Sunday, January 29, 2017

Gorod - A Maze of Recycled Creeds

A rare example of a new logo making older music

When I was first really getting into death metal and all of its subgenres (so like 2007-08), Gorod was one of the bands that really latched on for me.  Leading Vision (and to a slightly lesser extent, Process of a New Decline) were a rare kind of tech death that didn't focus on unending sweeps and blast beats, nor did it slather itself in so much progressive noodling that it descened into jazzy nonsense and forget to throw hooks at you like a pissed off Mike Tyson.  There was a bouncy jubilance that many of their contemporaries lacked, keeping the jazzy moments appropriately sparse to make them a fun and unexpected twist instead of an incessant feature, and it made them rise above with aplomb.  Unfortunately, around the time of Transcendence and A Perfect Absolution (and the subsequent change of vocalists), they became exactly the type of band they deftly avoided being, focusing way too much on jazzy Cynic worship and totally losing that pulverizing blend of sinister brutality and flittery eccentricity, dialing in on the latter and losing what made them so uniquely wonderful.

That preamble was merely to explain why I ditched the band and didn't bother listening to their most recent album, 2015's A Maze of Recycled Creeds, until now.  For all the fans like me who dug them from the Gorgasm days up until 2009, this is the comeback we've been waiting for, because this is easily the followup to Process of a New Decline, time displaced five years later.

This is just as jazzy and progressive as before, but the hammering death metal has been amped up again.  It's weird, because the driving force of the music are still the jumpy harmonized leads that are pretty much always drilling away in the foreground, but it's all rooted in a more menacing, metallic growl again.  This album is as vicious as it is impressive, coming off as some bizarro universe where the instrumentalists of Dream Theater were huge fans of Symbolic-era Death.

The hooks and catchiness are the things I missed most in their down era, and that's what's back here to make me a fan again.  One thing they were always great at was toeing the line between straightfoward, driving metal and catawampus melody with disjointed rhythms.  Head back to that marvelous 2006 album and check out "Thirst for Power" for a great example.  Here you can check out tracks like "Temple to the Art-God" or "Syncretic Delirium" and draw immediate parallels.  Even tracks that take on their newer approach like "Rejoice Your Soul", with straight flukey jazz sections and spoken word moments cutting up the frantic metal just end up working more effectively this time, even though it is still one of the weaker tracks.  Lighter tracks like "Inner Alchemy" chuck ohrwrums at you like no tomorrow, and that's what makes the band so special to me.  Nobody else so deftly manages to intertwine mind-melting creativity in their riffs and leads (like on "From Passion to Holiness", owner of the best riff on the album), it really is a breath of fresh air to hear the band take on the style that made them so unique in the first place without trying so hard to outdo themselves and ultimately overdosing on Cynic.

What they lack in morbid brutality, Gorod makes up for in sheer forward motion.  They're an energetic band with tons of conviction and songwriting chops, drawing comparisons yet again to Anata, as opposed to something like Necrophagist, despite the focus on melody and hookiness.  A Maze of Recycled Creeds isn't a particularly ferocious album, nor was it necessarily meant to be.  Gorod is a band more tailor made for guitar nerds than greasy headbangers, but as a member of the latter group, I adore this anyway.  There are things I'd still change, like the new vocalist isn't nearly as powerful as the old one, instead devolving into ineffective shouting at times instead of that thunderous roar, and some of the more weird moments hearken back a little to closely to the previous album to my liking, but in all honesty it's mostly just a product of trying to blend A Perfect Absolution with two parts Process of a New Decline, and it works for what it is.  They're not going to be the same band they were in 2006 nearly a decade later, but they tried to bring back those songwriting skills, and for the most part they succeeded.

RATING - 85%

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tengger Cavalry - kAAn

The Army of God experiences a crisis of faith

I've been hyping the shit out of Tengger Cavalry since 2013.  It seemed like everything Nature Zhang (as he was known at the time) touched turned to gold, and things only improved after Cavalry Folk when he expanded the band into a full lineup instead of a one-man band.  Up through Ancient Call, I was hooked.  Whether he be focusing on soothing, ritualistic tracks, rife with traditional Mongolian instrumentation and throat singing, or riffing your face off with simple yet effective melodeath/folk metal corkers, he was on fire, I wanted more and he/they consistently delivered.

Then Nature moved to New York and restocked the band with all new members, and suddenly things changed.

Their output after solidifying the new lineup exploded.  Since the move, they've released a mindboggling twenty five releases in barely three years, mostly consisting of singles, live albums, and rerecordings of previous full lengths.  We haven't had a "true" new Tengger album since Ancient Call, and if I'm being totally honest, I haven't bothered listening to most of these new releases.  I mean, I've already heard Blood Sacrifice Shaman, why do I want to hear it again five years later?  I can just listen to the original.  Sure I'll check out Mountain Side, but only for the title track, since the release is otherwise full of remixes and rerecordings.  So with that in mind, I ignored everything until this new EP, kAAn, since it's the first thing in a long time to consist album entirely of new material.  And upon first listen, something seemed... different.  Something about the Tengger I love was missing, and I couldn't initially place my finger on it, so I finally went back and listened to all those rerecordings I've been ignoring for years.  Then it hit me.

They're whitewashing everything to all but eliminate the harsh vocals.

I don't know if Nature blew his voice out and needs to exclusively utilize the throat singing that lent so much character to the band early on, or if it's a conscious choice to focus more intently on the cultural heritage of the band and eschew the more "normal" metal elements, but either way a lot of power is missing from the band now.  This worked on some things, the reworked version of Blood Sacrifice Shaman is excellent, if wholly different from its original incarnation, and Hymn of the Earth (the new Ancient Call) sounds pretty good if a little disappointing on some of the heavier and more aggressive tracks now missing that vicious snarl.  But around the time of Cavalry in Thousands (a rerecorded version of The Expedition, which was already a rerelease with a few changes of Black Steed from a few months prior), even the production seemed to fall off and just sound less massive and powerful.  This all ties in because it telegraphs kAAn very well, as it's a decent enough EP that retains the band's spirit quite well, but a lot of the tertiary elements that helped make the good band a great one are missing.  The production feels kinda flat, it's missing that propulsive oomph that helped kick the previous albums into overdrive when the songs called for it.  That's a shame because there are some awesomely aggressive numbers on here, like "Accused" and "Struggle" that feel like they're missing that extra gear they're trying to reach.

Musically there isn't exactly a whole lot to complain about, it's the same style of pummeling fury entwined with the cultural quirks and twangs of that god damned beautiful horsey fiddle I'll never fall out of love with, but the fact that each song falls short of three minutes and end on fadeouts, it just sounds underdeveloped.  Like they have great ideas and wicked riffs to present, as kAAn is chock full of them, but the songs were never exactly finished and just kinda fizzle out in the middle of a cool section.  This is, ultimately, what the band's main achilles heel at this point in their career, as they're fully embracing the digital age and pumping out singles and EPs at an almost alarming rate.  The catch is that very few things sound finished.  They've recently been releasing covers of classic songs that all run for about half of their original runtimes (the Metallica one (Master of Puppets) has a cool reworking of the chorus but otherwise sounds pretty ehhh, though the Motorhead and Megadeth ones are great), and that's true on kAAn as well.  It sounds like everything should be doubled in length, like there's a lot more song to get to before it just fades out and starts the next one.  They're recording and releasing every idea that falls out of Nature's head, regardless of whether or not it's fully fleshed out, and that's disappointing coming from a band that released like five classics in a row in the first half of the decade. 

The good parts are still here, the riffs are mostly a satisfying gallop and the folk instruments and throat singing add a ton of flavor to the otherwise simplistic riffs to great effect, but with the production polished so tightly and the explosive growls completely excised, it sounds like half a band releasing half an EP full of songs only halfway finished.  What I want most out of the Tengger camp is for them to simply slow down.  They're delivering an astounding quantity of music but the quality has dipped sharply.  As inherently simple as the backbone of the music has always been, it's just not working the same way it used to, and I feel like it's mostly because they're just doing too much too quickly, releasing first drafts of every new song and reworking old ones with new ideas and just nothing sounds finished.  kAAn has a lot of potential, with some songs being ridiculously cool (most specifically "Accused", "Mind Raid", and "Struggle") but just failing to follow through with their ideas.  I hate to be so harsh on Tengger because I was such a huge fan previously, but that's exactly why I'm so disappointed.  I know they can do better, and really all I want is for them to chill out and release some fully fleshed out songs for a change.


QUICK HITS: Hammerfall - Built to Last

I was really hoping for a Sick of It All cover

We all know my opinion on Hammerfall, mostly because it's the same opinion 95% of metalheads share.  They're the safest band in the universe, nearly every album sounds the same, loaded to the gills with effortless "Hail Metal!" filler that feels like it took as much time to write as it does to listen to.  They've always had a good song or two per album but that's it.  Nearly twenty years and ten albums since their debut, and they've finally scraped together enough material to make one truly great album, and that should be unforgivable for a band with such status and longevity.  Their career seemed to be taking an interesting turn, with Infected trying a whole bunch of new things, so of course fans revolted since their favorite comfort food decided to change the recipe.  The deceptively titled Revolution was the sound of the band conceding and returning to their old formula, and yet somehow they sounded rejuvenated and put out their best album since Crimson Thunder (shut up, I like that one).  And now two years later here we are with Built to Last, and it's... well, the same bland, formulaic filler crap they've loaded nearly every album with since their inception.  The only reason it's "Built to Last" is because they've spent the last two decades proving without a shadow of a doubt that you can do nothing different and not lose any fans, so this is just another album pumped out of a production line with the sole purpose of touring again.  They're sort of like Overkill in that sense, only lacking a legendary early era that makes it at least fun to catch them whenever they come through your town.  Like usual, there are a few good tracks here, particularly the more speedy and energetic ones like "Dethrone and Defy" and "Stormbreaker" (the latter of which is genuinely great and especially frustrating because it shows that the band damn well knows how to rock), but when stacked up against eight more rehashes of "Renegade" and "Hearts on Fire", it just doesn't do enough to overcome the safe and unchallenging formula they've made their bread and butter over the years.   I just feel like the band has no charisma, which is baffling considering their reputation, but it's true.  Built to Last is merely "Another Hammerfall Album", and it's sure to be nobody's favorite.

RATING - 41%

Saturday, January 21, 2017

QUICK HITS: Parius - Let There Be Light

No witty title for this one, get over it

Fresh out of kindergarten, the kids in Philadelphia's Parius have bestowed upon us a new EP, Let There Be Light.  The very first things I noticed were that the release featured two guest solos by Ryan Knight (formerly of The Black Dahlia Murder) and Michael Keene (of The Faceless).  Naturally, this told me I'd be in for a blast of high tempo and progressive, yet very modern technical/melodic death metal.  For the most part that's true (though it's not exactly progressive), and both of those bands are very obviously a huge influence on the band.  It should be a mixed bag in that regard, since TBDM is fucking awesome and The Faceless bores me to tears, but the more noodly and melodic elements borrowed from that band just work better here than on something like Autotheism.  The final track, "Another Kind of Reckoning" showcases this with aplomb, being loaded to the gills with flashy bass solos, and the title track incorporates some epic, spacey clean vocals that work well enough but feel a bit less natural than the pummeling melodeath of the rest of the song/record.  Really there's nothing to complain about, this is a very utilitarian melodeath release on par with some of TBDM's lesser albums (though that's not really a knock on Parius, those Michigan slackers just run at such a ridiculously high quality that even their worst album is still pretty good).  The vocals are typical but serviceable, the bass is quite prominent and noodles with the best of them, Angelo Sasso turns in a good performance, and even the occasional strings and such come off as good instead of forced.  They're not exactly blazing any paths but fans of this style shouldn't have anything to complain about.  If there are any problems it's just that this is very short, with only three real "songs" plus one short interlude, so it doesn't really give you a whole lot to chew on but that's a really nitpicky and unfair complaint.  It's a very professional meat-and-potatoes release and I can't realistically ask for much more.

RATING - 79%

Friday, January 20, 2017

QUICK HITS: Enceladus - Journey to Enlightenment

Their full potential is SO FAR AWAAAAYY

It's easy to forget, but pre-Myspace, pre-Guitar Hero, pre-Inhuman Rampage, Dragonforce enjoyed what seemed like universal adoration.  I miss that era because Valley of the Damned and Sonic Firestorm are absolutely fantastic albums, 100% worthy of all the praise heaped upon them up until 2006ish.  They were ludicrously over the top departures from the sometimes subdued melody and relative simplicity that power metal thrived on, and instead of eschewing the singalong choruses and sugary keyboard lines, they simply added forty tons of unapologetic bombast and non stop shredding on top, and it worked.  Upon first listen to Enceladus' debut, Journey to Enlightenment, seemed to be a throwback to exactly that idea.  The opening title track throws caution to the wind and just throws melody after solo after solo after hyperspeed solo at you, slowing down for nothing and making its presence known as a force to be reckoned with in terms of technicality.  I was instantly hooked, and couldn't wait for the rest of the album.  Unfortunately, the biggest flaw is... well, the rest of the album.  See, the title track is instrumental, and is essentially just a stripped down showcase of the individual instrumentalists' immense talent.  The rest of the album however, is more standard in the sense that yes, the do actually have a vocalist.  The problem is that he's, to put it lightly, very not good.  His tenor is just all over the place and it seems like he has no control over what he's trying to sing, and it just sounds off somehow, like he's just a teeny bit out of pitch at all times and I just can't seem to pinpoint it.  He occasionally showcases a stratospheric falsetto, but it's thin and weak and really detracts from the pyrotechnics of the rest of the band.  The fact that he album is 13 tracks and nearly an hour long exacerbate the problem, because as great as it is musically, it's fairly one-note, and the poor vocals only make it harder to listen to.  Overall it's a solid album in a style I really like, but the vocals are a huge elephant in the room that I'd like to see addressed somehow, because they easily knocked a good 20 or so points off the final score.

RATING - 61%

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Theory in Practice - Crescendo Dezign

Three on one?  Those are... acceptable odds...

I feel like I must've been misinformed somewhere along the line, because I grabbed this album on a whim expecting some sort of prog metal based on the band name, but perusing through their entry on MA I can see these guys were extremely early purveyors of tech death in the mid/late 90s, with members past and present having stints in Mekong Delta, Isole, Ereb Altor, and Scar Symmetry.  So these dudes have been around for quite some time now and are clearly no slouches, allegedly being way ahead of their time on their initial trio of albums from 97-02 (I haven't heard these albums personally so I'm just taking hearsay at face value), so how I've never heard of them before is completely beyond me. 

So this EP is their first release in fifteen years, has the band lost a step?  I'm inclined to speak with authority on a subject in which I have none and say no, they haven't.  Crescendo Dezign revels in a sort of creativity that I'm not exactly sure how to describe.  The opener, "Thermodynamic Process" opens with a bouncy modern synth line, with the rest of the band exploding around it, culminating in high speed death metal riffage with a sort of innocent tinge to it.  What I mean by that is that these guys are clearly some form of death metal, but it's not particularly dark or morbid.  The sci-fi themes that drive the lyrics must have seeped into the riffs somehow because everything is fairly upbeat and energetic, with a sense of wonder behind it instead of fathomless brutality.  While this carries throughout the five tracks on display, it's most prevalent on the opening track.  Even the chugging breakdown sounds like it's in some sort of pursuit of knowledge instead of trying to beat you into submission.  This is most evident in the soloing, which eschews atonality and instead presents several huge, soaring leads that are much more epic than they logically should be.

That creativity I was talking about manifests in the several curveballs the EP throws at you in such a short amount of time.  Like, the majority of "Journal of the Modified" is straight ahead, propulsive death metal with excellent mid range screams, while "Abstract Entities" throws in Mirrorthrone-esque clean chants, and "Cryobiological Expansion" immediately sounds like a Black Dahlia Murder song, and hey whaddaya know Trevor Strnad contributes his inimitable snarl to the track.  Even then, he utilizes a style he's pretty much never touched in his main band, striking a sort of middle ground between his hairball wretching highs and beastly lows.  The "bonus" track (I'm not entirely sure how much of a bonus it can truly claim to be since there exists no version of the release without it, to my knowledge) "Synchronized Emptiness" brings back those baritone croons and even a quick keyboard run accompanying a slick guitar part.  There are all kinds of weird touches like that that give Crescendo Dezign heaps of character that immediately make it recognizable inside of what it normally a fairly faceless scene in tech death.

Calling this "tech death", while not incorrect, feels wrong somehow.  This is melodic death metal, almost calling to mind Arsis' better moments in how ear catching they manage to make these seemingly endless complexities that they throw at you.  A more apt comparison, and the one band I can't seem to get out of my head when listening to this, is the perpetually-in-working-on-a-new-album mode Anata.  The joviality they can extract from something as inherently punishing as tech death is just as strong over here, and honestly, as a fan of Anata that has been waiting over a decade for the followup to The Conductor's Departure, I can say with confidence that this should hold you over without much issue.  I'm certainly excited to dive into the band's back catalog based on this, that's for sure.  If there's any issue with the album, it's that it doesn't seem to have much staying power.  For as professional and interesting as this is, it still manages to slip my mind from time to time despite the several spins I've given it.  Overall that's a minor quibble though, because this is some excellent stuff and I'm glad I stumbled into it.

RATING - 83%

Monday, January 16, 2017

QUICK HITS CLASSICS: Descendents - Everything Sucks

I generally stick to new metal albums, but occasionally I'm going to want to return to my roots and gab on about older albums, so please enjoy this slightly rebranded but functionally identical Quick Hit. 


Hey look, I'm not reviewing metal!  My listening has been split nearly 60/40 with punk ever since I realized Bad Religion was the greatest band in rock history (next to Queen of course), I just never talk about it because that's not why anybody reads my shit.  Today I got a bug up my ass and I want to talk about Descendents, in particular their fifth album, Everything Sucks.  I posit to you all that Everything Sucks is actually Descendents' best album, above even the seminal early American classic that is Milo Goes to College.  You see, early Descendents really tapped into teenage fear and angst in a way that hits home with most lonely high schoolers.  Tales of unrequited love and fear of growing up are interspersed between energetic blasts of goofy nonsense, sexual fantasies, and toilet humor.  That was their big appeal for me, they fearlessly explored every facet of adolescence, with all of the incongruity and tonal shifts that that would imply.  The band suffered two hiatuses early on brought on by lead vocalist and frequent cover art model, Milo Auckermann, leaving to pursue his studies and career in biochemistry.  After nine years, he got the itch and helped Descendents get back together (though they never truly left and the band always soldiered on as All without him) for their first album in nine years.  The reason this one is special to me is because the band actually grew in a way without abandoning one iota of what made them so iconic on the early albums.  Milo Goes to College and I Don't Want to Grow Up were based on the balking of adulthood and wanting to remain in the halcyon years of youth forever, and then Everything Sucks shows up and gives it all a new perspective.  They are adults now, and everything is exactly as shitty as they'd always feared.  Songs like "When I Get Old" are presented with a bit of wistful nostalgia, while "Everything Sux" and "This Place" confronts the bullshittery of adulthood with that passionate rebelliousness of adolescence that they never lost in the meantime.  That's what's so great, the music itself didn't "mature".  They didn't start adding new elements to the songs, they didn't mellow out, they didn't slow down and write more accessible radio friendly songs, the songs are almost all entirely the fast paced melodic poppy punk it's always been, with the sub-minute energetic blasts of "Coffee Mug" and "Eunuch Boy" being odes to spazzing out after drinking too much coffee and how much it would suck to not have a dick, respectively.  The goofiness is still there, and now the Nice Guy songs are presented in a slightly more pathetic light, and "Sick-O-Me" details how a long term relationship falls about due to boredom and complacency.  They're basically the weird uncle of punk rock, the guy who drinks a few too many beers and tries out his nephew's new pogo stick at Christmas with predictably disastrous results.  They're still ineffectual dorks, but they're more experienced about it now, but still wholly unwilling to let go of that youth they cherish so much, and it's a very sincere look at the whole situation.  And that's why it's their best album, it's the perfect snapshot in time between the stages of youthful rebellion and desperately trying to recapture it.  Everybody should love this.

RATING - 95%

Sunday, January 15, 2017

QUICK HITS: Beheaded - Beast Incarnate

The Maltese Falchion

Apparently I've got a theme going, because yet again, I sit here with another Unique Leader styled brutal tech death album that found itself on the internet in the opening weeks of 2017.  This time, I find myself getting my eardrums ravaged by the veteran Maltese maniacs, Beheaded.  This is actually sorta different because for once this is actually a Unique Leader veteran, and I've gotta say that Beast Incarnate is one of the more immediately grabbing albums from the roster I've heard in quite a few years.  The only previous Beheaded album I'm familiar with is Ominous Bloodline from the surprisingly distant year of 2005, and all I really recall from that one is that the production was so obnoxiously bass heavy that it severely hindered my enjoyment of what was otherwise a solid BDM album.  Luckily, they take on a more "normal" sound for this one, similar to that impossibly beefy and steely tinge of later Nile and Krisiun, and it's a major boon to the album's potential longevity.  The subtle melodies that make themselves known through the solos and just generally badass riffage (check out a track like "Punishment of the Grave") are a great touch, since this style tends to focus on blistering technicality more than the more inherent simplicity of strong songwriting.  Beast Incarnate instead strikes that venerable nexus of muscle bound strength and quick fingered shredding that bands like Hour of Penance and Neuraxis have made their bread and butter over the years.  There are a surprising amount of catchy moments as well, like the title track and the more midpaced epic of "The Black Death", which call to mind some of the better moments of Abnormality's debut.  Special shoutout goes to the vocals as well, since Frank Calleja's roar is one of the rare in the style that has some strong charisma instead of merely being a secondary percussive force.  This isn't the same vocalist as Ominous Bloodline and I think that may be another one of the reasons this stands so much taller over that one.  In short, Beheaded got their shit together when I wasn't looking and delivered and early surprise for 2017, and I'm stoked to keep track of the band from here on out.

RATING - 84%

Thursday, January 12, 2017

QUICK HITS: Maze of Sothoth - Soul Demise


So it looks like 2017 is going to start off with a slew of brutality, as here I sit with another early release that revels in bone crunching devastation; Soul Demise by Maze of Sothoth.  I feel like tech death has really fallen out of favor with most metalheads, with special exceptions reserved for the old guard like Origin and Wormed, so hearing a new(ish) band unapologetically shred and riff my ears off like this is a nice surprise.  Maybe it's the Italian connection, but I'm hearing a lot of Hour of Penance and early Fleshgod Apocalypse (before they decided to be Death Metal Rhapsody of Fire) in this, and if you've been following me for a while it should come as no surprise that I love itSoul Demise is much less about just showing off their instrumental skill and more about cramming as many badass hyperspeed riffs into each second as possible.  Of course, this naturally comes off as something of a riff salad as a result, lacking in overall cohesion across the board.  Honestly, that doesn't bother me when it comes to this type of style, since that's basically the norm, and albums like Hour of Penance's Sedition are glorious exceptions.  Oddly enough, I actually thought this was an instrumental band initially, as I didn't even notice vocals until the third track.  Once I did though, he seemed to take the Origin approach and just never shut the hell up.  So all told, it's pretty standard for the modern tech death game, with sprinklings of Immolation and Morbid Angel in the more spastic and squealy riffs found in songs like "Blind", but it's a really solid offering for fans of the style, and I'd recommend it to anybody who thought death metal was thriving from 08-11, because this is a welcome throwback to an era that only recently left us.  Certainly better than Archspire, if nothing else.

RATING - 78%

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

QUICK HITS: Brain Dead - Disaster Ahead

Thrash is known nowadays as an artistic dead end and I continue to refute that notion.  However, bands like Brain Dead make it really hard for me to make that case.  This is another one of those books you can very accurately judge by its cover, with the cartoon style, plethora of tropes and cliches that add nothing more than a juvenile "wink wink nudge nudge" to the band's image and attitude, and a mascot that is, surprise!, a long haired zombie thrasher with high tops and and upturned flat billed cap.  Oddly enough, that sentence actually describes the band's music pretty well too, if that makes sense.  If there was some semblance of tongue in cheek self awareness, this kind of thing can work.  Smash Potater makes it work, Brain Dead does not.  This is played completely straight and it's the exact kind of brainless idiocy that's neither fun nor satisfying to listen to.  I love Municipal Waste a whole ton, I can get behind this sort of thing, but Disaster Ahead completely lacks the songwriting ability of those Virginian party animals.  The production does nothing to help the stale riffs and cliche yelping vocals, since everything sounds very distant and separate from one another.  It just feels hastily slapped together without a whole lot of real thought put into it.  For every good idea there are five bad ones.  Like some of the riffs are pretty good (like the chugging part in "Last Obsession"), but even the best are creatively bankrupt.  It's pretty neat that they felt inspired enough to write an ode to the fallen Scumdog, Oderus Urungus, with "Flight of Oderus", but every other song is the exact toxic waste and thrashing all night and war is hell crap that has been beaten to death for 30 years now.  The sample of the "I'm mad as hell" speech from Network is pretty overdone at this point but it does set the stage well as an opening sample, but the rest of the song lets it down with the tired yelping and lame riffage, and the samples that carry out the title track of people telling the band members to get jobs and even a god damned terrible Mickey Mouse impression is just the most obnoxious sequence ever.  Listen to those people.  Get jobs.  This is going nowhere for you guys.

RATING - 20%

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

QUICK HITS: Ekpyrosis - Asphyxiating Devotion

Profound Decency

This is some old school to-the-bone death metal, and it works for what it tries to accomplish.  Unfortunately, the biggest problem with Italy's Ekpyrosis is that it doesn't even attempt to tread new ground.  Not that that is a death sentence in itself, but it's disappointing to hear a band that clearly has chops and songwriting talent bog themselves down in the mire of worship.  Basically any second of this album can be attributed to early Death or Dismember, with a few hints of New York stalwarts Immolation and Suffocation.  Really, all that needs to be listened to is the opening salvo, "Profound Death".  This track fucking nails it.  It's over seven minutes long and is chock full of enough ideas to extend it to a theoretical double digit runtime.  There's a punishing segment in the breakdown that calls to mind the aforementioned NYDM legends, and it's very clearly the high point of the album.  "Obsessive Christendom" has a similarly savage middle section that shows where the band's strength lies, but unfortunately the rest of the album is unimaginative (if solid) OSDM worship.  All of the slower, more midpaced crushing segments stand out with aplomb, but the rest of it is just kinda there.  Asphyxiating Devotion is another album to be thrown on the pile of solid death metal that's been flooding the scene since 2011ish, but it's not going to rise up and take the scene by storm like Horrendous have in the past.  Bands like Portal and Ulcerate, while I'm not the biggest fans of them, at least work to move the genre forward in some tangible way, whereas this is content to sit in its comfort zone.  It's certainly good at it, but not great.

RATING - 72%

Monday, January 9, 2017

QUICK HITS: Eternal Champion - The Armor of Ire

AH! AH! Ah! ah! ah. ah...

In my eyes, Eternal Champion's The Armor of Ire is 2016's answer to Visigoth's The Revenant King from last year.  Most of the similarities are obvious, from the Texan origin to the massive Manilla Road influence, and that's honestly not a bad thing at all.  I fucking adored The Revenant King, and this is pretty much more of the same and that's a-ok to me.  The band shares a handful of members with Sumerlands as well, another new heavy metal band that made waves last year, including Arthur Rizk, who also produced both bands' debuts, and it shows.  What we have here is just straight up fucking muscle bound heavy metal with no pretension.  From the first legit riff at 1:50 in "I am the Hammer", the band makes its presence known with sheer, unmitigated power.  There are two noticeable flaws to me though, one of which is the vocals.  We all know my opinion on Manilla Road, and Jason Tarpey clearly takes roughly 95% of his vocal technique from Mark Shelton.  I don't care for the Road's vocals and I don't care for Eternal Champion's in kind.  That really nasally type of thing works well enough but I feel like a band like Visigoth showed us all how beneficial an undeniably powerful voice can be in a band like this.  As a result, the strength that defines the riffage is let down a bit by the vocals that carry so much of the melody.  Secondly, they're not afraid to pick up the pace, which is usually a huge plus to me, but here I feel like their strength is very clearly in the more pounding mid paced numbers.  There is such a crushing, powerful stomp in songs like "I am the Hammer", "Invoker", and "Sing a Last Song of Valdise" that I feel is missing in the title track and "The Last King of Pictdom".  However, I feel like the best song apart from the opener is "The Cold Sword" and the coolest moment is the high octane riff in the bridge of "Sing a Last Song of Valdise", so really what the hell do I know?  Regardless, this is a great album and any fans of skull crushing old school metal and high fantasy barbarism should give it a listen.  At less than thirty five minutes, it's certainly not a time commitment you'll end up regretting.

RATING - 84%

Sunday, January 8, 2017

QUICK HITS: Gotsu Totsu Kotsu - Where Warriors Once Dreamed a Dream

Tries to please everybody and succeeds to a point

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. It seems to be a midpoint between Legend of Shadow and Retributive Justice. Theoretically that should rule since I fucking adore both of those albums, but it's actually kind of disappointing since one of the reasons RJ hit so hard was because it was such a headstrong progression from LoS. Where LoS was really long and organic (which ruled), RJ was really tight and ferocious (which ruled). I was sorta hoping for them to keep refining themselves in that direction, which the first teaser track showed they would be doing. The rest of the album isn't quite as streamlined and brutal as "Sôran no Shichi E", instead reaching back into the bag of tricks they utilized on Legend of Shadow, with generally longer songs that feature an organic flow, as a result the album is ten minutes longer than its predecessor. Keep in mind this approach is awesome, but it's not as tight and fierce as Retributive Justice in this regard, so it does feel like a step back of sorts. With that said, there are some great moments and interesting new twists. "Bumei" is probably the most RJ-esque track on display apart from the opener, in that they're both fucking furious death metal with those thunderous roars I love so much. The title track has a fucking monstrous groove, but it also features an extended section where each instrument gets a solo, and it just feels weird and out of place for a band that finds so much of its strength in remaining consistently energetic. "Kiga no Kyofu" also stands out a bit for being significantly more technical and melodic than the band usually is. On one hand that's awesome to see them spreading their wings like that, on the other hand it sounds like they're getting a bit more "normal" in a sense, and it lacks a tinge of that signature character they've carved out for themselves. Then there's "Chinurareta Tabiji", which sounds like a lost Legend of Shadow track and it completely owns that album's sound, with the high tempo grooves, lack of blasts, and twisting narrative told using almost exclusively fucking badass riffs.  It's still great, which is to be expected from GTK, but it's sort of a blend of the last two albums, which will definitely be a problem for people who thought Legend of Shadow was too bloated and Retributive Justice did a good job of streamlining everything while also amping up the intensity. I loved both albums so I love this too, but it's not as good as either of them I think. Sorta just feels like it came out too fast and the band didn't have enough time to really grow or evolve in any capacity.

RATING - 85%

Saturday, January 7, 2017

QUICK HITS: Ranger - Speed & Violence

Last year, I managed a paltry 20 reviews for the entirety of 2016, five of which were mostly pre-written pieces for the Gospel of Gargoyle series that I swear I'll finish some day.  Frankly, I have all kinds of stuff to talk about but very little of it can be stretched into the lengthy essay style I've made my trademark over the last nine years.  So in an effort to get back into this reviewing game I adore so much, I'm breaking from the 1500+ word style that I've gotten too comfortable with, and I'm bringing back my short, one paragraph blurb style reviews that I would occasionally crank out back when I first launched this blog in 2011.  Back then they were called Bite Sized Reviews, in an obvious ode to my love affair with chocolate.  They are now named Quick Hits, which is not actually a weed reference, but instead a quip about how utterly broken the skill is in Final Fantasy X.  Shove me in a locker, please.


The latest group of shameless throwbacks to land on my radar, Helsinki's Ranger, are pretty much the exact kind of creatively bereft loons I've always secretly loved.  Speed & Violence barely contains more than three original notes strung together in a row but it's such an unapologetic blast of 80s nostalgia that I can't help but love it.  Ranger specializes in early speed metal, but less the German kind that evolved into power metal like Blind Guardian and Running Wild, and more the Canadian variant that evolved into thrash metal like Razor and the band's chief influence, Exciter.  There are some smatterings of early Slayer as well, with "Satanic Panic" basically being the most obvious knockoff of "Black Magic" I've heard in eons.  Despite the overwhelming deja-vu offered by the album, it's such a bucketload of fun that I don't really care all that much.  Speed & Violence doesn't present itself as anything other than exactly what it says on the tin.  It's fast, loud, and rude and that's all it needs to be.  You look at that low budget album cover and you already know you're going to get semi-tuneless wailing over relentless double bass and non stop riffage delivered at 200mph, and that's exactly what you get.  It's high speed cheese and nothing else, and while that's certainly enjoyable, it does get old and generally lacks in any real staying power.  That's the album's sole downfall, it does what it does so well that it just makes you want to go put on Heavy Metal Maniac or Executioner's Song instead because at least those albums have already proven themselves to be timeless classics instead of shameless copies of themselves.  So yeah, it's a fun listen but it doesn't have a whole lot of use beyond just reveling in how much fun the music was way back then.  It is, by it's very nature (and the exact reason I chose it for the first of these short reviews I'm going to start doing), a quick hit.

RATING - 75%

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Hello, Capital Wasteland.  It is I, BastardHead, struggling once again to think of a good opening line to my annual awards post intro! 2016 was a fucking terrible year, as most of you know.  Between the stress of the election here in America, lack of motivation or free time necessary to do this whole review thing that y'all know me for, horrible gas, and just a general malaise around the entire world, not a whole lot of people are going to look back on this year as one of the highlights in recent memory.  However, it was a great year for music, in particular heavy metal.  After the low points of the first few years of the decade, 2016 seems to be continuing the upward trend of high quality releases across the board, rivaling 2012 and 2015 for the best year so far.  Weird things happened, like Sabaton apparently taking over the world despite being terrible, several bands (notably Metallica and Running Wild) releasing solid albums after decades of awfulness, and some of the most astonishingly flooring albums I've heard in eons.  I don't really know what to do for a preamble since I've been doing this for so long and you all know what to expect anyway.  So here, let's all nurse our collective hangover and celebrate:


Rules are the same as always.  No EPs, since that's just the way I do things, and now that I've been listening to enough of other genres to feel confident ranking them against metal albums, the list is not metal exclusive.  However, as luck would have it, when it comes to new albums from 2016, I pretty much only listened to metal albums, so the list turns out to be metal exclusive anyway.  Who'd a thunk?

13. Rotten Sound - Abuse to Suffer 
I'm gonna be honest, there were a whopping seven albums I wanted to put in this spot.  This year was so insanely stacked that the number 13 spot on my list was almost impossible to narrow down.  In the end, weighed against each other, none of them were quite as refreshing as the new Rotten Sound.  Granted, "refreshing" is a bit misleading since this is the exact brand of hyperviolent grindcore you'd expect from these guys, but after the underwhelming Cycles and five years of relative silence, it felt *damn good* to get an album of this consistently high quality from the frantic Finns once again.  This may not reach the same dizzying heights of uncompromising violence and devastation as their unscalable 2005 album, Exit, but it's pretty close to being right next to it.  This wrecks everything, don't listen to it near anything easily demolished.

12. Sinbreed - Master Creator 
In terms of traditional power metal, almost nothing ripped as hard as Sinbreed's Master Creator.  This doesn't break any boundaries or do anything too out of left field, and apart from the vocalist being a little more gruff than your average Europower band, this could have easily been forgotten in the yearly swamp of middling power metal.  It it broke out for good reason; the songwriting is just insanely good.  This doesn't bend your mind with subtle complexity, it's just straight ahead, meat-and-potatoes power metal with great hooks and memorable songs.  The lack of flowery bombast does a lot to accent just how good the hooks are from the ground up, with a punchy guitar tone and pummeling drum performance.  This is just straight up, classic, early Iron Savior styled metal updated with a sheen for the modern era.

11. Agatus - The Eternalist 
This is a late entry, as I usually don't add things I first heard a week or so before the end of the year, but Agatus truly ascended above that mental roadblock of mine.  I'm not familiar with the band's history, but they allegedly began as a black metal outfit, and touches of that still seep through on occasion, but this is through and through just dark and dirty heavy metal.  I love it when a band can focus on riffs and manage to make them all so uniquely their own.  It's the exact reason Mercyful Fate's initial run is so legendary.  The Eternalist is loaded down with so many riffs that it must weigh as much as an ocean.  It's a very eerie, uncomfortably dark listen that carries enough pomp and bounce in the riffs to still be something easy to throw on for a fun listen.  This laid-back approach to trad metal with a black metal spirit is one to behold.

10. Wormed - Krigshu 
Good fucking lord this is nuttier than a squirrel turd.  This kitchen-sink approach to brutal tech death that Willowtip and Unique Leader inundated listeners with in the late 00s fell out of favor with me and many others, but these Spaniards blasted through the dimensional gate to remind us all how awesome it can be when executed properly.  This damn thing just never lets up, it's non stop insanity from the word go, and I wouldn't ask for it to be anything else.  Just like Origin in their prime, Wormed finds so many different ways to pulverize your skull into dust that the unconventional tides of the runtime never become overwhelming like so many bands struggle with.  Definitely one of the best albums in the style since Hour of Penance were unstoppable (though admittedly, Cast the First Stone next year may see them reclaim the crown).

9. The Infernal Sea - The Great Mortality 
Y'all can accuse me of cheating on this one if you want to.  Technically, this was first released in May of last year, but it was limited to a paltry 100 cassette tapes with no online presence, sold only on tour.  The band was basically completely hidden from the world until Cacophonous Records came around and give it a proper worldwide release in February of this year, so I'm going to allow it.  This is some brutally vicious black metal, and maybe it's because of the bubonic plague theme running throughout the album, but it calls to mind the unending ferocity of a band like 1349.  Some of the longer tracks flirt with gloomy clean passages, but the glut of this album is chock full of blistering intensity, and there is almost nothing I like more in my black metal than that sort of frantic insanity.  

8. Sarcoptes - Songs and Dances of Death 
I normally tend to stick to more popular, visible releases in terms of my listening cycle, simply because randomly digging for obscure gems usually turns up so much forgettable nonsense.  But frequently, an underground band will generate enough hype to land a blip on my radar, and this year the biggest one in that department was Sarcoptes.  These Californian freaks delivered a frighteningly tight and percussive slab of black metal with little sprinkles of thrash riffing and epic choirs.  All six tracks on here are blistering and otherworldly, remaining grounded with instantly memorable riffs and soaring melodies.  With only six tracks to choose from, I amazingly still can't decide on a favorite.  They're all of such a stunning consistency that it's truly a sight to behold.  One of the most vicious and epic albums of the year, at the same time no less.

7. Desert Near the End - Theater of War 
If there's any album that defied my expectations in such an extravagant fashion, it's Desert Near the End's Theater of War.  I'd heard their debut years ago and promptly forgot about it, so coming across their third album here was basically a shot in the dark to see if they'd improved at all.  The answer is a resounding holy shit yes they did. This is a masterful, bizarre blend of Iced Earth riffing, harsh screaming, and death metal drumming that somehow all coalesces into this sublime collection of songs that beat the listener into the ground.  This is almost painfully aggressive and destructively hooky at the same time.  Really, the cover art sums up the overall feeling of the album quite well.  This is what dark forces completely leveling a grand city sounds like, and I love every second of this malicious blend of conflicting influences.

6. Death Fortress - Deathless March of the Unyielding 
I already gave this a full review, and I stand by everything I said in it.  I actually probably never would have heard this if it wasn't for a friend and I swapping albums to review for some silly game we play sometimes, and fucking hell I'm glad we did this time.  I've been using a lot of the same words to describe albums as I go on down the list, but trust me when I use them all again in a row here.  Deathless March... is a fucking blistering, pummeling, ferocious blast of dissonant black/death, completely, well, unyielding in it's assault on the senses.  Honestly, the best way to describe it is to just use the song titles.  "Merciless Deluge", "Scourge of Aeons", "Power from Beyond the Stars", "Deathless March of the Unyielding", etc.  If that doesn't give you an idea of the single minded focus of completely destroying everything you see, nothing will.

5. Blood Incantation - Starspawn 
Coming into the top five, we meet one of my most anticipated releases of the year.  I don't normally hype myself up for upcoming releases just because I'm let down so often, but their EP last year, Interdimensional Extinction, crushed me so fucking hard that I just couldn't wait for their debut full length.  One of the biggest problems with modern death metal is that too many bands sound alike.  Most are at the very least good, but too many sound like an interchangeable mashup of Demilich and Incantation.  Blood Incantation here doesn't have that problem.  They take those influences and blend it with such twisted, extraterrestrial morbidity that you don't doubt for one second who you're listening to.  Nothing else released this year riffs nearly as hard as this one does.  It's Morbid Angel on meth cut with Kryptonite, and it rules.

4. Anaal Nathrakh - The Whole of the Law 
I haven't cared much for Anaal Nathrakh since the stunning In the Constellation of the Black Widow seven years ago, but holy hell did they pull themselves from the swamp of mediocrity with this one.  Everything that made them so good in the 2000s is back in full force here, with all restraint flung straight out of the fucking window.  The endless insanity permeating through every note of this album makes this their strongest in a long time with little doubt.  The furious percussion, distorted howling, and frantic riffage behind the epic, cleanly sung hooks sound like the chanting druids as meteors rain down and bathe the entire planet in fire.  This is a musical extinction level event, and any self respecting metal fan should love it.  Also, "Hold Your Children Close and Pray for Oblivion" is the most badass song title ever.

3. Dynazty - Titanic Mass 
With so much of my list dripping in bleak, dark, and extreme metal, I almost forgot that melodic metal even existed.  Dynazty here beats the same path basically every hook-centric heavy metal band has beaten for decades now, but the execution is so grand, the songwriting so tight, the hooks so fine tuned, none of the simplistic retreading is worrisome in the slightest.  Basically every song follows the same formula, but the band is so energetic that it breaks out of the mold it put itself into. Each and every song is played with so much gusto and confidence that I can't help but buy into every note.  On one hand, it's a shallow heavy pop metal album.  On the other hand, it's one of the best ones released in a decade.  Fill your heeeeart with gasoliiiine!

2. Deathspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Yes, it's a full length.  I don't care if it's 4 tracks and under a half hour, it's a full length release and a monster one at that.  I'm not familiar with DsO, for whatever reason I just never gave them the time of day despite their reputation in the scene.  With this release, the almost impossibly awesome album title intrigued me enough to finally give them a listen, and lord have I been missing out.  After dozens of spins and an almost instant "this is going to be a top five album" reaction, I still don't exactly know how to describe it.  It's bizarre, dissonant black metal that relies on off kilter, angular riffing and frenzied drumming.  The whole thing is so frenetic, everything sounds like it's just two inches off to the left, if that makes sense.  It doesn't, but that's the point.  Think about it.


1. Avantasia - Ghostlights 
I am just as surprised as you are, truly.  I have been very public about how wholly snore inducing I've always found Avantasia to be, and I only gave this a listen out of a sense of some sort of obligation simply because it was being talked about so much, but god dammit, it not only surpassed my admittedly quite low expectations, it utterly shattered them.  Somehow, this droning, dull ass power metal pet project that was always too full of itself to ever create anything truly compelling managed to craft an album that not only finally got what they were going for right, but made it so fucking undeniably great that I couldn't help but rank it as the absolute best album of the year.  Tobi's neverending rock opera reaches it's indisputable apex here, with all of the overwrought Meat Loaf-isms begging to be gesticulated along with, all the ballads (barring one) being soulful delights, and every legit power metal track being the catchiest song of the year simultaneously.  The centerpiece epic, "Let the Storm Descend Upon You" is the best longform epic that Tobi has penned since "The Seven Angels" (previously one of the only Avantasia songs I could ever bring myself to like), and the speedy metal numbers like "Unchain the Light", "Babylon Vampyres", the title track, and especially "Master of the Pendulum" are just unreal with how well written they are.  The guest vocalists all knock it out of the park, "Lucifer" is one of the greatest ballads written in a decade, "Draconian Love" was so great that it made me check out Sinbreed up there in the first place, "The Haunting" manages to use Dee Snider masterfully, just god dammit I love this album and I almost hate myself for it.  Astute readers may remember that I've actually reviewed this album already, and gave it a score lower than the album I put at number six here, but that really just speaks to how incredible this is.  It's done nothing but grow on me more and more in the following months and I don't even care how boring "Seduction of Decay" and "Isle of Evermore" are, everything else is so good that they don't even detract from the overall product.  I can't stop gushing.  This really fought with DsO, but at the end of the day, the BH Award for Album of the Year goes to Avantasia.  Dammit.

And now for something completely the same.


Japan - The Usual Suspects:  This is just a general catch-all for the three Japanese bands I always gab on about, since all three released great albums this year and all three wound up JUST missing the list.  They're seriously entries 14, 15, and 16.  First is Ningen-Isu with Kaidan Soshite Shi to Erosu.  Their inimitable brand of progressive trad/doom metal is just as great now as it was nearly thirty years and six hundred albums ago.  There are some amazing songs here, but overall it just barely missed the "it factor" that I feel Rotten Sound had, so here they are.  Next are the death metal giants in Gotsu Totsu Kotsu, with Where Warriors Once Dreamed a Dream.  This is actually almost disappointing since it's a bit of a regression back to the more organic fluidity of Legend of Shadow mixed with the tight ferocity of Retributive Justice and it's more of a mixed bag than it is a "best of both worlds".  Even though I was slightly disappointed, this still ranks extremely high up on the list of albums I've heard this year.  And lastly there's obviously Gargoyle, with Taburakashi.  This is probably the most straightforward and heaviest album they've ever penned, and that's awesome on paper.  But unfortunately, despite the stratospheric highs of the standouts like "Dragon Skull", "Be Daring", and "Yaban Kaito", it just doesn't stack itself up to be quite as memorable as other Moderngoyle classics like Kisho and Geshiki.  So there, all three of my Japanese favorites missed the cut this year.

Unfathomable Ruination - Finitude: This is one I didn't expect to be nearly as good as it was.  Their previous album was certainly good, but this was something else entirely.  Everything has been ramped up, and this should help cement them as one of the premier brutal death metal bands in the scene today.

Mithras - On Strange Loops: I'd never actually heard this band before, but my unabashed love of Sarpanitum's album last year led to more than a few recommendations to keep my eye out for this one.  Honestly, this is an amazing album and might have ranked on the final list if I had only heard it earlier, as it stands I only heard this less than a week before the year turned and I just don't feel confident ranking it above great stuff I've listened to all year just yet.  It sounds like Steve Tucker era Morbid Angel: Live from Neptune.

Protest the Hero - Pacific Myth:  Protest once again tried blazing a path in terms of how the release was handled, with each song being issued as a single over the course of months before finally giving us the full package late this year.  It's a great EP, loaded with their signature stylistic quirks that make them so fun to listen to.

Ripper - Experiment of Existence:  You'll notice there are no pure thrash albums on the list this year, but that doesn't mean there weren't any great ones.  Ripper is one such example, as this is easily one of the most unrelentingly vicious albums the genre has seen in years.


Vader - The Empire:  This one was just a victim of expectations being way too high.  It's a solid album I suppose, very serviceable.  But after how stunning Welcome to the Morbid Reich and Tibi et Igni were, this is just bland.  Some albums have filler songs, but Vader has introduced us to a discography with a filler album.

Furia - Księżyc milczy luty:  Disappointment of the year for me right here.  Their 2007 album cemented them as one of the all time standouts of Polish black metal in my eyes, right up there with Cultes des Ghoules, Plaga, and Mgla.  But with this one they dropped the ball hard.  Most of it isn't even metal, which isn't necessarily a problem, but the clean parts that dominate the album should have at least been interesting.  This is a very significant flop, and that's heartbreaking to me, because they had a ton of promise.

Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us:  Also a contender for disappointment of the year.  I don't know what it is exactly, but this just sounds so weak compared to Unsilent Death and Abandon All Life, two of the most unremittingly devastating and violent albums of the decade.  Maybe it's the heightened grooviness taking away from the violent grind, but this just feels wrong somehow.

Serious Black - Mirrorworld:  Touted as a power metal supergroup and fronted by the underground legend that is urban breed, this is just much too weak and unmemorable to be acceptable.

Serpentine Dominion - Serpentine Dominion:  Another supergroup, this time consisting of Shannon Lucas of The Black Dahlia Murder (who I love), motherfucking Corpsegrinder (who I love), and Adam Duckywicks of Killswitch Engage (who I couldn't care less about).  It's an interesting combo and the music is just as interesting as you'd expect based on the personnel.  Unfortunately, the cool death metal parts are totally soured by the Killswitch-isms stinking up the joint.  The melodic sections and clean vocals could have been an interesting contrast to the blasting death that makes up the rest of the record, but they're far too frequent, far too jarring, and just far too out of place and it just wrecks everything.  Rare case of an album that actually gets worse the more you listen to it.

That's all for this year folks!  I'm still busy with all kinds of assorted nonsense so pardon me for cutting this a bit shorter than usual, but I want you all to know that you're beautiful and I love ever last one of you idiots.  See you as the new year keeps chugging on!