Sunday, December 23, 2018

Deathrite - Nightmares Reign

I schleep

From what I understand, Deathrite used to play some high octane grind-infused death metal, but if that's the case then Nightmares Reign is a huge departure for them.  Instead of putting the pedal to the floor and smoking face, this album seems content to grind only in the sense that it drags on and on and never raises past a level of "alright I guess" every once in a while.

I feel like my issue here is the same one I had with Genocide Pact's new album, because it sounds like it's always building towards a moment where the band is gonna go fucking nuts but it just never comes to pass.  The vast, vast majority of this album comfortably sits in a mid-paced trench and never really tries to hit any other mood beyond background competency.  There are a lot of slow d-beats and 100bpm riffs that revel in overt simplicity, which is fine because my unending love of Motorhead should prove that I don't think technicality is anything approaching a necessity.  The problem is that there's no adrenaline, no fire, no excitement.  Nobody listens to death metal because they want to hear something pedestrian.  That's what Nightmares Reign is.  It's very inoffensive and pedestrian, and it's more likely to bore your grandmother than shock her with the inherent depravity and violence of death metal.  I've skimmed some reviews around the internet for this album, since it's the band's fourth full length and I'm obviously coming into this with no knowledge of their previous work, and most people are acknowledging this as a stark departure from their roots of furious sub-3 minute blast attacks, and all that makes me want to do is check out their earlier stuff, because if this is a new direction, it's a very definitive flop in my eyes.  Even the one short song, "Bloodlust" just feels like one of the longer boring songs chopped in half instead of a faster and more focused maiming.  The average track length sits around five minutes if you exclude the two long ones, "Demon Soul" and "Temptation Calls", which sit around seven and a half and nine and a half minutes respectively.  Every last one of these tracks, even the average ones, feel like they only have two minutes worth of ideas stretched out to comparatively marathon lengths.

There are good things about this.  The production is muddy in an old-school sense and it has a massive booming low end, which is really nice.  There are actual moments of life in the intro of "Demon Souls", roughly two minutes into "Devil's Poison" (after what feels like a two minute soundcheck), and the sole above average track, "Appetite for Murder".  That's really all the praise I can give it though.  No instrumental moments stand out, the percussion is weak and uninspired, the vocals are dime-a-dozen gruff yells, the riffs are so lifeless that I'm not confident they could pass a captcha, it's just very unexciting and bland from start to finish.  Is there such a thing as a reverse shot in the arm?  Because that's what this sounds like.  It sounds like the vaguely crusty death metal of something like Black Breath in their heyday with half of the blood drained out of their bodies.  I don't want to listen to something sedated and drowsy, and if they wanted to turn the tempo down, they should have focused more on crushing, oppressive doom passages.  Right here, all we really have is "slow death metal", and that sounds about as exciting as a pedicure.


For I am King - I

I forgot to think of a title

I'm gonna be real with you all, I only stumbled across this because I'm a masochist who occasionally trawls the "metal" section of Spotify to see what's hip with the kids these days (spoiler alert, it's all still nu metal, djent, and metalcore; all the "false metal" trends have long surpassed "trend" status and are here to stay, well out of our view as snobby purists), and this was just the first new release listed from a band that was listed on MA.  Unsurprisingly, they're metalcore.  And unsurprisingly, they're exceedingly mediocre.

I've been vocal enough over the years about how I break from many of my contemporaries in that I don't loathe metalcore on principle.  I think there's plenty of potential for the modern style to be great if a band goes full out one way or another with it.  The problem is that many bands just... don't.  They stick to a template of inoffensive melodeath with clean choruses and breakdowns every once in a while and that's the beginning and end of the creativity.  That's where For I am King stands, right smack in the middle of the bell curve with seemingly millions of other bands that sound exactly the same as them.

That's not to say that I is a terrible album or anything, there are certainly things about it that I like.  Alma's dedication to purely harsh vocals is nice and helps keep the aggression high without the melodic moments ever taking center stage.  You could argue that this keeps the album pretty one-dimensional, and you wouldn't exactly be wrong, but it does help the album avoid the pitfall of giving lame cliche hooks center stage and souring the aggressive parts.  As much as I like As I Lay Dying, there's no denying that the clean choruses often sound wimpy as shit and take away from the surprising adrenaline of the verses.  There are boatloads of melodic guitar lines that flitter away in the background that try to help the songs soar above the meaty riffs underneath, but they never really succeed in providing that epic sound I'm sure they're going for.  The breakdowns are pretty consistently great though, smashing through with vigor and providing a really strong counterpoint to the A Plea for Purging/Phineas style melodic noodling that permeates most of the runtime.  Credit where credit is due, these dudes can bring the house down when they focus on it.

The problem is that they just... don't most of the time.  The components are there to put the aggression center stage but they spend most of I with one foot in the pool, never truly diving in to any one element that they could focus on.  As a result you get decent melodeath with decent melody and good breakdowns that come far too infrequently to really rise above and become a true highlight.  It's very thin and spread across the board, and unfortunately that's how most metalcore winds up sounding.  I hate that I have to start every metalcore review with a caveat that "it's not that bad guys!" before just proving how watered down and mediocre snobs like me always say it is anyway.  There's really nothing to stick here, and that's a shame because I feel like this could be excellent, but I also feel like there's really nothing to point to that could potentially be a highlight if it was approached differently.  Maybe the breakdowns, but that's not really something I'd want to hear either.  I guess For I am King is destined to be yet another face in the crowd.  Sorry y'all.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Gotsu Totsu Kotsu - The Final Stand

Like drinking a lava smoothie

I wish I could quit this band.  It's almost unfair how unfathomably good they are with such consistency.  After debuting with the stellar Mouryou in 2009, and then taking their sweet time to release a followup, they've since released four albums in the ensuing five years, each one somehow its own shade of total brilliance despite all of them being fundamentally identical.  All of them contain the same ingredients.  Every time you hit play, you know you're going to be hit with a barrage of blazing fast slap bass, thunderous roaring vocals, riffs so fast you'll swear they're smoking crank, solos that sound like Keiichi grafted three extra fingers and a tentacle to his left hand, and drumming that is, comparatively, much more simple than the other two instruments but still pounds out on warp speed.  Despite that, there are subtle differences with each one.  Legend of Shadow is very long and organic, while Retributive Justice goes straight for the throat with unabashed ferocity, for example.

So what's the approach that The Final Stand takes?  The best way I can sum it up is not with words, but with the mental image of being Fus Ro Dah'd off a cliff and landing in a pit of machineguns.  Most Japanese metal bands seem to operate on the idea that "more is more", and Gotsu Totsu Kotsu is no exception.  The Final Stand here is pure fucking excess in the most gorgeously brutal way imaginable.  There is more eyeball-melting slap bass delivered at Mach 9 here than ever before.  The riffs are some of the fastest and most devastatingly brutal they've ever written.  The drumming leans a bit more towards the simplistic with a bit less double bass and blasting than before, but it's still there, and even at its slowest it sounds like a school bus full of sledgehammers crashing into a church.  Ever since the lineup shift that saw Keiichi and Kouki enter the fold back in 2015, GTK has been a fucking machine running at full capacity, oiled with the blood of a million fanatics.

I can't even think to describe The Final Stand in musical terms.  It's like getting slapped with a bundle of stop signs.  It's like getting your skull split with an iridescent battleaxe covered in hot sauce.  It's like trying to finish eating a bear before it wakes up.  It's like that scene in Ong Bak when Tony Jaa lights his feet on fire and spinkicks a hapless goon into a trash can.  The whole damn thing, from start to finish, is just a downhill sprint of pummeling death metal performed with stylish flair and bloodthirsty zealotry.  Even the moments where the band slows down and isn't trying to murder you with soundwaves like the intro to "Haisui no Jin" or the outro of "Muni no Kessen" are awe inspiring in how heavy and/or epic they are.  No three piece band has any right to sound this massive.

I think that's what makes this album, and by extension the band as a whole, so impressive to me.  They defy physics in the sense that they are so gargantuan, with such a huge, full sound and such oppressively crushing heaviness, and yet they zip around with astounding celerity, like a twelve story fox with bazookas for feet.  Listen to the fucking bass runs in "Nadegiri", how is that even achievable by humans?  I'm so focused on the speed and manual dexterity coupled with the colossal girth of the sound that I haven't even really touched on how epic everything is.  I mean it, everything sounds somehow greater than itself, as if each song is being played by malevolent celestials themselves yeah I went there I said it sounds like gods are playing these songs.

I'm repeating myself.  This is just so, so good y'all.  I can hardly wrap my head around how they managed to create near perfection for like the third god damn time in five years.  I still feel like I'm selling them short.  I have yet to hear death metal that really sounds like this, and their little quirks like the iconic vocals and multiverse-upending slap bass just make them stand out even more.  Gotsu Totsu Kotsu is one of the greatest metal bands to have ever taken shape in the modern era, and I really don't see how that could change in the foreseeable future.