Saturday, January 13, 2018

QUICK HITS: Succumb - Succumb

God help me I need disinfectant

Jesus.  For years, years, I've maintained that the filthiest death metal album of all time is Mental Funeral by Autopsy.  There are other albums that exceed it in weirdness or darkness or insanity (Nespithe, Onward to Golgotha, To the Depths, in Degradation, etc), but nothing could ever really touch just how grimy it was.  Well, I think that 25 year streak of dominance may have been broken with San Francisco's Succumb and their self titled debut.  Mental Funeral still sounds a bit more like a sewer than Succumb, but where the newcomers pull ahead is simply in unremitting dirt and agony.  You might be familiar with the manga author Junji Ito, who is most famous in the west for bizarre tales like Uzumaki and The Enigma of Amigara Fault.  He's not really a great storyteller but he is an amazing artist, and he has a short story by the name of simply Mold.  It's about a young man who rents his house out to a weird science teacher with an obsession with fungus, and upon returning from a business trip he finds the house abandoned and covered in mold that always grows back no matter how much he cleans, eventually unearthing the horrid truth behind the anomaly.  Succumb sounds like how Mold looks.  It's a dilapidated crackhouse, the walls literally alive with crawling filth, humidity only amplifying the creeping decay.  What makes it unique to me is how it manages to sound both hopeless and frantic at the same time, like a doomed man desperately clawing his way out of a drainage ditch while the flesh rots off of his body.  The vocals are very distant and slathered in reverb, rarely chaining more than two words together at a time, nearly always presented in an agonizing, ghoulish howl.  The riffs are dissonant and uncomfortable, and the drumming of the rising star Harry Cantwell (best known for Bosse-de-Nage and Slough Feg's kinda crappy post-2007 era) is a tumbling cacophony that never gives the listener room to breathe.  Not like anybody would want to breathe anyway, what with being in a heroin-drenched toilet bowl and all.  This is just grody, with a thick layer of goop somehow visible when listening.  There aren't many specific highlights to mention, as the album is just one long drawn out overdose, but it doesn't really matter when it sounds like literal death.  Again, refer to the final panel of MoldSuccumb is the sound of your atrophying semi-corpse fusing with its surroundings while you deliriously peel the flesh off from your own bones.

RATING - 91%


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

10 YEAR REUNION: Gamma Ray - No World Order!

I'm going to start rewriting my old reviews from late 2007 to 2009ish, because they all suck and I'm only 10% of the tryhard I used to be.

1200 cigarettes and Time to Kill

Gamma Ray had been on one hell of a streak by the time 2001 rolled around.  Starting in 1995 when Ralf Scheepers mercifully left and Kai Hansen returned to his rightful place behind the mic, they started churning out classic after classic, ultimately ending in a streak of five phenomenal albums before Kai's endless Kai-isms started stinking up the joint.  No World Order! stands as the fourth entry in that streak, and it'll always hold a special place in my heart for being the reason I ever broke away from my dumb thrash-only mindset of my early teenage years and embraced the speedy melodicism of power metal.  The high pitched vocals and endless double bass had finally stopped being a turnoff when I heard "Dethrone Tyranny" for the first time as a 14 year old and promptly had my entire cerebral cortex blown off.

And honestly, No World Order! is a great introduction for people who are new to the genre, provided they're coming from a mindset that values thrash and trad metal above all else like I did.  It may not be quite a perfect representation of the clash-of-two-worlds of the cover art, but it is indeed a healthy blend of several influences wrapped up neatly into an accessible package.  It manages to balance stomping vigor on tracks like "Damn the Machine" and the bridge of "Dethrone Tyranny", uptempo brutality in "Heart of the Unicorn" and "Solid" (though the latter is an extremely obvious example of Kai's proclivity towards borrowing riffs a little too blatantly, this time being Judas Priest's "Rapid Fire"), light hearted catchiness in "Heaven or Hell" and "Follow Me", and some just damn solid heavy metal swagger in "New World Order" and "Eagle". 

The quick rundown up there doesn't really do the album justice though, because there's a prevailing sense of chainsmoking attitude that roughs up all the edges just enough to give the album an identity that is uniquely Gamma Ray.  The album's truest strength is simply extremely fucking solid songwriting, with excellent hooks behind every corner, but the crooked-toothed sneer that it's all presented with makes the songs stand the test of time if you ask me.  Take a look at the quasi title track, "New World Order".  On the surface, it's just a good, hooky heavy metal song, but there are a lot of tiny little quirks that make it unforgettable.  The pre chorus that begins on a hard left turn, going from the fairly standard palm mutes of the verse and shifting abruptly to a snarling stomp, surely inducing involuntary headbanging, and culminating with the huge background scream that leads into the chorus, that's the kind of shit that just sticks with me.  The chorus itself is great as well, but that attitude just can't be held back, with Kai's relatively smooth vocals occasionally breaking into deafening badassitude (And ya know it's gonna beeee for-EV-AHR). 

It's sort of a dumb comparison, but I think the anecdote that most perfectly encapsulates Gamma Ray to me is a short little clip from the Hell Yeah!I!  The Awesome Foursome  DVD.  They're on the road, about to load up the tour bus and head out on tour, and Kai stops the cameraman to show him what he's bringing with him on tour.  He opens his bag to reveal several cartons of cigarettes and a Duke Nukem game.  That's Gamma Ray in a nutshell.  Sixty packs of smokes and Duke Nukem.

The album isn't perfect however, "Fire Below" is a very clear filler song, a midpaced hard rock/heavy metal tune that offers absolutely nothing other than an extra five minutes of album runtime, and "Lake of Tears" continues Gamma Ray's tradition of writing really terrible ballads.  This time it's at least at the end of the album, making it easy to ignore, but on the other hand it means a fist pumping anthem-generator of an album ends on a weak bunny fart.  "Eagle" was a great closer already, combining Helloween and Iron Maiden in great fashion (albeit a bit cliche, but Gamma Ray are OG so it's not quite so annoying), we didn't need that lameass ballad at the end jacking up the album's mojo.

Those are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, because from the pulsing choir of "Induction" up until the apex of "Eagle" is a nearly unbroken string of classic power metal tracks, full of great hooks and loads of attitude.  No World Order! may not be as immediately impressive as seminal records like Somewhere Out in Space or motherfucking Land of the Free, but it's really not far behind, and it's one of the best albums of 2001 without a doubt.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

QUICK HITS: Condor - Unstoppable Power

Crispy Zu Skewers

Thrash's not dead??  Nah, it's still more or less a creative dead end in terms of innovation potential, but that just means that the great bands stand out purely for being really fucking good at thrashing.  Condor definitely shows themselves worthy of hype in the Dead Riff Era, because Unstoppable Power is a venom fueled blast of blackened thrash insanity.  I still seem to prefer Power Trip at this juncture, but Condor is ridiculously fucking close behind.  It's especially cool because, like I said, there's nothing inherently mega-creative about the band, it's just Aura Noir styled hyperthrash with smatterings of black metal misanthropy and grit.  It's the exact kind of thing that Witchaven was all about nearly a decade ago that I couldn't stop masturbating over.  The album tends to fluctuate between the balls out black metal-infused tremolo salvos and more traditional bay area thrashing cranked up to 11.  Compare the bestial hunger in "Embraced By the Evil" to the more focused riff assault of "You Can't Stop the Fire".  The stylistic differences between the tracks on Unstoppable Power are almost imperceptibly subtle, but they're there, and it's good to note that the band is quite skilled at handling all of them.  I think the main reason this stands out so much to me despite thrash as a whole being so fucking dull and played out nowadays is because of something very simple that a lot of bands had mastered in the 80s and most of the copycats completely screwed up in the 00s, and that's the balance between intensity and hooks.  Calling Condor "melodic" in any sense of the word is misleading, because this is all about furious blasting helldeath from the get-go, but there's a very 80s sense of riff writing here, because like the earliest outings of Exodus and Sodom, there is a marvelous sense of infectiousness intertwined with nuts-first freneticism in the riffage.  Check out something like "Chained Victims" or "83 Days of Radiation" for an audible example of what I'm talking about, it's excellent stuff.  When Nocturnal Breed crawled out of their hole a few years ago and finally followed up the excellent Fields of Rot, this is the album I was hoping to hear instead of the thoroughly forgettable Napalm Nights.  Norway may be known for black metal, but Condor definitely shows that those frozen buttcicles know how to thrash just as well.  Like Ripper was the underground foil to the mainstream darling Vektor in 2016, Condor is to Power Trip in 2017.


Monday, January 1, 2018


In a world... where I have been doing this for eight years now and have clearly run out of couch gags for the intro to the Album of the Year post, I bring you... The BH Award for Album of the Year!  2017 was, on the whole, a noticeable step down from the last two years, which pumped out nearly a dozen albums between them that could have feasibly been in the top two or three this year.  This blog itself also witnessed me starting the year with a renewed passion for writing that quickly petered out because the fast encroaching void of death is ever approaching and there's only so much I can do to distract myself.  That or I just work a lot in real life and my free time is fairly evenly split between writing, reading, eating, farting, playing old JRPGs, and banging your mom.  Regardless, this is where we are, and it's time to look back on:


As always, the list is exclusive to full length releases only, but otherwise it's all fair game.  Metal or not, as has been the way since 2013 or so.  Walk with me.

13. Hideous Divinity - Adveniens
I've made the point several times over the last few years, but it bears repeating once more: Hideous Divinity came to claim Hour of Penance's crown of brutality, and they crushed their countrymen's skulls into such a fine powder that I'm pretty sure this album's intensity can be attributed to the band snorting it.  I know the hot tech death album this year is the new Archspire album, and I'll spoil this a bit by saying that they didn't place on this, and it's for a simple reason.  Archspire is faster and more impressive (likely the most impressive tech death band in terms of technical skill in history), but they still don't write songs as instantly ear catching as Hideous Divinity.  I stacked the two up against each other, and in the end it wasn't a contest.  Hideous Divinity can't be stopped.

12. Evil Invaders - Feed Me Violence
Another minor spoiler here, but 2017 was a year where basically every genre that wasn't death metal or otherwise something known for pushing the envelope of extremity was kinda weak.  There's no power metal here for the first time basically ever, and thrash, trad, and black metal all struggled to hold my attention, it's just the year of the brutal and gory for me.  Belgium's Evil Invaders is a huge exception.  These guys pretty much tore me the fuck apart with their debut in 2015, and their sophomore effort is a few steps ahead of even that one.  This is, as obviously evidenced by the band's name, insanely vicious speed metal in the vein of Razor.  Squealing shrieks and screaming solos, accompanied by melodic interludes and drumming that never slows the fuck down, this is everything I want out of speed metal.  Restraint is for the weak.

11. SikTh - The Future in Whose Eyes? 
You guys have no idea how excited I am to finally be able to put SikTh on a year end list.  Despite being early progenitors of currently popular genres that I don't care for like djent and whatever the fuck Periphery is, SikTh was always on a whole other level.  Nobody sounded like them in the mid 2000s, and nobody sounds like them now that they've reformed.  This sounds like they haven't missed a step since Death of a Dead Day, enduring the departure of Justin Hill with such finesse that you can barely tell he's gone.  Mikee Goodman is still the most unique vocalist basically ever, the music is the same spastic dissonance with huge emphasis on solid grooves and hooks, basically everything is perfect.  This is the album I've been waiting for for 11 years, and god damn did it deliver.

10. Full of Hell - Trumpeting Ecstasy
FUCK.  This album shreds so hard it fucking hurts.  I won't claim to know Full of Hell's evolution as a band, the point is that I always knew them as a hardcore/powerviolence band and just never really bothered to check them out.  With the rise of metal-friendly hardcore in recent years getting a whole bunch of hype, particularly Nails and Code Orange, I figured it was high time I give Full of Hell a shot as well, since they seem to be getting roughly the same amount of love.  Refer back to the beginning of this entry: FUCK.  This is some of the gnarliest grind I've gotten into in a while, and I haven't felt such a rush of intensity since the first time I heard Rotten Sound's Exit.  I can't imagine anybody doing this since I'm far from an outlier in praising this record, but don't sleep on it.

9. Malokarpatan - Nordkarpatenland
I try not to do this, but most of you know I run the AOTY poll over at the Metal Archives, and sometimes a release I totally missed will pop up on my radar when I see it garnering a lot of votes early on.  Malokarpatan was one such release.  I told myself that even if I loved it, I wouldn't put it on my own list because that would feel like cheating, but I've been listening to this almost non stop for the past few weeks and I'd be lying if I said I didn't immediately love it more than most albums I've heard this year.  I can't even really call this the token BM album to make it on the list, because there are so many other influences that that feels incorrect.  This gets a lot of comparisons to Master's Hammer, but I've never listened to them so I can't say if it's correct or not.  I just know that this is BM + Iron Maiden/Mercyful Fate and I'm in love.

8. Cannibal Corpse - Red Before Black
Everything was wrong with this album before it came out.  The cover art sucked, the title was stupid, they were falling back on old habits by having Erik Rutan produce it again, early reports from friends who got promos were that there were no crawling or crushing tracks and it was all just really fast and aggressive.  Everything felt wrong and I couldn't have been less interested.  Then I decided to give it a shot anyway and learned my fucking lesson.  I don't know why I ever doubt Cannibal, they're one of the greatest bands in metal history and it's not on accident.  Yeah, this is the thrashiest album they've written in 25+ years and it's all cut from the same cloth as "Demented Aggression", but fuck that just means it goes as hard as possible for 45 solid minutes.

7. Power Trip - Nightmare Logic
I thought Manifest Decimation was a cool little unknown slice of thrash with a flair for the old school hardcore.  I spun it a few times and let it sit.  Four years later, Nightmare Logic steps onto the scene and fuuuuuuck.  Power Trip brought riffs for fucking days on this one, and it's pretty easily one of the very few standout thrash releases to be released in this current Dead Riff Era of metal.  The real star of the show here, for my money, isn't even a member of the band, but the producer, Arthur Rizk.  Rizk popped on my radar last year with Sumerlands and Eternal Champion, and this here continues what I've noticed with those albums.  He is unbelievably skilled when it comes to making things sound retro without sounding dated.  Nobody delivers the furious crunch quite like this guy, and he's establishing himself as a premier knobsman for good reason.

6. Craven Idol - The Shackles of Mammon
This is another thrashy band that had a decently well received release in 2013 that I totally forgot about until now.  Allegedly Towards Eschaton is a bit more up my alley, considering this album is seen as a continuation of that sound but with less melody and Motorhead influence, but if that's the case then that must simply mean it's one of the best of 2013 that I skipped over, because I fucking love this album to pieces.  High octane, preposterously intense and ripping black/thrash that so easily lends itself to mediocrity.  Craven Idol found a way to stand out amongst the throng of bands in the genre simply by writing great songs with great riffs and great hooks.  That's exactly the shit I love.  It's not as pummeling as Power Trip, but this is easily my most listened-to thrash album of 2017.  And it's only halfway thrash!

5. Dying Fetus - Wrong One to Fuck With
Why??  There is absolutely no reason this album should be as good as it is.  Fetus hasn't released anything in five years, the title just reeks of a filler release, bringing the old logo back feels like desperation, I just don't get it.  This should suck, but it doesn't.  Not even a little bit.  In fact I'd say this is right on par with Reign Supreme, which is only a tiny step down from Destroy the Opposition.  They are on an unstoppable roll right now, which is insane considering how far into their career they are at this point.  Wrong One with Which to Fuck is a god damned riff fiesta.  It's just banger after banger after banger.  This doesn't have the handful of standout tracks like the previous album did, but I reckon it sits at a consistently higher plateau.  God dammit it just slams.

4. Deathwish - Unleash Hell
You'd think it would be a no brainer considering my taste in music, but I really don't listen to a whole lot of metalpunk.  My listening is split almost 60/40 between the two genres and the very pseudonym I've been using for the past 12+ years on the internet is derived from Motorhead, the band that ties the two genres together.  Well Deathwish seems to be the band that finally made me sit up and take notice, because holy shit there is not one second of this record that I don't adore.  Creativity is at an all time low here, as it's just Motorhead + Discharge and basically nothing else I can tell, but there's nothing else I even want out of this.  This is just adrenaline pumping, pedal-to-the-metal machismo from the opening seconds and it never calms down.  If you can't get enough of meth-fueled warbling and endless d-beats backing meaty riffs, this is your jam.

3. The Black Dahlia Murder - Nightbringers
Black Dahlia seems to have simply reset their age old "good album, meh album" flip flopping, because we're back to another phenomenal release.  Nightbringers stands as possibly the best album they've released since Nocturnal, and at the very least is on par with Everblack for me.  While Abysmal two years ago was mediocre to me and seems to be the template here (with nearly every song in the 3 minute range and sporting ridiculously speedy tempos), this is just better in every conceivable way.  "Kings of the Nightworld" is fighting to be my new favorite song of theirs, and the b-side in general is fucking stunning.  Pretty much nothing flops, and I'd say this is in serious contention for the title of their most consistently excellent record across the board.  Pay attention, TBDM deserves so much more underground respect than they get.

2. Satan's Hallow - Satan's Hallow 
When I said trad metal was mostly a flop this year, it was with the unspoken caveat that Satan's Hallow was a massive exception.  This sat penciled in at the top spot for most of the year, only talking myself out of it shortly before finalizing this list, and it's for damn good reason.  Guitarist and main songwriter, Von Jugel, explained that his main goal in writing these songs was to cut out all of the fat and release a concise, undiluted, 100% pure punchy experience, not unlike the setlist of a great opening band.  I'd say he succeeded marvelously, because this is an amazing album.  It's 70s/80s Priest and Mercyful Fate for the new millennium, and there isn't one wasted second or filler riff.  Martillo's vocals are obviously going to draw comparisons to Doro/Warlock as well, but for my money this is better than they ever were.  Seriously.


1. Suffocation - ...of the Dark Light 
I'm going to lose so much underground cred for putting a major label release by an established legend above the small time darlings that are Satan's Hallow, but at the end of the day I just can't kill this album.  Suffocation somehow, after over a decade of decent-but-not-amazing releases since the reformation (I know Pinnacle of Bedlam ranked on my list when it came out, but 2013 was a really weak year and it wouldn't have even sniffed the lists for 15 or 16), have finally, finally managed to recover after the loss of Doug Cerrito.  Despite this and Satan's Hallow being neck and neck all year (even garnering the same fucking score when I reviewed them both), I think the reason Suffocation pulled out the victory in the end is simply because of what this represents.  This is an established band, long past their prime, shuffling the deck and restocking their lineup with fresh young faces who had 1000x the fire and passion that the veterans had at the time.  This, to me, signifies the future.  Sure, Terrence Hobbs is still around and it just wouldn't be Suffocation without his style of riffing, but I never would've expected that they'd ever reach these heights again without Cerrito, Smith/Culross, Marchais, or especially Mullen.  Frank may be the vocalist on the album here, but Kevin handles 99% of the live shows and he's a dead fucking ringer for Frank so it barely matters.  Charlie and Eric also decimate their new roles as well, and it just shows how important it can be to introduce new faces into the scene.  These guys are set now as long as they want to be in the business, because they've proven themselves alongside the legends they grew up with.  ...of the Dark Light showcases the death of the tired old trope of replacing veteran members with other scene veterans, because that fiery youth is exactly what made Effigy of the Forgotten so fucking good.  It'll probably take a long time before this practice catches on, but I hope it eventually does, because this is a well deserved, and rightfully fantastic winner of the BH Award for Album of the Year 2017. 

And now for something completely the same!


Get the Shot - Infinite Punishment: One of the most metal-friendly hardcore bands on the planet released another monster this year.  It's not quite the knuckle-to-tooth tour de force than was No Peace in Hell a few years ago, but it's pretty fucking close.  It's thrashy as fuck and all of the riffs sound like punches, and it goes hard from the word go and never chills out.  This just ever so slightly missed the cut for the list, but shouldn't be overlooked by fans of adrenaline filled heaviness.  

Ogarya - Ubiquity: The band that nearly beat Gorod at their own game.  This is just furious blasting death at every turn and deserves all the praise in the world.  I can't wait to see where they go from here, because if it weren't for Satan's Hallow, this would've fairly easily been the debut of the year.

Origin - Unparalleled Universe:  I don't know if I'm just refreshed after not being interested in their last two albums or what, but this heralds a triumphant return for the midwestern tech machines.  It's about on par with Antithesis, arguably their best album, and I can't even really explain why.  It's the same hyperfukt insanity that they've always churned out that made them the band to beat in the tech death boom of the late 2000s, but the hooks and songwriting are just better than they've been in nearly a decade.

Alestorm - No Grave but the Sea:  I was genuinely fucking stunned to discover how much I liked this album.  Alestorm had a whopping one good song prior to this, and somehow they just nailed the hooks this time around.  It's completely idiotic doinky folk metal littered with dumbass accordions and stupid jokes like "Fucked with an Anchor", but god dammit somehow I just had a blast with it.  There's no excuse for me.

Skyclad - Forwards into the Past:  Ever since the departure of Martin Walkyier, the grandfathers of folk metal's output has slowed to a Macabre-esque crawl, this being their first album in eight years.  Like every Skyclad album, it has a bit of a problem with filler and is pretty front loaded, but it starts off with a streak of songs that actually rival their golden era.  If nothing else, "A Heavy Price to Pay" is one of my most listened-to tracks of the year.

Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper:  The token funeral doom album of the year for me.  It may have missed the cut and stands a bit overlong (which is saying something coming from a Monolithe fan), but the guitarless rumbling and massive atmosphere do it a ton of favors and it stands as a worthwhile and unique listen regardless. 

The Outer RIM - Uatism:  This is actually the greatest album ever released, but I helped make it so I won't list it in the interest of fairness.  Y'all should go to Bandcamp and listen to it.


Tengger Cavalry - Die on My Ride:  This pains me so much to say, but Tengger's first full length since the infamous move to America is... very not good.  Almost everything I loved about the band previously is conspicuously absent.  The riffs are still simplistic but have much less charisma than they used to, the production is much more flat and static than before, the harsh vocals are completely absent which saps a ton of aggression out of the songs, the songs all sound like first drafts that were written in a matter of days or less, it's just a flop in every way.  There are flashes of the old magic here and there but even then those moments are hindered by the problems listed above.  "The Frontline" starts off as one of the more aggressive and metallic songs they've presented in a while, but with the screams replaced with throat singing and the production sounding so much less bombastic, it just falters.  From the lost Coal Chamber song in "Independence Day" to the awful, awful pop ballad "Ashley", there's really nothing I'd recommend here.  Disappointment of the year and a sad shell of a once-great band. 

Hour of Penance - Cast the First Stone:  I really, really thought they were primed to bounce back from the minor disappointment of Regicide, but I guess not.  I don't know what happened, because on the surface this has everything that made their incredible streak from 08-12 so excellent, but apart from the first and last track just nothing at all stands out here.  Hour of Penance was a perennial favorite who always ranked highly on these lists, and now they're just on autopilot and getting their asses handed to them by Hideous Divinity at every turn.

Ensiferum - Two Paths:  I should've known better that One Man Army was a fluke.  Two Paths sees Ensiferum on the most obvious autopilot they've ever been on, which would suck enough on its own, but they also made the baffling decision to let people who aren't Markus Toivonen deal with a lot of the clean vocals.  Turns out everybody else in the band sucks at it, so it's a bland album with no songs that stand out and tons of bafflingly terrible cleans.  This would've been my disappointment of the year if I didn't sorta suspect it would suck beforehand.

Battle Beast - Bringer of Pain:  Man these guys have fallen off hard.  The previous album grew on me somewhat but was still a noticeable step down from the self titled, and this one just continues the downward trend.  They're clearly aiming for the Sabaton route (albeit more through the Scarface soundtrack and less through bouncy Disneyisms) of pure pop with distorted guitars and it's just not working.  The title track is a solid corker and "Familiar Hell" is maddeningly catchy but the rest of it is forgettable trash.

Code Orange - Forever:  Like Nails and Harm's Way before them, here we find ourselves with a very metal-friendly hardcore band making a ton of waves in the mainstream.  And, less like Nails but exactly like Harm's Way, about half of this is the heaviest shit ever written and the other half is unbearably boring nothingness.  How this took the top spot for both Revolver and Rolling Stone is an absolute fucking mystery to me.  Opening for System of a Down seems to have its perks.

And that's it!  The year is over and that's what we're left with.  My honorable mentions section was a bit longer than usual which would imply this was a strong year, but really that's about it, everything lesser than that section was cripplingly mediocre.  Here's to hoping 2018 is a better year.  I hope you all had a wonderful New Years.  Now back to your regularly scheduled lack of updates!