Sunday, March 31, 2019

Cabrio - Devotion and Hate

It's a'ight

To be completely honest with you, I have a nasty habit of treating Latin America as something of a meme when it comes to heavy metal.  I recognize the unfairness considering Brazil is an undisputed metal hotspot, with Sepultura and Sarcofago helping lay the groundwork for extreme metal in general (not to mention Vulcano and Krisiun), and of course we can't forget their strong power metal scene with Angra and Hibria.  Mexico gave the world The Chasm, and even the hellhole of Colombia is technically responsible for Inquisition (even though the vast majority of their music was released after Dagon moved to the US), et cetera et cetera.  I dunno, I think the inherent Engrish goofiness of Sarcofago rubbed off on a lot of bands in the region and the whole place became known for ALKOHOLIC HELLTHRASH 666!!!! type nonsense.  At least that's what happened in my own mind.

So it was with much trepidation that I decided to give Chilean thrashers, Cabrio, a listen.  My prejudices are pretty well ingrained at this point, so I can say with confidence that Devotion and Hate has done a lot to dispel the stereotypes in my mind.  Don't get me wrong, this is hellish thrash metal to the bone, but it puts forth a distinctly South American attitude while thankfully completely eschewing that idiotic SMOKE BEER!!! aesthetic I've always hated.  Cabrio plays a style that's very heavily rooted in the more American style of thrash that Exodus helped make popular with a hefty dose of the very metal-leaning hardcore of Hatebreed, but there's a raw edge to it that keeps it just rough and nasty enough to stand out.  I think it's the vocals that make the music impossible to fully divorce from their geographic origins.  Andres has a rather thick accent to his ferocious (yet clear) hardcore bark that stands out to my cornbread ass, so every shout of TWAHNNY THAHSSIN TAHNS immediately transports me to the southern hemisphere.

But taking all of that away, the music itself is vicious and entertaining.  Devotion and Hate is pounding thrash metal that never truly breaks out into a completely frantic pace, but there's a very heavy skippiness to the riffs that ensures the mighty weight of the band never gives way to dull grooves or fast-for-the-sake-of-it thrash.  The band's only real downfall is that the songwriting itself tends to rest on its laurels and doesn't always grab your attention.  There are great tracks here, like the monstrously heavy "Twenty Thousand Tons", the venom-spewing ferocity of "Seed of Deception", or the tempo-shifting maelstrom of "Dios Sin Fe", but most of the rest of the album just kinda unremarkably fades into the white noise.  What's here is indeed good, but it doesn't have a whole lot of lasting impact.  It's a flaw that's both major and minor, because when it is on, it's vicious and biting the whole way through.  Unfortunately, at some point you're gonna have to turn it off and listen to something else, and when that happens it might be tough to remember to revisit it.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

Corrosive - Nourished by Blood

Murder in the every row

Corrosive is most well known for stealing the band name I came up with when I was 12.  But beyond that, they really don't seem to be all that well known at all, releasing a mere three albums across twenty four years, amassing zero reviews on MA.  This is a fucking shame because, if Nourished by Blood is anything to go by, Corrosive is the true heir to the crown Vomitory dropped on their way out of the scene.

So yeah, these Germans rip shit to shreds with alarming regularity on this album.  The wall of sound production creates an explosive element to the already ruinous music, with the nonstop percussionary salvo decimating eardrums at every turn.  This congeals with an absolute whirlwind of tremolo devastation that ultimately creates a monstrous blast of destructive death metal that pretty much instantly hooked me.  Those two sentences pretty much sum up the entire album, because while this is superb in execution, there really isn't any real innovation or anything to cement it as a future classic.  It plays into the tropes of the blast obsessed legends out of Europe like the aforementioned Vomitory, Unleashed, and Vader, but that's not really a problem considering all three of those bands completely fucking smoke.  The lone misstep is probably the weird and gloomy "God Gives" near the end, with an ill-fitting whispered outro and muddy acoustic guitars.  I get what it was going for, but the churning atmosphere doesn't really work.  The band's strength very clearly lies in the other ten tracks (excluding the intro) where they just put the pedal to the floor and mow down a crowd with the head-slicing wall from Caligula. 

There's very little to say about Nourished by Blood really, but I'd say the shallow, one-dimensional approach works extremely well here since they show up with one purpose and execute it nearly flawlessly.  The odd "God Gives", the groovy "War is My Inspiration", and the weird cover of the Ghostbusters theme song are the only thematic breaks from single-minded aural warfare, and even then only two of those three don't really work.  I'm sorry, the Ghostbusters theme is already perfect and adding blasts and growls to it while keeping the main melody intact in its original major key only makes me think of the fucking terrible Crazy Chocobo song from Final Fantasy XIII-2.  For those of you that aren't hopeless dorks, be fucking glad you don't know what that is.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Lost in Pain - Gold Hunters


Well I've got a new pin in my Metal Globe it seems.  According to MA, Luxembourg has had a grand total of 86 metal bands throughout history, only 38 of which are currently active.  So it's pretty cool to know that roughly 1% of the country's metal fans are all in Lost in Pain.

Lost in Pain is some sort of Schrodinger's Metal Band, existing as both the nebulous blend of trad/thrash metal that Metallica made their trademark in the mid 80s and as the heavier, more meaty modern thrash of post-The Gathering Testament (a band who themselves have always been massively influenced by Metallica, of course), and whichever one they sound more like depends on which influence you're looking for.  It's like one of those optical illusions that looks like either a duck or a rabbit depending on which way you look at it.  Gold Hunters sounds like either Metallica or Testament depending on which way your ears are shifted.

That's not to say they're a total clone band of the two though.  Nah, they do indeed sound like their own band, but the songs themselves don't really stand out a whole lot.  There are moments here and there, sure, like the breakdown at the end of "A Word" or the pounding bass intro of "Rebellious Protestors", but for the most part this is just kind of a blur of white noise.  For a band that focuses more on riffs and intensity than melody or atmosphere, they kinda drop the ball by not really having all that many great riffs or intense moments.  It's nice that the album is short and doesn't really get an opportunity to truly become boring, but apart from a few cool groovy moments or totally punishing double bass sections, this just kinda fades like Mr. Meeseeks the instant it's over and does what it sets out to do.  I kinda struggle with what exactly to call this, because it's very "modern" in every sense of the word but doesn't really sound like what you'd consider "modern metal" to be.  The opening title track focuses on a very Lamb of God style main riff before transitioning to a fairly pleasant and radio friendly chorus that's reminiscent of Trivium, but it never really sounds like the more metalcore aspects of either of those bands either, instead touching on their 80s thrash influences without ever being an 80s thrash throwback itself.  The closest we ever truly get is the closer, "The Great Illusion", which is basically their "Dyer's Eve".

So yeah, despite what I've said, if pressed for a definitive answer, I'd say this errs more on the modern Testament side than anything else.  And that's fine, Testament has had a few great tracks since their resurgence, but Gold Hunters doesn't really do anything exciting on its own.  The gruff vocals and massive production sound great but they aren't utilized in an exciting way.  The sound is here, the aggression is here, but the songwriting and staying power is lacking.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Thronehammer - Usurper of the Oaken Throne


I really expected to hate Thronehammer right out of the gate here.  It's well known that I don't like albums that are excruciatingly fucking long, and Usurper of the Oaken Throne sits at an offensive 78 minutes long, with the first three songs alone taking up almost 50 of those minutes.  It's also slow doom metal, which almost guarantees it'll be dull and repetitive the whole time and it'll make those 78 minutes feel like six hours.  I groaned as I loaded this one up for the first time.

As you can probably expect, this absolutely shattered my expectations.

Thronehammer is an international project, with the instrumentalists based out of Germany and the vocalist out of the UK, and while it is indeed slow, repetitive doom metal, it's presented in such a punishing, crushing way that I just felt my spine snap under the pressure the first time I heard this.  All three members are at the top of their games here, cranking out absolutely devastating riffs with powerful vocals carrying the listener through this gorgeous torture.  It's just dirge after dirge after dirge with no end in sight, riffs will repeat a hundred times in a row but it still feels like an almost Monolithe style bludgeoning where the lengthy runtimes are still dozens of different ideas at once.  It doesn't even feel really thin on riffs and ideas despite so few of them actually being on display.  It's just hypnotic and devastating and I love it.

Against my usual instincts, I'd even say that the best songs are the longest ones.  "Behind the Wall of Frost" and "Warhorn" take up nearly forty minutes on their own, but they're both the biggest and most oppressively destructive songs on display.  The pace never picks up at any point throughout Usurper of the Oaken Throne, but it doesn't really need to.  There are subtle synths in the background of the former track that help it sound even more massive than it already does, and the main riff repeats a trillion times but it's so simplistically cataclysmic that it never gets boring.  The latter track is similar in that regard, though it more overtly shifts through different moods and themes, but the monolithic pace and pounding riffs never let up.  This is metal that min/maxed for total demolition.  It's all heaviness and no speed (apart from the mid-paced climax of "Warhorn"), and for this type of glacial oppression that's exactly what I want.  It's not quite funeral doom, despite how much I'm playing up the overwhelming heaviness, but it's damn close to being equally as heavy as Tyranny.

That's really all there is to Thronehammer, just massive riffs with enough weight to shatter an elephant's spine delivered at a pace that would be torturous if the riffs themselves weren't so effective.  Between this and Smoulder, I'd say doom is having an incredibly strong 2019.  The only real flaw of the album is that it isn't as strong in the second half, but that's something that all lengthy albums face so I'm willing to consider that a me problem and figure I'd like it equally as much if the tracks were randomized.


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Hellripper - Black Arts & Alchemy

In league with the entire Ars Goetia

Hellripper is a good example of how to do a clone band correctly.  On the surface, James McBain's one-man project of pure devastation is commonly known as "The Midnight of Scotland", and that isn't wrong, but instead of sounding like a hollow shell of that American monolith of throwback viciousness, Black Arts & Alchemy is every bit as wild and frenzied as any other band in the current scene. 

This kid knows what he's doing, because Hellripper is the exact kind of beer-and-hash-soaked demonry that bands like Midnight and Whipstriker have been making popular in recent years.  This kind of Venom-cum-Motorhead-cum-Onyourface is just a god damned blast and I'm cool with bands aping this sound as shamelessly as possible for the foreseeable future.  There's very little here beyond the surface flash of high octane 70s Motorhead put through the filter of virgin sacrifice and bloody sodomy and fuck that's all I want it to be.  This is primo caveman metal, with no greater goal beyond simply rocking the fuck out as hard as possible and breaking as many faces as possible on your way through.  These riffs sound like a Harley doing a burnout on your face, what the fuck else do you want?

There isn't much to dig into considering that, even beyond being very simple black/speed metal in the vein of early Venom, it's only a four track EP.  "All Hail the Goat" starts off sounding like a biker bar on fire and it never slows down from there.  All four tracks sound pretty much the same but they all fucking rock so who cares?  It's fast, high octane metalpunk with the speed and energy of early 80s German speed metal and it sounds exactly like how you're imagining it to sound.  My only regret is that the digital promo doesn't include the fifth track, a CD-only bonus track cover of Running Wild's "Iron Heads".  If you don't know why that will inevitably being the banger of the fucking century then I don't even want to know you.

For what it's worth, the first five times I tried to listen to this, I'd get about halfway through the first track before iTunes would crash.  Black Arts & Alchemy is so vicious that it kills technology.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Entrapment - Imminent Violent Death

Suck dis member

Well if nothing else, this is the best fuckin' album cover I'm going to see all year.

Entrapment hails from the Netherlands, and they carry some of the Dutch trademarks of Asphyx/Van Drunen, but one look at their band logo should tell you where their hearts truly lie.  Yeah, these guys are Swedeath to the bone, doing everything they can to replicate that famous Sunlight Studios sound and loading their fourth album, Imminent Violent Death with loads of d-beats and hoarse shouting, but at the end of the day there's really not much to say about these guys other than "They're a Dismember clone".

Now let's gone one thing straight: Dismember absolutely fucking rules.  I'd go so far as to put Like an Everflowing Stream right at the very apex of the Swedeath hierarchy in general, above even seminal classics like Left Hand Path and Dark Recollections.  So if there's any band you're going to rip off, Dismember is a damn good choice.  I don't think innovation is a necessity in metal, per se.  I think bands that just play by the rules can absolutely fucking smoke.  Hell, Demonical is another band that just jerks off Dismember a whole bunch and they've been one of the most consistently entertaining bands in the style throughout the decade.

So where does that leave Entrapment?  Well, a couple of notches below bands like Demonical and Smothered.  There's nothing inherently wrong with this album, it's just another drop in the bucket and doesn't do a whole lot to stand out.  There aren't any bad tracks here, just no great ones.  The closest thing there is is probably "Morbid Habitation" simply because it's the fastest and most manic, with vocals being delivered at a Corpsegrinderesque pace.  "Process of Dehumanization" and "Sacrilegious Congregation" are based around some ferocious, violent riffage, while "Sanctifying Putrescent" is just pure fucking speed the whole time, and there are some nice dips in tempo on tracks like "Incantation of the Grotesque" to keep things from getting to stale, but ultimately this is pretty cookie cutter Swedeath we've all heard a million times before. 

It's hard to say more about it because that's basically all there is here.  It's razor sharp riffs with pummeling ferocity but it's pretty unremarkable on the whole.  There's nothing wrong with paying homage to your heroes, but Imminent Violent Death is just really average Dismember worship and that's the long and short of it.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Battle Beast - No More Hollywood Endings

This would've died in The Eclipse

I know I just recently reviewed Battle Beast's self titled sophomore album, and I stand by my assertion that they were damn great pop metal with enough bite to really stick with you despite their bread and butter being cheesy 80s dorkery.  I didn't really touch on it in too much depth there, but it's worth noting that throughout their first three albums, guitarist Anton Kabanen was the sole songwriter and lyricist.  Literally no other members wrote anything if I understand correctly, they were more or less just following his lead.  And then, for reasons that I don't think were ever really made public, he was unceremoniously booted from his own band, and the rest of the guys decided to truck on without the only guy who seemed to know what he was doing.  Maybe he was a control freak and they actually wanted to contribute, I have no idea.  I just know that Bringer of Pain was very obviously a huge step down from the previous three albums that made me fall in love with this stupid band.  Battle Beast was always formulaic, but that one really just felt like the band plugging in components into the slots where they were "supposed" to fit based on what Anton had done up until that point.  There were still some solid songs here and there (the title track is the lone fast metal song and it was good, and I'll stick up for "Familiar Hell" all damn day based on how infectiously catchy it was) but it was a clear step down.

However, I'm willing to give them time to adjust and find their own footing.  They were scrambling trying to do it on their own for the first time, surely they just needed an album to adjust.

Yeah that didn't happen.

No More Hollywood Endings, the band's fifth album, fourth with Noora on vocals, and second without Anton doing all the work, is an absolute fucking travesty.  If you thought the last album was on autopilot, this one is the part where the plane gets struck by lightning and plunges into a mountainside.  This is the sound of a band that is so clearly not trying that it's almost heartbreaking.  Or... well, maybe they are trying, but they're not aiming for the same targets they used to.

It's fine for a band to evolve of course, but you really can't be shocked to discover that an old fan like me thinks this is a fucking embarrassment.  This is pure, unabashed, shameless, cheap, idiotic, cynical corsetcore from start to finish.  All of that attitude and swagger they used to carry in addition to the inoffensive pop is completely washed away, replaced with nothing except weak non-riffs, drums that might as well be Preset #1 on a cheap keyboard, and lame vocals.  Every single song here, with a whopping two exceptions, sounds like that one shitty band that Anette Olzon formed after she was kicked out of Nightwish.  Everything is played at the same tempo, with the same chugging 80s glam riffs, with the same focus-tested vocal melodies, everything is just tailor made specifically to rack up huge hits on Youtube thanks to a thumbnail that invariably features Noora's cleavage (side note, I wrote that sentence based on years of Nuclear Blast and Napalm's lesser bands hitting huge numbers for that exact reason, but decided to double check before making that claim here since Battle Beast never really played up the sexuality despite having a female singer but hey whaddaya know the video for Eden is advertised with the exact shot I was imagining). 

It's really clear now that Battle Beast doesn't really want to be a metal band anymore and are aiming for genuine mainstream success, but before that happens they're going to need to change their name or something, because there is neither battle nor beast here.  The pop elements are no longer mere elements, they are the entire base of the songs now, with whatever metal remains being tertiary bits like a guitar solo here or a curse word there, but this is pretty nakedly just 80s pop/glam with nothing else behind it.  It's a shameless and unimaginative throwback played with zero conviction or adrenaline, it's just tracing old pictures and coloring inside the lines.  Bringer of Pain had this same problem at times, but at least the fucking hooks were good and tracks like "Straight Through the Heart", "King for a Day", and "Familiar Hell" still held on to some of that Billy Idol styled rebellious attitude to help give it an edge.  This time?  Absolutely fucking not.  There are a whopping two songs that are actually alright, and I'd seriously consider giving this hollow piece of shit a zero if it wasn't for them.  "Piece of Me" is the one time they got the glam right, sounding like a slightly more raucous than average party tune that calls to mind something like Guns n' Roses, and "The Golden Horde" is the lone power metal track, with some actual god damned adrenaline and a tempo above a standard 120bpm.  It may not truly convey Batu Khan's ferocity within the Mongol Empire but it sounds like fuckin' Slayer compared to shit like the title track and "The Hero".  The whole thing is just loaded with feckless nonsense that sounds like it's taking a real shot for radio airplay but forgot to actually be good in the process.  I guess "World on Fire" isn't the worst thing either, it at least sounds like a Battle Beast song, albeit a shitty pop one that would've been the worst one on any of the Anton albums.

I've saved the worst for last though, and that is, without even a moment's hesitation, "Endless Summer".  I genuinely don't know what the fuck they were thinking with this one.  People keep calling this one "80s pop" but I'm gonna have to call bullshit on even that.  Pop in the 80s is generally remembered (at least by me) as bombastic and silly.  Prince and Madonna were larger than life superheroes where every new release was a big event.  "Endless Summer"?  No, this sounds like fucking One Direction and I'm not even exaggerating with that.  It's the kind of gormless pedantry that a Disney tween or somebody who places 4th on American Idol goes on to make.  This kind of wispy, breezy, smiley shitheap has no fucking place even on an album as doinky and inoffensive as this.  It's some sort of midpoint between modern country music and a weak pop ballad that hovers around the bottom of the Hot 100 for a week before everybody realizes it sucks and forgets about it.  It was hate-on-first-listen and it is by a cosmic longshot the worst fucking song the band has ever written.  Even for Finland, this is fucking embarrassing garbage.

There isn't even a Berserk song this time!  Unless "Bent and Broken" is meant to be the scene with Griffith and Casca in the camp after The Band of the Hawk broke him out of the dungeon and directly preceding The Eclipse.  And if that's the case it's even worse than the previous worst Berserk song, "Touch in the Night".  Fuck this whole album.

I don't know who this album is supposed to appeal to, because it certainly isn't Battle Beast fans.  I know that because I am a Battle Beast fan who has a higher tolerance for pop than most metalheads, and even I can't stomach this weak bullshit.  This is so many steps backwards that the band is now miles and miles and miles behind where they started.  They're not even in the same country anymore.  Even the good moments are too little too late, and completely ineffectual in the face of the crushing monolith of boring corsetcore pop nonsense that the rest of the album embodies.  I have nothing good to say about this.  I can't even recommend the good songs in good faith because the rest of the album is so fucking bad.  At the time of writing this, the first track has around 20,000 plays on Spotify, and the last song has barely 9,000.  Over half of the people who started this album couldn't bring themselves to finish it.  It's so fucking bad, I'm in awe.


Thursday, March 21, 2019


I genuinely didn't plan on doing another one of these so soon after the first one, but I'm starting to feel overwhelmed again and struggling to find a whole lot to say for each release so fuck it, time for another flush.

Archaic Decapitator - The Apothecary 
I've always struggled to write for short releases and this is no different, but I actually like this EP quite a bit.  It could pretty easily be described as "melodic death metal" and left at that, but I think they tackle the style from an ever so slightly different direction and it's a pretty fun listen as a result.  There's a lot of atmosphere involved here, particularly from frequent twinkly keyboards in the background, which in many contexts would make this sound non-threatening, but considering the music itself is generally based quite heavily in blast beats and high speed riffs, it instead sounds more like a cosmic bludgeoning.  It has the more Gothenburg styled moments here and there like the midpaced title track, but a good helping of this is based in the more American style of direct aggression like Black Dahlia and Arsis.  It's good stuff.

Kremlin - Decimation of the Elites
Remember Backstabber from the last feature?  Well Kremlin here is a pretty similar band in that they're also a death metal band with a lyrical focus on conspiracy theories, but even beyond the music not being as fun and engaging as Backstabber, Kremlin falters a bit in their gimmick coming off much more straight.  Backstabber felt more like they were playing up the goofy chemtrails and Alex Jones shit for shock value, not unlike GWAR not really being pro baby rape or something.  Kremlin on the other hand feels much more genuine in their lyrical insanity, which is a little unnerving when they're growling about weird shit that I've actually seen destroy minds like the 13 Satanic Bloodlines, Ickeian lizard people, and... flat earth for some reason?  It'd be easier to swallow if the music was excellent, but despite including members from great bands like Outre-Tombe and Infernal Majesty, it's just really average death metal with a terrible thunky drum sound. 

Mortanius - Till Death Do Us Part
I was going to include this duo on the last feature, but decided I could probably get enough material for a full review.  Upon a few more listens, I just really can't.  This is pretty standard prog/power for the most part, but they strike an annoying balance of incredibly proficient instrumentals, bloated and confusing songwriting, and really dorky, mousey vocals.  Imagine a band with the chops of Symphony X, the vision of Savatage, the longwinded songwriting quirks of Dream Theater, and the vocals of a nine year old.  The frequent harmonies in the background call to mind Virgin Steele as well, but this is definitely less than the sum of its parts.  I really wish I could just get past how corny and doinky the vocals are but I just can't, they're really bad and definitely holding back what could definitely be an exciting power metal album.  They're so soft and wimpy that I remember thinking to myself that it sounds like a really young George Michael wandered into the studio during recording, so imagine just how hard I started laughing when I realized the last song was literally a Wham! cover.  Holy shit get outta here you nerds.

Critical Extravasation - Morbid Existence
I'm gonna be honest with you, the only reason I didn't give this one a full review is because the promo was missing the last track for some reason.  Maybe I could just pretend to not notice and review it in full anyway, but considering the fact that this is only four tracks long, one of which being a cover, I didn't feel comfortable really going into detail with only two original songs to work with.  Maybe I should've though, because this isn't particularly deep stuff anyway.  It's old school death/thrash along the lines of early Pestilence or Sepultura, and the Morgoth cover fits like a glove as well.  So if you (like me) are a fan of that style then you'll likely love this despite how shallow it is.  It doesn't need to be complex, it just needs to be mean, and these Russian kids are super fucking mean, so unsurprisingly this is awesome.

Hath - Of Rot and Ruin
Man I've listened to this like ten fucking times and I still don't remember anything from it.  Which is a shame because whenever it's on I think to myself "God damn this rules", but as soon as it finished I forget if I liked it at all.  So yeah, Hath plays some bloody raw death metal with an understated technical edge, with enough mid-fi dissonance to help it stand apart from most of their Willowtip brethren, but they haven't really mastered songwriting with any real staying power.  Throughout all of my listens, the only song I can ever really remember standing out is "Worlds Within", and even then I can't really tell you why.  I'm listening to it right now and it doesn't immediately stand out more than the rest of the album.  Maybe it's the stronger black metal influence, I dunno.  It's a good album but I never want to listen to it.

Hedonihil - I
This is similar to Hath because it's also good, ravaging death metal, but it's completely lacking in staying power and despite half a dozen spins I can never recall anything from it.  It's a bit more polished than its sister album up there and as such tends to pack a slight bit more punch (since it's still not mega clean like an Andy Sneap production or something).  The most notable thing about Hedonihil is that they're sort of a Monkey's Paw twisting of a wish I had voiced around the time I started taking promos seriously again.  I had thought "Man I don't like how I was immediately swamped in Swallow the Sun knockoffs, I wish I'd get more stuff I'd listen to on my own like death metal or something".  And so the universe heard me, and three members of Swallow the Sun decided to do a death metal side project.  Lucky me.  At least it doesn't sound anything like their main band, this is very much savage death metal to the bone, it just doesn't stick at all.

Oculum Dei - Dreams of Desire and Torment
I wish I hated this almost entirely because the band pic is so fucking hilarious.  Seriously go over to MA and check it out, it's the exact kind of unaware dorkery that makes black metal such an easy target to outside listeners.  There's even a fourth member there despite everywhere I look stating the band is a three piece.  Who is that fourth guy?  Why is he here??  So many questions!  Either way, this is solid black metal with very few tricks or out of left field ideas.  It starts off as very basic blast happy BM in the vein of Marduk or something, and gets a little more atmospheric and creepy as it goes on, and "A Cold Winter's Plight" really stands out as an excellent song for drastically dialing back the black metal tropes, instead focusing on tom-heavy crushing grooves.  I can't get enough of this one particular song, but I'm glad it's relegated to just one off kilter track instead of a full album of this kind of stuff, because I think it works better as a weird experiment than a basis for an entire record.  These guys could have a bright future, even if they look like they desperately need swirlies.

Calico Jack - Calico Jack
I don't even know what the fuck is happening on this one.  It's well known that Running Wild is one of my favorite bands, but it's also well known that I resent how much the "pirate metal" gimmick stuck to them since only a third of their songs are pirate themed anyway, and every other band that tries to take hold of the gimmick falls immediately into the stupid "yo ho ho" shtick that they always so deftly avoided.  Calico Jack is no exception, but it's just a really awkward album.  The guitar tone is simultaneously really cheap and really heavy, sounding like somebody playing deep death metal on a practice amp, but the music itself is supposed to be jaunty folk metal.  That's a weird approach because the folk elements are so thoroughly drowned out by the heavy guitars and deep growls, you almost forget there's a fiddle player on here.  Something like "Grog Jolly Grog" is clearly meant to be a Skyclad styled bouncy folk metal song, but it sounds like some weird thudding mush of noise.  The fact that it's 70 fucking minutes long certainly doesn't help either, owing almost entirely to the ill advised title track stretching 18 minutes.  There isn't one good riff, one good melody, one good hook, there's nothing I like here.  Pirate themed bands have an abysmal batting average outside of the godfathers of the trope being one of the greatest metal bands to ever exist, and Calico Jack does absolutely nothing to help.

Eugenic Death - Under the Knife 
This looks much worse than it actually is.  I opted into this one expecting terrible rethrash ten years past its sell-by date, but what I got instead was some extremely vicious thrash that doesn't immediately date itself.  I have some beef with the vocals though, but I can't quite put my finger on who it is they remind me of.  They're really deep and gruff, but they clash a bit with the high speed insanity on display.  Think something like Krisiun's first album or Arch Enemy's original singer fronting a very decent Slayer clone.  There's not much to say about this, it basically just hinges on whether you like thrash or not, because Eugenic Death doesn't transcend any stigmas or break any boundaries, but they're good at what they do.  Special shout out to the weird interlude "Hara Shiva", which is basically just a weird Indian style guitar noodle with female vocals repeating a mantra over and over again.  It probably goes on for too long but it's a nice break and adds a bit of character to what could've easily been a really samey album.  Overall it's a nice thrashy bite, and I dig it for what it is, even if I know damn well that it's nothing truly special.

Sludgehammer - Antechamber 
Well credit where credit is due, Sludgehammer definitely has the best band name in this roundup without a doubt.  Musically this is a tough one to really pin down, because it kind of hits several targets when it comes to modern metal.  I'd say they're primarily some sort of groove/death metal, but I know that's going to make you think of Six Feet Under and I promise you they sound nothing like Barnes's terminal embarrassment and they're much better than that.  They utilize an extremely heavy guitar tone and the death metal blasting sections are absolutely pummeling, but they break it up really frequently with more overt Lamb of God/early Mastodon style grooves.  Some of the fast gallops recall newer Testament, the clean vocals that pop up often aren't particularly smooth so they keep things appropriately gritty instead of suddenly cooing sweetly over the heavy songs like As I Lay Dying is so prone to doing, etc.  Maybe they sound like Slipknot if they were less outwardly insane but obviously rooted in metal instead of the dastardly nu-variant?  I dunno, I struggle to pin these guys down, but they're definitely modern, definitely groovy, and definitely heavy.

Inferi - The End of an Era | Rebirth 
Everywhere I go lately, Inferi seems to pop up.  It's a good thing too because I think they're pretty damn great.  This here is a rerecording of their second album from 2009, featuring their new and current vocalist, Stevie Bosier, who you may remember as the best part of Equipoise simply because he wasn't a spotlight-hogging showoff who wouldn't shut the fuck up.  Luckily he's great here too, and a much better fit for a band like Inferi since they jam pack every song with so many riffs and hooks.  They're a very cohesive unit and as a result they produce the exact kind of Neuraxis-styled tech death that I adore.  This is kind of a pointless rerecording since they only have four albums anyway and this particular one is barely ten years old, but they've really been picking up steam lately and usually seem to spend four years between each album so maybe this is their way of introducing all of their new fans to their old songs while conveniently keeping their release schedule somewhat prolific, but either way it's a great record and I didn't know the original anyway so apparently it was a good idea after all.

A Day in Venice - III
And let's finish off today with a totally random one that showed up completely out of left field.  If the project name wasn't a giveaway already, this isn't even slightly metal, which obviously isn't a problem, but it was certainly a surprise to find in my inbox.  This is some sort of waify mellow alternative stuff, with very little of the driving energy I'm so used to.  Instead this is very soft and emotional, and as such it makes for a pleasant cooldown experience after hours and hours of blast beats and screeches.  The two songs that stand out in any real way to me are "Her Body Rocks" for being a more upbeat indie rock song the likes of Foster the People showcased in their secondary hits a few years ago, and "Temple of the Dog" for being the lone dark track, grooving along on a nice pulsing thud that pretty much instantly hooked itself into my memory.  Frankly I could probably talk about this one a lot, but I'm putting it here because it's so outside of my wheelhouse that I don't really feel comfortable giving it a full critical appraisal.  For what it's worth, I almost never read the press kits attached to the downloads beyond a cursory skim, but after giving this one listen, I remember thinking to myself "Huh, this reminds me of some mix of Radiohead and Sigur Ros, maybe with some of the softer Anathema stuff thrown in", and wouldn't you fucking know it those are the exact three bands mentioned in the FFO: section.  I'm a fucking genius.
RATING: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Well that's all for today.  I've got some real life stuff going on the next few days and my sister in law is currently squeezing out my nephew as I type this so I should probably log the fuck off and go meet him or something.  So hopefully this tides y'all over for a few days before I get back to my usual schedule.  Happy listening, kids!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Dire Peril - The Extraterrestrial Compendium

Alien wins by TKO

Mega riffy power metal is in kind of a dead ball era right now.  The heyday of Persuader has long passed, and so Dire Peril is a welcome addition to the growing cabal of bands bringing their fastest and meanest to a genre so commonly derided for being flowery and wimpy.  This is a two-man collaboration between the guitarist/songwriter of Helion Prime and vocalist of Judicator, two bands that have made waves in the scene in recent years that, for whatever reason, I just completely neglected to ever really give a chance.  So before truly giving this album an attentive listen, I dedicated myself to checking out the two associated bands' discographies, and I can sum them up in one sentence.  Helion Prime is a very standard power metal band with a great debut and followup single followed by a very uninteresting sophomore, and Judicator had a bit of a shaky start with their first few albums doing very little for me, but really coming into their own on their latest two, with The Last Emperor just straight up being the true bearer of the torch dropped by Blind Guardian in the early 00s, which was subsequently picked up and dropped again by Persuader a few years ago.

So enter Dire Peril, a band created by the minds behind one decent band and one great one, and what they've produced sounds like a very logical combination of the two bands with a huge splash of Iced Earth as well.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Iced Earth is the largest influence here on the whole, with the Schaffer-approved triplet gallops at insanely high speeds making up a good portion of the better riffs on The Extraterrestrial Compendium.  I suppose you could say then that logically this sounds more like Demons and Wizards and I guess you wouldn't exactly be wrong, but they're not the one that pops into my head right away.

The problem is that... well, anybody who has heard Iced Earth before knows that they're the kings of stretching a few great ideas out to marathon lengths since they fill each album up with one great idea and try to milk it as long as possible.  Dire Peril isn't immune to this tendency, because this album is way too long.  There is no reason this should break 65 minutes like it does, you could shave four or five songs off of this and it'd be an almost infinitely more enjoyable experience.  This is actually a great representative for my claim that modern power metal can routinely pump out great songs but consistently fails to deliver fully great albums, because the best songs here are incredibly good.  "Hunter Culture" is an incredible opener just oozing adrenaline and attitude, tracks like "Roughnecks", "Enemy Mine", and "Total Recall" aren't too far behind, "Heart of the Furyan" is a little bit less explosive but it still great, and "The Visitor" is an excellent power ballad.  But beyond that?  Ehhhh, there's not much to really recommend.  They could have completely done away with uninteresting non-songs like "Queen of the Galaxy" or "Always Right Here", and some of the longer songs like "Blood on the Ice" and "Journey Beyond the Stars" could have been shaved down measurably to take out some of the more meandering passages.  The remaining songs are summed up best as "inoffensive and decent".  There's just so much content on here and only a third of it is really worth preserving in its finalized state.  With some edits some other songs could've been better and some are just fundamentally boring, and that's a shame because, like I said, the good songs are fantastic and they feel wasted on an album that surrounds them with uninteresting blandness.

"Wasted potential" is a great phrase for The Extraterrestrial Compendium because an entire album full of tracks like "Hunter Culture" and "Roughnecks" could easily piss on the rest of the scene from a great height, but Ashcraft seems either hesitant or incapable of just going all out the whole time.  He isn't nearly as good at writing catchy hooks as he needs to be for as much mid-paced vocal driven material on this album, no matter how great of a singer Yelland is.  This really didn't need to be twelve tracks long and could've have worked much better with a more succinct eight.  All of the parts are here, they just aren't put together particularly well.  I'll leave it with a positive score because the good parts are super good, but there's a shitload of room for improvement here.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Smoulder - Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring

Rizky Business

Promos almost always come with a press kit, which usually gives a little background about the band/release in order to drum up hype (other sites much more professional than I will paraphrase or copy paste these paragraphs, for example), and I'm gonna be real with you, I was sold on Smoulder from six words in their little blurb: "mixed and mastered by Arthur Rizk."

That's it, right there.  Album of the Year material already.

All of the other info didn't matter.  Oh the band is half based in Toronto and half in Chicago, that's cool I guess.  Sarah does reviews on Banger TV? Oh yeah I've seen the one where she tried to convince me that The Forest Seasons was good.  Arthur Rizk is behind the knobs?  Oh slap my ass and call me Barbara sign me the fuck up.  Rizk is the Scott Burns of our generation.  Just like how Burns was the first guy to really figure out how to produce death metal (a huge reason why Florida was such a mecca of death metal in the early 90s, considering that's where Morrisound Studios (where he worked) was located), Rizk seems to be the Wayne Gretzky of understanding how to reach a retro wall of sound with updated quality and a massive low end, constantly churning out metal that sounds like how 1984 would've sounded if current technology was available.  The amount of stellar releases over the last few years that have achieved a sound akin to standing in a packed house while a band cranks out at max volume all thanks to him is astounding.  An extremely short list of bands he's helped sound their best in recent years include Eternal Champion, Power Trip, Sumerlands, Pissgrave, Tomb Mold, Scorched, Gatekeeper, Uada, Outer Heaven, Crypt Sermon, Homewrecker, Inquisition, and Mammoth Grinder.  This dude just fucking gets it.  Everything he touches sounds immaculate without being sterilized like Andy Sneap or Neil Kernon, he's the premier metal producer right now and nobody can touch him.

So it's no surprise that Smoulder's debut, Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring, sounds like fucking Krakatoa.  This is probably most similar to Eternal Champion or Crypt Sermon out of the bands mentioned above, blending pulpy sword and sorcery high fantasy with sweeping epic doom, which is a combination that we have known for years is a perfect match for heavy metal.  These riffs are fucking mountainous, the drums sound like an avalanche, everything about this just sounds monumental.

They say that a chain can only be as strong as its weakest link, but I would argue that that's a bad analogy since Smoulder is proof that the stronger links can merely leak excess steel and as a result temper the weak link.  Yeah, Sarah isn't all that great of a vocalist in technical terms, but the music around her is so fucking strong that it doesn't really matter.  Her voice is lacking in both range and power, but with Shawn's monstrous riffing and Kevin's powerful drumming being the true carrying force of the music, it doesn't really want for any command.  From the pummeling barabarism of "Ilian of Garathorm", to the high speed whirlwind of "Bastard Steel", everything is proactive and destructive.  It's hard to play epic doom without drawing comparisons to Candlemass, and Smoulder is no exception here, which is great because they absolutely nail that sweeping, spiritual atmosphere that the Swedes commanded so deftly in their prime years, and they also take their lesson that rules are for fucking squares and confidently break from the dogmatic ethos of the genre, and are thus unafraid pick up the pace and infuse old school speed metal when the music calls for it. 

Another huge element that works to the band's benefit is the fact that they're clearly skilled at self editing.  It can be tempting, especially with low tempos and massive atmospheres, to stretch albums to nearly marathon length, but Times of Obscene Evil is very succinct, with only six songs clocking in at roughly 37 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome.  As a result there's nothing that can really be considered filler, every idea has a purpose and every riff has a target that it aims for and hits easily.  Only "Shadowy Sisterhood" kinda falls flat and doesn't do anything particularly memorable, but the sweeping atmosphere coupled with powerful riffage keeps the best tracks like "Ilian of Garathorm", "Black God's Kiss", and "The Sword Woman" at the top of the heap of modern doom.  I can't get enough of this album, everything about it just soars over the battlefield and drops fucking bombs on it.

So at the end of the day, Smoulder plays some of the most exciting and evocative epic doom of the modern era on their own, and the skilled hand of Rizk behind the controls only boosts them to an even higher plane of badassery.  At the end of the day I think that's the word I've been looking for all along, "badass".  Smoulder is fucking badass and nothing is holding them back from conquering the fucking world.  The pounding toms and savage riffs are so fucking primitive and barbaric, the songwriting is savage and weighty, the atmosphere is epic and eldritch, just damn near every single element of the music on Times of Obscene Evil hits bullseye and this is going to easily contend for the top spot for Album of the Year this year unless something else truly magical storms out of the gates and hogties this.  But with how muscular and brutish this is, I'm skeptical that anything can truly dominate this.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Red Cain - Kindred: Act I

The Red Halo

I'm gonna get one thing out of the way right now, because it's going to pretty much cement your own opinion of this album before you hear it and it's going to help you decide whether or not to take me seriously at all.

I don't like Kamelot.  Like, at all.  I'll admit that maybe I just haven't heard enough of their stuff because from what I understand they've shifted styles a few times, but their breakout album, The Black Halo, just does absolutely fucking nothing for me.  I hate the dull, chuggy, lethargic pace of 80% of the album, I don't like how it feels so much longer than it is, I don't like how it feels so pompous and full of itself while delivering at best half of what it's promising, it's just not for me.  But really, and this is going to sound like low level trolling, I know, but I just don't like Roy Khan on it.  Really, I understand that he has an excellent voice, with a pristine timbre and some astounding control of how he crafts his melodies, but he has so little power and command in his voice that he reminds me of Joacim Cans yeah I went there.  He always sounds like he's cooing, like his eyes are closed and he's just gently rocking a child to sleep no matter how bombastic, dark, aggressive, moody, sorrowful, or uplifting the music itself is.  He's always this non-threatening presence that leaves me completely cold.  Maybe I just want him to be something he's not, but I just can not handle hearing a metal band, no matter what mood they're going for, bending around a frontman so fucking soft and gentle. 

So with that out of the way, I think you can probably already guess what I think about Red Cain's debut, Kindred: Act I.  Evgeniy Zayarny has a bit more versatile voice than Khan, because he dips down into a more gruff bark every now and again on tracks like "Juliet", but for the most part Khan is a hugely obvious influence, and it winds up creating the exact same problem.  Red Cain follows a similar template to The Black Halo with it being symphonic prog/power metal that only picks up the pace in a few places, but they're definitely not afraid to throw in some more pronounced heaviness on occasion, with an almost Nevermore styled low rapid fire chugging on tracks like "Snakebouquet" or "Wing of the Crow".  Some tracks also reach back to some more traditional power metal influence, as can be seen on "All Is Violence" and what is far and away the best track, "Midnight Sarabande".  The vocals are better than the chief influence because even though he does fall into the trap of sounding pretty harmless and doofy most of the time, he does at least understand the moods that the songs call for and adjusts his technique accordingly.

But really, Kindred doesn't hinge entirely on him.  With this being prog metal first and foremost, the music itself is obviously the crux of the experience, and the music is... well I've heard worse.  It obviously aims for a very high-minded atmosphere and it connects on occasion, but for the most part it winds up sounding like background fluff.  This isn't helped by the fact that the album starts off with two of the best songs and then falls off sharply until the end.  "Snakebouquet" is an excellent example of how to make this style interesting, with pummeling chugs being overlaid with heavenly guitar/synth melodies reminiscent of one of the more evocative melodeath bands from the genre's heyday, with a weird, glitchy breakdown leading into a soaring double time out-chorus.  It keeps the six minute runtime exciting and I genuinely think this is a great song.  "Midnight Sarabande" is even better, being the most overtly power metal track on display with the least amount of groove and most driving double bass.  Oddly enough, this is also probably the track where his voice is creating the greatest distancing effect from the music by being as soft as it is, but the fact that it's not a particularly dark song makes it fit like a glove.  It's a very uplifting, almost "heavenly" song for the most part, with only the bridge attempting anything more sinister, but it's so short lived and contrasted with the light triumph that it isn't intrusive or weird in any way.  I love the way the lead guitar spends almost the entire time breaking from the rhythm and just lightly flittering above the music underneath, it really does manage to capture the atmosphere the band is going for here, and I also love every second of this one.

The problem arises when the rest of the album barely manages to sniff the beauty of the first two tracks.  From "Zero" until the back half of "All Is Violence", nothing at all of interest happens.  It turns into the exact type of slow chugprog that I just can't stand.  Completely unengaging and dull, it's a good four track stretch of pure filler, with no engaging riffs or melodies or even a similar mood to the cosmic dissonance of mood that the first two tracks provided with their light melodies over heavier rhythms.  Four filler tracks is a hell of an issue on an album that only contains seven.  "Wing of the Crow" calls back to "Snakebouquet" a bit so it's a nice closer, but after twenty minutes of non-riffs and soft vocals with only a few decent spots scattered between several tracks, I just can't bring myself to get excited again.  Like, "Zero" has an adrenaline pumping twenty seconds at the end but it takes six minutes to get there, and it's followed by "Blood and Gold", the shitty ballad whose name I have forgotten every single time I've run through this album. 

There's a good album in here, hell I probably spent more time praising it than chastising it here, but that's mostly because the few good songs have so many good things in them that I can rave about them easily while the more plentiful bad songs are just so empty and uninteresting that I can't bring myself to care.  I started this off with an aside about The Black Halo and Roy Khan specifically because that's really what this album reminds me of, and if you're in the majority that considers that album to be a modern classic then this'll likely be right up your alley.  For me though?  It has bright spots, it knows how to make certain ideas work magnificently, but Kindred flounders around a bit too much to really focus on those good aspects and craft the great album that I know Red Cain is capable of.  I don't normally talk about a band's potential, but I can definitely sense it here, so I'll keep my ears open for the inevitable Act II for whatever story the band is crafting here, but if I'm being honest, they stumbled out of the gate on this one.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Grave Violator - Back to the Cult


Sometimes there's no deeper meaning to a piece of art.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, right?  Metal is definitely prone to beard-stroking pontification, with regular sounding albums being explained by the band as a concept album about the cycle of life and death, or the history and downfall of some fictional civilization that nobody but the writers care about.  Bands like to go on about philosophy and psychology and tend to try exploring those themes on a surface level, but ultimately just write more tunes about death and satan.  And hey man, that's all cool!  I've read Camus, I have deeply held beliefs and interests, my worldview is shaped by many things that I'm sure I'd want to inject in my music.  I'd love to write music that delves into the intricate lore behind the writings of Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith, it's totally natural.

But sometimes it's just nice when a band drops the pretense and just aims for naked filth from the opening notes and makes no intention of hiding what they're about.  And when the opening notes of a track called fuckin' "Baptized in Filthy Semen" first tore through my speakers, well let's just say I knew exactly what I was going to get and Grave Violator fucking delivered on that front.

Back to the Cult doesn't really do anything interesting on a musical level, it's just by the numbers black/thrash with raspy vocals and razor sharp riffs, and that's all something like this needs to be.  The entire appeal here is the same as an early John Waters flick like Pink Flamingos or something.  It's just pure, unrefined trash with no other purpose other than shock value, and while it lacks the sardonic wit of GWAR or something, it makes up for the lack of cleverness with sheer unabashed attitude.  Odes to debauchery, sacrificial murder, and bumfights are abound in a style reminiscent of the primitive, bone shaving ravenousness of Sarcofago or Impaled Nazarene.  Back to the Cult straddles the line between black/thrash and metalpunk at times but tends to land firmly on the thrash side of the equation.  The whole point is to just rip you to shreds with frantic riffing and manic tempos, and that's all it tries to do.  There are a few atmosphere-building acoustic sections but they're brief and always give way to more blasphemy and degeneracy.  This is offensive stuff, even to me personally!  I'm a virtue signalling soyboy cuck so lyrics about raping whores does make me uncomfortable deep down, but I've said long ago that you're going to be a simpering joyless turd if you're into metal but can't take tongue-in-cheek shock value for what it is.  So yeah I can't defend the lyrical raunch on the basis of the words themselves, but it's so clearly not played straight and performed by a band of clear goofballs whose EPK includes promo pics of them braiding their hair and peeing as a group.  It's low level trolling, and that's fine if you hate that sort of thing, but these guys are clearly here to have a good time and absolutely shatter the barriers of good taste, and I can get down with that.

This may not surpass their obvious heroes like Nifelheim or Sarcofago, but punk-infused speed metal like the title track or vicious biting thrash like "Knife Fighter" is just too much fun to put down.  It's poo-flecked trash that was rolled around in glitter and used IV needles but sometimes that sort of raunchy, wild west lawlessness is a fucking blast.  If there's any sincerity to be found (and obviously this sort of high-speed irreverence is not known for sincerity), it's that I fully believe that these guys are a bunch of perpetually hammered oogles who get their kicks by chugging Olvi and throwing shoes at passing nuns.  Do they contribute to society in a positive way?  Hell no, but neither they nor I want them to.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Humanizer - Divine Golden Blood


Humanizer has just made history as the very first Costa Rican band I've ever heard in my life, so that's pretty cool.  But beyond merely helping me stick another pin in my hypothetical metal globe, they also just really, really fucking rule.  If I had it my way this whole review would just be FUCK THIS KICKS ASS thirty times in a row.  But no, I hold myself to a much higher standard of professionalism than that, so instead I'll just say it twenty nine times.  FUCK THIS KICKS ASS.

Okay in all seriousness, Humanizer calls to mind a sort of hybrid of the best parts of Krisiun and early Kataklysm, but admittedly that's mostly because of how fucking manic the drumming is on Divine Golden Blood.  Maybe there are better bands to compare them to, but it's hard to think when my skull has been bludgeoned into powder.  This is extremely fast and extremely brutal death metal with a kiss of epic bombast.  Maybe a comparison like "Ex Deo but actually good" would be better, because the ancient Roman themes and occasional blasts of war trumpets and sweeping synths definitely adds an air of triumphant majesty to the head-spinning blastery on display.  This shit sounds like a fucking avalanche, it's a neverending onslaught of sheer pissed off aggression and I just can't get enough of it.

What really helps this stand apart from the legions of other death metal bands in the world actually has nothing to do with the epic backdrops or ten trillion bpm blasting.  No, it's actually their strict adherence to the Gospel of the Riff.  These guys never fail to let the guitars take center stage in front of the manic rhythm section or soaring strings, instead letting the true driving force of the music be the expertly crafted and powerfully destructive riffs themselves.  There are moments on tracks like "Raven", "King ov Kings", and "La Gran Lid" that hit like biting into a stick of dynamite.  There are no weak tracks here, and it's largely in part to just how much of a downhill-running steam train the experience is.  It's like you cut the throat of the Colossus of Rhodes statue and it just started hemorrhaging riffs.

I don't even really know how to gab on about this at length, it just rocks my fucking socks and this would have been an easy place on my year end list last year had I heard it in time.  It's hyperfast death metal with an epic twist but the appeal lies in the base more than the flourish.  Divine Human Blood is well executed and well written death metal with little else in mind than pure, hungry, devastation.  Just... FUCK THIS KICKS ASS.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Ceremony of Silence - Outis

[witty title]

Slovakia's Ceremony of Silence is kinda hard to write about.  Not because they're super bland or anything, because they're not, but because this style of squealing atmospheric black/death metal is just a scene that I never really got into.  It leans much more heavily on the death metal side, owing a lot to bands like Ulcerate, Mitochondrion, and Portal, but there are heaps of spacey tremolo riffs in the background that give it an almost atmoblack atmosphere above the twisting dissonance underneath.  It invokes a very harmonic dissonance, if you will.

"Invocation of the Silent Eye" kicks the album off with the best god damned riff on the album, which sounds like Gorguts took a crack at rewriting the classic opening of "Pierced from Within".  Those first ten seconds or so of Outis got me extraordinarily hyped for the remainder of the record, but admittedly it never really hits that peak of psychedelic brutality again.  That's not to say the rest of the album is bad or anything, but if that opening section hooked you like it hooked me, then you might be disappointed that the rest of the album takes a different approach generally.  From spacey atmosphere with no riffs at all like "Upon the Shores of Death" or frantic cacophonous blasting like "Black Sea of Drought", the album never really nails that sort of hook again (apart from the intro to "Into the Obscure Light").  That's not really the end of the world though, because the rest of Outis is quite good, but opening on a fucking masterclass riff and then spending the rest of the time with dissonant weirdness is a bit of a disappointment. 

Admittedly this is more of a me problem than anything else, because I can see a fan of all of the aforementioned influences loving this to death.  The problem is that I've just never really cared for Ulcerate, Gorguts, and the like.  Ceremony of Silence surpasses quite a few of their influences, and the black metal overtones in the melodies is really cool, don't get me wrong, but this neverending avalanche of squelching dissonance is difficult for me to really judge.  They abuse this trick of either tremolo picking or chugging on one note while slowly bending the string, creating this microtonal mindfuck of brutality beneath drumming that shifts and turns so much and so rarely sticks to a beat for more than one second at a time that it's just disorienting.  That's the appeal of Outis, and it absolutely works.  I can't really define the difference between the bands that I love (Immolation, Mithras) and the bands that I'm generally lukewarm on (Mitochondrion, Gorguts) that do this, but Ceremony of Silence sits somewhere in the middle of those two camps.  I think it's the spacey black metal melodies that keep this from sounding like something weird and unlistenable for the sake of it and instead make it sound like something wholly alien and not meant for human ears.  I both love and don't really care about this, and the dissonance in my own opinion makes for a good representation of the conflicting nature of what they're doing.  It's very adversarial, combative music and honestly, at its core, that's what metal is supposed to be.


Monday, March 11, 2019

Accursed Spawn - The Virulent Host

Fuck Dow Chemical forever

These Canadian gore-freaks have been alive and kicking in some form for about ten years now, but only just now have they finally managed to get a full length out.  They kinda flew under my radar during their demo stage, but now that The Virulent Host has found its way to my speakers, I can say with confidence that they won't be doing that any more, and with any luck the rest of the scene at large will perk up and take notice as well, because this, put lightly, kicks fucking ass.

To just get right to the point, because I have no lengthy preamble for once, Accursed Spawn brings nothing new to the table, but what they do bring is classic, explosive, and destructive death metal.  Despite invoking the souls of many of the classics from the early 90s, The Virulent Host doesn't fall into the currently popular trapping of simply retreading that old ground.  No, they take the basics of American classics like Deicide and (especially) Cannibal Corpse and give them a modern tech death-y sheen.  Because of this they fall in between two prominent camps nowadays.  Between the bands who shamelessly worship old bands in an attempt to redo what was done already on a surface level and the camp of new bands trying to further evolve the style via cavernous atmosphere or Demilich-y weirdness, we have a band like Accursed Spawn, who instead delve a bit deeper beyond the surface aesthetics and clearly truly understand what made classic death metal so good in the first place, and then just does it a second time but faster and meaner.  I think I could safely call this tech death, but the technicality is pretty understated.  This is more the Cannibal Corpse school of technicality, where oodles of neoclassical flourish and endless spinning basslines are eschewed in favor of rhythmic density and the sheer speed of the many ideas contained within each song, interspersed masterfully with punishing savagery.  It can be hard to pinpoint exact moments in songs for this reason, but I think the overwhelming deluge of riffery works to the album's advantage.  There are blistering drum fills, solos that make your eyes whirl like a slot machine reel, and basslines that spend a surprising amount of time exploring the fretboard like a coked up tarantula, but just like my heroes in Cannibal, none of them ever truly drown the rest of the band out to take center stage.  They're one well oiled machine, an effective unit of hellsoaked barbarism that just rips everything to shreds.

There seems to be a weird thing going on with the album where the odd numbered songs are all the best ones, but they're all so consistently excellent that it doesn't really matter in the long run.  "Bhopal '84" and "Shotgun Facelift" may have some more overtly energetic and high flying moments than "Bloodforged" or "The Ageless Curse" but the dip in quality is so slight that it might as well not exist.  The thing about The Virulent Host that I think makes it stand head and shoulders above most of the faceless blasticity of the current DM scene is how well they implement their crushing grooves.  The aforementioned "Shotgun Facelift" has an absolutely fucking brutal bridge section leading into the harmonized solo that just wrecks my god damned neck.  There are moments like that all over the place, they're less overt than something like Autopsy but they do their job incredibly well.  The point is that this isn't just a blur of zippy technicality, it's instead a bludgeoning that changes its angle of attack so frequently that you can't effectively get your guard up.  The world needs more of this type of utter ferocity, and as a result it's one of the few releases so far to have a real shot at ranking highly on my year end list.  Don't pass this sucker up.


Saturday, March 9, 2019


I'm sure y'all have noticed that my production has fucking spiked to an absurd degree over the last few weeks.  I've already almost matched my total from last year and March just started.  I've been on a review-a-day pace for a few weeks now, and it doesn't look like I'll be slowing down too much for the foreseeable future.  This is for a few different reasons, but the biggest one is simply because I've started actually going through the flood of promos I've been getting and ignoring for years.  For those of you who don't know how this process works, generally a promo company will send out an email with a press release and a download link, occasionally they'll send out reminders for something that was sent in the past, updates on what promo bands have been doing (releasing videos and singles, etc) if you run a more general "metal news" type blog/zine than just a review focused on like this, openings for interview requests, and things of that nature.  But, at least a few times per week (because I somehow wound up on like four or five different agencies' mailing lists) they'll send a big ass block with 4-10 download links.  So theoretically I can get up to like twenty fucking albums a week (that's not even taking into account the handful of artists who contact me directly, which is much rarer but still happens, nor is it taking into account that I generally only actually download the ones that interest me, so I leave a lot of them on the table) and even if I didn't limit myself to one review per day like I do, it'd still be absurd to try to get through all of these myself.

So, thanks to the flood of stuff I've actually been taking seriously for a change, I have a backlog that's starting to border on total insanity.  So to help myself out a bit, I'm going to be introducing yet another feature to Lair of the Bastard, wherein I drain the dregs and just knock out a bunch of these in the backlog with short, one paragraph blurbs with a simplified rating system, purely to ease the creeping anxiety of the knowledge that I have so much more to do than I have any reasonable amount of time for.  So, please enjoy the aptly titled new feature: DRAINING THE DREGS.

Ambrotos - Cosmic Annulus
This was supposed to be the next review after the Avantasia one yesterday, but frankly I found myself frustrated with an inability to formulate enough thoughts for the multi-paragraph format I employ.  Which is a shame, because I do like this EP a lot.  I like the lyrical focus on pre-Socratic philosophy, I like the dynamic of the band being split between Greece and Mexico, I like the devastating riffs, I like the strong sense of melody, it's just a very good release.  The geographical origins shine through pretty brightly, because I hear a lot of Varathron in Cosmic Annulus.  It's not a carbon copy though, because I also get some pretty strong vibes from up north, with Marduk and Sacramentum style melodies (albeit with far slower blasting) slicing through the fiery black metal fury.  It's "majestic" without being grandiose, and overall just a very delicate balance between heady and aggressive, and I think it's great.

Climate of Fear - The Onset of Eternal Darkness
I've spun this one probably six or seven times now and I still don't remember most of it.  I'm still not even sure exactly what it even is.  I think I'll stretch definitions a bit and consider this "metalcore", but I mean it much more in the semi-atavistic sense of Converge or Nasty or something, or maybe a less sludgy Code Orange.  A massive portion of this is just plain old death metal, and it's heavy and riffy and pretty good, but there are still hardcore tendencies that get thrown around with wild abandon.  The vocals frequently break from traditional death metal growls and employ a much more throaty and desperate scream, and it's these mixed with the pummeling breakdowns that call to mind the less metal aspects of the band.  I like this a lot, but it just doesn't really stick with me.  It wasn't until "Shadow and Flame" hit that I realized who this reminds me of so much, and that's the little known Italian deathgrind band Natron that I encountered briefly while writing for Metal Crypt.  So yeah, this is some mega heavy death metal/hardcore without truly being deathcore.  Gotta give bonus points to the Napalm Death-esque anti-capitalist bent to the lyrics as well.  Always support for conrads o7

Vulcanodon Phazer - Cretaceous Skull
When I first started checking my promos again, I couldn't help but notice myself completely swamped in doom and stoner metal.  Vulcanodon Phazer was one of the first ones I checked out, and they set the stage for what I'd be getting.  Unfortunately, stoner stuff just isn't really my thing usually, and these guys don't do much to dispel my prejudice.  This hits every cliche and does very little to break away from the mediocrity they embrace.  Everything is distant and slathered in reverb, the vocals sound like they're being rambled from the next room, the riffs are basic and repeat a million times each, it's just the very definition of uninteresting, mediocre metal.  They're a few thousand yards away from ever sniffing Yob's quality, ya know?

Telümehtår - The Well

This is raucous and fiery black metal from France, presented in a very raw and passionate manner, and spends most of its time just tearing the fucking roof off your listening space.  It's not perfect, it goes on a little too long and doesn't really throw any curveballs your way or anything, but it's effective for fans of really hateful BM.  There's really only one moment that breaks from the formula, and that's "Perpetual Hopes in Eternal Despair", which is just a really fucking odd choice to include on the album.  Every other track, regardless of length, is populated with mountains of blasting and furious riffage, but then this track pops up in the middle of the album and it's just seven minutes of strumming tremolo chords and a pulsing one note bassline.  No percussion, no vocals, no nothing.  I assume it's meant to just be purely atmospheric but it doesn't work at all, it's just a weird, needless bore, and it's a huge distraction away from the unimaginative-yet-effective malice the rest of the record exudes.

Helevorn - Aamamata
Honestly, I just didn't want to listen to any more fucking doom by the time this one showed up.  Much less the gloomy gothic kind.  I can't say with any real confidence that Aamamata is no good, because it's fine, perfectly serviceable for this synthy gloom, but I didn't care for this downtrodden dullness when Draconian or Katatonia was doing it and I don't care for it when Helevorn is doing it either.  Maybe I'm the wrong audience for this, and I'll admit that freely, maybe I got a little too ambitious when choosing which records to check out, but this dark, slow, dramatic, pompousness isn't anywhere near as gripping and emotional as it needs to be for me to sit through an hour of it.

Flame, Dear Flame - The Millennial Heartbeat
Ditto for this one.  Thankfully though, it works much better than Helevorn because it feels a bit more epic and is way more succinct, and the female vocals work really well over the epic, crushing doom underneath it.  It's vaguely psychedelic and doesn't stretch out the gloomy dirges for too long, with all of the tracks sitting at a healthy sevenish minutes and fucking off after only three of them.  I wouldn't say I like this one a lot, but I do like it.  I think I'll like it a lot more when I revisit it in a few months, when I'm (fingers crossed) no longer swamped in mediocre Swallow the Sun ripoffs.  It keeps the pace consistently downtrodden and it's a nice, melodic slab of depressing doom metal.  I obviously tend to prefer my metal to be fast and angry, but I adore this style as well, and while they don't knock it out of the park, they do a very good job with what they do.

Contrarian - Their Worm Never Dies
Man could you pass up something with a cover art this fucking rad?  The music doesn't quite live up to the lofty expectations the aesthetics build up, but this is still a great example of proggy tech death that keeps things interesting.  It certainly helps that George Kollias of Nile fame is behind the kit, and it also helps that he resists his nature to play as inhumanly fast as possible at all times because it gives these winding riffs and screaming leads some room to breathe.  There's a huge helping of late-era Death in here, landing in some cosmic midpoint between the aforementioned and the ubertech whirlwind of Decrepit Birth.  Their Worm Never Dies also benefits from having a very active bassist who doesn't insist on hogging all the limelight like Beyond Creation or something.  I'm speaking as a bassist myself, I don't have any real problem with it being given a lead role, but I prefer it if a band acts as a cohesive unit where all of the members' individual talent complements one another instead of one clear superstar rendering the rest of the band useless.  You've gotta build around your superstars, and that's why the Capitals finally won the Stanely Cup when they managed to give Ovechkin an actual fucking team to play with.

Backstabber - Conspiracy Theorist
This is better than it has any right to be.  It's hard to take a theme as in-your-face as "all conspiracy theories are real" and not come off like a bunch of tinfoil chewing dorks mainlining Infowars at all times, but this Canadian trio pulls it off very well.  Conspiracy Theorist is mad hammering death/thrash from the starting gun and keeps the adrenaline through the roof.  There aren't many real highlights and it struggles to keep my attention the whole way through, but there are some excellent moments here and there in tracks like "No Privacy" and "Banksters".  This is really the album that gave me the idea to do this feature, because the previous four sentences are all I could think to say about it.

Iron Fire - Beyond the Void
Holy shit, remember these guys?  I discovered Iron Fire waaaaaaaay back in the Limewire days when I was a filthy music pirating teenager, when On the Edge was their newest album.  That album became a minor meme with my friends, where we'd plug our noses and intentionally sing terribly, because Martin Steene had to have been the worst vocalist for a major power metal band any of us had heard up to that point.  Nevertheless, "Thunderspirit" was a great song, but beyond that they just fell completely off my radar and I haven't listened to a note of their music in like 15 years at this point.  So yeah, I was shocked when I saw this name in my inbox, and I was even more shocked when it wound up being quite good.  Maybe it's because Steene is way younger than I realized (making him only 20 years old when On the Edge was recorded), but his voice has seemingly dropped two octaves since 2001, and it sounds fucking awesome now.  He has a Chuck Billy-esque gruffness to his voice now, and it adds a lot of grit to this much heavier variant of heavy/power metal that he's still reliably cranking out.  I'm sure there's a much better vocalist to compare him to, but I'm nine reviews into this feature and my brain is frying.  Maybe Matthias Ecklund's deeper voice he utilizes sometimes?  I dunno, either way this is some muscular Hammerfall/Iron Savior styled speedy trad/power metal with loads of good melodies and catchy choruses.  I'm genuinely surprised by this one and feel like I need to check the band's back catalog now.

Porn - The Darkest of Human Desires - Act II
Ah yes, the ungoogleable.  Porn is... weird and stupid.  I'm not even really sure who this is supposed to appeal to.  It starts off with really basic groove metal, backed by clean vocals that sound like they were recorded in a subway tunnel, but there are weird subtle synths all over the place as well.  And as the album goes on it starts devolving into lengthy interludes of ambient industrial/synthwave.  I don't know what the fuck to call this, atmospheric industrial groove metal?  I dunno, it's bad.  And weird.  And stupid.  And I hate it.  I've only managed to sit through the entire album once after like five attempts, it's just boring and dumb, completely unengaging groove riffs with no mood.  Fuck this.

Andeis - Servants of the Cold Night
Andeis is one of those groups of dorks who values pointless anonymity more than actually crafting good music.  Their official country of origin is "unknown", and it's one of the only bands throughout all of these promos to have a big disclaimer saying THIS BAND IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS in their EPK, because god forbid he slips up and says "y'all" and I find out that Laignech is actually some dude named Mike from Arkansas or something.  That's my headcanon now, Andeis is really just some stooges from a really boring American state who need to shroud themselves in SpOoKy mysticism in order to drum up any sort of hype.  Because despite being released on Fallen Empire (a very respectable label (who unfortunately seems to love fostering this kind of esoteric dorkery)) there is nothing at all here to help it stand out.  This is basic, raw, lo fi black metal with basic blasts and basic tremolos and basic screams and basic everything.  They say the lyrics are based in some ancient gothic language but it just looks like Welsh word vomit.  The one and only track that stands out in any way is "Wintrus hailagaizos aggwiþos", and that's entirely because there's some weird effect that pops up throughout the track that I think it supposed to be industrial sounding but really just sounds like a spoon banging on an air conditioner twice as loud as the rest of the band.  Just constant sixteenth note BINGBINGBINGBINGBING.  There's nothing interesting here and I never want to hear it again.

Idiot Sect -  Idiot Sect
Last one for today.  I checked this one out because I like Thomas Ligotti, and one of his more famous stories is the very Lovecraftian Sect of the Idiot, but these guys don't really do a whole lot to conjure up the atmosphere of that tale.  This is just regular ass grind and that's it.  This is a very short release, barely breaching the five minute mark, and it's fine for hyperviolent grind with wild, unhinged yelling, but it's not something I'm ever going to put on again.  "Bury Blade of Wrath" is the only track that stands out in any way, and it's entirely for a few seconds of death metally double bass.  This is nasty and violent, but it plays strictly by the rules and does very little to excite me.  It scratches an itch but it's not an itch anybody gets very often.  "Piss Blood, Stake Claim" just finished.  It took me longer to write these few sentences than it did to listen to the entire release.

That's all folks!  Tune in in a week or two when I have to clear the queue out again.