaging choirs of the original version.  That one dud aside, the rest of the album is very fun and cohesive, managing not to sound like a mere collection of tracks from a soundtrack and instead like a full album with just a bunch of guest singers.  There isn't a whole lot in the way of creativity, and the compositions are all structured pretty standardly, but it's well done enough to still be enjoyable.  Even with that said, I feel this is probably for fans of the games only, as most of these tracks won't mean much to non-fans (though I maintain that "Gluttony Fang" is a legitimately awesome track along with "Under Heaven Destruction", "Black Onslaught", and "Susanoh".  I'd definitely recommend starting with the original soundtracks, so as to get some great tunes that were left out of this compilation, like "Bullet Dance", "Thin RED Line", "Imperial Code", "Gale", and most importantly, the instrumental version of "Awakening the Chaos". 

RATING - 70%

Monday, June 24, 2013

Suffer the Wrath - Buried in Blood

Hammer PAOUWNDS, crushing BLAHOUWS

I have a thing for aesthetics and gimmicks, sorry, but I do.  That's not to say that a band full of dudes with beards and long hair blasting and growling about death and gore won't appeal to me, but a well executed gimmick can really tickle me in the right areas and do quite a service towards the initial exposure of your band.  You think I would have ever listened to something as awful as Winds of Plague if they didn't parade around the fact that they tried (though they failed) to implement epic keyboards into their otherwise brotarded deathcore?  Do you think GWAR (while thankfully also writing great music) would have nearly as huge of a fanbase as they do without their obnoxiously over-the-top stage show?  Fuck no, of course not.  One should always remember that the music is the number one most important aspect of a metal band, but to shy away from the theatrical side of heavy metal just does a great disservice to the inherently over-the-top nature of the music.  And that is where Suffer the Wrath comes in, because these dudes understand how to strike that sublime nexus between striking theatrics and punishing music.

This short, three song EP, Buried in Blood reminds me of the first Fleshgod Apocalypse album, which everybody should know is on its own plane of awesomeness.  Right from the get go, Buried in Blood lets loose with intricate, hyperspeed riffing and blisteringly quick percussion, backed by the hellish roar of the vocalist, and doesn't let up for the entire ten minutes of this tragically short excursion.  There is an inherent sense of melody vaguely running in the background the entire time, never bursting into the spotlight with blatant melodeath style leads, but just quietly plugging away in the background, naturally entwined with the riffing to give everything a very full, cohesive sound.  It's not the same execution as the complex melodic sensibilities of early Arsis or anything, but it's the same basic idea, which is to focus on the brutal but never fully lose the triumphant feeling that comes with the right melody in the background.  The fist pumping vocal hooks get this point across well, as this manages to be both unrelentingly brutal while also sounding like a rallying cry for an army laying siege to... well the entire planet.

But really, what were those theatrics I was talking about?  You see that dude on the cover there?  Yeah, that's the band's stage attire.  Samurai armor, Sauron helmets, and Kerry King gauntlets.  Quick, think of something more fucking awesome, I dare you.  Perhaps (most likely) it's just me, but the visuals of these generals of the encroaching dark army performing these wretched, twisted odes to decimation just adds an entirely new dimension to the music.  Buried in Blood is the audial equivalent to a senseless massacre in the way of utter domination, and I don't know about you, but I buy into what's being sold so much more when it's being sold by these imposing figures with ten foot spikes on their battle armor than a bunch of dudes named Steve who work part time at the pet store.

I wish there was more I could say, but there just isn't a whole lot of material here.  It isn't the most creative death metal on the planet, but it's serviceable and slathered in a stylish overcoat of gore of and the crushed skulls of the defeated.  I don't care if it's silly or juvenile, the stage gimmick here adds a lot to what would otherwise just be decently cool death metal, and I love it juuuuuust a little bit more for the extra effort put into the non-musical aspects.  Really, imagine a song like "Bones of my Enemies" from Usurper, now imagine it being played by Suffer the Wrath.  That already goddamn awesome track just got twice as goddamn awesome.


RATING - 84%

Gotsu Totsu Kotsu - Legend of Shadow

Future Drug, track 13

Bear with me folks, I'm just gonna gush for a few paragraphs here.

Gotsu Totsu Kotsu hails from the land of Ho-oh and Lugia, and they take great pride in their ancestral lineage.  I'm going to be honest, the cover art for Legend of Shadow is one of the first things that attracted me in the first place.  I can't explain it, but I adore that old style of Japanese art, and any band that utilizes it gets bonus points pretty much automatically (the initial reason I checked out Sigh in the first place wasn't because of the pretty saxophonist or because everybody was ejaculating over Hangman's Hymn at the time, it was because the cover for Infidel Art was just fucking awesome to me).  So yeah, it wasn't really my interest in Japanese metal nor my love of death metal that drew me towards GTK, but something as simple as their aesthetic choices and album art.  Fleshgod Apocalypse should take notes here.

Underneath the vibrancy of the cover art lies some of the most energetic, pulse-pounding death metal this side of Bolt Thrower.  Really, it took Legend of Shadow a mere three minutes to rocket itself into my top 5 albums of the year thus far.  The album starts off on a high note and just never falters afterwards.  One would really expect this to wear thin considering it's gargantuan running time of 75 minutes, but unlike fellow trio Krisiun's latest flop, The Great Execution, it never even comes close.  This is extraordinarily impressive considering that each song doesn't do a whole lot to throw curveballs at you within itself.  Many of them ride on two or three riffs for most of the duration, which is scary considering the average song length is like ten seconds shy of seven minutes.  But this is one of the biggest strengths of the band; their ability to take simple ideas and let them grow on their own.  Most of these tracks play out like very high tempo death metal jam sessions.  Instead of playing out like highly choreographed technical exercises like a huge contingent of death metal seems to do nowadays, it feels more like the band told each other what the general idea, tempo, and main riff of each song was, and then just kind of rode on it for a while while chucking in a couple solos and the occasional new section.  Legend of Shadow is a really "organic" album in this sense, and the old timey feeling and emotion that is poured into every song should really make the album impervious to the classic criticism of "there's no feeling, it's all just wankery, yadda yadda" that death metal can seem to attract at times.  The last track, "Fukeyo Kaze, Yobeyo Arashi" showcases this the most literally, as it really just feels like the bass jamming on a riff for a minute or two before the drums start complementing it and the guitar starts building a riff over it.  It doesn't even break into something that feels like it was rehearsed until the last minute and a half or so, the rest has a really laid back improv feel.

It also needs to be highlighted that Haruhisa Takahata has pretty much figured out exactly how to do everything right.  He's the vocalist and the bassist, and I feel it's no small coincidence that the vocals and bass are by far the two most interesting things on display.  Most longtime readers of mine have probably noticed that whenever I'm giving an example of top tier death metal vocals, I'm usually pointing to Mads Haarlov from Iniquity.  Takahata fucking nails what I love so much about Haarlov.  What comes out of his mouth is not a voice, nor a style of growling, it's simply the sound of a thousand demons condemning you to eternal damnation.  Seriously, these are some of the most hellish vocals I've heard in ages, they're so goddamn throaty and punishing.  The man is a beast, nothing less.  And his bass, oh lord his bass.  He plays like a death metal Flea, adding these slick flourishes of slap bass runs all over the place.  It feels like it could be gimmicky, especially since three songs come right out of the gate with a ridiculously fast slap bass part ("Harakiri", "Marishiten", and "Miburo no Ken"), but it's really not overdone in the context of the entire record.  Some tracks will go by without it ever rearing its head, others will just have it do it in the background, not at all hogging the limelight, while other times it'll even complement the frenetic fretboard fireworks of the guitar (like the end of "Fukushu no Syukushi").

Speaking of the guitar, the other two members of the band are great in their own right, but Gotsu Totsu Kotsu always comes together as one cohesive unit as opposed to three showboaters vying for the spotlight like you might expect judging by the bass's intensely flashy style.  One thing I really enjoy is that the drums are pretty much the opposite of what you'd expect for the genre.  Apart from one picosecond in the intro of the opening track and for a small bit during the drum solo that opens "Bushu no Kagerou", there is absolutely no blasting throughout the entire album.  Yeah, that's right, no blast beats, and no double bass above a relatively leisurely pace.  The percussion certainly takes a few cues from Bolt Thrower and Autopsy, that's for sure, but it injects it with a huge thrash presence.  Yeah, the thrash influence is very high on Legend of Shadow, but it'd be misleading to refer to the band as a death/thrash band despite the drums almost always being rooted in the hyperfast, German thrash style and the riffs sounding like they were written by Kreator but downtuned a few steps and covered in slime.  The feel here is 100% death metal, even when the other interesting little bits pop up.  Like the title track, "Kage no Densetsu" (thank you, Virtua Fighter and Legend of Mana for helping me translate that), rides on a riff that is decidedly rock n roll in flavor, but put through a death metal filter.  Pretty much everything about this album, even during the numerous high tempo segments, feels very laid back in its mentality, and that, to me, is the X factor with this album.

Everything feels very natural and organic, and despite how much I adore bands like Hour of Penance, I really can't slap that adjective onto many modern death metal albums.  Seriously, how many can match the sheer joyous feeling of victory in the outro of "Saigo no Rakujitsu"?  I'd wager next to none.  Gotsu Totsu Kotsu, with Legend of Shadow, aim for a fringe sound and nail it so decisively that I almost wish no other band even attempted to sound like them.  The whole idea of a death metal jam band with super high tempos, no blast beats, and slap bass sounds like a damn mad-libs exercise instead of a proper ensemble, but GTK have figured out how to make it work, and good lord I will not get off my knees about it.  I hate to hint at or give away my year end list as it grows and as the year goes on, but if this doesn't end up in my top 5 by year's end (most likely top 3, to be perfectly honest), I'll be utterly floored.

RATING - 96%

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cannibal Corpse - Gore Obsessed


Okay, I'm definitely known to accentuate the negative, and there's no denying that I have a ton of fun tearing a bad album to shreds and that I love stirring up controversy and get an erection so hard that I could feasibly concuss a kitten with it whenever people talk about me or my writing.  It's just kind of what I'm good at, and I always criticize bands for not playing to their strengths, so what kind of hypocrite would I be if I didn't do the same thing?  But with that said, I personally feel I'm at my best when I'm being very positive (my personal favorites of my own are almost universally positive reviews), and so today I'm going to indulge everybody by putting an album up on a pedestal while berating everybody on the way up.  Yeah that's right, it's finally time for me to tackle Cannibal Corpse (just pretend I never reviewed Evisceration Plague four years ago).

I know it's odd to claim that what I'm damn sure is the most commercially successful and perpetually relevant death metal band of all time is underrated, but man you'd be amazed.  The metal underground seems to have this strange aversion to Cannibal at times, particularly the Corpsegrinder era (with a notable universal exception with Bloodthirst).

But BH, it all sounds the same!  They've been releasing the same album for twenty years now!  They were only good with Chris Barnes!

I'll never understand this fascination with deifying the Barnes era of the band.  Yeah, he was a much better lyricist than Alex and Paul (the two who have mostly taken over those duties since his departure), but as a vocalist he only managed to get through about an album and a half of the deep growl before just turning into this side-splittingly comical grumble on The Bleeding.  If nothing else, Corpsegrinder has managed to stay just as vicious and vitriolic as he always has been, even dating back to his time in Monstrosity.  And Gore Obsessed is no exception.  I love everything about Corpsegrinder, I love how he resembles a thumb, I love how he's one of the most recognizable faces of the band despite writing almost nothing since joining 18 years ago, I love how he sings as fast as a death metal version of Sean Killian, I love how his high vocals sound like a hardcore vocalist fucking a garbage disposal, I just love all of it.  He's pretty much the archetypical death metal frontman, and his vocal ability leaves nothing to be desired.  He gives it all in the studio and Gore Obsessed showcases his ability just as well as any other album, possibly even better than most.  In fact yeah, screw it, this album has the best vocal performance the band has ever given.  Seriously, the lows are more hellish than usual and the highs are more vicious than usual, Fisher really went above and beyond for this one, and while he has been incredible before and since, this one is pretty much the apex of his ability.

But of course, George is just one cog in the machine that is Cannibal, and the rest of the band is definitely at the top of their game here.  A wise man once posited this (and was largely ignored, like most geniuses in their time (though he wound up actually being a freakin' lunatic, so it's a wash)), but Cannibal Corpse really is the last bastion of that pure death metal sound from the early 90s.  After it had finally waded away from that primordial splooge of just being extraordinarily heavy thrash metal, around the time the guttural vocals became the norm and the blastbeat became less of a flair and more of a base; when song structures got more complex and melodies became darker and more twisted or just thrown out altogether in the name of atonal madness.  This is the exact moment that Cannibal has been relishing in since 1991.  Really, slap an old school production job on Torture and that release date could be 1993 and nobody would bat an eyelash.  They've never felt the need to drastically reinvent themselves, and they have been completely correct to not do such a thing.  They've struck gold in staying constantly relevant by helping to shape a seminal style of extreme metal and then waving that flag everywhere they go.  There's no need for them to take the Deicide route and start adding in neoclassical solos ala Necrophagist, or take heaps of influence from Devourment or something and just get super brutal and crushing.  No, they know what they're good at and they continually keep it fresh by simply just being incredibly talented songwriters.  That's not to say they haven't evolved, because any fan can tell that they clearly have.  With each new album, the compositions get slightly more developed, more well thought out, just a bit speedier, tighter, and more complex.  But even so, they keep themselves grounded in that style they helped found, and that alone makes them more interesting than the legions of DDR bands who just continually do the whole "Like Incantation, but... uh, Incantationier" thing a million times over.

All of that comes into play here on Gore Obsessed.  It'd be misleading to say "you know what this sounds like already", because that implies that Cannibal hasn't had a new idea in ages, but on the other hand, all the elements they've always employed are here in full force.  Paul's incredibly tight drumming with a deafeningly powerful sound pervades like always, and his performances are a huge part of the band's sound.  Really, his blasts may not be as impressively fast as somebody like Mauro Mercurio or any ridiculous tech death band, but they are almost infinitely more powerful.  And even so, he's still a very good death metal drummer and never feels like he's in over his head.  The accusations of him being the Lars Ulrich of death metal and complaints about him being too slow will always baffle me.  Not only are they demonstrably false (check "Pit of Zombies", "Drowning in Viscera", "Dormant Bodies Bursting", et cetera), but by that logic, Mike Smith, Steve Asheim, and Pete Sandoval are also terrible drummers because they don't play as fast as the dudes from Brain Drill or Decrepit Birth.  Pull your heads out of your asses, kids, Paul Mazurkiewicz is a damn fine drummer, and anybody else behind the kit would simply change the entire dynamic of the band.  His groove heavy style is just as important as Asheim's relentless blasting in Deicide.

On one hand, I feel like there aren't as many standout riffs here as there are on some other releases (especially ones that would come later, like "Purification by Fire" from Kill or "Demented Aggression" from Torture), but on the other hand, the cliche holds true where Gore Obsessed makes up for the relative lack of standout moments by just having potentially the tightest and most consistent collection of tracks the band has ever put together.  In a way, this is kind of a "back to basics" album, since little flourishes like Webster's ridiculous bass runs are all but absent here apart from the closing track, but the songwriting continued its upward progression around this time, so what we have are a collection of songs that are marginally thrashier than what they'd done for the decade prior, but still managed to get tighter and more complex in the process.  Really, something like "Pit of Zombies" or "Compelled to Lacerate" showcases this brilliantly.  It's simpler than the blisteringly complex Bloodthirst that preceeded it, but I almost feel that it's a better representation of what Cannibal stands for.  And even with that said, there are still neat little quirks like that backmasked intro to "Sanded Faceless" or the impressively lengthy screams in "Mutilation of the Cadaver" and "Hung and Bled".  Their trademark slow song this time around ("When Death Replaces Life"), is also potentially the best the band has ever released, even above classics like "Death Walking Terror" and "Festering in the Crypt".  And unlike those, it even builds to an exhilarating climax, and the whole song just gets faster and faster as it goes on.  Even the Metallica cover is incredibly fun.  They really just did everything with this album, and all of it hits bullseye.

Gore Obsessed may not be the apex of their career, but it's pretty goddamn close, and it's potentially my personal favorite from the band.  It's in the top three at the very least.  It may not have something as instantly recognizable like "Make a Sandwich", "Fucked with a Knife", "Hammer Smashed Face", "Skull Full of Maggots", "Death Walking Terror", "Pounded into Dust", or "Stripped, Raped, and Strangled", but the overall quality is freakin' astronomical, and if you can't lose your mind to "Savage Butchery", "Hatchet to the Head", or "Grotesque" at the very least, then I don't know what to say to you.  "Grotesque" is seriously a top ten all time song for the band, and it needs more love, most definitely.  That chugging part at the end of the verses when Corpsegrinder is just hollering TURTLEKILL TURTLEKILL over and over again?  Sublime!  This is easily one of Cannibal's best, and I'd genuinely recommend it as a starting point when looking to get into the Corpsegrinder era of the band.

If you don't like Cannibal Corpse, you don't get to pretend you like death metal.

RATING - 93%

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Christopher Lee - Charlemagne: The Omens of Death

Let's not yank each others' chains here


Really, I respect the absolute shit out of Christopher Lee, the guy is an incredible actor and has done more in his lifetime than I will ever do in my next six lifetimes, but... man he just can not do this.  So many people are just ejaculating with glee over the fact that Saruman is 91 years old and releasing metal albums, but I think they're just letting some of the extraordinarily glaring flaws get swept under the rug.  It's the same phenomenon we saw with The Devil You Know, where people fell absurdly in love with it simply because Dio, Iommi, and Butler were reunited and pushing like, six hundred years old apiece, and ignored the fact that only four of the ten songs are really engaging in any way (heresy, I know, but it's just really boring). 

There are three huge problems with the second in the Charlemagne saga, The Omens of Death, and thankfully one of them isn't the production.  By the Sword and the Cross suffered from one of the hands down most comically botched production jobs I'd ever heard.  Lee's vocals were approximately fifteen times louder than anything else, and the guitar sounded like somebody humming in another room, it was just a complete wreck.  Thankfully, people seemed to know what they were doing this time around, as it all sounds much more like a real album.  The guitars are still pretty muffled, which is kinda lame, but this clearly wasn't meant to be a guitar focused album, so I suppose it's not really a big deal.

But no, one of the three huge problems is just that the songwriting is unbearably bland.  Really, for a power metal fan, you've already heard this album back in 2002.  All the common trappings are present, from the choirs that are nice but kinda fall flat and aren't as epic as they should be, the most unimaginative riffs ever, a drummer who knows a grand total of two patterns (both just really standard beat keeping, Lars Ulrich level stuff), and attempts at catchy melodies and big soaring choruses.  Almost every song feels about three minutes longer than it actually is, and it's just because it's all so goddamn boring. I wish I could go into more detail but it's not really possible.  It's extraordinarily standard power metal with less bombast than one would hope for from a project with this much ambition.  Stale riffs and stale compositions, nothing to see here.  If there's any shining bright spot with the music, it's that it oftentimes reminds me of the music from Dynasty Warriors 4 (check out the end of "The Ultimate Sacrifice", tell me that isn't straight away worthy of being the theme over the credits).

Another gaping fissure in the album is actually the main draw itself.  I'm sorry, Christopher Lee's vocals are fucking horrible.  He just narrates, which is all well and good normally, he has a great narration voice, but he tries singing frequently, and he's just bad at it.  He's an old man, and he has an old man voice, and after 91 years of kicking ass, he just doesn't have the physical ability to be singing these big, booming baritone parts that he's aiming for.  Remember back in my Kelly McKee review how I lambasted his vocals for sounding like he was just changing his tone while talking?  Yeah, sad to say this about one of the most influential and well respected (and just downright most talented) actors of the past century, but Christopher Lee here does the exact same thing.  Apparently he used to sing back in the day, I haven't heard that stuff, but right here, right now, he's incapable of doing what he's trying to do.  It's admirable, but it still sucks.  The best parts vocally are without a doubt the choirs, since they don't involve Lee's voice, and they're one of the only times we get to hear exuberant voices instead of tired old man storytelling or lazy guest vocals.  Yeah, even the guest vocals, by technically accomplished opera singers, are just boring as hell.  All of the vocals sound sedated, and it's a chore to listen to.

The last problem though, is by far my favorite, and I didn't even realize it until I was halfway done with this review.  Whilst talking to a friend about it, I noted that the vocals seemed to not match at all, like they were off-tempo, and there were even parts where it sounded digitally sped up (like the middle of "Charles the Great").  His response to this observation is still making my head spin, several days later.  "Well that's because there are basically no new vocals on this album, they're all the same parts from the first Charlemagne album".


I'm sorry, I don't give a single shit if you're Dracula or Saruman or an ex-WWII spy or a real life knight or a nonagenarian, this is fucking lazy and inexcusable.  The Omens of Death is, for all intents and purposes, a heavy metal remix of his first album, By the Sword and the Cross.  I've seen almost no mention of this around the internet, in promotional material or interviews, and even Lee himself states: "The first Charlemagne album is metal, of course, but what I sang was more symphonic".  Ironic then that the music has been made heavier but his vocals are literally unchanged.  It's hard to forget "I SHED THE BLOOD OF THE SAXON MAN" when it's repeated ten squillion times across two separate albums.  I'm on to you, you dastardly old codger.  This is fucking sheisty and dishonest, and I, for one, don't tolerate underhanded laziness, even from one of the most accomplished men out there.  The songs all have new titles and are arranged differently, and there's no mention from Lee that the first three quarters of the album provide nothing new from him, so yeah, I'm calling bullshit on it.  I feel like most people haven't even noticed since, let's be honest, nobody listened to that first album.  I know I certainly only heard a few samples and decided to stay away, what about the rest of you?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  The last handful of songs are new apparently, but they suffer from all the same problems as the first batch; boring instrumentals, sedated vocals from an old man with a whopping three semitone range, and a general feeling of disconnect between Lee and the rest of the band.

This is a trainwreck, through and through.  There's almost nothing I like about it, from the dull arrangements to the wimpy riffs to the uninspired melodies to Lee himself, almost every component falls flat.  I like what Lee was trying to do, and it's very inspiring to see such a respected actor with a passion for something as juvenile as power metal when he's old enough to have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, but let's face it, a lazy vanity project isn't going to give metal any more legitimacy as a style of music nor an artform.  The Omens of Death is bad enough as a standalone, but the added insult of Lee not even doing so much as recording new vocals or writing new lyrics for a vast majority of the album is just absolutely ludicrous.  Yeah, after all he's done, he's earned the right to relax a little bit, but I retain my right to call him out on it when it results in a shitty final product.  At the very, very least, Hedras Ramos does a great job with what he's given, and his solos are generally very cool, but they aren't enough to save the album.  In fact, Ramos couldn't save a game of Final Fantasy if the entire game took place within a save point and the only command in battle was "save" and the game was called Final Fantasy: Save Point.

RATING - 15%

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Insomnium - Since the Day It All Came Down

From now on, there's an absence of smile

Insomnium is pretty close to the most overrated band ever.  I'm astonished at how high their average scores are at MA, and I know some people who just mercilessly ejaculate over everything they do, and it drives me up the fucking wall.  They're melodeath with no riffs and mainly just sad melodies, ooooooh!  The vocals are usually pretty great but when it comes to this particular little subniche of melodeath, I prefer the more triumphant side like Amon Amarth.

And yet, here I am, adding another high score onto the pile, and that has a lot to do with what makes Insomnium work in the first place, they're a mood music, and there really isn't much better when you're in the right mood.  And right now?  I'm damn sure in the right fucking mood.

What mood is that, you ask, dear reader?  Fucking soul crushing depression, that's what.  Since the Day It All Came Down is pretty much my soundtrack to wandering aimlessly around the forest for hours at night, silently praying that I step in a bear trap and get eaten by a fox instead of having to return to civilization and daylight again.  The title track is the song I hear in my head when I'm standing at the edge of the metaphorical cliff, just basking in the last moments of life before I finally reach the triumph of nothingness.  This is a paradoxically energetic take on the concepts of loss and loneliness, and it works in a way I would have never expected it to work.  It's just gloomy melodeath with a surprising amount of variety with an abundance of acoustic passages and a very, very heavy focus on melody.  This is just an overload of emotion and melancholy, painted over the canvas of generally mid paced melodeath.

This goes against everything I look for and appreciate in music, really.  I like my music to be fun, I like to enjoy fast and energetic stuff, it's why I pimp Slayer and Gamma Ray and Vader and Municipal Waste so much even though they're some of the most popular bands in the genre.  Insomnium is about as close as you can get to being completely opposite without turning into doom or sludge or some shit.  Most of Since the Day It All Came Down moves along at a very deliberate pace, with special care put into every note and every lyric, and it emphasizes the melancholic mood and atmosphere of the whole thing.  Quite a far cry from the rip roaring frenzy I normally prefer to listen to.  That's not to say there aren't high tempo moments, most notably the climaxes of the title track and "Under the Plaintive Sky", but the majority of the runtime is taken up by midpaced melodies and acoustic passages.  And I hate to be an artsy fartsy "why can't Cannibal Corpse write death metal as beautiful as Opeth?" tool... but goddammit Insomnium write some fucking gorgeous music.  At not one point in the record do I think the melodies fall flat, or that the pacing is off, or that the atmosphere isn't effective, none of that.  I'll admit to not being entirely familiar with all of Insomnium's work, but the biggest difference I can notice is that the vocals are slightly better on some later albums (being deeper and more full sounding than here), but otherwise the band clearly had their signature sound pegged down by now.  I don't know how you can make music, much less something based in metal, actually sound like the embodiment of despair and loneliness, but they manage to nail it here (yeah yeah I've never listened to Katatonia or My Dying Bride, sue me).

Since the Day It All Came Down is pitch dark, and slathered in moodiness.  The bright spots shine in the more overtly gorgeous moments, but for the most part the relatively clear lyrics and strong melodies carry you into a pit and then leave you there to rot.   Niilo's vocals are remarkably clear for having such a deep, booming growl, and it helps that the lyrics are surprisingly well written as well, expertly conveying the themes of loss and sorrow to the listener.  I do have a problem with the clean vocals that pop up from time to time though, as they pretty heartily fail to be emotional and instead just kind of sound like a deep voiced guy kind of rambling in the background.  That aside, the keys and acoustics of the album really probably add the most to the whole package, but the big climaxes that surface in places like "Song of the Forlorn Son", "Closing Words", "Under the Plaintive Sky", and especially the opening title track are the most memorable and powerful moments on the album.  Shit, singling out those four songs is a bit of an injustice to the other seven.  This is stunningly consistent in its songwriting and its quality.  If you like one song, you're probably going to like them all.  They're all big, ambitious melodeath songs with no real riffs to speak of, merely focusing on really basic rhythm patterns underneath deep Johan Hegg-esque growls with soaring melodies that manage to be both triumphant, beautiful, and sorrowful at the same time.  All this coupled with a perfectly crippling atmosphere makes for an album that, while not perfect, does enough right to make me not really care about the small flaws like the clean vocals/whispers.  When I'm not in the mood, I'll never put this on, but when I am, it's the best album ever.  The atmosphere is just nearly flawless in its scope and execution.

That's really what makes this work, the atmsophere, the mood.  The feeling of this album is impeccable, and the entire time it's on, I may physically be sitting on my laptop drinking tap water that tastes suspiciously like celery, but in my mind I'm sitting with my feet dangling idly over a cliff, above a beautiful scene, looking back on my life and friends and family and loves with teary eyed reverence.  Since the Day It All Came Down transports me to another world, where there is only me and endless wilderness.  Nothing else matters, I'm just about to return to the dirt, like we all do someday, and I'm looking back at the beauty of what my life once was, and lamenting the fact that all the beauty is gone from myself.  The world is a splendorous place, full of wonder and majesty, and yet in my own mind, it's monochrome and dry.  There's nothing left for me but to just ruminate on what I had before I lost it.  How I lost it doesn't matter, the point is that it's gone, my world is empty apart from myself, the lush landscape which taunts me with its vibrancy, and the overwhelming weight of sorrow and despair on my shoulders.  The soothing sound of the waters in the forest creek and the rustling of the leaves in the wind is what permeates my psyche and reminds me that there is beauty in the world, but it is no longer mine to coexist with.  With this final breath, I stand up at the edge of this cliff, close my eyes, and smile as I allow the gentle breeze to give me the subtle motivation to finally succeed at what I'd consistently failed at in life...

I put my best foot forward.

RATING - 90%

Monday, June 3, 2013

Evile - Skull


Isn't it incredible how quickly Evile went from one of the pet "they're gonna be huge someday" rethrash acts from the early days of the surge to "oh man they still exist?"?  Yeah it's true, Evile seems to reap commercial success and consistently chart with each new album (a huge rarity for metal bands) and yet I still don't know a single person who still listens to them.  They entered the game with the groundbreaking new idea of "play like Metallica, sing like Slayer" at a time when everybody was doing exactly that, but they seemed to break from the mold by being a little more Master of Puppets and less Kill 'em All.  Basically they're the band that Trivium wished they could be, and that was about the extent of it.  I sang the praises of Enter the Grave when it was new, but that probably had more to do with the fact that I really bought into the whole rethrash scene when in first emerged (when it was still called neo thrash), and less to do with how much staying power it actually had (I even considered Merciless Death, one of the absolute worst bands of the style, among the best back then); because looking back, it doesn't have a whole lot going for it apart from "Thrasher", "First Blood", and "Armoured Assault".  I skipped the next two albums due to a lack of interest, but now here I sit with the band's fourth album, the not-so-excitingly-titled Skull.

Eh, this is pretty much the same problem the band had way back in the beginning, one or two good songs scattered about a ton of utterly forgettable ones.  This is frustrating because the skill is certainly there, every once in a while the band can just unexpectedly crap out a very intense or memorable riff (like "Underworld" or "Outsider"), but most of the time seem totally content to just pump out the same dozen Metallica throwaways that wouldn't stick with the listener if they were covered in velcro.  Tracks like "Head of the Demon" and "The Naked Sun" just fucking plod on and on and on and never seem to end.  Most of the tracks here seem to be much thrashier takes on the speed rock numbers of The Black Album like "Through the Never" and "Of Wolf and Man", never once doubting their roots in pure thrash but also never doing anything remotely engaging.  And when they're not romping through midpaced snoozers, the tempo is usually very high and the performances very energetic.  This is when the band is at their best, when they're just roaring through high octane rippers, unleashing all that piss and vinegar they're clearly still so full of.  But no, instead we get bad "Sanitarium" knockoffs like "Tomb", because clearly that is what people want more of.  I mean really, if you can show me somebody who believes "Battery" would be better if the intro took four minutes and doubled as a two minute outro, with the time in between being midpaced, I'll show you somebody you clearly just made up to try to prove me wrong.  Dick.

I was being a little facetious earlier when I said Evile was just doing the same thing as everybody else.  Honestly, I'd reckon about 90% of the rethrash bands out there exclusively rip off Exodus, Slayer, or Kreator.  The world actually has relatively few Metallica knockoffs (really, it's like Evile, early Testament and... I dunno, Xentrix?), so Evile does stand out a bit from the crowd for that reason alone.  It's unfortunate because the band is undoubtedly at their best when they're doing exactly what I commend them for not doing.  When they play super fast and angry and violent and end up sounding like Slayer or Coma of Souls era Kreator, that's when they churn out the most enjoyable and memorable music.  "Underworld" and "Outsider" are without a doubt the best tracks on display.  It's not even close.  That's when Matt and Ol Drake's razor sharp riffing skills get the opportunity to shine.  Matt's Araya impression has apparently morphed over time to more closely resemble the newer sound of Chuck Billy, which I again don't have a problem with.  Say what you will about the quality of Testament's music, Billy has always had a great voice if nothing else.

I get what Evile was trying to do here, I actually respect them a ton for trying to mix it up and not be yet another faceless, one dimensional thrash rehash.  This isn't like Guillotine or Amoricide or Hatchery or any other of the virtually nameless retreads out there, I can still hear this and say "Yup, this is certainly an Evile album!"  They spread the tempo across the board, and it's a commendable effort, but the problem is that they fall short whenever it dips below "furiously fast".  There are only a handful of songs where they do this, and a grand total of two where it keeps up from start to finish.  This is gonna have to be a shorter review for me because at the end of the day, Skull is a pretty shallow album and I've already touched on every worthwhile point.  For all the brainless, no-creativity rethrash bands out there, you could do a whole lot worse than Evile, but I still wouldn't recommend them to anybody outside of Metallica diehards or people who really, really loved The Crusade for some reason.

RATING - 40%

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Chidren of Bodom - Halo of Blood


Over the years, I've managed to review five of Bodom's then-current seven albums (don't read the first four of them, for your sanity's sake).  They're not a band I ever really set out to constantly cover, but when a band is as important to me as this one is/was, and when said band finds themselves on such a consistently downwards slide, it's hard not to pipe up every time they disappoint you.  I maintain, even after all these years, that Follow the Reaper is one of the most important albums in my development as a metal fan, helping ease me from the HerPeS-only mindset into more and more extreme metal thanks to my eventual acclimation with Alexi Laiho's frenzied yowling.  The vocals and lyrics have always technically sucked, but the level of enthusiasm was so high that it never mattered.  It fit perfectly and just the sheer amount of fun the band was having with the light melodies and preposterously wanky dueling solos rubbed off on the listener.  That all changed with Are You Dead Yet?, which focused more on heavy chugging and less on guitar/keyboard theatrics and fast paced and fun melodies.  Ever since then, the band has been on the steady decline, releasing three crappy mostly-melodeath albums with wretched lyrics, banal, insipid jokes for cover tracks, and just really lazy songwriting.  Years and years we fans have put up with the band just not giving a single fuck about anything, churning out brainless albums every few years, collecting a paycheck, spending it all on booze, and then making another shitty album to pay for their next supply of booze.

And then 2013 rolls around, and queue in Halo of Blood, the band's eighth album.  Right off the bat, the aesthetics felt kinda different.  The last three (bad) albums had all portrayed Roy in a more straightforward and vicious light, rife with menacing poses and gory splatter, whereas the earlier albums I love so much always seemed to portray the embodiment of death in a more romantic, mysterious light.  Compare:

Death be not proud...
Clearly two massively different approaches to both their aesthetics and their music itself.  Halo of Blood rolls around and suddenly it looks much more subdued.  The palette is very predominately white (which could symbolize something lighter than previous, less dark), with the trademark Grim Reaper looking down remorsefully upon a frozen lake; where the snow has been brushed away you can see the water is packed with screaming victims, frozen under the surface.  This is intriguing, this piques my interest.  That romanticized take on death that used to counteract the band's youthful exuberance is so much more interesting than the last three albums which simply reaffirm the band's juvenile nature. 

But moving past that... yeah, the throwback artwork is 100% indicative of the sound to be found on Halo of Blood.  I could not be happier for what this album is, I really couldn't.  The fifteen year old version of myself wet himself with happiness merely two tracks in.  This is the true successor to Hate Crew Deathroll, ten sad years after the fact.  As far as I'm concerned, this album just erased two and a half albums worth of ill will that Bodom had built up.  Relentless Reckless Forever, Blooddrunk, and all but about three-ish songs on Are You Dead Yet? no longer exist to me.  Bodom's drug fueled mishaps of the mid-late 00s were all just some strange hallucinatory fever dream I had.  They never sucked!  Hooray!

The important thing is that the music is good, right?  Well, this album finally one-ups its predecessors by actually doing just that, making good music.  The opening track, "Waste of Skin", utilizes a main melody quite similar to "Hate Me" from the stellar Follow the Reaper, and just revels in this lighthearted melody that the band used to always throw around in abundance.  This is the throwback we've been waiting for, one that came straight from the heart, not the wallet.  This is loaded with tracks that wouldn't sound out of place on the band's third or fourth albums ("Waste of Skin", "Bodom Blue Moon", "One Bottle and a Knee Deep", "All Twisted"), and this is the sound that I and countless other fans have been pining for for roughly ten years now.  I feel like, somewhere down the line, Bodom got a wake up call of sorts.  I'm not sure what or where or how, but the band collectively realized that they just weren't connecting like they used to, and had to think about how to stir up the passion within their fans again. The trick was to just... just try again.  It's clear to me that the band wasn't didn't really have their heart in the last two albums, as they all just seemed to kind of go through the motions.  Halo of Blood feels like the band is pouring themselves into the writing process again.  They're having fun again, and for the first time in years, so am I.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend that there are a wide array of influences at work, but there are indeed a few different moments.  Most notable is the nearly Dissection-esque meloblack influence in the title track, which ranks among the fastest songs the band has ever written.  I'm most pleased with the fact that Bodom went back to doing what they did best, but that doesn't mean I don't also appreciate them trying something new (mostly because it works, as opposed to the last three albums of new ideas).  There are a few bum spots as well, since there are still some minor holdover from the chuggy days with "Damage Beyond Repair".  And yet again we have one of their kinda-trademarked terrible slow songs here in "Dead Man's Hand on You".  Really, does anybody honestly prefer the slow Bodom songs like "Angels Don't Kill" or "Banned from Heaven" over "Towards Dead End" or "Kissing the Shadows"?  If you do, I've got a fiver on you also preferring the doomy Overkill songs, you freak of nature.  The point is that they're an inherently energetic band, so toning it down really doesn't do them any favors.  It's like Stone Cold Steve Austin hosting a cooking show where he never once puts a crowd member through a table or Stone Cold Stunners Rachel Ray, it's a situation wherein the band/host isn't playing to their strengths.  "Scream for Silence" does the same thing, but it's got a better pace and moves along well enough to not be too irritating (though the main melody has a really obviously flat note that seems completely out of place, which is irritating since it repeats so much). 

But with those quibbles aside, there isn't a whole lot I dislike about Halo of Blood.  It's the best kind of reversion I could have ever asked for.  The keys are back in a relatively prominent role (much more so than the fuck all they did on Blooddrunk), ripping through overindulgent solo battles with Laiho's lead guitar just like the old days, along with providing melodies over the verses and such.  "All Twisted" and "One Bottle and a Knee Deep" are great examples of this hearkening back to the glory days.  He still doesn't let loose as much as he does for Warmen, but he does finally get some more opportunities to exercise those wacky spiderfingers of his.  After several, several listens, I still can't tell if the lyrics are as drop dead derpy as they always have been, but to the album's credit, there aren't any titles as fucknards stupid as "Northpole Throwdown" this time around, and I'm not hearing "YOW" at the beginning of every single song nor "FUCK" at every sixth word, so it seems like Laiho has finally, finally learned how to write lyrics.  There's a good possibility I'm wrong though, feel free to point out any horrid examples I may have missed.  Even the cover song is good again.  I mean think about it, early on the band was covering Iron Maiden, Stone, and W.A.S.P., and then around the time they started getting shitty, they started covering Britney Spears, Kenny Rogers, and Eddie Murphy.  Their cover song has always been a good indicator of their attitude at the time, and they morphed from musicians having fun and covering their influences to a bunch of durr hurr lol random Invader Zim dipshits covering anything they thought was funny.  So who do we get this time around?  The mo'fuckin' Thunder in the East, LOUDNESS!  Yeah, "Crazy Nights" is a kind of silly song, but it's silly in how over the top cheesy it is, as opposed to silly in the sense of METAL BAND COVERING POP SONGS?!  OH PSHAW!  They're tackling metal again, and it's awesome.

That melodic death/power metal hybrid I've been missing so much is back in full force, and Bodom fans around the world should rejoice, for the band has finally pulled their collective heads out of each other's collective asses.  This still have a focus on heaviness in parts, as opposed to the "really fast Nightwish songs with ridiculous screechy vocals" of the first two/three albums, so if you didn't like Hate Crew Deathroll, then chances are you won't like Halo of Blood either.  But let me tell you, I (and thousands of other fans) would much rather have a Hate Crew 2: Electric Boogaloo than Blooddrunk 2: Drunk Harder.  Comeback of the year for me, hands down.

RATING - 81%