Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Pious Levus - Beast of the Foulest Depths

Two choooooooords two chooooooords

I don't normally do promo reviews simply because I feel like there's an unspoken expectation to, ya know, promote.  I don't like doing that simply because most bands sending out mass promos through an incessant PR company frankly aren't all that good.  There are exceptions of course but in my experience my inbox has been flooded with literally dozens of albums per week from bands that are just flat out mediocre in every way.  Lately I decided fuck it, I'll check a handful, what's the worst that could happen?  That's how I came across Pious Levus here, and I can say with 100% certainty that I never would have otherwise and neither would anybody else because fuck this is boring.

I brought up the whole promo thing because the band is halfway made up of members of Hod, another band I checked out thanks to promo spamming when I wrote for Metal Crypt (a site positively swimming in low-tier promo trash) some eight years ago.  Hod was pretty nondescript black/death back then and Pious Levus is pretty nondescript black/death now.  Beast of the Foulest Depths sounds a lot like what I remember Serpent sounding like years ago, although maybe a bit further on the evil atmosphere side than the straight ahead Goatwhore-styled riffery that it shoved in your face.  And "in your face" is a good descriptor for Pious Levus, and it's only halfway a good thing.  I like bands that are intense and dangerous sounding, and that's certainly the case here, but it's backed up with precisely zero interesting songwriting.  It's all very green, paint-by-numbers demon worshipping extreme metal made up of blast beats, tremolo riffs, and extremely lazy grunt-yells.  The album throws no curveballs, no expertly written riffs, no standout performances, it's just white noise of shouting and blasting with nothing of note happening within the cacophony.  This is a band made up of scene veterans, which is sort of tragic because it simply showcases why they never broke out beyond their local Texan scene in the first place, they're... just not very good.  No songwriting skill, no instrumental/vocal standouts, it's low effort black metal about Satan in a world that already has like 100,000 bands exactly like that. 

Special shoutout has to go to the ninth track, "Demon Xusha's Invocation".  I get that it's supposed to sound like a ritual, but I'm not even kidding when I say it's almost three minutes of the same two chords repeated over and over and over and over and over and over again.  Every eight cycles or so the second chord will ascend instead of descend with a dissonant tremolo thing behind it and sometimes the drums keep pace with the ride instead of the hi-hat/splash/whatever it is.  But that's it!  It's so fucking lazy.  I can't even begin to comprehend how the band thought this passed muster.  How the fuck can these dudes have been making music since the late 80s/early 90s and somehow decide a three minute duh-duhhhhhhhh duh-duhhhhhhh duh-duhhhhhhh song was worth not only writing, but going through the effort of recording and ultimately making the cut for the band's debut fucking album?  A ten year old could play this song.  A ten year old could write this song.  "Demon Xusha's Invocation" is bad and so is Pious Levus.  Don't listen to this.

RATING - 20%

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dragonauta - CabraMacabra

Is Satan really a secret anymore?

The World Cup starts in a few days, and as an Amerocentric white boy who grew up with football and hockey, I know jack shit about soccer.  As such, I adopted a totally random National Team to support every four years when I was a kid, and that random country was Argentina.  In that spirit, let's take a look at an equally random Argentinian metal band.  Straight outta Buenos Aires, I present to you, Dragonauta.

I have no history with Dragonauta, I was only introduced to them last week.  In this last week, I've probably spun CabraMacabra twenty times.  This isn't something that should have set the world on fire back in 2006 and was unfairly forgotten or anything, but it's undeniably an addictive album, and I just can't help but go back to it quite frequently.  The best laconic review I can muster would be "The Melvins if they bought laced weed from Satan."  The genre tag on MA lists them as "Psychedelic Stoner/Doom Metal" but I'm not sure I'd agree with that on this album.  It's very sludgy, which tends to go hand in hand with stoner and doom metal, sure, but the pace tends to stay surprisingly high, taking the punky elements of sludge classics and replacing them more with straight ahead thrash metal.  I'd also say it's less "psychedelic" and more accurately "schizophrenic", as the band tends to take on an almost frenzied approach to everything, like they're just confused and angry and want to lash out at something.  As a result the music is simultaneously hazy and sluggish while being focused and ferocious.  There are some out-of-left-field progressive moments as well, with the first half of "Funeral magico" being a quiet, almost Pink Floydian section.  "Abducido" and "En el futuro ya no habra piedad" toy around with these sections as well but it's definitely most prominent on "Funeral magico". 

CabraMacabra tends to err away from the "Honey Bucket" style of sludge/thrash and lands closer to classic Sabbathian stoner metal as the album goes on (check out "Experienciar"), which is also pretty Melvins-y in its own right.  But honestly, the main reason I keep comparing this to those Seattle weirdos is because the vocalist here sounds like a methed out King Buzzo who is perpetually stubbing his toe and invoking Satan about it.  There's a culpable sense of malice absolutely smothering his voice, and it helps the music itself sound so much more evil than it would have with any other vocal style.  It definitely works better with the more manic first half of the album but it sounds awesome when the band gets doomier as well.  He really is the highlight for me.

If there's any real flaw with the album it's simply that it gets to be a bit much to get through in one sitting.  It's not a super long album, clocking in at 51 minutes, but with how in-your-face it is for most of the runtime it gets to be pretty exhausting, despite the variance in tempo and continuously high level of excitement.  The tracks tend to run together as the album grinds along, so the more ripping tracks like "Transmutado" and "Dioses del submundo" stand out more once it's over and you recall the album from memory.  Overall it's not really a big deal though, because on the whole it's a very dangerous and feral sounding album that spans across a few different subgenres and ties itself together with those completely insane vocals.  It's a fun romp, and I'll definitely be coming back to this.  After all, I haven't been able to stop listening to it for a week now, and that's a pretty rare quality for me nowadays.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Ghost - Prequelle


For years now, I've always seen Ghost to be "that stupid Scooby-Doo chase scene organ rock band with the dumb gimmick and wimpiest vocalist on the planet", and just sorta let their albums pass me by.  It really was mostly Papa Emeritus's voice that kept me away more than the light music, because believe me when I say that I can dig anything with a strong enough hook (trash talk Madonna in front of me, I dare you).  I never cared that the songs were light, poppy, and catchy necessarily.  The problem has always been those fucking weak ass vocals.  Seriously, there's zero oomph whatsoever!  He sounds like fucking Passenger, he's so spindly and brittle sounding, I could never, ever, ever get behind it.  Oddly enough, what broke me from this roadblock was actually just... ya know, talking to a Ghost fan.  I'm friends with a really normie dude (two of his all time favorite metal bands are Ghost and Babymetal) and I asked him how he can possibly stand Papa's vocals.  He described it as such:

"Well look at it from a different angle.  He's not supposed to be this big imposing creature, the whole point of Ghost is to be welcoming and inviting, it's really easy and catchy music that can suck anybody in.  He's more of a cult leader than a 'fire and brimstone' preacher, much more of a David Koresh than a Jim Jones.  He's soft spoken and harmless because that's how he gets you.  That's how all that Satanist stuff comes into play, nobody would join his 'church' if they knew how evil it was.  He's a friendly, charismatic leader who gets his 'ghouls' to do his dirty work once they've been converted."

I initially brushed it off as a scrambling rationalization, like the people who explain away how bad Final Fantasy VIII is by saying Squall died at the end of Disc 1... but I'll be damned if Ghost's first three albums didn't start making a whole lot more sense once I looked at it that way.

I explained all that to illustrate that I'm a new fan of the band, and a lot of my old prejudices have been thoroughly washed away as I sit here proudly jamming Meliora for a few weeks.  So when I tell you all that Prequelle is really fucking boring, I'm not coming from a place of long-entrenched hate anymore.

To get it out of the way, there are good tracks here.  "Rats" and "Dance Macabre" were the two advance singles and god dammit they are exactly what I want out of Ghost.  Those two songs showcase their strengths incredibly well, being larger-than-life fist pumping arena metal anthems, leaning closer to glam than any sort of neck wrecking heaviness.  These songs are basically two peas in a pod, and I can't help but see them as companion pieces to one another for how similarly they approach themselves.  They're both really upbeat poppy songs that have slightly sinister undertones lyrically but present themselves as completely harmless pop tunes musically, written specifically to be played with gusto at huge arenas and open air festivals with thousands of fans singing along.  You know, the same things that made tracks like "Year Zero" and "Square Hammer" so cool.  "Faith" is a bit more of a grower, being a much less immediate but also more riff-reliant track with more of a slow burning chorus.  Bonus points to the bridge for sounding fucking exactly like the bridge in Metallica's "Through the Never".  Rounding out the good tracks is "Witch Image", which sounds like a half-ballad reimagining of "Dance Macabre" a mere two tracks earlier, but the chorus is a stunner with some super simplistic guitar licks in the background that keep the soothing (but kinda dull) verses from dragging the song down.  Even more bonus points to the guitarists for the solos following the 80s glam template of being epic as shit and always a huge, melodic highlight of every track.

The problem arises with every other track being lame as shit.  When Prequelle is taken as a whole, it's really disjointed and poorly paced, with far too many weak tracks to justify the runtime.  Broken down, you've got ten tracks, two of which are upbeat pop rock, one strong arena metal track, two half/power ballads, two ballads, and three instrumentals, one of which is a mostly atmospheric intro.  That's not goodPrequelle has absolutely no sense of momentum after "Faith" wraps up, as it spends the rest of the time sputtering up and down, stopping and starting, never really moving forwards with any real urgency or thought.  At that point it becomes merely a collection of songs, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but when most of the songs aren't interesting it becomes a huge problem.  In this regard, Ghost shows themselves to be more of a pop act than a rock one, because Prequelle is structured quite poppy in the sense that it's clearly centered around the two singles with a bunch of filler surrounding it, save one or two deep cuts that work out fairly well.  Shit like "Pro Memoria" has no place on any album being released to the general public, nobody wants to hear a weak acoustic ballad that doesn't actually progress. 

The instrumentals fare a bit better than the ballads, but really it's just "Miasma" that works.  That one is festooned with numerous flashy solos, spanning guitar, keys, and elephant, and it's just a fun driving track that keeps the pace up and doesn't get old.  "Helvetesfönster" on the other hand is a corny waltz that goes on for way too long and is sandwiched between a half ballad and a full on ballad to close the album.  Even though "Witch Image" is one of the good songs, it does contribute to the album skidding to a halt across three tracks, which really is my biggest problem overall.  The excitement isn't consistent, and the other moods they try to evoke just fall flat and aren't enjoyable in any real way.  It's not fun to sit through, and that's why it functions best as a pop album meant to have a few standout tracks to throw in a playlist and throw the rest out. 

There's no real place to put this, but I love how the cover is an obvious tribute to Sepultura's Bestial Devastation (look closely, even the background details are identical) despite Ghost being about the furthest fucking thing on the planet from Sepultura besides, I dunno, elevator muzak?

So it's unfortunate that I got around to understanding Ghost right when they released an extraordinarily mediocre album.  Prequelle has some excellent high points with "Rats" and "Dance Macabre" and I can't recommend them enough.  Huge choruses and big dumb hooks are abound on those tracks, and really that's what Ghost excels with.  These more somber and "serious" pieces are just weak and meandering, and the instrumental interludes are torturously long this time around.  I wouldn't call this a terrible album, but it's certainly not a good one either.  The few moments of heavy riffage found early on don't do nearly enough to ground the floaty pop melodies and those melodies themselves really only work when there's a driving force behind them.